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'Who broke the law?' Cohn says in defending Wall Street's role in crisis

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'Who broke the law?' Cohn says in defending Wall Street's role in crisis
Former Director of the U.S. National Economic Council Gary Cohn speaks at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York City, U.S., September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon   -   Copyright  JEENAH MOON(Reuters)
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By Anna Irrera

NEWYORK (Reuters) – Gary Cohn, the former economic adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, gave a ringing endorsement of Wall Street bankers on Monday, arguing that borrowers were just as responsible for the 2007-2009 financial crisis as lenders and ridiculing rules intended to make the system stronger in its aftermath.

In a wide-ranging conversation at an event hosted by Reuters Breakingviews that was pegged to the 10-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ collapse, Cohn’s comments mostly tracked the sentiment of Wall Street bankers and other wealthy Americans who have felt unfairly maligned for the mortgage market’s collapse and the economic downturn that ensued.

Once the No. 2 executive at Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N>, Cohn argued that no top bankers should have gone to jail for their role in the crisis because they did not necessarily do anything illegal, despite what populist movements like Occupy Wall Street have demanded.

“Who broke the law? I just want to know who you think broke the law,” said Cohn, before noting that former Lehman Chief Executive Dick Fuld lost a big chunk of his net worth when his company filed for bankruptcy.

He also said JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N> CEO Jamie Dimon would be a “phenomenal” choice for president.

He criticized Elizabeth Warren, a prominent Democratic Senator who often attacks big banks, for using a simplistic measure of industry profitability and said rules that were part of the Dodd-Frank reform package have only solidified big banks’ competitive position.

“We haven’t ended ‘too big to fail,’” Cohn said. “We made rules and regulations that made (the big banks) bigger. Congratulations.”

Since leaving the Trump administration in December, Cohn has been spending time with his family and exploring business opportunities, he said.

(Reporting by Anna Irrera; Writing by Lauren Tara LaCapra; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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