Netflix Trump Biography Spotlights Manhattan Power Broker Roy Cohn

UPDATED/APRIL 8:
See below...
(Roy Cohn had a different version of events about Trump Tower. Check back for more information...)

Despite his polarizing nature, a new Netflix series, Trump: An American Dream, which is available now, reportedly provides a neutral look at Donald Trump, leveraging interviews with those who either love or hate him.

Trump with New York City Mayor Ed Koch, and Roy Cohn
Trump with New York City Mayor Ed Koch, and Roy Cohn

Filmed and produced by Britain’s Channel 4, Trump: An American Dream focuses on Trump’s life from his 1980s rise to his more recent political aspirations. The series is comprised of four hour-long episodes. (I'm watching episode one, and I find the show quite compelling actually. The 1970-80s news clips alone are dredging up long forgotten memories. Trump has been a years-long research "project" of mine and this series is bringing many things into sharp focus.)



It may not do the kind of deep dives into topics as is commonly done in digital journalism, but it serves up a lot of fascinating nuggets in the words of the primary sources themselves, meaning the people there in the room with Trump during the events discussed.

One such topic that, in my view, gives the show the kind of intriguing weight it needed is a quite fascinating personage in his own right. Roy Cohn (February 20, 1927–August 2, 1986) was an American attorney/Manhattan power broker who served as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy's investigations into alleged Communist activity in the United States. Cohn raised his profile significantly due to his participation in the so-called Army–McCarthy hearings. The hearings ended McCarthy's dubious career, but for inexplicable reasons, seem to have had the opposite effect on Cohn, who left McCarthy with a national reputation.(Cohn was also was among the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were charged with espionage at trial).

He has been described as "the most repulsive person you could ever meet."A lunch companion once recalled the midday meal with Cohn by saying: "I felt like I was in the presence of Satan."

Cohn, as an attorney, represented Donald Trump* during his early business career. He also represented Carmine Galante, and at one point, Cohn represented the bosses of all New York's Five Families, "all the Godfathers of the Five Families," and that is meaningful. They would all meet in Cohn's townhouse. They knew the FBI couldn't wiretap Cohn because of "attorney/client privilege." (If the FBI ever did wiretap Cohn, it's never been leaked.).

(Understand this not as someone living in 2018 reading one of the millions of blogs on your iPhone....We have a tendency to turn our own lives into abstract phenomenon. You may be among the jaded, glass-is-always-half-empty-and-furthermore-it's-chipped types who think: "Cohn was just another mob attorney, big fckn deal." Well, I could never write this blog if I had that attitude.

Roy Cohn's past was like a boulder tied around his neck. From his association with McCarthy, he was despised by "polite society," and hated by everyone else. He simply had too many negatives to make it in mainstream Manhattan. Cohn had to find his own way. And by taking on clients such as Carlo Gambino, Cohn did find the path to success, but mostly power and influence.

People feared Cohn because of his mob connections, and by people, specifically, we mean Manhattan's elite: the wealthy, entrepreneurs, businessmen, law enforcement officials, politicians, real estate moguls--and journalists, who probably mattered a lot more to Cohn and even Donald Trump than you'd believe possible. Journalists who fear a source about whom they are writing, even if only on a subconscious level, can leave things out of  a story, lessen the impact of the facts. Let's be truthful here, absolute objectivity is the goal, but deep, deep down we all share certain traits that impair our ability to be objective.

One place God is forever making more space is digital real estate, so I wanted to share this with you:

"A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self centeredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default-setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: There is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real-you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called "virtues." This is not a matter of virtue-it's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default-setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centered, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.....read the rest of that commencement speech here. If you'd like to know more about the speaker of those words, you can use Google or contact me.)

By 1986, Cohn no longer represented anyone. The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court disbarred him for unethical conduct. That year he also died, in August at age 59. The “immediate” cause of death was cardio-pulmonary arrest, though his death certificate listed "dementia" and "underlying HTLV-3 infections," or AIDS, as secondary causes. (In his last years in multiple interviews, Cohn repeatedly denied rumors that he’d been treated for AIDS.)

Cohn was disbarred from practicing law in New York State by the unanimous decision of a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court. The panel stated that Cohn’s conduct in four legal matters was "unethical," "unprofessional" and—in one specific case, "particularly reprehensible." (Cohn denied all allegations and contended that his disbarment resulted from a “smear campaign" engineered by his enemies who he described as "yo-yos." Cohn said he was disbarred over the simple fact that "the establishment bar hates my guts.")

Roy Cohn and Donald Trump: disgraced attorney,  President of the United States.
Roy Cohn and Donald Trump: disgraced attorney,  President of the United States.


Trump* was 27 when he met Cohn at a nightclub, reported Wayne Barrett, the late Village Voice journalist and one of Trump's* earliest public enemies. Barrett had been born and raised in "Trump Village" -- an apartment building in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Most reports pegged Trump's age at 28 when the two met. The savvy, urbane, cultivated Cohn quickly became a major Trump* ally, he was a fixer and mentor to the young real estate mogul.

Cohn was a “morality-free, dogged powerbroker (that) Trump* needed to guide and protect him through the minefield of New York City politics,” Thrillist noted, adding, “Marie Brenner's Vanity Fair feature on the Trump-Cohn connection is far more interesting, and takes far less of your time, than watching even the first (and most compelling) installment of An American Dream. Cohn knew everybody from newscasters to politicians to mob bosses, and could pull strings for anyone he deemed worthy, including Trump*, whom he at one point called his best friend. Having helped Trump* secure the rights to the Commodore/Grand Hyatt, Cohn also advised him on the construction of the first property Trump* built from the ground up: Trump Tower."

While building Trump Tower, one of Trump's construction managers detailed difficulties they were having with a contractor.

Trump reached inside his desk and held up a picture of Roy Cohn.

"Know him?" Trump reportedly asked the manager. "He's my attorney. Someone threatens me, I get Roy Cohn. Nobody wants to face Roy Cohn."

Trump was known to say: "If someone threatens me, I get Roy Cohn and he scares the hell out of them."

Cohn was Trump's weapon. Trump was smart enough to know he was bound to engage in confrontations at his worksite, so he needed to fight on others' terms, so he got Cohn to be his godfather.



“What initially seems to be a quirk of Trump Tower's construction -- its all-concrete frame, unique in skyscrapers, but cheaper and faster to build -- becomes the subject of a tantalizing, but almost immediately dropped, thread in An American Dream. Cohn famously defended more than a few mafiosos, and at the time of Trump Tower's construction in 1980, organized crime syndicates controlled the concrete industry; if you wanted to pour concrete, you had to do business with the mob. Cohn was in an ideal position to collect checks from both Trump and his mafia clients if he brokered a deal to build out of concrete the most prominent new skyscraper in New York City. Did Roy Cohn hook up Trump with the Mafia?*

"Perhaps! Like so many of the complex connections, deals, and accusations of misdeeds on which Trump: An American Dream spends time, the question receives no more than a cursory inquiry. ...."


Update
Some of Cohn's  other mob clients included “Fat Tony” Salerno, front boss of the Genovese crime family, the most powerful Mafia group in New York, and Paul Castellano, head of the Gambinos. The two were major powers in the Mafia's concrete club (see the Commission Case).

Village Voice journalist Barrett alleged: Trump didn’t just do business with mobbed-up concrete companies: he also probably met personally with Salerno at Cohns's townhouse in a meeting recounted by a Cohn staffer.

Trump Tower, and subsequent Trump projects in New York, had an anomaly about them. While most skyscrapers are steel girder constructions, especially in the 1980s (as per John Cross of the American Iron & Steel Institute), some use pre-cast concrete. Trump chose a costlier and riskier method: ready-mix concrete.

Ready-mix has advantages: it can speed up construction, and it doesn’t require fireproofing. 

Still, it must be poured quickly or it will harden in the delivery truck drums, ruining them and creating costly problems with the building, which makes real estate developers vulnerable to the unions: the worksite gate is union controlled, so even a brief labor slowdown can turn into an expensive disaster.

Salerno, Castellano and other organized crime figures controlled the ready-mix business in New York, and everyone in construction at the time knew it. So did government investigators trying to break up the mob, urged on by major developers such as the LeFrak and Resnick families.

Trump ended up not only using ready-mix concrete, but also paying what a federal indictment of Salerno later concluded were inflated prices for it – repeatedly – to S & A Concrete, a firm Salerno and Castellano owned through fronts, and possibly to other mob-controlled firms. As Barrett noted, by choosing to build with ready-mix concrete rather than other materials, Trump put himself “at the mercy of a legion of concrete racketeers.”

*Michael DiLeonardo, former Gambino capo, when asked, told us, unequivocally, that Trump had no mob ties.


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