Where's my Roy Cohn?

Where's my Roy Cohn?
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You don't have to search for more revelations to grasp the mindset and mendacity of President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpEx-Trump lawyer Cohen to pen forward for impeachment book Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again Man known as 'QAnon Shaman' asks Trump for pardon after storming Capitol MORE; just go see the new documentary, "Where's my Roy Cohn?"

Cohn, the notorious fixer and New York power broker, was Trump's mentor, tutoring him in the skills of denial, duplicity and diversion. He died 33 years ago, but the president's response after being caught trying to pressure Ukraine to dish out dirt about former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenConfirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed Biden's Sunday inauguration rehearsal postponed due to security concerns: report Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again MORE and his son's business dealings there was vintage Roy.

Thanks to reporting in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and an anonymous whistle blower, these transgressions have come to light and set off an impeachment inquiry in the House. Channeling his consigliere, Trump has denied and diverted, charging the scandal is really about Biden.


The Post headline the other day captured this: "Trump deflects and defies as Democrats speed up impeachment strategy." The story notes his "stance of defiance" and "leveling distortions and falsehoods."

This is out of the Cohn playbook. In what still may be the best article about him, Ken Auletta decades ago wrote that the nefarious fixer was a "shrewd, ruthless bully" whose philosophy was, "Everyone lies, smears, covers up, protects their friends. The rules of the game don't count as much as winning."

Here's just one illustration.

Cohn was representing a sleazy nightclub owner for income tax evasion. Cohn found that President Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump impeached again; now what? When government becomes destructive Gerald Ford Foundation urges 'dignified' presidential transition MORE's chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, once visited the nightclub. Bingo — diversion.

To get a better deal for his client, Cohn orchestrated a story about Jordan snorting cocaine at the club. But it triggered a special counsel, who — along with a unanimous grand jury — concluded the Jordan story was bogus.

This was the Cohn technique right up until he was finally disbarred shortly before dying of AIDS. Earlier it had worked, as Cohn beat three federal indictments.


Trump gave the director, Matt Tyrnauer, the title for his compelling film. During the special counsel's investigation of Trump and the Russians’ clandestine effort to help him in the 2016 election, Trump — exasperated by his lawyers — reportedly asked: "Where's my Roy Cohn?"

Cohn was the mogul's lawyer getting him out of numerous jams, starting with the family company's discrimination against African-Americans in rental properties.

While he lacked Cohn's diabolical brilliance, Trump got Cohn’s M.O. — and he's using it now.

In the released transcript of his call to the Ukranian president, Trump forcefully pressures him to go after the Bidens. Not so subtly, he cites the critical assistance the U.S. provides to that Russia-threatened country, aid Trump then was holding in abeyance.

With this, the House is moving closer to impeachment. A Senate conviction is unlikely, but who knows what else may emerge? Cautious constitutional scholars like Cass Sunstein have declared what's out there may well be an impeachable offense.

Under threat, Trump smears everything in sight.

There were Ukrainians that helped Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCan Biden encompass the opposition he embodied? Disney silent on Trump status in Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Biden has an opportunity to win over conservative Christians MORE in 2016, he says, and illicit donations to the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation, and don't forget her emails. And somewhere Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's chief aide says president wants teams, no rivals Where is the campus debate on immigration? Gerald Ford Foundation urges 'dignified' presidential transition MORE is implicated.

But the central diversionary targets are the Bidens. Hunter Biden, who Trump also accuses of taking “big bucks” from the Chinese, was on the board of a dubious Ukrainian energy company. The black sheep of the family, Hunter Biden never should have had such associations — and his father should have told him so.

But reporting by Bloomberg News, the Washington Post's indefatigable fact-checker, and former New York Times top investigative reporter James Risen show the Vice President did nothing improper.

In 2015 he used leverage to force the firing of a prosecutor in Ukraine — not, as Trump charges, to protect his son, but because the man wasn't going after pervasive corruption. That was the view taken to Biden from the American embassy in Kiev, the Europeans, the International Monetary Fund and anti-corruption forces in Ukraine. Moreover, the prosecutor wasn't then investigating the energy company.

Yet, Cohn-like, Trump has diverted some of the scandal to Biden.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Additional airlines ban guns on flights to DC ahead of inauguration Graham congratulates former rival Harrison on being picked to lead DNC MORE has called for a Justice Department investigation of the Bidens, while insisting Trump's pressure on a foreign country to smear a political opponent is a "nothing burger.” Graham, once a harsh critic of the president, is petrified of a right-wing primary challenge and will remain in the tank to Trump at least until the South Carolina filing deadline early next year.

This has been picked up by some mainstream media, suggesting that Biden might be collateral damage in the Trump scandal. This, as the Atlantic's James Fallows wrote, is indefensible "false equivalency."

Roy would be proud.

But as the film shows, in the end it caught up with Cohn.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for the Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.