In response to Trump criticism, Powell says he focuses on ‘controlling the controllable’

Despite recent criticisms from President Donald Trump, the Federal Reserve Board is not concerned about the independence of the organization, the agency’s chairman told a Washington gathering Wednesday.

“My focus is on essentially controlling the controllable,” Fed Chairman Jerome H. (Jay) Powell said (to rising snickers from the audience). “We control what we do.” (In fact, as the laughter rose in the audience, Powell – looking a bit nonplussed – paused to let the commotion pass, with a slight smile on his face.)

Powell responded to a question from PBS NewsHour Anchor Judy Woodruff, who was conducting an interview with Powell during a Wednesday session at The Atlantic Festival, a conference sponsored by The Atlantic magazine and the Aspen Institute, in Washington, D.C.

Powell noted that the central bank is “quite removed from the political process” and that the agency looks “at the best thinking, we look at the data very carefully, try to get disparate views, try to get a consensus – and try to do the right thing.”

“We don’t let other things distract us,” Powell added. “We’re just going to focus on those jobs – and that’s how we’re always going to be.”

Woodruff followed up asking Powell if he had had private conversation with Trump following recent criticisms. “No,” Powell responded, without elaboration.

In other comments, Powell said any future financial crisis will have a set of problems that “won’t look a lot like the last set of problems we had,” referring to the financial crisis 10 years ago.

But he reiterated comments he has made recently that the Fed does not see “elevated” measures of financial instability “at this time.” “It’s sort of in the moderate range, in our view,” he said.

He indicated that, whatever befalls the financial system, it will be something different from the crisis of 2008: a cyber attack, or some kind of global event. “Or maybe it will surprise us and look exactly like the last one.

“But,”  he said, “we don’t see the kind of build up of risks in the financial markets – let alone in the banking system, where we see much higher capital and actually less risk being taken.”