A check of the Union Field Cemetery in Queens confirms that Roy Cohn has not risen from his family’s burial vault, where the inscription in the white marble reads in black letters:
“ROY M. COHN
LAWYER AND PATRIOT
FEBRUARY 20, 1927
AUGUST 2, 1986”
But there seems no doubt that his spirit was very much alive in the Oval Office on Friday. Cohn’s primary tactic since his youthful days as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was always to attack, attack, attack and deny, deny, deny; to make no admissions, never give an inch, fight to win no matter who is in the right, win because winning is the only thing, especially if you are in the wrong.
Cohn had stuck to that philosophy when he returned to New York to practice law, making the truth a lie and a lie the truth when it suited him. He demonstrated the full Roy while representing the Trump family real estate business in a racial discrimination suit and became a mentor to young Donald.
In life, Cohn had visited the Oval Office on multiple occasions to see President Reagan. Cohn had referred the Reagan folks to Trump for office space during the first campaign. And Cohn reportedly used his influence with Reagan to get Donald’s sister, Maryann Trump Barry, appointed a federal judge. She is said to have called Cohn afterwards to thank him.
But in his wildest scheming, Cohn could not have imagined that his protégé would become president.
And with President Trump came Cohn’s spirit, on full display Friday. Trump was reportedly in a fury that Attorney General Sessions had recused himself from the investigation into Russian influence in the election. Cohn would have no doubt been thrilled to see his teachings so vitriolically alive beyond the grave.
Reports of the meeting's intensity seem supported by the mute images captured by a video taken from outside the Oval Office and aired by CNN. A paranoid person might think that Trump was upset because he had something to hide and is afraid it will come out if he cannot control the investigation.
More likely, it was just classic Cohn.
The fuming Trump flew off to Florida and early the next morning he further channeled Cohn by tweeting a wild accusation.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found…”
Cohn would have loved it all the more because the tweet was almost certainly at odds with any possible truth. A president cannot have anybody’s line tapped and no federal agent of present days is going to conduct electric surveillance without court authorization.
Trump then concluded the tweet with a three-word declaration that went beyond what even Cohn might have dared.
“This is McCarthyism!”
Those words were wilder still coming from a protégée of the lawyer who had done so much to stoke the fires of McCarthyism and make it the evil that is was.
In keeping with the Cohn principle of attack, attack, attack, Trump quickly followed with three more Tweets. The first noted that the same Russian ambassador who met with Sessions had visited the Obama White House 22 times. Never mind that the real issue with Sessions was not so much the meetings themselves as his failure to be forthcoming about them. Never mind that the president — be it Obama or Trump or anybody else — is expected to meet with the Russian ambassador.
Another Trump Tweet followed, asking, “Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”
Next came, “I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election.”
One lawyer who could have made such a case was Cohn, who helped make McCarthyism what it was by twisting the truth and making accusations he knew to be false.
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp (sic) my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy.”
Trump—a fast-talking New York real-estate developer who has a proven proclivity to lie and who has seemed untroubled by Russian efforts to undermine that sacred process—was leveling the accusation at a Harvard educated former law professor whose expertise was constitutional law.
A former senior intelligence officer suggested Sunday that it was entirely possible that Trump was picked up on a wiretap. But that wiretap would have almost certainly been targeting somebody else.
That was the case more than a decade ago, when the NSA picked up and transcribed a conversation a Congresswoman had with a suspected Israeli spy. The Israeli was the target and the surveillance had been authorized by a warrant issued by a panel of federal judges as established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
Trump could have been similarly recorded speaking with the subject of a FISA warrant or the target of a criminal probe. Any such intercept would have to be approved by a judge who would no doubt require the government to demonstrate probable cause that the subject was involved in a crime or constituted a threat to national security.
The former intelligence officer could almost laugh off the tweets, were the author not the president. What really disturbed him was who was with the president at the Oval Office meeting where he erupted: chief strategist Steve Bannon, Ivanka Trump, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
“You have Bannon who sells hate, Ivanka who sells shoes, Donald Trump who sells his name, Priebus who sells Donald Trump,” the intelligence officer said. “That’s the inner circle. They’re the ones once everybody else is thrown out of the room.”
He added, “And that’s f---ing scary.”
In that inner circle was and is Cohn, who oh so briefly seemed truly dead thanks to the magic of the teleprompter during the State of the Union Address on Tuesday.
But Friday proved that the spirit of Roy Cohn continues to walk amongst us even though a visit to Union Field Cemetery confirmed that his burial vault is undisturbed.
And on Saturday the protégé outdid the mentor.
Maybe call it Trumpism.