1986-08-02

ROY COHN, Ugly American slime-ball politician/attorney died (b. 1927); During the Army-McCarthy hearings, Cohn denied having any “special interest” in Schine or being bound to him “closer than to the ordinary friend.” Joseph Welch, the Army’s attorney in the hearings, made an apparent reference to Cohn’s homosexuality. After asking a witness if a photo entered as evidence “came from a pixie,” he defined “pixie” for McCarthy as “a close relative of a fairy.” The people at the hearing recognized the allusion and found it amusing; Cohn later called the remark “malicious,” “wicked,” and “indecent.” Cohn and McCarthy targeted many government officials and cultural figures not only for suspected Communist sympathies, but also for alleged homosexuality.

Cohn was, quite simply, a self-absorbed, power-hungry, manipulating and despicable human being. He lost his law license during the last month of his life. At this time, no less than National Review senior editor Jeffrey Hart referred to him as “an ice-cold sleaze.”

A dramatic, controversial man in life, Cohn inspired many dramatic fictional portrayals after his death. Probably the most famous is his role in Tony Kushner’s Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, in which Cohn is portrayed as a power-hungry hypocrite who is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg as he lies dying of AIDS. In the initial Broadway production, the role was created by Ron Liebman; in the 2003 HBO version of Kushner’s play, Cohn was played by Al Pacino. Cohn is also a character in Kushner’s one-act play, G. David Schine in Hell.

In 1971, businessman Donald Trump moved to Manhattan, where he became involved in large construction projects. Trump came to public attention in 1973 when the Justice Department accused him of violating the Fair Housing Act in his operation of 39 buildings. The government alleged that Trump’s corporation quoted different rental terms and conditions to blacks and made false “no vacancy” statements to blacks for apartments they managed in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

Representing Trump, Cohn filed a countersuit against the government for $100 million, asserting that the charges were irresponsible and baseless. The countersuit was unsuccessful.

Trump settled the charges out of court in 1975 without admitting guilt, saying he was satisfied that the agreement did not “compel the Trump organization to accept persons on welfare as tenants unless as qualified as any other tenant.” The corporation was required to send a bi-weekly list of vacancies to the New York Urban League, a civil rights group, and give them priority for certain locations. Several years later (in 1978) the Trump Organization was again in court for violating terms of the 1975 settlement; Cohn called the new charges “nothing more than a rehash of complaints by a couple of planted malcontents.” Trump denied the charges.

Cohn also counted Rupert Murdoch among his clients, pressuring President Ronald Reagan repeatedly in furtherance of Murdoch’s interests. Cohn is credited with introducing Trump and Murdoch in the mid-1970s, marking the beginning of what was to be a deep and pivotal association between them.

And for all of us, too, it turns out.