‘Where’s My Roy Cohn?’ Review: You’d Want Him on Your Side

Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary paints a picture of a ruthless lawyer who was as successful as he was unlikable.

Upon digesting “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” a lot of viewers will come away in agreement with longtime Cohn antagonist Gore Vidal. “Roy Cohn has managed to stay out of jail all these years and I admire him for that,” Vidal says, with Cohn by his side, during a late-’70s talk-show appearance. “I’d like to have him as my lawyer.”

Who wouldn’t? So constitutionally pugnacious he might have punched his way out of the womb, Cohn is a current subject of fascination—and of Matt Tyrnauer ’s entertaining but highly conventional documentary—for being “the common thread from Joseph McCarthy to Donald Trump. ” The title of the film, as many will know, is an alleged presidential quote made when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Oddly, the quote isn’t addressed in the film. But Cohn’s relationship with Mr. Trump certainly is.

There’s no mistaking Mr. Tyrnauer’s agenda, or the suggestion that painting a favorable portrait of Cohn might be an impossible task; even the late lawyer’s family members refer to him as ruthless, devoid of empathy and “the definition of a self-hating Jew.” In response to an interviewer who has asked about his unflattering public image, Cohn himself says, “the worse the adjectives, the better it is for business.” But the phenomenon of Roy Cohn—one interviewee describes being with him as being “in the presence of evil”—is about more than savvy business.

Most of what Mr. Tyrnauer serves up is not news, but to have it all in one place is to immerse oneself in a bilious lesson in history. Cohn, who first came to prominence prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, was counsel to Joseph McCarthy during the Wisconsin senator’s subcommittee hearings into Communist infiltration of the State Department and later the Army-McCarthy hearings, which as the film points out originated in Cohn’s attempts to get privileged treatment for G. David Schine, a draftee with whom Cohn was, as a senator sneeringly puts it, “warm personal friends.” This viewer had never seen the footage Mr. Tyrnauer includes of the exchanges between Cohn and the senators questioning him, but the innuendo about Cohn’s not-so-secret homosexuality—which he denied till his dying day (of complications from AIDS in 1986)—is startling.

Roy Cohn PHOTO: SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

Among the revelations in “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is what one relation calls the Cohn family Passover story: According to the cousin, the housekeeper who worked for Cohn’s mother, Dora, died in the kitchen and was kept under a serving table so as not to interrupt the Seder. Some might see it as a way of blaming mom for her infamous offspring, but it’s certainly a blackly comic capper to “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” The subject always knew where the bodies were buried. And, apparently, where they weren’t.

Making Sense of the New American Right

Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.

I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s

  • gun rights,
  • pro-life,
  • taxpayer,
  • right to work

— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.

How Important Is the Protest Against Trump from the National-Security Establishment?

During the past few years, we have learned that, almost no matter how outrageous or potentially dangerous Donald Trump’s actions and words are, senior Republicans in Congress, on whose support Trump ultimately depends, won’t break with him. If anything, Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, and particularly on its process of selecting candidates, seems to be getting stronger.

It is therefore tempting to dismiss the growing protests against Trump’s decision to revoke the former C.I.A. director John Brennan’s security clearance as just another summer squall in the nation’s capital, one that will quickly blow over. But possibly—just possibly—this could turn out to be a significant political moment.

The blowback intensified on Thursday, when seven former C.I.A. directors issued a public letter supporting Brennan and denouncing the President’s decision. “We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar actions against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances—and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” the letter said. The letter’s signatories included

  1. William Webster,
  2. George Tenet,
  3. Porter Goss,
  4. Michael Hayden,
  5. Leon Panetta,
  6. David Petraeus, and
  7. Robert Gates,

whose tenures as the head of the C.I.A. spanned five Presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.

That is quite a list. Even the stoutest Trump defenders will have difficulty describing the letter as a partisan political ambush, although, of course, that will not stop them from trying.

.. In asking the President to revoke his security clearance, he was taking a step that could have negative financial consequences for him and his family.

(Many retired military and intelligence figures parlay their security clearances into valuable consulting gigs.)

.. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

.. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

.. the former C.I.A. chiefs didn’t go as far as McRaven did. They didn’t attack Trump’s over-all record, call him an embarrassment, or ask him to revoke their security clearances in solidarity with Brennan. But, Haass noted, “They were willing to put their names to something that will not go down well in the White House. It is one thing to take on an individual like John Brennan. But I don’t think the White House counted on this type of reaction. These are patriots. Many of them have served in the military. A lot of members of the Trump base will respect these people.”

.. For months now, Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and pro-Trump media figures like Sean Hannity have been vilifying former senior government officials with long and distinguished records, including Brennan; James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence; and James Comey, the former F.B.I. director.

In the coming days and weeks, the vilification campaign may well extend to McRaven and the former intelligence chiefs who signed the public letter. Will Trump’s base care more about them than they did about Clapper?

.. On Capitol Hill, some Democrats have expressed concerns that Trump’s actions are intended to silence people who might serve as witnesses in any eventual impeachment process or other legal proceeding. Most senior Republicans, predictably enough, are keeping quiet or expressing support for the President’s treatment of Brennan. The “President has full authority to revoke [Brennan’s] security clearance as head of the executive branch,” Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.

..  especially in the run-up to the midterms, Republicans are unlikely to come out strongly against Trump’s actions, much less hold hearings on them. But he pointed out that, back in 1954, a substantial amount of time—six months—elapsed between Welch’s exasperated remonstration of McCarthy and the Senate’s historic vote to censure the Wisconsin senator, which put an end to his reign of terror.

.. “Sometimes, only in retrospect do actions or words emerge as a key moment, or a tipping point. We’ll only know in retrospect if this is one of those moments.”

America’s No. 1 voter fraud conspiracy theorist goes down in court

The right-wing candidate for Kansas governor has degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Yale. But to watch him war with figments of his imagination — a fictional army of fraudulent voters — makes one think of that old ad campaign: A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

.. Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, produced no credible support for his theory that large numbers of noncitizens are illegally voting in American elections. Thus, the Kobach-inspired law requiring Kansas voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship is ­unconstitutional because it imposes the burden without a reasonable ­justification.

.. “At most, 67 noncitizens registered or attempted to register in Kansas over the last 19 years,” the judge found. Of those, only 39, at most, actually ended up on voter rolls, put there largely by clerical mistakes, not fraud.

.. “Some applicants told the . . . clerk that they were not citizens, yet the clerk completed a voter registration application” anyway.

.. “Given the almost 2 million individuals on the Kansas voter rolls, some administrative anomalies are expected,”

.. For that matter, human errors have recorded 400 Kansas voters as having birth dates subsequent to their dates of registration.

.. Kobach, as much as any individual, is the author of right-wing mania over mass voter fraud.

.. Ducking and dodging so vigorously that the judge, a Republican appointee, held him in contempt of court, Kobach tried to argue that the tiny number of mistaken registrations actually proves the existence of a vast horde.

.. He “insists that these numbers are just ‘the tip of the iceberg.

.. Kobach may be a victim of his own success — or a textbook example of the Peter Principle

.. Winning the post of secretary of state in 2010 placed him in charge of Kansas elections, giving him the tools he needed to prove the righteousness of his quest.

.. Like Joseph McCarthy waving his phony list of communists, Kobach reached a point where he had to put up or shut up.

.. “Defendant already has prosecutorial authority over Kansas election crimes. Yet, since obtaining this authority . . . Defendant has filed zero criminal complaints against noncitizens for registering to vote.”

.. Robinson required Kobach to complete a ­refresher course in trial procedure before he can renew his law license — quite a smackdown for a former law professor.

 

 

Trump’s Manchurian Trade Policy

Remember “The Manchurian Candidate”? The 1959 novel, made into a classic 1962 film (never mind the remake), involved a plot to install a Communist agent as president of the United States. One major irony was that the politician in question was modeled on Senator Joe McCarthy — that is, he posed as a superpatriot even while planning to betray America.

.. Both the international rules and domestic law — Article XXI and Section 232, respectively — let the U.S. government do pretty much whatever it wants in the name of national security.

.. If the U.S. or any other major player began promiscuously using dubious national security arguments to abrogate trade agreements, everyone else would follow suit, and the whole trading system would fall apart.

.. But Trump is different. He has already imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum in the name of national security, and he is now threatening to do the same for autos.

.. The idea that imported cars pose a national security threat is absurd. We’re not about to refight World War II, converting auto plants over to the production of Sherman tanks. And almost all the cars we import come from U.S. allies. Clearly, Trump’s invocation of national security is a pretext

.. the proposed auto tariffs would further undermine our allies’ rapidly eroding faith in U.S. trustworthiness.

.. Which is not to say that national security should never be a consideration in international trade. On the contrary, there’s a very clear-cut case right now: the Chinese company ZTE, which makes cheap phones and other electronic goods.

.. Yet Trump is pulling out all the stops in an effort to reverse actions against ZTE, in defiance of lawmakers from both parties.

.. China approved a huge loan to a Trump-related project in Indonesia just before rushing to ZTE’s defense; at the same time, China granted valuable trademarks to Ivanka Trump. And don’t say that it’s ridiculous to suggest that Trump can be bribed; everything we know about him says that yes, he can.

.. what we’re getting is Manchurian trade policy: a president using obviously fake national security arguments to hurt democratic allies, while ignoring very real national security concerns to help a hostile dictatorship.

Trump always lashes out when he’s cornered. He told me so years ago.

The president’s tweets and public remarks will only get wilder as the Russia investigation narrows.

In less than two hours, he managed to criticize his own FBI; peddle a new conspiracy theory; attack James B. Comey, Hillary Clinton and ABC; and draw more attention to the Russia probe that has already implicated several of his aides.
.. As someone who spent hundreds of hours observing Trump so I could write “The Art of the Deal,” I find his increasingly extreme behavior entirely consistent and predictable.
.. For five decades now, Trump’s pattern has been that the more aggrieved and vulnerable he feels, the more intensely he doubles down on the behaviors that have always worked for him in the past.
Sunday’s tweetstorm won’t be the last time the president indulges in self-pity, deceit and deflection. In all likelihood, it will get worse.
.. Trump’s first move in the face of criticism has always been to assume the role of victim. “Unfair” has long been one of his favorite words. He always perceives himself as the victim, so he feels justified in lashing back at his perceived accusers.

.. Here’s how he explained the tactic in “The Art of the Deal”:

“When people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”

And this:

“Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”

In the weeks ahead, Trump will also probably double down on lying, even as he falsely accuses others of being dishonest. Consider his remarkable recent suggestion to aides that his remarks on the “Access Hollywood” tape about assaulting women might not be real — even though he has already publicly acknowledged that they were his, and apologized for them. Trump regularly rewrites his narrative, using what Kellyanne Conway has called “alternative facts,” to fit whatever he wants to believe and convey in any given moment. This is classic “gaslighting” — a blend of lying, denial, insistence and intimidation designed to fuel uncertainty and doubt in others about what’s actually true.

In the time I spent with Trump, I concluded that lying became second nature to him long ago, both because he lacked any conscience about being deceptive and because he discovered that he could get away with it. “Truthful hyperbole” is the sanitized term I gave lying in “The Art of the Deal,” with Trump’s blessing. I have never met someone, before or since, who was untruthful so effortlessly.

In Trump’s mind, he is only doing what’s required to win. Here’s the way he describes himself in “The Art of the Deal”: “Despite what people think, I’m not looking to be the bad guy when it isn’t absolutely necessary.”

.. The more threatened Trump feels by troublesome facts, the more preposterous the lies he will tell.

.. To get the outcome he wants, he’s willing to be scorned, parodied and even reviled in ways most of us are not. “I’m the first to admit,” he said in “The Art of the Deal,” “that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win.” He is willing to flatter, cajole and seduce, or bully, threaten and humiliate, depending on which approach he thinks will work best.

..  I watched him switch between these modes countless times during the 18 months I spent around him.

.. If he was getting what he wanted from someone on a call, he’d invariably sign off with, “You’re the greatest, you’re the best.” If he wasn’t getting his way, he was equally comfortable hurling insults and making threats.

.. The more frequent and aggressive Trump’s tweets become, the more threatened and vulnerable he is probably feeling. But he also knows that this approach can work.

.. The other predictable pattern for Trump is his approach to loyalty. He expects it unconditionally — more so when his behaviors prompt backlash — but he provides it only as long as he gets unquestioning adulation in return.

.. One of the most revealing relationships in Trump’s life was with Roy Cohn, best known as the chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy

.. For more than a decade, Cohn fought hard on Trump’s behalf and was fiercely loyal to him. They often spoke multiple times in a day. But when Cohn became ill with AIDS in 1984, Trump dropped him immediately.

..  I can’t remember a single occasion during the time I spent around Trump when he seemed genuinely interested in the welfare of another human being, including any of his three then-young children. And at that time, he was under vastly less stress than he is now. If either Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. become Mueller’s next target, I can’t help wondering what Trump will perceive as his self-interest.

 

How Liz Smith invented Donald Trump

Liz Smith claimed to have invented Donald Trump, and in a powerful and enduring way, she did.

.. The legendary gossip columnist, who died Sunday at 94, started delivering her daily dish about New York celebrities in 1976, the same year the brash Australian press lord Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post and transformed it into a British-style splash of lurid headlines, crime-drenched reporting and juicy gossip.

.. Smith and Trump were made for each other. She was a kinder, gentler gossipmonger, winning access to celebrities by telling the stories they wanted told rather than the more slashing tidbits that turned some columnists into personae non gratae among the boldface names. And he was a young real estate mogul hungry to establish himself as one of the city’s biggest names.

.. Trump had been schooled in the art of manipulating the news media by his mentor Roy Cohn, the New York lawyer who had launched his own career in the 1950s by enlisting the 20th century’s greatest gossip columnist, Walter Winchell, as a booster for Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist-hunting crusade.

.. Cohn had urged him to cultivate the gossip columnists, to make appearances at the right nightspots, to make certain that he was being seen and recorded with the hottest models and rising stars on his arm.

.. Trump used the tabloids to establish himself as a champion of the little guy. “When we would talk particularly to immigrants, recent immigrants who were the readers of the Daily News, they would always want to know about Donald Trump,” said News gossip columnist George Rush. “He embodied the American Dream to them. Excessive conspicuous consumption is not a bad thing in New York to a lot of people.”

.. The tabloid war was on, as Smith wrote about nothing but the Trumps for several months, trading scoops with the Post’s Cindy Adams, who took Donald’s side as Smith became an advocate for her own source, Ivana.

.. The Daily News plastered Trump split stories on the front page for 12 days in a row; the Post responded with eight consecutive Trump headlines on Page One.

.. The stories were a bonanza for the newspapers, and Trump later said that the divorce episode put him on the celebrity map, despite any pain that may have stemmed from having his personal life exposed. “Liz Smith used to kiss my ass so much it was embarrassing,” Trump wrote

.. The Ivana-and-Donald story made Smith a star, establishing her as the highest-paid print journalist in the country. And it lifted Trump to a new level of fame and infamy. He relished the idea that he was the talk of the town, both in the boardrooms from which he’d always felt excluded and in the barrooms where, he believed, middle-class New Yorkers aspired to be like him.