Wave of resignations hits Commerce Department’s board of ‘digital … – Politico
More business executives are departing en masse from Trump administration advisory positions, with a new set of resignations from a Commerce Department advisory board following an exodus from two business groups advising the White House, which then disbanded both of them.
More than half of the members of the 15-person Digital Economy Board of Advisors, an expert board set up last year by the Obama administration to help the federal government navigate the digital economy, are known to have resigned this week in the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial comments about the violence last week in Charlottesville, Va., that left one person dead.
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Those no longer participating as of today include co-chairs Zoë Baird, president and CEO of the Markle Foundation; Mitchell Baker, executive chairwoman of the tech organization Mozilla; David L. Cohen, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Comcast; Brad Smith, Microsoft president and chief legal officer; Handy CEO Oisin Hanrahan; Karen Bartleson, president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports; James Manyika, director of the McKinsey Global Institute; Sonia Katyal, chancellorâs professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law; and Corey Thomas, president and CEO of cybersecurity firm Rapid7. Their departures were confirmed by those individuals, their representatives or emails obtained by POLITICO.
The departures amplify the increasing rift between private sector advisers and the Trump White House. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier set off a chain reaction when he resigned Aug. 14 from a manufacturing council that Trump appointed, saying he didn’t condone how the president responded to the events in Charlottesville. During his presidency and the transition leading up to it, Trump has leaned on business leaders to bolster his messages of job and economic growth, often appearing in photo ops with CEOs in the Oval Office or at Trump Tower.
The departures differ from those from the White House advisory groups because they mark a case of outside experts distancing themselves not simply from the White House or Trump, but from a federal agency. Some commentators have floated the possibility that business leaders eager not to be seen engaging with the White House or the president might instead chose to deal directly with federal agencies, such as the Wilbur Ross-led Commerce Department.
All of the digital economy board members who resigned had been appointed to the posts by then-Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker 16 months ago to what was meant to be two-year terms. At the time, Pritzker described the group, known internally as DEBA, as a way of tapping the expertise of those familiar with digitally based industries and business models â including those based on or around the internet â to help the Commerce Department evolve from its long-standing focus on manufacturing and other traditional industries.
Some of those who have left the board explicitly framed the end of their participation as a response to Trump’s comments on the events in Charlottesville.
“It is the responsibility of leaders to take action and lift up each and every American. Our leaders must unequivocally denounce bigotry, racism, sexism, hate, and violence,” Baker wrote in a resignation note addressed to Ross. Bartleson, in her own letter to Ross, wrote, “IEEE’s core values, code of ethics, and code of conduct â and certainly my own principles â have no room for hatred, violence, racism, and discrimination.”
Others simply stated that they would not participate past this point. âEffective today, Brad is no longer a member of the group,â a Microsoft spokesperson told POLITICO.
Lyft President John Zimmer had originally been named as a participant in the Pritzker-appointed panel, but was not included on a more recent listing of group members. In a statement given to POLITICO, a Lyft spokesperson said that “Lyft executives are not participating and will not participate in any advisory panel associated with the Trump administration.”
A Comcast spokesperson declined to comment on the motivations behind Cohen’s departure this week, but said that Ross should have the opportunity to name his own hand-chosen members of the board should he opt to continue the panel.
The remaining members of the board did not respond to requests for comment or otherwise could not be immediately reached.
The digital economy board moves come shortly after the shuttering earlier this week of two business-engaging groups created by Trump, one focused on American manufacturing and the other a “strategic and policy forum.” In a tweet, Trump took credit for ending those groups’ short runs, though other reporting suggests their members had already chosen to disband before his announcement, following a string of resignations after Frazier’s.
According to those familiar with the activities of the digital economy board, the group had not met or otherwise conducted activities during the first eight months of the Trump administration.
The Commerce Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Zachary Warmbrodt contributed to this report.