Speaking to his supporters in Iowa on Wednesday, Trump said: “Somebody said why did you appoint a rich person to be in charge of the economy? … I said because that’s the kind of thinking we want.”
“I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions, I just don’t want a poor person. Does that make sense?”
Trump, a billionaire businessman from New York, lauded the appointments of former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn as chief economic adviser and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary as “smart” decisions.
He explained that Cohn and Ross “had to give up a lot to take these jobs” and “went from massive pay days to peanuts.”
Cohn served as president and COO of Goldman Sachs during the 2008 financial crisis when financial risks taken by the investment bank lost $1.2bn of its clients’ money.
“Of course, we regret that we did not do many things better,” he told Congress in 2010.
In 2010, Goldman agreed to pay $550m to settle civil fraud charges by the SEC of misleading buyers of mortgage-related securities.
Cohn is just one of a number of former Goldman executives who have joined the Trump administration. White House adviser Steve Bannon and treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin both worked for the financial institution.
Meanwhile, Wilbur Ross, a former investment banker at Rothschild & Co., helped Trump avoid bankruptcy in the early 1990s and saved his Taj Mahal casino hotel from collapse.
Ross helped bondholders negotiate with Trump, where the final deal reduced Trump’s ownership stake in the Taj but left him in charge. According to author Hilary Rosenberg, the bondholders were unhappy when Ross presented the plan.
Trump’s supporters have openly welcomed the fact that he is a businessman and not a politician beholden to special interest groups. But the wealth of Trump’s cabinet picks has led to accusations that some may still have business holdings that leave the door open for potential conflicts of interest.