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Tech walks away from Trump as business councils disband

A flurry of CEOs exit two important advisory councils after remarks by President Donald Trump regarding the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

President Trump Speaks On Infrastructure Meeting Held At Trump Tower

President Trump is disbanding two advisory councils.

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For about a century, IBM has offered its expertise to US presidents as part of a business advisory council. That run ended Wednesday when two advisory groups were dissolved following controversial remarks from President Donald Trump about the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"By now, you've seen the news that we have disbanded the President's Strategy and Policy Forum," IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote in a memo to staffers Wednesday. "In the past week, we have seen and heard of public events and statements that run counter to our values as a country and a company."

Rometty wrote that though IBM is "determinedly non-partisan" and has worked with every president since Woodrow Wilson, the US needs to "focus on unity, inclusion, and tolerance" and that the forum could no longer fulfill its mission.

"We have always believed that dialogue is critical to progress; that is why I joined the President's Forum earlier this year," Rometty wrote. "But this group can no longer serve the purpose for which it was formed. Earlier today I spoke with other members of the Forum and we agreed to disband the group." 

Rometty joined a parade of CEOs that earlier left their respective presidential councils after Trump drew criticism for not specifically calling out the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members who descended on Charlottesville over the weekend. A protest involving the hate groups led to widespread violence and three deaths

In addition to the Strategic and Policy Forum, another group disbanded: the Presidential Committee on American Manufacturing. On Monday, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said he was resigning from the manufacturing council, as did Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier.

"America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal," Frazier said in a statement posted to Twitter.

The two executives were joined by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul, as well as representatives from the AFL-CIO. On Wednesday morning, Campbell Soup Company CEO Denise Morrison and 3M CEO Inge Thulin also took their leave.

In the midst of the departures Trump tweeted Tuesday, "I have many [CEOs] to take their place." He also tweeted that he was disbanding the councils. 

The New York Times reported, however, that before Trump's tweet to end the councils, Blackstone Group CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman organized a call with members of the Strategic and Policy Forum, which initially included 16 executives, to decide whether to disband the group themselves.

"As our members have expressed individually over the past several days, intolerance, racism and violence have absolutely no place in this country and are an affront to core American values," members of the forum said in a joint statement Wednesday, which also noted the decision to disband.  

While some, like GE Chairman Jeff Immelt, had planned earlier in the week to stay aboard Trump's councils, despite the president's initial statements about the violence in Charlottesville, further remarks from Trump during a Tuesday press conference helped reverse that decision. 

"The president's statements yesterday were deeply troubling. There would be no GE without people of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations," Immelt said in a statement Wednesday morning, which explained his resignation from the manufacturing council.

Eric Schiffer, CEO of Reputation Management Consultants, said any executives remaining on those councils would be perceived as sharing Trump's point of view. 

"They don't want their personal and their company's reputations exploding into bits," Schiffer said.

The White House didn't respond to a request for comment.

Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk both departed the strategy forum earlier in the year.

CNET's Terry Collins contributed to this report.

First published Aug. 15, 10:45 a.m. PT
Updates, 11:22 a.m. adds context, 12:24 p.m. recasts story with comments from GE Chairman Jeff Immelt and Strategic and Policy Forum members, 2:22 p.m. adds comments from IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and a reputation management expert, 4:05 p.m. recasts story for clarity.

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