WASHINGTON — The White House on Thursday took the unusual step of saying National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn would not resign, trying to contain the fallout from President Donald Trump’s controversial comments about the deadly riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, and his assertion that “very fine people” were protesting alongside neo-Nazis.

Cohn, who funded the Cohn Jewish Student Center at Kent State University in 2009, was mortified by Trump’s comments, three people close to him said, and he has been bombarded with calls from friends asking him if he will leave.

Instead, the White House said Cohn plans to stay put and focus on advancing Trump’s economic agenda. It was unclear, though, how long Cohn would remain in the job or if he is still a leading candidate to be nominated as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Worries on Thursday that Cohn might join the exodus of business leaders after two White House corporate advisory boards disbanded in the wake of Charlottesville helped send the Dow Jones industrial average down 274.14 points, or 1.2 percent, the largest sell-off in three months. Investors feared the Trump administration might lose a leading architect of the president’s economic agenda just as it approaches a critical juncture.

The White House needs Congress to vote to raise the debt ceiling and clear the way for tax cuts in the next few weeks, measures that have split the Republican Party and could face cliffhanger votes.

Without Cohn, “a very solid stabilizing force in the West Wing will be lost,” said Camden Fine, chief executive of the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group in frequent contact with the Trump administration. “Bottom line – not good.”

Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president who has close ties to many business leaders, is seen as a key lifeline for executives who are increasingly wary that Trump will be able to secure the pro-business economic platform he promised during the campaign.

Trump on Tuesday revived his claim that “both sides” were to blame for deadly violence at a white supremacist rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, abandoning his message from a day earlier branding members of the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as “criminals and thugs.”