NEW YORK — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, under fire from Yale classmates and Jewish critics of President Trump, has defended the president’s equivocating response to the racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Va.
“I strongly condemn the actions of those filled with hate and with the intent to harm others,” Mnuchin said. “They have no defense from me, nor do they have any defense from the president or this administration.”
“While I find it hard to believe I should have to defend myself on this, or the president, I feel compelled to let you know that the president in no way, shape or form believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways,” Mnuchin said in a statement issued Saturday.
His words marked perhaps the most vociferous defense of the president from anyone in the administration.
Mnuchin, one of the most prominent Jews in the administration, issued the statement on Twitter in response to a letter signed by more than 300 of his 1985 classmates from Yale, urging him to step down immediately.
“Rarely, if ever, have any of us made such a request of a classmate, whatever our differences in political opinion have been,” the group wrote in the letter.
“We do so today because President Trump has declared himself a sympathizer with groups whose values are antithetical to those values we consider fundamental to our sacred honor as Americans, as men and women of Yale, and as decent human beings,” it said.
Mnuchin stood uncomfortably next to Trump in the lobby of Trump Tower last week as the president said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville protests. The marchers in the initial rally on Friday night carried tiki torches and chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”
“We call upon you, as our friend, our classmate and as a fellow American, to resign in protest of President Trump’s support of Nazism and white supremacy,” Mnuchin’s classmates wrote. “We know you are better than this, and we are counting on you to do the right thing.”
Mnuchin responded that he was focused on a tax overhaul and stoking economic growth.
“I don’t believe the allegations against the president are accurate,” Mnuchin said of the denunciations, “and I believe that having highly talented men and women in our country surrounding the president in his administration should be reassuring to you and all the American people.”
Mnuchin and Gary D. Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser, who is also Jewish and who was also at the news conference in Trump Tower, have come under public pressure to resign in the past few days.
Many of Trump’s advisers have privately said they are wrestling with whether to remain working for the president. But most say they believe they are fulfilling a duty by serving.
In a separate development, John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio, urged Trump to stop the staff chaos at the White House and ‘‘settle it down.’’
Strategist Steve Bannon last week became the latest top White House official to follow Trump’s national security adviser, a chief of staff, two communications directors, and a press secretary, and others, out the door.
‘‘You can’t keep putting new people in the lineup and think you’re going to win a world championship,’’ Kasich said on CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union.’’ He is among those who have said they think the staff changes are preventing a major legislative victory.
After leaving office Friday Bannon immediately resumed his role as executive chairman of the conservative Breitbart News website, which he led before joining Trump campaign.
Appearing on CNN, Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, urged ‘‘more cleaning house’’ at the White House. He echoed some fellow Democrats in naming policy adviser Stephen Miller and national security aide Sebastian Gorka as two who should be fired.
Trump returned to the White House on Sunday after more than two weeks away. He spent most of what he said was a working vacation at his private golf club in central New Jersey.
Before Trump departed New Jersey, the White House announced that he plans to address the nation Monday night from Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., on US policy toward Afghanistan and South Asia.
Also Sunday, a Florida-based zoo and conservation society announced that it would not to hold its annual gala at Trump’s Florida resort. The decision by the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society is the latest by a charity to move eventsfrom the Mar-a-Lago resort since Trump made comments about white nationalists.