Roy Cohn’s most important legacy is Donald Trump. Cohn took Trump under his tutelage in the 70’s.
Actually, Roy Cohn personifies the problems of the law. Of all the attributes of a good lawyer, cynicism is certainly among the foremost. How else could one weave a defense for a client who is guilty? Like mock UN assemblies for college kids, one day you argue the Soviet Union’s position; the next, the United States’, What you say has little to do with what you believe. In fact, convictions can get in the way You’re an advocate, not a judge. Your interest is form, not content—the process. Surprising the prosecution, entertaining the jury, flattering the judge, leaking information to the press, figuring out angles, coaching testimony, unearthing sympathetic witnesses, feigning anger or sorrow—they’re all part of the game. Roy just plays the game harder, tougher, makes up his own rules. “He does what he has to to win,” observes a former associate, comparing him to Richard Nixon’s favorite football coach. “It’s the George Allen school of law. He’ll pull out some plays every now and then that aren’t in the book.” This has earned Roy considerable notoriety.
This piece originally ran in the December 1978 issue of Esquire. Listen to Ken Auletta discuss this story with David Brancaccio in an episode of the Esquire Classic podcast: The “21” once did. The restaurant spa of the rich and powerful used to seat Roy in Siberia, upstairs in […]