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Roy Cohn

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Roy Cohn in 1964
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Roy Cohn: Bully, Coward, Victim.
—Anonymous on the AIDS Names Project quilt[1]

Roy Marcus Cohn (1927–1986) was a lawyer, a rabid anti-communist, a closeted[2] homosexual[3] and homophobe,[3] a Jewish anti-Semite,[3] a misogynist,[3] and a quintessential DINO (a registered Democrat who almost exclusively supported Republicans).[4] His career spanned from the beginning of the Second Red Scare up through the beginning of Donald Trump's career.

Anti-communist crusader[edit]

McCarthy and Cohn in 1954

In 1948, Cohn was hired on the same day he passed the bar exam by Irving Saypol, US Attorney in New York, allegedly with the help of family connections.[4] During his time in the Attorney General's office, he assisted the prosecution in 1949 of eleven members of the Communist Party USA leadership, including Gus Hall, under the Smith Act.[5][6]:63 In 1950, he prosecuted Soviet spy William RemingtonWikipedia who had been a Commerce Department employee.[7]

In 1951, Cohn had a prominent role in the prosecution of the Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.Wikipedia Cohn may have engaged in improper behavior during the Rosenberg trial by urging the death penalty during ex parte discussions with the judge.[8] The trial itself was marred by judicial and legal improprieties, many on the part of Cohn.[9] What a commie!

Following the Rosenberg trial, Senator Joseph McCarthy hired Cohn as his chief legal counsel, based on the recommendation of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Both Cohn and McCarthy were instrumental in initiating the Lavender Scare,Wikipedia which was persecution of closeted homosexuals within the federal government based on the belief that they were easily blackmailed by Soviet agents.[10][11] The scare became official government policy in 1953 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 and did not end until 1995 when President Bill Clinton rescinded the order.[10][11]

After being hired by McCarthy, Cohn invited his friend G. David Schine,Wikipedia an anti-communist propagandist, to join the staff as a consultant. After Schine was drafted into the Army in 1953, Cohn sought unusual special treatment for Schine, which led to unsubstantiated rumors that Cohn and Schine had a sexual relationship. The requests also led to the Army–McCarthy hearings of 1954, in which the Army accused both Cohn and McCarthy of using improper pressure on Schine's behalf. To counter this accusation, Cohn and McCarthy naturally accused the Army of harboring communists.[12] The hearings led to increasing public disapproval of McCarthy,[13] McCarthy's censure by the U.S. Senate[14] and downfall, and the resignation of Cohn from McCarthy's staff to avoid being fired.[15] What a poof.

Mobbed up[edit]

Reagan, Murdoch and Cohn meeting in the Oval Office in 1983

After his resignation, Cohn spent the rest of his career in private practice in New York. His clientele included major mafia figures (Tony Salerno,[16] Carmine Galante,[17] John Gotti and Carlo Gambino[18]) as well as other high-profile clients.

Cohn served as Donald Trump's attorney from 1973-1978, during which time the Justice Department accused Trump of violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African Americans in 39 of Trump's buildings.[19] Cohn unsuccessfully countersued the Justice Department, and the case was settled out of court.[19] More importantly for Trump, Cohn served as a nexus for introductions to important people in Manhattan, including mafia figures who, at the time, controlled parts of the building construction business.[20] Cohn also tutored Trump in some his strategies, e.g. attack one's accuser, how to be a deadbeat, and how to set up the audience for the big lie.[20] Cohn also introduced Trump to former Nixon henchman and future Trump sycophant Roger Stone and to media mogul Rupert Murdoch.[20]

After the statute of limitations had expired, Stone claimed that he had been a bagman for Cohn's bribery of the Liberal Party to endorse John B. Anderson as a third-party candidate in the 1980 Presidential race.[20][21] This was likely done under the false impression that Anderson would be a spoiler candidate who would have hurt Jimmy Carter's chances against Ronald Reagan; Anderson's supporters turned out to be about equally split between Carter and Reagan.[22]

Murdoch would later create Fox News, to which Trump became unhealthily addicted. Cohn arranged for Murdoch's first meeting with Reagan (whom Cohn had been acquainted with since the Red Scare days) in the White House and made other arrangements between Reagan and Murdoch. Murdoch's taking American citizenship, as well as the elimination of the Fairness DoctrineWikipedia and the Reagan Administration's relaxation of media monopoly regulation, directly led to the rise of Fox News.[23]

Not only did Cohn advise mobsters, mobsters apparently advised him. For example he routinely subjected his employees to potential criminal liability according to one of the lawyers in his firm:

He subjected everybody around him to potential criminal liability. For example, I was, I think, 25 years old. I had about $35 in the bank. And I was made the director of a bank in Chicago, as were some of our associates for other banks. I remember the first auditor's report, basically saying, "What happened to the money? Where's all the money?" There was always something of that criminal nature going on.
—John Vassallo[24][25]


Cohn had many legal troubles of his own, including non-payment of as much as $3.18 million in taxes to the IRS and Federal government charges of conspiracy, bribery, and fraud, for which he was acquitted.[4] Cohn claimed that people had personal vendettas against him (Robert F. Kennedy and US Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau,Wikipedia in particular),[4] which may have been either a persecution complex or for good reason since he had personally ruined so many innocent lives during the Red Scare and the Lavender Scare.

Eventually, however, Cohn was disbarred from practicing law in June 1986.[26] The charges against Cohn included 1) misrepresenting a will to his dying client; the will included Cohn as an executor; 2) not returning money to clients; and 3) some rather shady dealings in connection with the sinking of a yacht.[4]

Cohn was closeted until the very end, claiming that he was terminally ill from liver cancer when, in fact, he died from AIDS in August 1986.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. Tony Kushner's Paradise Lost by Arthur Lubow (November 30, 1992) The New Yorker
  2. The Snarling Death of Roy M. Cohn: Elevated by Joe McCarthy, felled by AIDS, he went with no regrets by Nicholas von Hoffman (March 1988) Life Magazine.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 My Bizarre Dinner Party with Donald Trump, Roy Cohn and Estee Lauder: I went to interview Cohn for Playboy. But the night got especially weird when I got seated next to Trump. by Peter Manso (May 27, 2016) Politico.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Roy Cohn, Aide to McCarthy and Fiery Lawyer, Dies at 59 by Albin Krebs (August 3, 1986) The New York Times (archived from 4 Jan 2013 11:26:59 UTC).
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Smith Act trials of Communist Party leaders.
  6. The Great Fear: the Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman and Eisenhower by David Caute (1978) Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671226827.
  7. See the Wikipedia article on William Remington.
  8. The Rosenberg File by Ronald Radosh & Joyce Milton (1997) Yale University Press, 2nd ed. ISBN 0300072058. p. 278.
  9. Crimes and Trials of the Century by Steven Chermak & Frankie Y. Bailey (2007) Greenwood Press, p. 205. ISBN 0313341095.
  10. 10.0 10.1 9 Things To Know About 'The Lavender Scare' (2013-04-26 14:23) Out Magazine.
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government by David K. Johnson (2006) University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226401901.
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Army–McCarthy hearings.
  13. Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective by Richard M. Fried (1991) Oxford University Press. p. 138. ISBN 0195043618.
  14. The Censure Case of Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin (1954) (Senate vote: Dec. 2, 1954) United States Senate.
  15. "Mr. Cohn Resigns" (July 21, 1954) The New York Times. p. 26.
  16. Salerno, 67, Given 6 Months in Prison In Gambling Case by Arnold H. Lubasch (April 20, 1978) The New York Times.
  17. Telling Court He's Gay, Mob Informer Crosses Line by Alan Feuer Oct. 20, 2009) The New York Times (archived from 27 Jan 2018 04:06:19 UTC).
  18. Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family by John H. Davis (1993) HarperCollins. p. 184. ISBN 0061091847.
  19. 19.0 19.1 DOJ: Trump's Early Businesses Blocked Blacks: A 1973 suit against Trump and the Trump Organization claimed that their supers would mark African American's applications with a 'C' for 'Colored' and other racial codes. by Gideon Resnick (12.15.15 1:00 AM ET) Daily Beast.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Just What Were Donald Trump's Ties to the Mob? I've spent years investigating, and here's what's known by David Cay Johnston (May 22, 2016) Politico Magazine.
  21. Roger Stone, Political Animal: "Above all, attack, attack, attack—never defend." by Matt Labash (12:00 AM, Nov 05, 2007) The Weekly Standard.
  22. The myths that just won’t die: Repeat after me: Ross Perot didn’t cost George H.W. Bush the election by Steve Kornacki (04.04.2011•3:24 PM) Salon.
  23. How Roy Cohn Helped Rupert Murdoch by Robert Parry (January 28, 2015)
  24. Where's My Roy Cohn? (2019). 00:33:25.
  25. Where's My Roy Cohn? (2019) — Full Transcript Subslikescript.
  26. Roy Cohn Is Disbarred By New York Court by Margot Hornblower (June 24, 1986) The Washington Post.