Trump Business Council Fretted for Weeks Over Its Role

By Emily Glazer and Nathan Becker Features Dow Jones Newswires

The president's policy advisory council of executives disbanded Wednesday after about eight months in existence. But several in the group had questioned its point weeks earlier.

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The group, which at one time included as many as 19 senior business leaders including many chief executives, was gathered to advise Donald Trump on policy and economics. They disbanded after the majority felt Mr. Trump failed to sufficiently condemn racism following a violent clash between white supremacist groups and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., people familiar with the council have said.

Weeks earlier, some participants including International Business Machines Corp. Chief Executive Ginni Rometty had called on Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of investment giant Blackstone Group LP, to discuss the future of the group, according to people familiar with the council

They asked questions such as whether the forum was making a good contribution and how they could be effective, the people said.

One of the strongest voices was Boston Consulting Group CEO Rich Lesser, who multiple times expressed concerns about the group's effectiveness following Mr. Trump's decision to back the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, people familiar with the discussions said.

"They all knew the ending, they all knew it was going to be an unhappy ending. They just didn't know the timing of the ending. But we all knew it was going to end badly," said one person familiar with the council.

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Another person said that as chairman of the group Mr. Schwarzman considered it part of his role to make sure the group "lived up to its mission" and that he felt it was important to try to keep the group going.

"There was a shared mission and safety in numbers," this person said. "People thought 'let's see if we can still help' Trump."

Over time, Mr. Schwarzman's role was levying a cost on Blackstone, the person said.

In a memo to employees Wednesday, Mr. Schwarzman wrote that staffers had received inquiries from clients about his role leading the council. In the end, the aggravation, reputational risk and time commitment from the forum over the past several months outweighed any potential benefits for Mr. Schwarzman or Blackstone, the person said.

One of Wall Street's most-prominent deal makers and a billionaire many times over, Mr. Schwarzman greeted Mr. Trump's election with enthusiasm, citing a newfound potential for economic growth.

In the days after the election, Mr. Schwarzman, who didn't endorse Mr. Trump, said at The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council conference: "You're going to have a different tax regime with lower corporate taxes, lower individual taxes, you're going to have monies brought back in the trillions from abroad. You're going to have a different tax regime abroad. There are going to be so many of these changes that I think...it's going to really force growth from a policy perspective."

Messrs. Schwarzman and Trump, though not close, have known each other for decades; Mr. Trump was one of many boldfaced names who attended Mr. Schwarzman's 60th birthday party in 2007.

--Sarah Krouse contributed to this article.

Write to Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com and Nathan Becker at nathan.becker@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 17, 2017 19:27 ET (23:27 GMT)