A fascinating back story to the latest revelations in the never-ending Trump scandal has been provided today by the progressive New York Jewish publication, The Forward, in an account which could be filed under “You Could Not Make This Up.”
It includes a multifarious cast of characters and plots which includes Vladimir Putin; his feud with the hedge-fund manager/grandson of the former leader of the US Communist Party; the financier’s friend and lawyer murdered, possibly on Putin’s say-so, in a Russian jail; Joseph Stalin; a Kremlin-friendly Russian lawyer – and of course la familie Trump.
It is a ripping yarn, penned by JJ Goldberg. Enjoy:
There’s much that we don’t know about the bonds that tie Donald Trump, his campaign or his family to Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. But there are some important clues that are mostly being overlooked. To follow the trail, it helps to recall that the Trumps are not the only American family whose tangled ties to the Kremlin contributed to our current mess.
In fact, no figure in this saga has a more tangled family relationship with the Kremlin than the London-based hedge fund manager Bill Browder. A major investor in Russia, Browder got himself into a deadly feud with the Putin regime a decade ago. It began with Browder, a brash young foreign investor, challenging the corrupt billionaire oligarchs who surround Putin and lord it over everyone else. It led eventually to Trump Tower, where a shadowy Russian lawyer met last year with Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law and presidential campaign manager to explore enlisting the Trumps on Putin’s side of the feud.
Along the way, the feud turned deadly in November 2009, when Browder’s Moscow lawyer and friend Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison after being held without charges for a year under barbaric conditions. From there the feud jumped to Capitol Hill, where Browder won passage in 2012 of the so-called Magnitsky Law imposing sanctions on the Putin cronies associated with the lawyer’s death. Putin, reportedly apoplectic over the new sanctions, retaliated by abruptly outlawing the popular practice of American couples adopting Russian orphans.
And from there the feud led to Trump Tower, where a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties, Natalia Veselnitskaya, met in June 2016 with three of Donald Trump’s top associates: his son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort. Her goal was to enlist them in Putin’s effort to overturn the hated sanctions. The bait: an offer to supply damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
Trump Jr., when first questioned about the meeting, said the Russian wanted to talk about “Russian orphans.” That’s about right. “Orphans” is apparently Kremlin code for “Magnitsky sanctions.”
We don’t know what information about Clinton was on offer, but it was just weeks later that America was first bombarded with damaging Clinton information hacked from Democratic Party computers on Putin’s orders.
Examining the Browder-Kremlin feud thus seems to clear up at least some of the mystery surrounding the Trump-Kremlin relationship. To fully understand the Browder-Kremlin feud, though, it’s important to note that it’s much older than either Bill Browder or Vladimir Putin. It goes back to the time of Browder’s grandfather, Earl Browder, longtime head of the Communist Party USA.
The Kansas-born son of a Methodist preacher, Browder joined the Communist Party shortly after the party’s birth in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Rising quickly through the ranks, he took over in 1930 as general secretary, head of the party, and held the post until 1945. He led American communism through the Great Depression and World War II, the years when the party had its closest flirtation with respectability, thanks to its labor and civil rights activism in the 1930s and the U.S.-Soviet wartime alliance in the 1940s (just ignore that little interlude when Stalin was allied with Hitler). Browder ran for president twice on a Communist ticket, in 1936 and 1940. His running mate, James Ford, was the first African American ever to appear on any national presidential ticket.
Browder was probably the closest thing the party ever had to a popular national figure. In 1945, though, he was summarily deposed from party leadership on Stalin’s orders. He was expelled from the party a year later, in 1946. He returned home to Yonkers and lived out his life far from the public eye. He died in 1973, when grandson Bill Browder was 9.
The reason for Browder’s humiliating fall was his advocacy of what’s called Browderism: an effort to take American communism away from its conspiratorial, revolutionary roots and remake it as a sort of left-liberal reformism. The heresy was tolerable from Moscow’s viewpoint during the depression and war years, when Stalin needed the American public’s goodwill. Starting in 1945, though, he was gearing up for a long cold war against the capitalist West. The last straw came when Browder formally reorganized the party as a liberal civic association. Stalin needed it to remain a conspiratorial underground, available for infiltrating unions and stealing nuclear secrets.
That’s the history, in broad strokes. What remains unclear is what the impact was of Browder’s humiliation by Stalin on his grandson’s feud with Putin. Bill Browder sends out mixed signals.
He describes his childhood and his relationship with his grandfather at some length in a 2015 memoir, “Red Notice.” It’s a gripping account of his feud with Putin & Co., of Magnitsky’s tortured death and of Browder’s own growing outrage at Putin’s Russia, with its culture of casual brutality. The early part of the book, though, is a lighthearted tale of a normal childhood in a conventional suburban household of communists. It’s almost like two books. In the second half he has something he urgently wants to say. In the first half he has a lot that he seems unable to get out.
Bill Browder’s father, Felix Browder, was born in 1927 Moscow, where Earl Browder spent several years doing party work. While in Moscow, Earl Browder met and married Raisa Berkman, described by his grandson as “a Russian Jewish intellectual.” Felix Browder was the first of three sons. All three grew up to be distinguished mathematicians at Berkman’s encouragement. None had any role in public or political life. The reader infers that Berkman didn’t much like what politics did to her husband, and wishes Bill Browder had something to say on the topic. But he didn’t.
Felix Browder was married in 1949 to Eva Tislowitz, a child refugee from Nazi-ruled Vienna who was sent to America on her own, was raised in an American foster home and graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Of himself, Bill Browder writes that he was an indifferent student, but he decided in high school that when he grew up he “would put on a suit and tie and become a capitalist. Nothing would piss my family off more than that.” He sounds like an utterly normal American teenager whose family just happened to be communists.
Reading between the lines of the memoir, the reader infers that Bill Browder’s Jewish upbringing was equally conventional, despite the family’s unconventional politics. He writes casually of his best friend as “a Jewish kid.” Similar phrasings pop up repeatedly when he interacts with a fellow Jew. Moving to London after college to learn investment banking, he affectionately describes his traditional wedding in London’s fashionable Marble Arch Synagogue. He writes of taking David, his son from his first, Jewish marriage, to spend Christmas with his second, non-Jewish family, and one senses his mild discomfort at celebrating the Christian holiday “even though David and I are Jewish.”
After working at several London investment houses he decides to set up his own hedge fund, specializing in post-communist Russia and Eastern Europe. Why Eastern Europe? It’s 1990, and communism is collapsing. “My grandfather had been the biggest communist in America,” he writes, “and as I watched these events unfold, I decided that I wanted to become the biggest capitalist in Eastern Europe.” He did, in fact. He became the biggest foreign investor in Russia, until Putin’s henchmen raided his offices, cleaned out his bank accounts and murdered his lawyer, Magnitsky.
But there’s a reticence in his Jewish narrative. One of his first jobs in London is with the investment operation of the publishing billionaire Robert Maxwell. As it happens, Maxwell was originally a Czech Jewish Holocaust survivor who fled and became a decorated British soldier, then helped in 1948 to set up the secret arms supply line to newly independent Israel from communist Czechoslovakia. He was also rumored to be a longtime Mossad agent. But you learn none of that from Browder’s memoir.
The silence is particularly striking because when Browder launches his own fund, he hires a former Israeli Mossad agent, Ariel, to set up his security operation, manned mainly by Israelis. Over time, Browder and Ariel become close. How did that connection come about? Was it through Maxwell? Wherever it started, the origin would add to the story. Why not tell it?
When Browder sets up his own fund, Hermitage Capital Management — named for the famed czarist-era St. Petersburg art museum, though that’s not explained either — his first investor is Beny Steinmetz, the Israeli diamond billionaire. Browder tells how Steinmetz introduced him to the Lebanese-Brazilian Jewish banking billionaire Edmond Safra, who invests and becomes not just a partner but also a mentor and friend.
Safra is also internationally renowned as the dean of Sephardi Jewish philanthropy; the main backer of Israel’s Shas party, the Sephardi Torah Guardians, and of New York’s Holocaust memorial museum, and a megadonor to Yeshiva University, Hebrew University, the Weizmann Institute and much more. Browder must have known all that. Considering the closeness of the two, it’s surprising that none of it gets mentioned.
It’s possible that Browder’s reticence about his Jewish connections is simply another instance of the inarticulateness that seizes so many American Jews when they try to address their Jewishness. It’s a topic they don’t much think about. Anyway, Browder has so much to say on another topic of vital importance, Russian brutality, that it may be pointless to pick on the parts he left out. It could be, too, that Earl Browder was an early example of what’s now a widespread phenomenon — a Jewish-gentile marriage that has not a Jew marrying out of the Jewish community but a gentile marrying in. If we’re looking at a Methodist preacher’s son who became America’s most important communist and then settled down to raise a suburban Jewish family, it’s a great story, but not an urgent one. We don’t need Bill Browder to tell it.
There was a moment, however, when Browder seemed to let down the veil just a bit and show a hint of his inner turmoil regarding his own background. It came in a 2012 interview with New Republic writer Julia Ioffe, who is herself a Russian Jewish émigré. Browder was in Washington at the time, lobbying for his Magnitsky Act. Ioffe suggested there was a certain irony that he, an American-born expat, naturalized British, who’d voluntarily and unnecessarily renounced his U.S. citizenship, was now looking to Washington for moral leadership on the world stage.
“I don’t want to get into this too much,” Ioffe quotes Browder as saying, “but we came from a family that was persecuted in America, so I don’t have the same sort of, uh…. We were communists and we were persecuted in the McCarthy era.”
He added that “in a certain way, now I’m being politically persecuted in Russia.” And, Ioffe notes, he recalled that his grandfather “was kicked out of the Communist Party by Stalin, and they started killing all the people who were supporters of Browderism.”
That’s a far cry from the Grandpa-was-a-bigshot-commie approach that he would later take in his memoir. There’s a pain there. He comes from a family of American communists who’ve been spurned and betrayed by both America and communism. Nothing lighthearted about it.
In 2012, even in 2015, one could say it’s all Bill Browder’s private business. A casual observer might wonder whether and how much his battle with the Putin regime reflected an ancient grudge resurfacing across the generations, but there was nothing urgent about it. Now the stakes have changed. It could be, far-fetched though it seems, that the crisis in American governance exploding before us right now is just the latest twist in an old grudge match between the Soviet dictator and the sad, betrayed world of American Jewish communist idealism. That’s something we need to know about.
Matt Bolton offers an interesting corrective to those on the Right and Left who believe Jeremy Corbyn’s recent general election success heralds the renewal of radicalism in the British Labour party. Thanks to LS for this tip. This article originally appeared in the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) blog.
13 June 2017
The trickle of mea culpas from the rapidly diminishing band of Corbyn-sceptics following the election result has now turned into a flood, and not without cause. Once widely-held truisms – Corbynism is a ‘movement’ more clicktivist than canvasser, Corbyn himself is electorally toxic, Labour face a 1931-style demolition and the collapse of its Parliamentary presence – have been shown to be categorically wrong. Corbyn ran an energetic, positive, smart campaign, founded on an unashamedly tax-and-spend manifesto. The quick-witted air war was backed up online and through unprecedented numbers of volunteers taking to the streets to engage potential Labour voters and getting them to turn out on polling day. Such mass activism had long been promised by Corbyn’s most vocal supporters, but aside from his own leadership campaigns, had been in sparse evidence on the ground. But there is no doubt that when it came to the crunch, Corbynism cashed its activist cheques. This level of enthusiastic political engagement would simply not have taken place with another leader – although the suspicion persists that a lot of the urgency was the product of retrospective regret on behalf of younger Remainers that they had not done the same (or perhaps even voted) during the EU referendum.
The election result also clearly demonstrates that Corbynism has not destroyed the party’s parliamentary presence. Labour has made some promising gains, particularly in England, and as Paul Mason notes, seem to have somehow picked up votes both from the liberal and green metropolitan left, and a decent sized portion of the former UKIP vote. This was undoubtedly a remarkable and wholly unexpected achievement, one which few in the top echelons of either party thought possible up until the moment of the exit poll. But while Labour are rightly still celebrating a welcome electoral step forward, not to mention capitalising on the total collapse of Theresa May’s authority as Prime Minister, unpicking the reasons why Corbyn was able to bring this unlikely electoral coalition together reveals that many of the criticisms levelled at the Corbyn project continue to hold. Indeed, in some ways this election has merely postponed a true reckoning with the contradictions and regressive tendencies that run through the Corbynist worldview. In particular, Corbyn’s success postpones once again the moment of reckoning at which the left finally recognises that the acceptance of Brexit and the end of free movement constitutes a fundamental, generational defeat, one for which gains in the House of Commons, however welcome, are scant recompense. With this in mind, then, this article is not yet another mea culpa. It is rather an attempt to take stock of what has changed and what has not, in the form of some first thoughts on how this election result – and in particular Corbyn’s Green-UKIP alliance – was possible.
This was the first post-deficit election
Direct comparisons with previous elections (whether on seats or vote share) are misleading. Each election takes place in an entirely different context, which shapes what can and cannot be said within the campaign, and what is regarded (rightly or wrongly) as ‘credible’. Much of the day to day grind of politics consists of the battle to shape that context (as can be seen with the struggle over the ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ interpretation of the referendum result, a battle which until Thursday night at least, May seemed to have comprehensively won). The 2015 election was dominated by discussion of the deficit and debt. The endless repetitions of how the Tories were still ‘clearing up Labour’s mess’ trapped Ed Miliband in political-economic territory from which he could never win – every word from his mouth was framed by the context of how Labour’s supposed overspending had led to the crash and the ‘deficit’. This frame has, incredibly, now virtually disappeared. Labour were careful to cost their manifesto nonetheless – demonstrating that the difference between their position and Miliband’s cannot be explained by mere hard left ‘will power’ – and the Tories failure to bother doing the same, lazily assuming the line from 2015 still held sway, left any attacks they made on Labour’s spending plans seem hollow and hypocritical. But it was the combination of austerity finally starting to bite the lower middle classes in a way it hadn’t in 2015 (school cuts and the NHS winter crisis cut through in a huge way) and Brexit that really wiped the economic slate clean. The Leave promises of an extra £350m a week for the NHS, regardless of their veracity, put public spending for services back on the ‘credible’ electoral playing field in a way that we have not seen since 2005. Add in May’s own desire to boost infrastructure spending, and Corbyn and McDonnell had the space to make spending commitments that were just not available to Miliband. They made the most of it.
The left’s instinctive trust in Corbyn allows him to successfully triangulate
The idea that Corbyn is a truly authentic man who has stuck to his principles through thick and thin is prevalent even amongst his fiercest critics. It is also his greatest weapon when it comes to keeping the left (and the youth vote) onside while in reality triangulating as ably – if not more so – as any Blairite. Labour’s policy on immigration in this election was well to the right of the 2015 manifesto. Miliband was pilloried by the left for proposing ‘controls on immigration’, which slogans on mugs aside, amounted to a two year ban on EU migrants receiving benefits. Corbyn’s manifesto went even further than May herself by pledging to end free movement of people from the EU come what may in the Brexit negotiations. While the effect of this was to almost entirely drain the ‘immigration debate’ from the election in a way unimaginable even six months ago, this was only due to the total capitulation of both Corbyn and the broader left on the issue. The immigration policy in Labour’s 2017 manifesto was more extreme in concrete terms than what most of the Leave side were proposing in the referendum - in essence assuring full withdrawal from the single market, whatever the consequences - and yet Corbyn’s supporters on the left accepted it because they refuse to believe that Corbyn himself, as a man of principle, can really mean it. While every word Miliband (or indeed virtually anyone else who is not Corbyn) is treated with suspicion, despite the pro-single market arguments of the contemporary Blair being inherently far less punitive on immigration than Corbyn’s position, Corbyn is given the benefit of the doubt every time, even when the policy is written down in black and white. This is triangulation of the highest order, enabling Labour to appeal to hardline anti-migrant UKIP voters while also keeping the trust of the ‘cosmopolitan’ urban left. It is doubtful any other Labour leader would have been capable of achieving this. Yet the faith in Corbyn’s supposedly unshakeable core beliefs is such that his party’s policies on immigration barely register amongst people who would be incandescent with rage if another Labour leader even vaguely gestured towards them.
The same applies to Labour’s policy on welfare. Corbyn’s victory in the first leadership campaign in 2015 was secured by his voting against benefit cuts, while his rivals abstained on the second reading of the Welfare Reform bill (although they did vote against it in the final reading). This was held up as proof that Corbyn was not only politically but morally superior to his opponents. Yet in his manifesto, as Chaminda Jayanetti has admirably shown, Corbyn did not pledge to reverse benefit cuts, nor remove the benefit cap. Once again, those who were most vocal in condemning the abstainers have not raised a word in criticism against Corbyn. The same pattern appeared again and again in the campaign itself – once-vocal advocates for police abolition now enthusiastically cheered Corbyn on as he castigated May for police cuts, and similarly backed Corbyn as he celebrated May’s infamous ‘dementia tax’ U-turn even though the new proposal to cap contributions to elderly care places far more of the burden on the poorest demographics than the original manifesto proposal. None of these policies could be classed as radical or left wing, and all would be fiercely criticised from the left if proposed or supported by any other Labour leader. Yet Corbyn gets away with it time after time, on reputation alone.
The problem with this is not triangulation in-and-of itself – contrary to hard left mythology, it is an inherent necessity of political action in a parliamentary system which requires a broad majority in the country in order to govern. Rather, it is that policies which cannot objectively be regarded as left-wing – and indeed in real terms would be catastrophic for the living conditions of the working class – are uncritically supported, even deemed ‘socialist’, merely by dint of coming from Corbyn’s mouth. The opposite is true when it comes to how Corbyn’s supporters view the soft left, with policies proposed by them regarded as a priori ‘Blairite’ regardless of actual content. This an emotional response, not a political one, and its only consequence hitherto has been the perpetuation of Tory rule.
But Brexit is the one issue where triangulation is impossible
However, in a political economy entirely overdetermined by the unprecedented circumstances of Brexit, this strategy of inverse Blairism – sounding left while (in many, though not all, ways) acting right – however skilfully managed, cannot hold. While Corbyn’s much derided ‘0% strategy’ on Brexit proved to a be a short-term electoral masterstroke, assuring Red Kippers that he was committed to pulling out of the single market and clamping down on immigration, while allowing Remainers to project their hopes for a softer landing onto him, at some point a decision has to be made. It cannot be continually pushed down the line, hedged and obfuscated by vague promises of ‘tariff-free access’. Every one of Corbyn’s much-vaunted manifesto pledges relies on an increased tax-take and growth strategy which are predicated upon remaining in the single market, and thus entail retaining free movement. Yet his manifesto promise to end free movement (reiterated by John McDonnell in the weekend after the election result) makes nationalist protectionism the axiomatic position of both major parties, one which for Labour cannot be overturned without shedding one half of the electoral coalition which has secured Corbyn’s position.
The struggle to win the support of the ex-UKIP Leave vote has led to Farage’s nativist agenda poisoning the well of the British polity as a whole, left and right – the real reason he is still never off the airwaves, despite UKIP’s ostensible collapse. The risk on one side is of economic catastrophe, on the other the development of a ‘stab in the back’ myth of national betrayal. No amount of energetic canvassing or witty memes can bridge such an abyss. It requires the political courage to be truly honest with the electorate about the consequences of withdrawal from the single market, traits which for all Corbyn’s purported authenticity have, in this context at least, been in short supply.
‘Britain First’ – a foreign policy to unite UKIP and the Greens
It was remarkable to see how few punches the Tories and their supportive media managed to land with regard to Corbyn’s supposed links with the IRA and Islamist groups. Once again, Corbyn’s ‘principled’ persona and skilful ‘Monsieur Zen’ interview style enabled him to dodge even the worst allegations (laying a wreath for a man involved in the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes) by quietly explaining that all he has ever worked for is ‘peace’. This is buttressed by the ever-growing mythology around his being on the ‘right side of history’ – particularly his opposition to apartheid (ignoring the fact that no Labour MP ever supported apartheid, and that ‘Blairite’ MPs like Peter Hain did far more to actually oppose it on the ground than Corbyn ever did) and his alleged role in the Northern Ireland peace process (a claim not merely denied but laughed at by anyone who actually was involved). Leaving aside for now whether the real consequence of his eternal non-interventionist position, regardless of context, is actually ‘peace’ – rather than the brutal crushing of popular democratic revolutions, vicious theocratic dictatorships and/or interminable civil war – the key point is that this position is one of the very few which can unite Labour left, Green and UKIP voters. The spectre of Iraq and the rise of ISIS has led to the popularity of an isolationist foreign policy across the UK political spectrum, in much the same way as in the US where Trump and the Greens’ Jill Stein share many presuppositions when it comes to international relations. While the left think of such foreign policy positions in naively ethical terms, the right portray them as ‘America [or Britain] First’. Corbyn would not use such nationalist language himself, but that is undoubtedly what Red-UKIP voters hear in his statements on foreign policy, and this along with his rejection of free movement goes some way to explaining the return of UKIP voters to the Labour fold.
The ‘rigged economy’ conspiracy theory
In a previous critique of Corbynism, I examined the ‘personalised’ critique of capitalism which underlies the worldview of Corbyn and many of his supporters. This perspective sees poverty, economic crashes, inequality and even war as being the result of the conscious behaviour of shadowy ‘global elites’, usually in the financial sector. Such a viewpoint, common amongst right and left, fails to grasp capital as an abstract social relation, dominating both rich and poor alike, and at its most extreme can lead to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of Jewish plots to rule the world through control of the banks. The prevalence of this kind of foreshortened critique of capitalism (or neoliberalism, as popularly understood) goes some way to explain the spread of conspiracy theories about the ‘Rothschilds’ and ‘Zionists’ through much of the ‘Canary’/‘Skwawkbox’ left, as well as the alt-right – they are not contingent or accidental, but the consequence of pushing an analysis of capitalism as conspiracy to its logical conclusion.
Since his ‘populist turn’ at the start of the year, Corbyn has severely ramped up this kind of talk. Throughout the election campaign there were endless references to the ‘rigged economy’ set up by elites which had ‘ripped off’ the British people. Like the isolationist foreign policy, this discourse has an appeal to both the ‘anti-vax’ wing of the Green left and the Trumpian-UKIP right, with the vagueness of the ‘rigged’ concept allowing people to point the finger of accusation at whatever scapegoat fits their particular prejudice. While it can be effective, there is an inherent risk in this kind of approach to politics, in that it can rapidly spiral out of control and in unexpected directions if not strictly supervised. There is no guarantee that once let out of the bottle this kind of personalised critique of capitalism will inevitably lead in a progressive direction. If it is true that Corbyn has managed to patch up a right-left electoral alliance on these grounds – along with implied migration controls and an isolationist foreign policy – it will require extreme vigilance to ensure it does not veer onto a regressive track.
Once again, the spectre of Brexit on the horizon multiplies this risk many times over. The rhetoric of a ‘rigged system’ lays the groundwork for the hard right press and politicians of all stripes to pin the blame for a botched, economically disastrous full withdrawal, or a humiliating ‘retreat’ to a ‘Norway model’ compromise that retains free movement, on nebulous, shadowy ‘others’. It is not hard to see how such grievance-based politics based on images of conspiratorial elites plotting against the noble, honest ‘people’ could be utilised by a genuinely populist and charismatic hard right leader, either blaming economic disaster on the machinations of ‘those pulling the strings’ or ramping up anti-migrant rhetoric to force a de facto hard Brexit by means of expelling migrants through intimidation rather than legislation.
There is nothing inevitable about any of this, but until the Corbynite left recognise the danger of building their programme on such ambiguous rhetorical ground, in such an intensely volatile political conjuncture, it is a risk that lies coiled within the movement, regardless of how triumphant it may feel today.
The New York Times story below appears to be the smoking gun in the Trumpgate scandal: the text of an email exchange last June between an obscure former British tabloid reporter and Donald Trump Jr. offering Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton during the impending US presidential election campaign.
What strikes this writer is the sheer amateurishness of the plot, not least the Russian failure to protect the secrecy of the emails flying between Russia and Trump Tower, or alternatively not using a more discrete and deniable way to make contact with team Trump, like flying the British contact to New York for a face-to-face meeting with people he seemingly knew well enough already.
If that was not feasible then the very least the Russians should have done was to ensure that both the British contact – former tabloid reporter turned music publicist, Rob Goldstone – and Donald Jr. were equipped with an email encryption programme.
The best know of these is GPG, a derivative of PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). It is easy to load, at least on an Apple computer, and even easier to operate. Encrypted emails can only be opened once passwords, or keys, unique to the recipient and sender are created and in the event of the authorities demanding access say, to Donald Jr’s password, well…..passwords can so easily be forgotten or lost.
If Donald Jr and Mr Goldstone had been using GPG, today’s New York Times story would never have been written.
I have been using PGP or GPG for many years, during my time as a journalist in Belfast, where I assumed both the British and the Provos would be interested in some of my emails. Myself and the two researchers for the Boston College archive project communicated using a commercial version of PGP. I also display my GPG public key on the front page of this blog in case someone wishes to communicate using encryption.
If any of my readers would like to download GPG, here is a link.
So why didn’t the Russians employ this basic precaution? Conspiracy theorists will doubtless conclude that this was a deliberate mistake intended to create confusion and conflict in American politics once the emails were discovered – and anyway who could have imagined a Trump victory last June?
I suspect, however, that the simpler explanation is the right one, that it was a simple cock-up born of stupidity and hubris on the part of the FSB, the post-Communist successors to the KGB.
If I’m right then the big losers out of this affair, aside from la familie Trump, will be the reputation and standing of the Russian intelligence services.
The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.
He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”
Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.
On June 9, the Russian lawyer was sitting in the younger Mr. Trump’s office on the 25th floor of Trump Tower, just one level below the office of the future president.
Over the last several days, The New York Times has disclosed the existence of the meeting, whom it involved and what it was about. The story has unfolded as The Times has been able to confirm details of the meetings.
But the email exchanges, which were reviewed by The Times, offer a detailed unspooling of how the meeting with the Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, came about — and just how eager Donald J. Trump was to accept what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s help.
The Justice Department, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, is examining whether any of President Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. American intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump.
The precise nature of the promised damaging information about Mrs. Clinton is unclear, and there is no evidence to suggest that it was related to Russian-government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. But in recent days, accounts by some of the central organizers of the meeting, including Donald Trump Jr., have evolved or have been contradicted by the written email records.
On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. said on Twitter that it was hardly unusual to take information on an opponent. And on Tuesday morning, he tweeted, “Media & Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a yr, I understand the desperation!”
The back story to the June 9 meeting involves an eclectic cast of characters the Trump family knew from its business dealings in Moscow.
The initial email outreach came from Rob Goldstone, a British-born former tabloid reporter and entertainment publicist who first met the future president when the Trump Organization was attempting to do business in Russia.
In the June 3 email, Mr. Goldstone told Donald J. Trump Jr. that he was writing on behalf of a mutual friend, one of Russia’s biggest pop music stars, Emin Agalarov. Emin, who professionally uses his first name only, is the son of Aras Agalarov, a real estate tycoon sometimes called the “Donald Trump of Russia.”
The elder Agalarov boasts close ties to Mr. Putin: his company has won several large state building contracts, and Mr. Putin awarded him the “Order of Honor of the Russian Federation.”
Mr. Agalarov joined with the elder Mr. Trump to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013, and the Trump and Agalarov families grew relatively close.
When Emin released a music video with a theme borrowed from the television show, The Apprentice, Mr. Trump, then the show’s star, made a cameo appearance, delivering his trademark line: “You’re fired!” The elder Mr. Agalarov had also partnered with the Trumps to build a Trump hotel in Moscow, but it has never came to fruition.
How is it that when Donald Trump meets Vladimir Putin for the first time, as he did today, no reference is made in any US media report – at least that I can find – to the well-publicised claim that Putin has been blackmailing Trump for years with a lurid sex video made by Russian intelligence?
The claim, in the form of a report – originally commissioned by Trump’s Republican primary opponents – which was compiled by a former British MI6 agent turned private dick, caused a sensation when it was published last January, although much of the mainstream US media had been sitting on it for much longer.
You would think that such a scandalous claim would at least merit a mention somewhere in the media coverage today, when the alleged victim of the blackmail met the alleged perp. But no, it’s not there.
The fact that the report now virtually has the status of a non-thing in the American media is a telling little clue that Trump has become a little more untouchable, even normal, with time.
Notice also how Trump’s remarks in Poland about threats to ‘Western civilization’ were treated almost as normal by much of the media, despite their distinctive fascistic overtones.
Anyway, the full document can be found elsewhere on thebrokenelbow (search under ‘Trump blackmail document’). Here though is the relevant paragraph:
‘Follow the money’, is usually the best advice when seeking other people’s motives and intentions. The headline and story below from a late edition of The Irish Times, is perhaps the clearest indication yet that a deal will be made to restore the Stormont government.
It’s the one thing both the DUP and the Shinners have no difficulty agreeing. The rest will follow. You just can’t keep those snouts away from the trough!
By Gerry Moriarty
Northern Ireland’s 90 Assembly members should continue to be paid through the summer despite the collapse of the Stormont talks, the DUP and Sinn Féin have insisted.
Just one question though. All 90 Assembly members negotiating the same deal? Do they have a room big enough?
Here are the reasons why, probably at the end of the Orange marching season, the DUP and Sinn Fein will cut a deal to restore the power-sharing government at Stormont.
Firstly, Sinn Fein have nowhere else to go. Stormont has, ironically, become the party’s only raison d’etre in the North, the irony being derived from the Provisional IRA’s founding aim to destroy the place.
Without a place in government, Sinn Fein has nothing else to show for the peace process or for the IRA abandoning not just its war and weapons but with them the ideological foundations for Irish republicanism, aka the principle of consent. All relinquished at the insistence of the IRA’s opponents.
War or peace were the choices facing the Provos and having plumped for the latter they must play the game, fully, or raise elemental questions about SF’s ability to survive as a political entity.
So central has Stormont become to the Provos’ existence that Gerry Adams recently accorded it a central role in the job of ‘persuading’ the Unionists into a united Ireland. And without Stormont where would the leverage then come from, assuming a return to war is neither realistic nor desirable?
Sinn Fein created this ‘crisis’ by demanding Arlene Foster’s resignation while an inquiry was held into the so-called ‘cash for ash’ scandal. There is now no mention of this demand, presumably because SF knows what the response will be.
Nonetheless, Sinn Fein did very well in the special election prompted by Martin McGuinness’ withdrawal as deputy First Minister in response to Foster’s refusal to stand down.
The party was able to whip up Fenian blood in anger at the DUP and did that well enough to increase the size of its Assembly team, run the DUP perilously close in their respective shares of the vote and to see off a burgeoning left-wing challenge from Eamon McCann’s People Before Profit party.
If the British decided that the likelihood of an agreement was so slim that only a fresh election could move the logjam, could Sinn Fein guarantee that all those gains from last March could be protected and repeated? A big risk, I would say.
Finally there is Theresa May’s loot, aka the bribe to the DUP to keep her slippers under the bed at Downing Street for a few weeks more. It is worth between £1.5 and £2 billion, an awful lot of money.
If Stormont was restored Sinn Fein would, via its ministerial team, be entitled to a significant say in how, and more important, where it would be spent. Now to be sure I am certain that la familie Robinson is already plotting ways to frustrate the Shinners in this regard, but if Sinn Fein was in the Executive it could at least fight back.
Earlier today I listened to an academic from Liverpool university proclaiming on BBC Radio 4 that the DUP were sitting pretty. They had got their money from May and now could just sit back and allow it to be spent. Ergo, no pressure to go back to government with Sinn Fein.
So the DUP squeezes £2 billion or thereabouts from a fatally wounded British prime minister and then sits back to allow her proconsul in Belfast to decide how to spend their money?
No, having extracted the bribe, the DUP would be insane not to want the final say on how it is spent, or at least as much of it as they can control. It is why most people become politicians, so they can spend taxpayers’ money on their coveted schemes and plots, even more so when you’ve just won the equivalent of several lucrative lotteries. To surrender that right to others would be the height of irrationality, not to say lunacy.
And these days the DUP is a party of conventional politicians. The days of Paisleyite protesting are now a dim memory and the people who stand under his party’s banner these days want to take their seats and exercise governmental power like conventional politicians.
I suspect there are many in Sinn Fein who feel the same way but are too timid to say so, at least publicly.
In just over a week or so, up to 100,000 Orangemen will gather in the picturesque Co. Down village of Scarva for the annual sham fight between King Billy and King James, a battle whose outcome is pre-ordained by history. There is as much chance of a deal not being done at Stormont as King James departing the field at Scarva as the victor.
Postscript: Sinn Fein has made recognition of the Irish language the battleground for restoration of Stormont. There was a time when the Shinners might instead have chosen a commitment to spend Theresa May’s £2 billion on the abolition of food banks as their precondition.
This is a great piece from Vanity Fair on the bizarre but pivotal relationship between Donald Trump and Roy Cohn, the malefic adjutant of Joe McCarthy, the red-baiting US Senator who in the 1950’s gave his name to a notorious era of witch-hunting in America.
Written by veteran reporter Marie Brenner, the story leaves little doubt that but for Cohn, Donald Trump might have become a kinder, gentler person.
“‘Donald calls me 15 to 20 times a day,” Roy Cohn told me on the day we met. “He is always asking, ‘What is the status of this . . . and that?’”
It was 1980. I had been assigned to write a story on Donald Trump, the brash young developer who was then trying to make a name for himself in New York City, and I had come to see the man who, at the time, was in many ways Trump’s alter ego: the wily, menacing lawyer who had gained national renown, and enmity, for his ravenous anti-Communist grandstanding.
Trump was 34 and using the connections of his father, Brooklyn and Queens real-estate developer Fred Trump, as he navigated the rough-and-tumble world of political bosses. He had recently opened the Grand Hyatt Hotel, bringing life back to a dreary area near Grand Central Terminal during a period when the city had yet to fully recover from near bankruptcy. His wife, Ivana, led me through the construction site in a white wool Thierry Mugler jumpsuit. “When will it be finished? When?,” she shouted at workers as she clicked through in stiletto heels.
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The tabloids couldn’t get enough of the Trumps’ theatrics. And as Donald Trump’s Hyatt rose, so too did the hidden hand of his attorney Roy Cohn, always there to help with the shady tax abatements, the zoning variances, the sweetheart deals, and the threats to those who might stand in the project’s way.
Cohn was best known as a ruthless prosecutor. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, he and Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy, the fabulist and virulent nationalist crusader, had hauled dozens of alleged “Communist sympathizers” before a Senate panel. Earlier, the House Un-American Activities Committee had skewered artists and entertainers on similar charges, resulting in a trail of fear, prison sentences, and ruined careers for hundreds, many of whom had found common cause in fighting Fascism. But in the decades since, Cohn had become the premier practitioner of hardball deal-making in New York, having mastered the arcane rules of the city’s Favor Bank (the local cabal of interconnected influence peddlers) and its magical ability to provide inside fixes for its machers and rogues.
“You knew when you were in Cohn’s presence you were in the presence of pure evil,” said lawyer Victor A. Kovner, who had known him for years. Cohn’s power derived largely from his ability to scare potential adversaries with hollow threats and spurious lawsuits. And the fee he demanded for his services? Ironclad loyalty.
Trump—who would remain loyal to Cohn for many years—would be one of the last and most enduring beneficiaries of Cohn’s power. But as Trump would confide in 1980, he already seemed to be trying to distance himself from Cohn’s inevitable taint: “All I can tell you is he’s been vicious to others in his protection of me,” Trump told me, as if to wave away a stench. “He’s a genius. He’s a lousy lawyer, but he’s a genius.”
On the day I arrived at Cohn’s office, in his imposing limestone town house on East 68th Street, his Rolls-Royce was parked outside. But all elegance stopped at the front door. It was a fetid place, a shambles of dusty bedrooms and office warrens where young male assistants made their way up and down the stairs. Cohn often greeted visitors in a robe. On occasion, I.R.S. agents were said to sit in the hallway and, knowing Cohn’s reputation as a deadbeat, were there to intercept any envelopes with money.
Cohn’s bedroom was crowded with a collection of stuffed frogs that sat on the floor, propped against a large TV. Everything about him suggested a curious combination of an arrested child and a sleaze. I sat on a small sofa covered with dozens of stuffed creatures that exploded with dust as I tried to move them aside. Cohn was compact, with a mirthless smile, the scars from his plastic surgeries visible around his ears. As he spoke, his tongue darted in and out; he twirled his Rolodex, as if to impress me with his network of contacts. The kind of law Cohn practiced, in fact, needed only a telephone. (The New Yorker would later report that his longtime switchboard operator taped his calls and kept notes of conversations.)
Who did not know Roy Cohn’s backstory, even in 1980? Cohn—whose great-uncle had founded Lionel, the toy-train company—grew up as an only child, doted on by an overbearing mother who followed him to summer camp and lived with him until she died. Every night he was seated at his family’s Park Avenue dinner table, which was an unofficial command post of the Favor Bank bosses who’d helped make his father, Al Cohn, a Bronx county judge, and later a State Supreme Court judge. (During the Depression, Roy’s uncle Bernard Marcus had been sent to prison in a bank-fraud case, and Roy’s childhood was marked by visits to Sing Sing.) By high school, Cohn was fixing a parking ticket or two for one of his teachers.
After graduating from Columbia Law School at 20, he became an assistant U.S. attorney and an expert in “subversive activities,” allowing him to segue into his role in the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. (Cohn persuaded the star witness, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass, to change his testimony; in Cohn’s autobiography, written with Sidney Zion, Cohn claimed that he had encouraged the judge, already intent on sending Julius to the electric chair, to also order Ethel’s execution, despite the fact that she was a mother with two children.) Come 1953, this legal prodigy was named McCarthy’s boy-wonder chief counsel, and the news photos told the tale: the sharp-faced, heavy-lidded 26-year-old with cherubic cheeks, whispering intimately into the ear of the bloated McCarthy. Cohn’s special skill as the senator’s henchman was character assassination. Indeed, after testifying in front of him, an engineer with the Voice of America radio news service committed suicide. Cohn never showed a shred of remorse.
Despite McCarthy’s very public demise when the hearings proved to be trumped-up witch hunts, Cohn would emerge largely unscathed, going on to become one of the last great power brokers of New York. His friends and clients came to include New York’s Francis Cardinal Spellman and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Cohn would become an occasional guest at the Reagan White House and a constant presence at Studio 54.
By the time I met with Cohn, he had already been indicted four times on charges ranging from extortion and blackmail to bribery, conspiracy, securities fraud, and obstruction of justice. But he had been acquitted in each instance and in the process had begun to behave as if he were somehow a super-patriot who was above the law. At a gay bar in Provincetown, as reported by Cohn biographer Nicholas von Hoffman, a friend described Cohn’s behavior at a local lounge: “Roy sang three choruses of ‘God Bless America,’ got a hard-on and went home to bed.”
Cohn, with his bravado, reckless opportunism, legal pyrotechnics, and serial fabrication, became a fitting mentor for the young real-estate scion. And as Trump’s first major project, the Grand Hyatt, was set to open, he was already involved in multiple controversies. He was warring with the city about tax abatements and other concessions. He had hoodwinked his very own partner, Hyatt chief Jay Pritzker, by changing a term in a deal when Pritzker was unreachable—on a trip to Nepal. In 1980, while erecting what would become Trump Tower, he antagonized a range of arts patrons and city officials when his team demolished the Art Deco friezes decorating the 1929 building. Vilified in the headlines—and by the Establishment—Trump offered a response that was pure Roy Cohn: “Who cares?” he said. “Let’s say that I had given that junk to the Met. They would have just put them in their basement.”
For author Sam Roberts, the essence of Cohn’s influence on Trump was the triad: “Roy was a master of situational immorality . . . . He worked with a three-dimensional strategy, which was: 1. Never settle, never surrender. 2. Counter-attack, counter-sue immediately. 3. No matter what happens, no matter how deeply into the muck you get, claim victory and never admit defeat.” As columnist Liz Smith once observed, “Donald lost his moral compass when he made an alliance with Roy Cohn.”
Let’s go back further still, to 1973. Trump, 27, was living in a rent-controlled studio, wearing French cuffs, and taking his dates to the Peacock Alley, the bar in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria. At the time, the lockbox of Establishment New York was tightly closed to the Trumps of Queens, despite their mansion in Jamaica Estates.
Riding around Brooklyn in a Rolls-Royce, Trump’s mother, Mary, collected quarters from laundry rooms in various Trump buildings. Trump’s father, Fred, had already beaten back two scandals in which he was accused of overcharging and profiteering at some of his government-financed apartment complexes, and was now facing an even more explosive charge—systemic discrimination against black and other minority tenants. The Trumps, however, were connected to Favor Bank politicians in the Brooklyn Democratic machine, which, in tandem with the Mob bosses, still influenced who got many of the judgeships and patronage jobs. It was twilight in a Damon Runyon world, before the reformers moved in.
As Donald Trump would later tell the story, he ran into Cohn for the first time at Le Club, a members-only nightspot in Manhattan’s East 50s, where models and fashionistas and Eurotrash went to be seen. “The government has just filed suit against our company,” Trump explained, “saying that we discriminated against blacks . . . . What do you think I should do?”
“Tell them to go to hell and fight the thing in court and let them prove you discriminated,” Cohn shot back. The Trumps would soon retain Cohn to represent them.
The evidence was damning. At 39 Trump-owned properties, according to the Department of Justice lawsuit, widespread practices were used to avoid renting to blacks, including implementing a secret code. When a prospective black renter would apply for an apartment, the paperwork would allegedly be marked with a C—indicating “colored” (a charge that, if true, would constitute a violation of the Fair Housing Act). Nevertheless, the Trumps countersued the government. “It just stunned me,” the lawyer and journalist Steven Brill recently recalled. “They actually got reporters to appear for a press conference where they announced that they were suing [the Justice Department] for defamation for $100 million. You couldn’t get through your second day of law school without knowing it was a totally bogus lawsuit. And, of course, it was thrown out.”
A race-discrimination case of this magnitude might have sunk many a developer, but Cohn persisted. Under his guidance, the Trumps settled by agreeing to stipulations to prevent future discrimination at their properties—but came away without admitting guilt. (With that, a Trump strategy was launched. Decades later, when questioned about the case in one of the presidential debates, Trump would declare, “It was a federal lawsuit—[we] were sued. We settled the suit . . . with no admission of guilt.”)
Cohn continued to go on the attack for the Trumps. “I was a young reporter just starting my first job, at the New York Post [in 1974],” book publisher David Rosenthal told me. “I was working on illegal campaign contributions and I started looking at the records that had come from a group of buildings in Brooklyn, which showed massive donations to [Democrat] Hugh Carey, then running for governor of New York. They had all come from buildings that I had traced to Fred Trump . . . . My story was published and my editors were thrilled.
“The next day, my phone rang and it was Roy Cohn. ‘You piece of shit! We are going to ruin you! You have a lot of fucking nerve!’ ” Shaken, Rosenthal, then 21, went to his editors. “Their jaws dropped. I thought I was finished. I was sure Cohn’s next call would be to Dolly Schiff, the owner of the paper. Of course, the call never came. The story was true. They had skirted the New York finance laws.”
For about a decade, the tax abatements and legal loopholes that Trump was able to finesse came about, in large part, because of Cohn. The time he spent on Trump matters was not reduced to “billable hours,” wrote the late investigative journalist Wayne Barrett in Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth. Instead, Cohn asked for payment only when his cash supply ran low.
Steve Brill again saw Cohn’s stamp when Trump struck back, defending the case against Trump University. It was, Brill asserted, “a scam against the very people who [eventually] voted for Trump—the middle and lower middle class . . . . The first thing Trump does is sue one of the plaintiffs. She wins and the judge awards her $800,000 in legal fees, and Trump appeals, and in that decision he’s compared to Bernie Madoff . . . . This strategy was pure Cohn: ‘Attack your accuser.’ ”
After Brill’s investigation was published, Brill said, he received a call from one of Trump’s lawyers. “I understand you may do a follow-up,” he told Brill, adding a bit of advice: “Just be careful.” “Thanks,” Brill replied. “And let me give you some advice: ‘You better get the check because this guy is never going to pay you.’ Being a deadbeat was also pure Cohn.” (A White House spokesperson says this claim is totally false.)
How to explain the symbiosis that existed between Roy Cohn and Donald Trump? Cohn and Trump were twinned by what drove them. They were both sons of powerful fathers, young men who had started their careers clouded by family scandal. Both had been private-school students from the boroughs who’d grown up with their noses pressed against the glass of dazzling Manhattan. Both squired attractive women around town. (Cohn would describe his close friend Barbara Walters, the TV newswoman, as his fiancée. “Of course, it was absurd,” Liz Smith said, “but Barbara put up with it.”)
Sometime during the 2016 presidential campaign, Brill noticed that Donald Trump was using Cohn’s exact phrases. “I began to hear, ‘If you want to know the truth,’ and ‘that I can tell you . . .’ and ‘to be absolutely frank’—a sign that the Big Lie was coming,” Brill said.
Cohn—possessed of a keen intellect, unlike Trump—could keep a jury spellbound. When he was indicted for bribery, in 1969, his lawyer suffered a heart attack near the end of the trial. Cohn deftly stepped in and did a seven-hour closing argument—never once referring to a notepad. He was acquitted. “I don’t want to know what the law is,” he famously said, “I want to know who the judge is.”
When Cohn spoke, he would fix you with a hypnotic stare. His eyes were the palest blue, all the more startling because they appeared to protrude from the sides of his head. While Al Pacino’s version of Cohn (in Mike Nichols’s 2003 HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America) captured Cohn’s intensity, it failed to convey his child-like yearning to be liked. “He was raised as a miniature adult,” Tom Wolfe once observed.
Cohn liked to throw parties crowded with celebrities, judges, Mob bosses, and politicians—some of whom were either coming from or on their way to prison—causing Cohn’s close friend the comedian Joey Adams to remark, “If you’re indicted, you’re invited.” But it was Cohn’s circle of legal aides and after-hours pals that also held sway. “Roy loved to surround himself with attractive straight men,” said divorce attorney Robert S. Cohen, who, before taking on clients such as Michael Bloomberg—and both of Trump’s ex-wives (Ivana Trump and Marla Maples)—began his career working for Cohn. “[Roy had] a coterie. If he could have had a relationship with any of them, he would have.”
Cohn’s cousin David L. Marcus concurred. Soon after graduating from Brown in the early 80s, Marcus recalled, he sought Cohn out. While they had encountered each other over the years at family gatherings, Marcus’s parents had despised Cohn since his McCarthy days, and a chill had set in. But Cohn, intrigued by the attention of his long-lost cousin, welcomed him. Marcus, a journalist who would later share a Pulitzer Prize, recently said that he was astonished by the atmosphere of creepy intimacy that, in those days, seemed to perfume Cohn’s attitude toward his acolytes, including one in particular. “There was a party in the mid-1980s, where Mailer was, and Andy Warhol, [when] in walked Trump,” recounted Marcus. “Roy dropped everyone else and fussed over him . . . Roy had that ability to focus on you. I felt that Roy was attracted to Trump, more than in a big-brotherly way.
“Donald fit the pattern of the hangers-on and the disciples around Roy. He was tall and blond and . . . frankly, über-Gentile. Something about Roy’s self-hating-Jewish persona drew him to fair-haired boys. And at these parties there was a bevy of blond guys, almost midwestern, and Donald was paying homage to Roy . . . I wondered then if Roy was attracted to him.”
“Thwarted loves obsessed Roy Cohn’s life,” added a lawyer who first met Cohn in the 60s, characterizing some of the men, both gay and straight, in Cohn’s orbit. “He would become sexually obsessed with cock-tease guys who would sense his need and not shun him. These were unrequited relationships. The way he would expiate the sexual energy was possessive mentoring. Introducing them to everyone in town and taking them places.”
Seeing Trump and Cohn enter a room together had a hint of vaudeville. Donald, standing six feet two inches, would typically enter first, with a burlesque macho-man’s gait, walking as if he led from his toes. A few feet behind would be Cohn, skinny, eyes darting, his features slightly caved in from plastic surgery. “Donald is my best friend,” Cohn said back then, shortly after he had thrown a 37th-birthday party for Trump. And over the years, several who knew Cohn would remark on Donald Trump’s resemblance to the most infamous of Roy Cohn’s blond, rich-boy obsessions: David Schine.
Consider the episode—and the compulsion—that ended Roy Cohn’s time in the capital and Joe McCarthy’s Senate career. In the mid-50s, Cohn was in the headlines for the malicious circus of the hearings. Scores of witnesses were being bullied by Cohn or McCarthy or both. “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?,” Cohn demanded in his nasal honk, a spectacle replayed in the evenings on TV and radio.
It was amid this high drama that a young man had come into Cohn’s life. The heir to a hotel-and-movie franchise, the feckless David Schine had reportedly pulled D’s in his first year at Harvard. But in 1952, he wrote a pamphlet on the evils of Communism and was soon introduced to Cohn. It was, for Cohn, a coup de foudre, and Schine came on the McCarthy committee as an unpaid “research assistant.” Dispatched on a tour of Europe to investigate possible subversion at army bases and American Embassies—which included ridding the consular libraries of “subversive literature” (among them works by Dashiell Hammett and Mark Twain)—the pair were dogged by rumors that they were lovers. (Cohn told friends that they were not.) Whispers also began to swirl about McCarthy’s sexual orientation.
In lavender Washington, Cohn was known as both a closeted homosexual and homophobic, among those leading the charge against supposedly gay witnesses who he and others believed should lose their government jobs because they were “security risks.” When Schine was drafted as a private and not a commissioned officer, Cohn threatened he would “wreck the army.” McCarthy even mentioned to Robert T. Stevens, the secretary of the army, that “Roy thinks Dave ought to be a general and operate from a penthouse in the Waldorf Astoria.” President Dwight Eisenhower, meanwhile, angered by McCarthy’s attacks and fearful that the senator’s zealotry was severely damaging the president’s agenda and the G.O.P. itself, sent word to the army counsel to write a report on Cohn’s harassment tactics. According to historian David A. Nichols, the president secretly ordered the document to be released to key legislators and the press, and the revelations were explosive, resulting in the Army-McCarthy hearings.
Over 36 days, 20 million Americans watched. It was all there: Cohn and Schine’s jaunt to Europe, Cohn’s ultimatums, McCarthy’s smears. The high point came when the army’s sly Boston lawyer, Joseph Welch, shook his head in pained disbelief at McCarthy’s attempt to slander one of Welch’s own assistants, imploring the senator, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last . . . ?” Within weeks, Cohn was banished and McCarthy was soon censured.
Cohn played it as a win. After the debacle, he returned to New York and attended a party thrown in his honor at the Hotel Astor. It would be the first example of his ability to project victory from defeat and induce moral amnesia upon a mesmerized New York—a gambit not dissimilar to those later utilized by his confrère Donald Trump.
Another of Cohn’s tactics was to befriend the town’s top gossip columnists, such as Leonard Lyons and George Sokolsky, who would bring Cohn to the Stork Club. He was irresistible to tabloid writers, always ready with scandal-tinged tales. “Roy would be hired by a divorce client in the morning and be leaking their case in the afternoon,” New Yorker writer Ken Auletta recalled. Columnist Liz Smith said she learned to distrust most items he gave her. A similar reliance on the press would also become a vital component of the young Trump’s playbook.
“[Roy] would call me up and it was always short—‘George, Roy,’ ” said former New York Post political reporter George Arzt, who was later Mayor Ed Koch’s press secretary. “He would drop a dime on someone, hoping I would print it.”
“Roy could fix anyone in the city,” Friedman told me that day. “He’s a genius . . . . It is a good thing Roy isn’t here today. He would stab all the food off your plate.” A Cohn quirk was to rarely order food and, instead, commandeer the meals of his dining partners. I wrote then about the moment when hotel titan Bob Tisch came by the table. “I beat Bob Tisch on the convention site,” Trump said loudly. “But we’re good friends now, good friends. Isn’t that right, Bob?”
Trump, at the time, was developing a sullen moxie that rivaled Cohn’s. The lawyer Tom Baer, for instance, did not know what to expect when he got a call one day to meet with Trump. Baer had been recently appointed by Mayor Koch to represent the city in all aspects of what was to become its new convention center, and Baer was trying to line up possible partnerships. “Donald said, ‘I would be willing to contribute the land,’ ” Baer would remember. “ ‘I think it is only fair that it be named Trump Center’ ”—after his father.
“I called Ed Koch, and he said, ‘Fuck him! Fuck him.’ I said, ‘I don’t talk that way.’ He said, ‘I don’t care how you talk! Fuck him!’ So, I used my best lawyer-ese, and I called him back and said, ‘The mayor is so grateful for your offer. But he is not inclined to agree.’ ” Some time later Trump went to Deputy Mayor Peter Solomon and reportedly proposed a deal entitling him to a $4.4 million commission. (He eventually got $500,000.) Recalled Baer, “He spoke to the representatives of the governor [too]. He wasn’t going to be deterred because pisher Tom Baer told him he couldn’t do it . . . . Koch [just shook his head and] thought, This guy is ridiculous.”
‘Come and make your pitch to me,” Roy Cohn told Roger Stone when they met at a New York dinner party in 1979. Stone, though only 27, had achieved a degree of notoriety as one of Richard Nixon’s political dirty-tricksters. At the time, he was running Ronald Reagan’s presidential-campaign organization in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and he needed office space.
Stone appeared on East 68th Street to find Cohn, just awakened, in his robe, sitting with one of his clients, Mob boss “Fat Tony” Salerno, of the Genovese crime family. “In front of [Roy] was a slab of cream cheese and three burnt slices of bacon,” Stone remembered. “He ate the cream cheese with his pointing finger. He listened to my pitch and said, ‘You need to see Donald Trump. I will get you in, but then you are on your own.’ ”
“I went to see him,” Stone told me, “and Trump said, ‘How do you get Reagan to 270 electoral votes?’ He was very interested [in the mechanics]—a political junkie. Then he said, ‘O.K., we are in. Go see my father.’ ” Out Stone went to Avenue Z, in Coney Island, and met Fred Trump in his office, which was crowded with cigar-store Indians. “True to his word, I got $200,000. The checks came in $1,000 denominations, the maximum donation you could give. All of these checks were written to ‘Reagan For President.’ It was not illegal—it was bundling. Check trading.” For Reagan’s state headquarters, the Trumps found Stone and the campaign a decrepit town house next to the ‘21’ Club. Stone was now, like Donald Trump, inside the Cohn tent.
And Stone soon seized the moment to cash in. After Reagan was elected, his administration softened the strict rules for corporations seeking government largesse. Soon Stone and Paul Manafort, Trump’s future campaign manager, were lobbyists, reaping the bonanzas that could flow with Favor Bank introductions. Their first client, Stone recalled, was none other than Donald Trump, who retained him, irrespective of any role Manafort might have had in the firm, for help with federal issues such as obtaining a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the channel to the Atlantic City marina to accommodate his yacht, the Trump Princess.
“We made no bones about it,” Stone recently said. “We wanted money. And it came pouring in.” Stone and Manafort charged hefty fees to introduce blue-chip corporations—such as Ronald Perelman’s MacAndrews & Forbes and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.—to their former campaign colleagues, some of whom were now running the Reagan White House. It was all cozy and connected—and reminiscent of Roy Cohn.
By 2000, Stone had offered his talents to a new candidate: Trump himself. That year Stone traveled the country to help Trump explore the viability of running as a Reform Party candidate. But at a stop in Florida, things halted abruptly. “I’m tired,” Stone recalled Trump telling him. “Cancel the rest of this. I am going to my room to watch TV.” In Stone’s view, “His heart was never in it.” (A White House spokesperson disputes this account.)
“You have to let Donald be Donald,” Stone explained. “We have been friends for 40 years . . . . Look what happened with the ‘birther’ push. You don’t want to hear this, but when he started that campaign 7 out of 10 Republicans at the time believed that Obama was born in Kenya. And, let’s face it, many still question it. Donald still believes it.” (In fact, candidate Trump released an official statement two months before Election Day asserting, unequivocally, that “Barack Obama was born in the United States.”)
Stone’s modus operandi, even to this day, has seemed to be vintage Cohn. Fired by Trump for what one of his spokesmen called Stone’s desire “to use the campaign for his own personal publicity,” Stone went into overdrive, fighting back and scheduling interviews in which he praised candidate Trump. (Stone denied he was fired and says he resigned.) Stone recently expressed concern that Jared Kushner’s inexperience and façade of centrist policies might very well scuttle the already beleaguered Trump presidency. And he fretted about Trump’s daughter Ivanka as well, saying that he found it “disturbing” when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in May, pledged $100 million to a World Bank women’s entrepreneurial fund—a project she had promoted.
Yet Stone would not concede that his decades-long relationship with Trump had become strained, even though Stone, along with some members of the administration, are facing allegations that they’ve had questionable contacts with a variety of Russian nationals. (All have denied any wrongdoing.) “There is nothing to any of this,” Stone claimed. “Donald knows he has my loyalty and friendship. I leave a message when I want to speak with him.”
All along there had been something deeper connecting Stone and Trump and Roy Cohn: the climate of suspicion and fear that had helped bring all three to power. Although Stone, like many around Cohn in the 70s and 80s, was too young to have observed how Cohn helped poison America in the McCarthy years, Stone had learned at the feet of Richard Nixon, the ultimate American paranoid. And the politics of paranoia that Cohn and Stone had cynically mastered would eventually make them kindred spirits. Just as the two of them had come to prominence by exploiting a grave national mood (Cohn in the 50s, Stone in the 70s), it was this same sense of American angst, resurgent in 2016, that would ultimately help elect Donald Trump.
“Pro-Americanism,” Stone said, “is a common thread for McCarthy, Goldwater, Nixon, [and] Reagan. The heir to that tradition is Donald Trump. When you combine that with the bare-knuckled tactics of Roy Cohn—or a Roger Stone—that is how you win elections. So Roy has an impact on Donald’s understanding of how to deal with the media—attack, attack, attack, never defend.”
The Long Good-Bye
Roger Stone was there in 1982 when Roy Cohn was at his peak. At the time, Cohn was trying to help Trump realize his dream of opening casinos in Atlantic City. Crucial to his success would be a sympathetic New Jersey governor. And Cohn and Stone were working hard to elect their candidate: Republican Tom Kean. Stone, as it turned out, was Kean’s campaign manager, and after Kean won in a close race, Stone would remain as an unofficial adviser.
Trump began to purchase boardwalk real estate. He built one casino and bought another. His prospects looked bright. But Cohn’s downfall was imminent. Word would soon begin to circulate that Cohn was battling AIDS. He denied it. He was also battling disbarment—under a cloud of fraud and ethical-misconduct charges. (Cohn, along with other misdeeds, had stiffed a client on a loan and altered the terms of a virtually comatose client’s will—in his hospital room—making himself its co-executor.)
Cohn tried to keep up a good face. But Trump, among other clients, began to shift his business elsewhere. “Donald found out about [Cohn’s condition] and just dropped him like a hot potato,” Cohn’s personal secretary, Susan Bell, was quoted as saying. (A White House spokesperson says this claim is totally false.)
Cohn sensed his growing isolation. And for whatever reason, he decided, according to journalist Wayne Barrett, to help the efforts of Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry, who was seeking an appointment to the federal bench. “Maryanne wanted the job,” Stone would recall. “She did not want Roy and Donald to do anything. She was attempting to get it on her own.”
Stone remembered that when it appeared someone else was in line for the job Cohn approached Reagan’s attorney general, Ed Meese, for help. In the end, Barry got the plum post. “Roy can do the impossible,” Trump reportedly said when he heard the news. The next day, Barrett noted, Barry called Cohn to thank him. (According to the Times, Trump, when asked in 2015, said his sister “got the appointment totally on her own merit.” For herself, Barry admitted to Trump-family biographer Gwenda Blair, “There’s no question Donald helped me get on the bench. I was good, but not that good.”)
By 1985, Cohn was seriously ill—“I have liver cancer,” he contended—and he started calling in his last markers. He phoned New York Times columnist William Safire, whom he’d known since Safire’s days as a publicist. And, sure enough, Safire ran a piece attacking the “buzzards of the bar” who had “dredged up” fraud charges to get even with Cohn, “[the] hard-hitting anti-legal-establishment right-winger at a time when he is physically unable to defend himself.” Roger Stone would recall Trump phoning him and asking, “ ‘Have you seen Bill Safire’s column?’ He called me to point it out to me. He said, ‘This is going to be terrific for Roy.’ “
Cohn also had asked a favor of Trump: Could he give him a hotel room for his lover, who was dying of AIDS? A room was found in the Barbizon Plaza Hotel. Months passed. Then Cohn got the bill. Then another. He refused to pay. At some point, according to The New York Times’s Jonathan Mahler and Matt Flegenheimer, Trump would present Cohn with a thank-you gift for a decade of favors: a pair of diamond cuff links. The diamonds turned out to be fakes.
Tensions between the two became progressively strained. And the dying Cohn, as Barrett would describe him in those waning days, would say, “Donald pisses ice water.”
That said, Trump did come out to testify on Cohn’s behalf at his 1986 disbarment hearing, one of 37 character witnesses, including Barbara Walters and William Safire. But none of it mattered. Cohn, after putting up a four-year fight, was kicked out of the New York Bar for “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation.” Cohn’s nefarious practices had finally caught up with him.
Trump, by then a presence in Atlantic City, was setting his sights on a third casino. Roy Cohn, in contrast, would die almost penniless, given how much he owed the I.R.S. And his funeral made it clear what Cohn and his friends and family had felt, in the end, about Trump. The real-estate developer was not one of the speakers. He was not asked to be a pallbearer. Trump, in Barrett’s account, did show up, however, and stood in the back.
Thirty years later, on the day after Donald J. Trump was elected president, Roger Stone was one of the callers who got through to his old friend at Trump Tower. “Mr. President,” said Stone. “Oh please, call me Donald,” Stone remembered Trump saying.
A few moments later, Trump sounded wistful. “Wouldn’t Roy love to see this moment? Boy, do we miss him.”