Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Trump Triumphed Despite Having All Of Roy Cohn’s Debits But None Of His Assets-- Legal Cunning, Brainpower And Loyalty. And Michael Cohen?


Yesterday ABC News reported some financial shenanigans that show one way Señor Trumpanzee has been obstructing justice, using his crooked campaign pay for the defense of his crooked lawyer, Michael Cohen. Do you think Trump would be paying for Cohen's lawyers if Cohen were cooperating with the Justice Department? So far Trump has thrown in nearly a quarter million dollars to keep Cohen from flipping. At the very least that violates campaign finance laws since Cohen has said that he did not have a formal role in the Trump campaign, and it is illegal to spend campaign funds for personal use.

Can Cohen really be that incompetent? Why does Trump even employ him or why did Trump ever employ him? When Trump claimed he hired "only the best people," what was he measuring them against? Himself, of course. Is Trump the best person? Of course not. Trump is the worst person and he hires people like himself, claiming they are-- like himself-- the best. Look at that cabinet! Look at that chaotic White House! Would anyone competent or honorable even work for Trump to begin with?

As for Cohen... Frank Rich wrote an informative piece for New York Magazine that gets to the bottom of why Trump works with Cohen. Simply put... Trump's mobster lawyer, Roy Cohn, is dead, so Trump took a bargain bin version. Cohn was one of the worst characters to land on the public stage in the last century. He and Trump were, of course, drawn each other. Michael Cohen is a Roy Cohn wannabe-- perfect for Trumpanzee.

Roy Cohn, wrote Rich, ended his miserable life as a closeted, homophobic, middle-aged gay man battling AIDS, a real-life Über-villain of America’s 20th century-- "The polestar of human evil; the worst human being who ever lived … the most evil, twisted, vicious bastard ever to snort coke at Studio 54." Trump's mentor ("counterpunch viciously, deny everything, stiff your creditors, manipulate the tabloids") and his idea of the best lawyer ("ruthless bullying and profane braggadocio"). Cohn, he wrote, "was supposed to have been washed up in 1954, after he and his superior in witch-hunting, Joe McCarthy, imploded in the televised Army-McCarthy hearings. McCarthy drank himself to death, and Cohn fled Washington a pariah, his brief career in government service in ruins."

How Mafia is THAT?

Rich is fascinated how Cohn both survived and flourished as a Manhattan eminence in the quarter-century between McCarthy and Reagan and calls it "an ellipsis that gnawed at me because the same question applies to Trump. Cohn thrived throughout a New York second act rife with indictments and scandals that included accusations of multiple bank-and securities-law violations, perennial tax evasion, bribery, extortion, theft, and even precipitating the death of a young man in a suspicious fire. Trump may never have been suspected of manslaughter, but he also flourished for decades despite being a shameless lawbreaker, tax evader, liar, racist, bankruptcy aficionado, and hypocrite notorious for his mob connections, transactional sexual promiscuity, and utter disregard for rules, scruples, and morals. Indeed, Trump triumphed despite having all of Cohn’s debits, wartime draft dodging included, but none of his assets-- legal cunning, erudition, a sense of humor, brainpower, and loyalty. (The putz-cum-fixer Michael Cohen, who is to Cohn what Dan Quayle was to Jack Kennedy, boasts none of these attributes either.) And Trump, like Cohn, got away with it all under the ostensibly pitiless magnifying glass of New York. Much as one hates to concede it, it’s no small achievement that he succeeded where so many of his betters failed in becoming the first New Yorker to catapult himself to the White House since Franklin D. Roosevelt."
The story of Trump’s ascent complicates the equation for those who want to believe that it was exclusively a product of his genius for publicity, or his B-stardom in a long-running reality show in NBC’s prime time, or a vast right-wing conspiracy abetted by deplorable voters like those in Wisconsin who sent McCarthy to the Senate in 1946 and helped Trump take the Electoral College in 2016. Nor is Trump’s New York backstory comforting to those of us in the habit of quarantining the blame for his unlikely victory to Russian and/or Comey’s interference, the ineptitude of the Clinton campaign, the Fox News–Breitbart complex, and the cynical, feckless Vichy Republicans who stood by as Trump subverted every principle they once claimed to have held dear.

There are Vichy Democrats too. From the mid-1970s to the turn of the century, well before Trump debuted on The Apprentice or flirted more than glancingly with politics, he gained power and consolidated it with the help of allies among the elites of New York’s often nominally Democratic and liberal Establishment-- some of them literally the same allies who boosted Cohn. Like Cohn (a registered Democrat until he died) and Trump (an off-and-on Democrat for years), their enablers were not committed to any party or ideology. Their priority was raw personal power that could be leveraged for their own enrichment, privilege, and celebrity. Cohn’s biographer Nicholas von Hoffman described what he called the “Roy Cohn Barter and Swap Exchange”: It specialized in “deals, favors, hand washings, and reciprocities of all kinds.” And while Cohn is gone, the exchange never shut down. Its unofficial legislative body is the floating quid pro quo Favor Bank that has always made New York tick at its highest levels, however corruptly, since Tammany Hall. It’s a realm where everyone has his (or her) price, and clout is always valued higher than any civic good. All that matters is the next transaction. Since time immemorial, those who find it unsavory are invariably dismissed as naïve.

The more I’ve looked back at the entanglements of Trump, Cohn, and their overlapping circles and modi operandi, the more I think the crux of their political culture could be best captured if Edward Sorel were to create a raucous mural depicting the Friday night in February 1979 when Cohn celebrated his 52nd birthday at Studio 54. That sprawling midtown Valhalla of the disco era, a nexus for boldface names, omnivorous drug consumption, anonymous sex, and managerial larceny, was owned by Cohn’s clients (and soon-to-be-imprisoned felons) Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. The guest list? “If you’re indicted, you’re invited,” went the comedian Joey Adams’s oft-repeated joke about Cohn’s soirées. Among the (all-white) Democratic revelers joining Republican and Conservative party leaders at Cohn’s black-tie testimonial were the borough presidents of Queens (Donald Manes), Brooklyn (Howard Golden), and Manhattan (Andrew Stein), not to mention the former Democratic mayor Abe Beame and a bevy of judges, including the chief of the U.S. District Court. The investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, who covered the scrum from the sidewalk for the Village Voice, noted that, among the usual Warhol celebrity crowd, politicians, and fixers, was a “surprise” attendee-- “newcomer Chuck Schumer, a ‘reform’ assemblyman from Brooklyn who insisted he was just the date of a gossip columnist.” Also in attendance, less surprisingly, and camera-ready for the paparazzi, was the 32-year-old Trump, who by then had been in Cohn’s orbit for six years.

...A few months after the Studio 54 bacchanal, Morley Safer would front a soft 60 Minutes Cohn profile in which, among other euphemisms, viewers were informed that Cohn had never tied the knot with his oft-rumored fiancée Barbara Walters because “he’s just not the marrying kind.” In its effort to be “balanced,” the piece came off as a free ad for Cohn’s supposed legal wizardry and cast him as something of a victim. (Intriguingly, this 60 Minutes segment cannot be found on YouTube, while a tougher, if tardy, Mike Wallace profile, made as Cohn was dying seven years later, can be [that's it, up top].) By that point, Walters had long since delivered for her platonic fiancé with her first promotional profile of his shiny young protégé for ABC’s 60 Minutes rival 20/20. Titled “The Man Who Has Everything,” it was, in the Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio’s description, “wealth pornography.” Among other superlatives, it floated the dubious claim (for the 1970s) that “the Trumps are treated like American royalty.”

For years it’s been a parlor game for Americans to wonder how history might have turned out if someone had stopped Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot JFK. One might be tempted-- just as fruitlessly-- to speculate on what might have happened if more of New York’s elites had intervened back then, nonviolently, to block or seriously challenge Trump’s path to power. They had plenty of provocation and opportunities to do so. Trump practiced bigotry on a grand scale, was a world-class liar, and ripped off customers, investors, and the city itself. Yet for many among New York’s upper register, there was no horror he could commit that would merit his excommunication. As with Cohn before him, the more outrageously and reprehensibly Trump behaved, the more the top rungs of society were titillated by him. They could cop out of any moral judgments or actions by rationalizing him as an entertaining con man: a cheesy, cynical, dumbed-down Gatsby who fit the city’s tacky 1980s Gilded Age much as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s more romantic prototype had the soigné Jazz Age of the 1920s. And so most of those who might have stopped Trump gawked like the rest of us as he scrambled up the city’s ladder, grabbing anything that wasn’t nailed down. [Trump and Schumer have to pretend sometimes to be at each other's throats.]

It was Democrats in New York who taught both Cohn and Trump that they could buy off politicians and try to get away with anything. Cohn’s father, Al, was a Bronx and then New York State Supreme Court judge. The elder Cohn’s roots in the party’s machine were hardwired into his son: Young Roy figured out how to pull strings to fix a parking ticket for a teacher while still in high school. Trump grew up with a father who had been intertwined with the Brooklyn Democratic machine while building his residential-real-estate empire. By the time the clubhouse hack Beame arrived in City Hall in 1974 after the reform mayoralty of John Lindsay, Fred Trump had known him for 30 years. The new mayor immediately gave both Trumps a license to steal by declaring that “whatever Donald and Fred want, they have my complete backing.” Never mind, as the Trump biographers Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher observed, that Donald Trump didn’t have the financing to snag the real-estate prize he then sought, the properties of the bankrupt Penn Central railroad. The Beame deputy mayor Stanley Friedman pushed through an enormous 40-year, $400 million tax abatement-- this at the city’s bankrupt nadir-- and in his waning weeks in office fast-tracked the agency approvals Trump needed to rebuild the decrepit old Commodore Hotel as the Grand Hyatt, his first big deal. Roy Cohn served as the closer: The day after the Beame administration was succeeded by Ed Koch’s in 1978, Friedman was paid off for his Trump handiwork with a new job as a partner in Cohn’s law firm. (It was not enough to save Friedman from federal prison a decade later, when he was convicted in unrelated kickback scandals the year after Cohn’s death.)

Trump’s other major political ally as he erected a new, Manhattan real-estate empire on top of his father’s outer-borough fiefdom was the Democratic governor Hugh Carey. Trump engineered a brazen conflict-of-interest that you’d be tempted to call mind-boggling were its contours not being replicated on a far grander scale within the current White House. In the 1970s, Trump hired as his lobbyist Carey’s chief political fund-raiser, Louise Sunshine, even as he and his father were the second-biggest contributors to Carey’s 1978 reelection campaign (only a Carey brother, an oilman, gave more). “He’ll do anything for a developer who gives him a campaign contribution,” said Trump of Carey. And so he did. Trump was unstoppable, though he kept writing checks to other useful Democrats, including a record $270,000 (for a Board of Estimate election) to the Cohn crony Andrew Stein, who served as Manhattan borough president and then New York City Council president from 1978 to 1994 and “whose varied public performances for Trump were a metaphor for gutter government,” in Wayne Barrett’s estimation. (Stein would years later plead guilty to un-Trump-related tax evasion.) Trump would also give to (among others) Schumer, Eliot Spitzer, and Andrew Cuomo, who took Trump as a client even as his father was governor and Trump was conniving to develop the West Side yards and build a domed football stadium in Queens.

Unlike Trump, Cohn had no interest in building anything. He wanted to tear down institutions and people for fun and profit. To shield him from repercussions, legal or otherwise, he didn’t have just a retinue of politicians from both parties in his pocket but a client list whose breadth was no doubt aspirational to the young Trump — the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the self-described “boss of bosses” Carmine “Lilo” Galante, and the city’s reigning real-estate titans (the Helmsleys, LeFraks, et al.), as well as the Newhouse publishing empire and Studio 54. This coterie either looked the other way or gave Cohn cover during transgression after transgression, some of them proto-Trump financial flimflams in which he looted banks or companies; others involving unpaid bills to creditors as varied as the IRS, Dunhill Tailors, and a local locksmith; still others more sensational. In the late 1960s, Cohn took a loan of $100,000 from a client for whom he negotiated a suspiciously parsimonious divorce settlement from a billionaire, and fought paying it back until the case threatened his law license in the early 1980s. In the 1970s, a Florida court ruled that Cohn had pushed an elderly friend in mental decline, Lewis Rosenstiel, the founder of the Schenley liquor empire, into signing a will that made Cohn a trustee of his estate. It was in 1973, the year he met Trump, that perhaps the most sinister of the Cohn horror stories of his post-McCarthy career unfolded. A yacht leased by a shell company Cohn controlled was sent to sea despite having been judged in dire disrepair by its previous captain. A suspicious fire broke out, the yacht sank, a crew member died, and Cohn collected both legal fees and a back-channel insurance payout.

...Exhibit A of the Times’ credulousness is the puffy feature that put him on the media map in 1976. “He is tall, lean and blond, with dazzling white teeth, and he looks ever so much like Robert Redford,” read the lead. At this early date, Trump had only proposed ambitious projects, not built them or closed any of the requisite deals, but the profile christened him “New York’s No. 1 real estate promoter of the mid-1970’s” nonetheless. The article accepted Trump’s word that he was of Swedish descent, “publicity shy,” ranked first in his class at Wharton, made millions in unspecified land deals in California, was worth $200 million, and with his father owned 22,000 apartment units. None of this was remotely true, but the sexy brew of hyperbole and outright fantasy, having been certified by the paper of record, set the tone for much that was to come.

In 1981, for instance, the Times could be found quoting an unnamed “real-estate official” (John Barron, perhaps?) furthering the implausible notion that Prince Charles and Diana were considering the purchase of a 21-room condo in Trump Tower for $5 million-- a useful bit of free false advertising as the development’s condos went on the market for a 1983 opening. A 1984 Times Magazine profile christened Trump “the man of the hour” just as he was embarking on his financially reckless (and ultimately catastrophic) expansion into Atlantic City. Along the way, Trump continued to inflate his net worth. He was so obsessed with the Forbes annual list ranking the wealthiest Americans that he had Cohn muscle the magazine to fix it, a tale recently recounted in full by a former Forbes staffer, Jonathan Greenberg, in the Washington Post. By the 1990s, no less a television personage than ABC’s Diane Sawyer courted an exclusive PrimeTime Live interview with Marla Maples, complete with a best-sex-you-ever-had question, to facilitate the promotion of the Trump brand-- “one of the low points in television journalism history,” in the judgment of the PBS anchor Robert MacNeil. The ultimate result of such fake news retailed by real-news outlets, as Michael D’Antonio would conclude just before Trump’s presidential run, is that “no one in the world of business-- not Bill Gates, not Steve Jobs, or Warren Buffett-- has been as famous for as long.” And one might add: No one as famous in business has been famous for a portfolio of low-rent businesses that included the likes of Trump University and Trump Steaks.

...During his campaign, Trump made a cause out of the corruption intrinsic to pay-for-play political donations like those he used to give. “Nobody knows the system better than me,” he claimed, “which is why I alone can fix it.” The second half of that sentence was a lie, but the first was true. As he’d elaborate in pitch-perfect Cohn-speak, he gave to “everybody” because “when I want something, I get it. When I call, they kiss my ass.” At the first Republican presidential debate in August 2015, he fine-tuned his target: “Well, I’ll tell you what, with Hillary Clinton, I said, ‘Be at my wedding,’ and she came to my wedding. You know why? She had no choice, because I gave.”

He was referring to the fact that either he or his “foundation” gave at least $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. He could have added that between 2002 and 2009, he had also contributed six times to Hillary Clinton’s political war chest. And that he had given Bill Clinton, whom he met with to discuss fund-raising as far back as 1994, free access to his northern-Westchester club, Trump National, and on occasion played golf with him there. Even without that degree of incriminating detail, Trump’s accusation of a quid pro quo stung Hillary Clinton-- so much so that after her defeat, she felt compelled to revisit Trump’s wedding invitation, sort of, in the opening pages of her postelection self-autopsy, What Happened. “He was a fixture of the New York scene when I was a senator-- like a lot of big-shot real-estate guys of the city, only more flamboyant and self-promoting,” she writes of Trump. “In 2005 he invited us to his wedding to Melania in Palm Beach, Florida. We weren’t friends, so I assume he wanted as much star power as you can get. Bill happened to be speaking in the area that weekend, so we decided to go. Why not? I thought it would be a fun, gaudy, over-the-top spectacle, and I was right.”

Let’s posit that Clinton is telling the truth when she says that she attended the wedding only because “Bill happened to be speaking in the area that weekend” and she wanted to take in a campy spectacle-- an explanation that clears her of Trump’s charge that his contributions compelled her to turn up. Let’s also give her a pass for choosing not to regurgitate her and Bill’s financial history with Trump. Even so, everything else about this breezy and disingenuous paragraph epitomizes the honor-among-celebrities ethos of the bipartisan New York Establishment that helped Trump get where he was by 2005. To say that Trump was typical of “big-shot real-estate guys of the city” but merely “more flamboyant and self-promoting” is tantamount to saying that Robert Durst was typical of the big-shot real-estate guys in the Durst family but more prone to being accused of murder. The Clintons had to know that there was a more malevolent side to Trump’s so-called flamboyance than his boorishness, vulgar properties, television stardom, tawdry tabloid antics, and even his brazen destruction of bas-relief sculptures he had promised to the Metropolitan Museum when demolishing Bonwit Teller for Trump Tower. None of it was secret. If the Clintons didn’t know, it’s because they didn’t want to know.

After all, it had been front-page news, including in the Times, when the federal government sued the Trumps under the Fair Housing Act in 1973 for refusing to rent apartments to black applicants (whose paperwork they coded “C” for “colored”). This suit was filed just after Trump had met Cohn, who took on the case and filed a frivolous countersuit demanding $100 million from the government for “defamation.” The Trumps retreated two years later by signing a consent decree-- and soon violated that, too, forcing the Department of Justice to file new complaints of racial discrimination in 1978. The Clintons might have also heard how in 1989 Trump, running amok in a trademark rage, tried to help toss the city into turmoil by taking out a full-page racist ad in the four daily papers demanding a reinstitution of the death penalty for “roving bands of wild criminals” after five black male teenagers were charged (erroneously, as DNA would confirm in 2002) in the rape of a white female Central Park jogger. The Clintons may have even encountered the news, as did most Americans, that Ivana Trump had accused her husband of rape in a sworn divorce deposition uncovered by Harry Hurt III for his 1993 Trump biography.

So to return to Hillary Clinton’s flip rhetorical question: Why not go to the Trump-Melania wedding in 2005? These incidents are just a few of the many reasons why a former president and sitting United States senator with presidential ambitions should not have gone to this particular “fun, gaudy, over-the-top spectacle” in Palm Beach. But they just couldn’t stop themselves, any more than so many Democratic leaders of a quarter-century earlier couldn’t resist dressing up for Cohn’s fun, gaudy, over-the-top birthday gala at Studio 54. In the bipartisan New York political culture that nurtured Cohn and Trump, the statute of limitations for nearly every crime or outrage lasts about 48 hours. Nothing sticks; even repeated racist bygones can be bygones. Whether Hillary Clinton attended the wedding (Bill showed solely for the reception) because she’d taken Trump’s money, or because she wanted to be in the mix of power and celebrity no matter how tacky, or because she hoped there might be more favors to extract from Trump or someone else in the wedding party, doesn’t matter. Whatever the explanation, the then–New York senator, sitting in a reserved seat in the front row, lent a touch of civic legitimacy to Trump that the other glitzy celebrities on hand could not. He got what he’d paid for. He had written his checks knowing that the Clintons could be counted on not to bite the small hand that fed them-- at least not until their own self-interest was threatened in 2016.

...Some of the rich, connected, and powerful New Yorkers who failed to stand up to Trump before it was too late tried to cover their tracks once the music stopped and he had won the Republican nomination for president. When in April 2016 the Hollywood Reporter called 89 guests who had been at his 2005 wedding to request a comment, it did not receive a single response. One attendee who did speak up during the election year was the novelist Joseph O’Neill, who had attended as the plus-one of an invited Vogue editor. Writing in the New Yorker, he suggested that “a revisionist remembrance” was called for given Trump’s “metamorphosis into a would-be dictator.” A wedding that he had viewed ever since as “an anomalous and trivial item of personal recollection” now struck him “as the stuff of historic testimony,” perhaps to be reviewed “in the spirit of a Hannah Arendt or a Victor Klemperer."

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At 6:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever a society becomes as corrupt and fetid as that of NYC, lucky opportunists can and do flourish. Cohn may have been somewhat capable, but both he and the trumps were lucky more than anything.

The same can be said of DC, probably forever. There is a high society (read: rich white motherfuckers consorting only with their kind) meme there. In this environment, the lucky opportunists abound, sent there by every district, state and corporation in the union along with from every rich nation and oligarch on earth. They are reps and sens and their hired staffs; lobbyists who outnumber the first category 10 to 1 at present; and those sent from overseas to buy their interests in the most corrupt yet most open bacchanal in the history of humankind.

In such a society, it becomes inevitable that our highest celebration of that corruption, the presidency, would end up being our worst examples of our luckiest grifting opportunists. bush and trump represent the worst we can do. The least capable, dumbest, most narcissistic, most amoral and, especially in trump's case, most hate-filled misanthropes we can muster.

I would put Clinton and Obama in that same category. Both were rank opportunists who were lucky enough to appear at the right time in our history. Clinton's luck was having Perot to split the Nazi vote for him twice. Obama had copious help from the Chicago machine to become senator at the exact time that a new democrap face was going to be swept into that office by the anti-red cheney/bush wave and Clinton's wall street crash.

The role we voters play in this dance is just as unfortunate. I'm sure that a population of bonobos randomly pulling levers in a booth would surely do better than we do.

At 6:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

last I heard, bonobos have a much more interesting way to pass their time than to dabble in corrupt politics.

At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

6:54, true. They fuck. Not just to pass time, they use that to settle disputes too. Also, their society is maternalistic. Both are far superior to our way of life. Not even debatable.

I suspect that Americans' IQ arc is fast approaching theirs too. That was kind of my point. But yours is valuable and fun to ponder too.

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW: Scummer's part in this narrative is no surprise. As sleazy and corrupt as anyone in NY or DC. He's learned to talk liberal and he's able to be convincing to his NY imbecile electorate who never, ever, pay any attention to what he actually does.

Some day very soon, we'll find someone (it could even be a democrap) with trump/scummer's amorality, scummer's acting ability and restraint AND the ambition/narcissism to become our hitler. I'm still surprised cheney shrank from his opportunity for martial law when Lehman went poof.
Only a third of voters are needed. The rest of the electorate always meekly accepts whatever the winning third do, in spite of what DWT pretends is the case. The military won't stand in the way. Courts won't stand in the way.. already laws don't mean anything to the rich and powerful.

All these memes are entrenched long and deep enough for it to all seem normal. Just like trump "SEEMS" fairly normal today.

And, of course, americans are so dumbed down after 2 generations of shit for education that few will recognize that the end has arrived.


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