WaPo | To examine the relationship between Trump and Cohn, The Post reviewed court records, books about the men and newspaper and magazine stories from the era, along with documents about Cohn obtained from the FBI through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Post interviewed Trump and others who knew both men.
When they met, Trump, 27, tall and handsome, was at the start of his career and living off money he was earning in the family business. Cohn, 46, short and off-putting, was near the peak of his power and considered by some to be among the most reviled Americans in the 20th century.
Cohn could be charismatic and witty, and he hosted lavish parties that included politicians, celebrities and journalists. A wall at the Upper East Side townhouse where he lived and worked was filled with signed photographs of luminaries such as Hoover and Richard Nixon.
Alan Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and a renowned constitutional scholar, said he was surprised when he finally got to know Cohn. “I expected to hate him, but I did not,” Dershowitz told The Post. “I found him charming.”
There were legions of Cohn detractors. “He was a source of great evil in this society,” Victor A. Kovner, a Democratic activist in New York City and First Amendment lawyer, told The Post. “He was a vicious, Red-baiting source of sweeping wrongdoing.”
In interviews with The Post, Trump maintained that Cohn was merely his attorney, stressing that he was only one of many of Cohn’s clients in New York. Trump also played down the influence of Cohn on his aggressive tactics and rhetoric, saying: “I don’t think I got that from Roy at all. I think I’ve had a natural instinct for that.”
Trump said he goes on the offensive only to defend himself.
“I don’t feel I insult people. I don’t feel I insult people. I try and get to the facts and I don’t feel I insult people,” he said. “Now, if I’m insulted I will counterattack, or if something is unfair I will counterattack, but I don’t feel like I insult people. I don’t want to do that. But if I’m attacked, I will counterattack.”
Journalists and contemporaries of both men, including a close political ally of Trump, said there was more to the relationship than Trump now acknowledges. Cohn himself once said he was “not only Donald’s lawyer but also one of his close friends.” Roger Stone, a political operative who met Trump through Cohn, said their association was grounded in business, but he also described the lawyer as “like a cultural guide to Manhattan” for Trump into the worlds of celebrity and power. “Roy was more than his personal lawyer,” Stone told The Post. “And, of course, Trump was a trophy client for Roy.”
Investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, who spent dozens of hours interviewing Cohn and Trump beginning in the 1970s, once wrote in “Trump: The Deals and the Downfall” that Cohn began to “assume a role in Donald’s life far transcending that of a lawyer. He became Donald’s mentor, his constant adviser.”
Barrett now says Cohn’s stamp on Trump is obvious. “I just look at him and see Roy,” Barrett said in an interview. “Both of them are attack dogs.”