If You Want to Understand Trump, You Must First Understand His Mentor
Most of us who have amounted to anything have a mentor somewhere in our background. My own was my father, with whom I had a complicated relationship. But he taught me ethics, as well as style and the importance of scale’s contribution to architecture. Of those, ethics stands above the rest as a noun stands above an adjective. I can’t count the times I have been grateful to him for that.
Trump’s mentor was an eventually disbarred attorney named Roy Cohn
It’s important to know something about Cohn, as he is key to nearly every misunderstood action by this former president of the United States. We have had more such presidents than history would care to admit, but in time we came to understand what made the great so rare and the ordinary so…well…ordinary.
Presidents have advisors, we all know that and depending upon our particular party affiliation at the time we tend to find them brilliant or wanting.
Donald Trump was different. Although he had many camp-followers and numberless sycophants, his only advisors were lawyers. And he ran through all of them without regard—and many without payment—except for Roy. Long after Cohn’s death, in times of stress Trump was known to rage at whoever was within hearing, “where is my Roy Cohn.”
(Vanity Fair) “You knew when you were in Cohn’s presence you were in the presence of pure evil,” said lawyer Victor A. Kovner, who had known him for years. Cohn’s power derived largely from his ability to scare potential adversaries with hollow threats and spurious lawsuits. And the fee he demanded for his services? Ironclad loyalty.
Sound like anyone we know?
Indeed, the apple does not fall far from the tree and Donald Trump was Roy Cohn’s apple
(Wikipedia) Roy Marcus Cohn (February 20, 1927 – August 2, 1986) was an American lawyer and prosecutor who came to prominence for his role as Senator Joseph McCarthy's chief counsel during the Army–McCarthy hearings in 1954, when he assisted McCarthy's investigations of suspected communists. In the late 1970s and during the 1980s, he became a prominent political fixer in New York City. He also represented and mentored the real estate developer and later U.S. President Donald Trump during his early business career.
Cohn rose to prominence as a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor at the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, where he successfully prosecuted the Rosenbergs, leading to their execution in 1953. As a prosecuting chief counsel during the trials, his reputation deteriorated during the late 1950s to late 1970s after McCarthy's downfall.
In 1986, he was disbarred by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court for unethical conduct after attempting to defraud a dying client by forcing the client to sign a will amendment leaving him his fortune. He died five weeks later from AIDS-related complications, having vehemently denied that he was either gay or suffering from HIV.
After leaving McCarthy, Cohn had a 30-year career as an attorney in New York City
It wasn’t all pretty. His clients included Donald Trump, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Aristotle Onassis, as well as Mafia figures Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, John Gotti and Mario Gigante.
According to an NPR article, ‘Cohn was a prodigy, the son of a New York judge well acquainted with street politics as well as those of City Hall. Young Roy grew up immersed in both worlds. He would later be known for saying "Don't tell me what the law is, tell me who the judge is.” In her 2017 profile of Trump and Cohn's relationship in Vanity Fair, journalist Marie Brenner quoted Trump recalling his first meeting with Cohn at Le Club in 1973.
She quotes Trump saying he brought up a racial discrimination lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department had filed against the real estate company he and his father ran. He asked Cohn if they should comply or try to compromise. Cohn shot back: "Tell them to go to hell and fight the thing in court and let them prove you discriminated."
And thus was the cornerstone laid.
(Marie Brenner, Vanity Fair) By the time I met with Cohn, he had already been indicted four times on charges ranging from extortion and blackmail to bribery, conspiracy, securities fraud, and obstruction of justice. But he had been acquitted in each instance and in the process had begun to behave as if he were somehow a super-patriot who was above the law…
…Cohn, with his bravado, reckless opportunism, legal pyrotechnics, and serial fabrication, became a fitting mentor for the young real-estate scion. And as Trump’s first major project, the Grand Hyatt, was set to open, he was already involved in multiple controversies. He was warring with the city about tax abatements and other concessions. He had hoodwinked his very own partner, Hyatt chief Jay Pritzker, by changing a term in a deal when Pritzker was unreachable—on a trip to Nepal.
In 1980, while erecting what would become Trump Tower, he antagonized a range of arts patrons and city officials when his team demolished the Art Deco friezes decorating the 1929 building. Vilified in the headlines—and by the Establishment—Trump offered a response that was pure Roy Cohn: “Who cares?” he said. “Let’s say that I had given that junk to the Met. They would have just put them in their basement.”
One of Donald Trump’s most important mentors, one of the most reviled men in American political history, is now about to have another moment
Roy Cohn, who has been described by people who knew him as “a snake,” “a scoundrel” and “a new strain of son of a bitch,” is the subject of a new documentary out this week from producer and director Matt Tyrnauer. It’s an occasion to once again look at Cohn and ask how much of him and his “savage,” “abrasive” and “amoral” behavior is visible in the behavior of an American past president.
Trump, as has been well-established, learned so much from the truculent, unrepentant Cohn about how to get what he wants, and he pines for Cohn and his notorious capabilities still. Trump, after all, reportedly has said so himself, and it’s now the name of this film:
Maybe also check out Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits.
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