Donald Trump's top business advisory groups have disbanded as the ongoing scandal over white supremacist violence continues to rattle the White House, although the US President claimed he himself had pulled the plug.
On Twitter this afternoon Trump claimed: "Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both."
Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017
However, the dissolution of the groups came as a string of executives left the manufacturing jobs initiative, heaping pressure on the remaining members and the separate strategic and policy forum.
Trump had yesterday claimed that "For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place", but the exodus of executives proved too much to bear for a President who made much of his links to business during his time in politics.
The bosses of giant manufacturers 3M, Campbell Soup, and Johnson and Johnson today became the latest to resign from Trump's manufacturing advisory council, while the strategic and policy forum members discussed disbanding the group earlier today.
Campbell Soup boss Denise Morrison said "Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible" and that "the President should have been – and still needs to be – unambiguous on that point", in a statement posted on Twitter.
Inge Thulin, chairman and chief executive of the firm best-known for the Post-It note, said he believed the manufacturing jobs initiative was "no longer an effective vehicle" for 3M to affect policy.
After the councils were disbanded JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon, a former member of the strategic and policy forum, added his weight to the criticism of the President.
"I strongly disagree with President Trump's reaction to the events," he said in a statement. "There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned".
"Fanning divisiveness is not the answer" to weak economic growth and a lack of opportunities for some parts of the US population, he added.
"It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring people together, not tear them apart." pic.twitter.com/LkZZWTPDIT— J.P. Morgan (@jpmorgan) August 16, 2017
Mark Weinberger, global chairman and chief executive of accountants EY, and another former member, said: "Intolerance, racism and violence have absolutely no place in this country and are an affront to core American values."
The white supremacy controversy had become a "distraction" from the forum's policy discussions, he added, although he did not criticise the President's actions directly.
Four other top executives and two union representatives had already publicly left the manufacturing council since the weekend, after Trump repeatedly drew an equivalence between white supremacists, including people wearing neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan regalia, and anti-fascist protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The white supremacists had purportedly gathered to protest against the removal of a statue of a general, Robert E. Lee, who fought for the pro-slavery Confederates during the American Civil War.
The White House has been scrambling in the past three days to limit the damage from the President's response to the protests, in which a woman, Heather Heyer, was killed by a car driven in an allegedly deliberate attack on a crowd of counter-protestors.
Trump today described Heyer as " beautiful and incredible" on Twitter ahead of a memorial service for her today.
Memorial service today for beautiful and incredible Heather Heyer, a truly special young woman. She will be long remembered by all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017
However, his comments came after he last night said that "both sides" were to blame for the violence in a raucous press conference. That drew further heavy criticism from across the mainstream political spectrum, but also gained the approval of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.