‘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.

The Sycophant and the Sociopath

Donald Trump specializes in spectacular breakups.

First there was Ivana. Then there was Marla. Now comes trouble in paradise with Kim.

.. This time, it wasn’t just lust, betrayal and secrets splayed across Page Six. This time, it was in Congress, part of an investigation that could lead to legal jeopardy for the Trumps or impeachment for the president.

.. In his testimony, Michael Cohen called himself a “fool” when it came to Trump. “I ignored my conscience and acted loyal to a man when I should not have,” Cohen said. A fool for love, held in thrall by Trump. How could anyone be held in thrall by such a sleazy goofball, much less offer to take a bullet for him or make 500 threats on his behalf?

.. “It seems unbelievable that I was so mesmerized by Donald Trump that I was willing to do things for him that I knew were absolutely wrong,” said Cohen in his “Goodfellas” accent, adding that being around the “icon” was “intoxicating.”

“Mr. Trump is an enigma,” Cohen said. “He is complicated, as am I.”

Actually, Trump is simple, grasping for money, attention and fame. The enigma about Trump is why he cut off his lap dog so brutally that Cohen fell into the embrace of Robert Mueller and New York federal prosecutors. Trump is often compared to a mob boss, but Michael Corleone would never turn on a loyal capo, only on one who had crossed him.

The portrait Cohen drew of Trump was not surprising. It has been apparent for some time that the president is a con man, racist, cheat and liar. (See: Jared Kushner security clearance.)

What was most compelling about the congressional hearing was the portrait of the sadistic relationship between the sycophant and the sociopath.

The 48 Laws of Power

Trump and Omarosa Are Kindred Spirits

My conversations with him about her star power.

Donald Trump and I used to talk a lot about Omarosa Manigault Newman. The future president was fascinated by her. He was fascinated by her self-absorption and nastiness, fascinated by her fleeting star power and fascinated by the fact that she was publicly recognizable by her first name alone, sort of like Prince or Madonna.

.. Viewers gravitated toward Omarosa because, on a show that exploited a “Lord of the Flies” scenario to see how badly an average group of men and women wanted to please Trump, she could behave so horrifically that it reassured folks that they probably wouldn’t be — couldn’t be — that monstrous themselves.
.. The producers of “The Apprentice” originally thought that the show’s dog-eat-dog world would be its main attraction and that Trump’s now famous boardroom firings would just be icing on the cake. They soon discovered that Trump decapitating people with his signature phrase — “You’re fired!” — and most of the other scenes he inhabited were what gave this ensemble act its real juice.

in the show’s first season in 2004 Omarosa owned her own peculiar space. Viewers loved hating her.
I’m going to crush my competition and I’m going to enjoy doing it,” she declared on the show.
.. she dispensed with decorum and bluntly told people off. She often belittled her own teammates when strategy was debated.
If she decided she wasn’t up for a particular challenge she found a way to dodge it.
.. She was scheming, deceitful, ruthless and unapologetic, and Trump was mesmerized.
.. Trump told me that he initially had been worried that some of “The Apprentice” contestants lacked star power. Omarosa changed his mind.
I didn’t think she had it. But she was great casting,” he told me. “We didn’t know she was the Wicked Witch until the audience found she was the Wicked Witch. We had an idea but you never know how it is going to be picked up.”
.. Worried about what would become of him if and when NBC canceled “The Apprentice,” he sought advice about how best to secure his stardom. He told me he rang up Lorne Michaels, the producer of “Saturday Night Live,” for counseling... “Which is bigger, a television star or a movie star?” he asked.

“A television star,” Michaels replied. “Because you are on in front of 30 million people, every week, virtually every week.”

All of this gave Trump a newfound appreciation of Omarosa.

“I would have never thought that Omarosa was a star,” he told me. “I didn’t think she was that attractive. I didn’t think she was anything. And she became a star.”

.. When Omarosa bungled her final task (shopping some art) toward the end of the first season, Trump canned her. His own star was shining brightly and he didn’t need Omarosa’s added glare.

..  By most accounts, she treated her White House stay the same way she handled “The Apprentice” competition — full speed ahead, detractors be damned.

.. Trump tweets relentlessly when he feels cornered or obsessed, and he is currently obsessed with Omarosa. She is just as craven and self-absorbed as he is, and betrayal by a kindred spirit has never sat well with him.

.. Trump’s response is also evidence that the man elected in part because of the managerial and business prowess he demonstrated on “The Apprentice” can’t get his country’s priorities in order. Expect him to wallow in moments like this for years to come.