Roy Cohn was a lawyer and former Department of Justice prosecutor. He is featured throughout A&E’s documentary series The Trump Dynasty, due to the personal and professional relationship he had with Donald Trump. Learn more about Cohn and his mentorship of the current president below.
Cohn was born on February 20, 1927 in New York City. He graduated from Columbia Law School, and eventually rose to prominence as a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor in the 1950s. He worked the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which concluded with their widely-publicized executions. The success of the Rosenberg case led Cohn to be hired on as Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel.
Cohn Aided Senator Joseph McCarthy During the Communist Witch Hunt of the 1950s
He assisted McCarthy in his work for the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and became infamous for his aggressive questioning of citizens who were suspected to be Communists. The duo’s crusade against communism came to a close in 1954 when the Army-McCarthy hearings damaged their credibility and methods of interrogation. Cohn resigned from McCarthy’s staff soon after and began a private practice.
In 1973, Cohn began representing New York businessman Donald Trump. Trump Management Corporation was being sued by the Justice Department for alleged racial discrimination. According to the Huffington Post, the lawsuit alleged that Trump discriminated against African Americans who wished to rent apartments in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island by quoting different rental terms and conditions as well as lying about the availability of certain apartments. Cohn sued the Justice Department for defamation and demanded $100 million in damages.
Cohn Sued the Government for $100 Million on Trump’s Behalf In 1973
The countersuit was eventually dismissed and Cohn was criticized by the judge for “wasting time and paper from what I consider to be the real issues.” Despite the loss, Trump was complimentary of Cohn’s legal tactics. “All I can tell you is he’s been vicious to others in his protection of me,” he told Vanity Fair in 1980. “He’s a genius. He’s a lousy lawyer, but he’s a genius.”
Federal investigations during the late 1970s and 1980s charged Cohn with perjury and witness tampering on three separate occasions. In 1986, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court disbarred him for unethical misconduct. On August 2 of that same year, Cohn died of complications from AIDS. There have been several rumors regarding Cohn’s sexuality, but all remain unfounded. He is buried at Union Fields Cemetery in Queens, New York. He was never married and has no children.
Cohn Is Said to Have Inspired Many of Trump’s Current Day Tactics As President
Author Sam Roberts claims that Trump’s current day tactics as president were partly inspired by Cohn. “Roy was a master of situational immorality . . . . He worked with a three-dimensional strategy, which was: 1. Never settle, never surrender. 2. Counter-attack, counter-sue immediately. 3. No matter what happens, no matter how deeply into the muck you get, claim victory and never admit defeat.”
Political consultant Roger Stone offered a similar outlook on the relationship between Trump and Cohn, who remained friends until the latter’s death. “Pro-Americanism is a common thread for McCarthy, Goldwater, Nixon, [and] Reagan. The heir to that tradition is Donald Trump,” he reasoned. “When you combine that with the bare-knuckled tactics of Roy Cohn, that is how you win elections. So Roy has an impact on Donald’s understanding of how to deal with the media—attack, attack, attack, never defend.