Oh my, what sleaze and sludge swirls about the tainted and still unfolding biography of Donald J. Trump — you know, the chief executive of our country. The same guy who saw fit to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the vituperative bully Rush Limbaugh, whose scurrilous litany of hate, bigotry and misogyny has vitiated radio airwaves for decades. In their engrossing book, “The Fixers,” authors Joe Palazzolo and Michael Rothfeld prove unstoppable in their venture through the sordid swamp of Trump. Both were at the Wall Street Journal while pursuing this salacious story. They won a Pulitzer. Rothfeld is now at The New York Times.
It starts with Roy Cohn. It’s the 1950s, and Cold War paranoia is rife. Cohn was an ambitious attorney. There he was on TV, seemingly glued to the side of the infamous red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy, R-Wisconsin. Media coverage of McCarthy’s investigations — to root out presumed communists in American government — captivated the nation. Displaying trappings of a demagogue, McCarthy was ruthless and reckless. Eventually, his deranged campaign and career collapsed. Somehow the sly, slippery, combative Cohn survived and went on to a lucrative practice in the Big Apple. His clients included mobster Carmine Galante, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Andy Warhol and many others of note.
Cohn mentored young Donald Trump. He was tapped to defend the Trump family real estate business against charges of racial discrimination. Say the authors: “The Roy Cohn playbook demanded a relentless show of strength. The tactics he deployed in a fight appealed to Trump, who had internalized some of them before he met Cohn: Attack — mercilessly. Never admit you’re wrong. Declare complete victory, even when making concessions. Follow through only when pressed, and only as much as required.” In this case, a settlement was reached. The Trumps agreed to rent to people of color. “Both sides claimed victory.”
The personification of hypocrisy, Cohn was a Jewish man who publicly loathed Jews. He was a gay man who disparaged homosexuals. In 1986, Cohn’s legal peccadillos caught up with him. The New York Supreme Court disbarred him. In August of that year Cohn died of AIDS. Hundreds attended the memorial service. Among them, Trump stood in the back. At the event’s conclusion, those gathered “sang ‘God Bless America’ and then they dispersed.”
This reeking albeit compelling volume is populated by venal and superficial people whose antics are more the stuff of a third-rate novel than an account of behind-the-scenes presidential politics. Yet as New York Times columnist David Brooks has written recently, Trump “is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest.” His lamentable proclivities have infected a considerable portion of this nation’s body politic. Sadly, many citizens were already predisposed to bigoted attitudes and knee-jerk intolerance.
Here’s a few of the players who permeate these pages: Trump booster David Pecker, tabloid mogul and publisher of National Enquirer. Karen McDougal, former Playboy model, for a time an alleged paramour of the married Trump. Of course, there is Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, adult film star now widely known due to her impromptu tryst with Trump. Roger Stone, dirty trickster and Trump friend, whose sentencing on seven felony charges was tampered with by Trump and Attorney General William Barr. Michael Avenatti, telegenic, avaricious attorney now floundering in serious legal woes. There are many more supporting characters in this bizarre narrative.
The tragic figure in this tangled tale of Trump is Michael Cohen. In 2006, he was a tenant in Trump World Tower: “a seventy-two-story skyscraper full of luxury condominiums.” Residents of this opulent place had substantial assets and influence. They had their own condo board. Some of these moneyed tenants thought they were getting “fleeced” by Trump and were not about to be pushed around. Trump did not take kindly to revolt. His son, Donald Trump Jr., had befriended Cohen and asked if he would help quash the inconvenient disruption.
With others favorable to Trump, Cohen dove enthusiastically into the fray. “Cohen was gung ho — the loudest of the group. The man revered Trump. ‘Art of the Deal,’ he proudly told people, was the only book he’d read more than once. Donald Trump took notice.” Dissidents on the board were dispersed. New members, like Kellyanne Conway, filled vacant seats. Later she would follow Trump to the White House. “And Michael Cohen had proved himself useful.” He would play the role of Trump’s macher and personal lawyer. The authors depict Cohn as a driven man, obsequious to a fault, engaged in subterfuge and incessant legal shenanigans and seeking myriad deals to line his own pockets. And still, he was ever-willing to risk everything for “the boss.” Ultimately, his misplaced loyalty was unrequited.
Cohen got busted big time for lying to Congress. Son of a Holocaust survivor, a husband and father, the humiliated Cohen had come to his senses only after ruining his career and disgracing his family. He sincerely hoped that his plea of guilty to nine federal criminal counts, along with his cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, would mitigate whatever sentencing awaited him. Prosecutors in New York’s Southern District would dash that hope.
Cohen sat before Judge William Pauley III, who described Cohen’s endeavors over the years as “a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct.” He got three years, to be served at a federal correctional facility near Otisville, New York, where he was “assigned the job of fixing fire hydrants.” Before entering prison, Cohen expressed his fury at Trump in an appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Cohen’s opinion of his former boss was blunt: “He is a racist, he is a con man, and he is a cheat.” A most unequivocal statement.
The supercilious person looming behind this regrettable saga is now more arrogant than ever. A gloating Trump initiates this election season having avoided expulsion from office. Predictably, he will be spiteful and vindictive to all who counter him. At the White House, during Trump’s rambling victory fulminations, he pronounced, “It was all bullshit.” Associated Press reported that it was “the first time he or any president has been known to use that profanity in a formal event on camera in the East Room.” Sure. He’s Trump, don’t you know? He will do and say what he pleases. Ponder the possibility that this megalomaniac could be elected to another four years.
That ain’t no bullshit.
Read the full Feb. 19-26 issue.
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