Gary Cohn faked a bad connection to get Trump off the phone, senator says

Gary Cohn, U.S. President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, steps from Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S., August 30, 2017.

Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

Last Updated Nov 22, 2017 1:17 PM EST

During a meeting with a Democratic senator, Chief White House economic adviser Gary Cohn recently faked a bad connection to get off the phone with President Trump, at the suggestion of Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, who told him that the group would have a more productive conversation about taxes without him. 

Carper says he told Cohn they weren't going to be able to have a real discussion after Mr. Trump joined a conversation they were having on taxes, and he asked him to tell the president that he is brilliant, but he was losing the connection would have to hang up, the senator confirmed in a Wednesday interview with CNN. That's what Cohn did, Carper said. 

"So you're saying Gary Cohn faked a bad connection to get the president off the phone?" CNN host John Berman asked.

"Well, I wouldn't — I don't want to throw him under the bus, but yes," Carper responded. 

The White House denies Carper's version of events. 

Carper said he had been talking for about 30 minutes with Cohn, White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short, and Shahira Knight, special assistant to the president for tax and retirement policy, and the around-the-table conversation was going well as the administration officials asked questions about whether there might be a way to find middle ground on tax reform with more moderate Democrats. About half an hour into that discussion, Cohn got up to take a call from the president, who was in Asia at the time. It was nice of the president to do that Carper said. But fifteen minutes later, the president was still talking, Carper said. That's when Carper suggested to Cohn that he take the phone back, tell the president he is brilliant, but politely say goodbye, citing a poor connection. 

"And that's what he did and he hung up. And then we went back to having the kind of conversation that we needed to..." Carper said. 

Carper said he believes they identified potential common ground and consensus among moderate Democrats. 

The White House called Carper's account "completely false."

"Senator Carper's claim is completely false," said Raj Shah, Principal Deputy Press Secretary, in a statement to CBS News. "Gary Cohn took the phone off speaker and continued to speak with the president privately for several minutes before they concluded the call." 

Mr. Trump has made it clear that he wants to sign a tax bill by Christmas, and the House GOP passed its version last week. The Senate expects to vote next week, and the tax bill's fate is unclear in that chamber. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.