Opinion

Will Roy Cohn Save Donald Trump’s Hide One Last Time?

Sitting still for hours on end in a chilly, drab courtroom, unable to speak his mind, forced to listen to people say objectionable things about him, Donald Trump at a defense table in Manhattan’s Criminal Court may seem as far from his usual domain — the cheering crowds and the trappings of wealth — as could be imagined.

But it was in another courthouse just down the street that Mr. Trump’s wily mentor, Roy Cohn, pulled off one of his greatest legal feats. It was Mr. Cohn who taught Mr. Trump how to manipulate the law, and other people, to his advantage. His ghost now hovers over the former president’s entire legal outlook, influencing proceedings in ways large and small. The outcome in this case may be the final verdict on Mr. Cohn’s brilliant, sinister strategies.

Mr. Trump always admired Mr. Cohn’s bravado and belligerence; Mr. Cohn’s whole worldview seemed to validate the young developer’s crassest instincts. “If you need somebody to get vicious,” Mr. Trump once said, “hire Roy Cohn.” His legal strategy boiled down to: Delay and deny. Don’t hesitate to attack the judge and prosecutor (“I don’t care what the law is; tell me who the judge is” was his most famous line). Address the press every chance you get. And intimidate and ridicule witnesses.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers have aggressively sought every delay possible and called for mistrials or new judges on a regular basis. Of the four criminal proceedings Mr. Trump faces, the one wrapping up now is probably the only case that will be heard before Election Day — and if Mr. Trump wins a second term, all bets are off. He attacked Justice Juan Merchan and witnesses so many times that he has been placed under gag orders — and then fined, when he repeatedly failed to honor them. And as for litigating a case through the media, Mr. Trump went Mr. Cohn one better: He founded his own social media organization, Truth Social, and litigates his cases there.

In the Manhattan case, the defense attorney Todd Blanche went for the jugular when cross-examining Mr. Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, shouting, “The jury doesn’t want to hear what you think happened!” and invoking a disparaging remark that Mr. Cohen had made — about Mr. Blanche himself — with such fidelity that Justice Merchan rebuked him for his profanity. Later, the attorney Susan Necheles sought to shame Stormy Daniels, a porn star, accusing her of “selling” herself and having “a lot of experience making phony stories about sex appear to be real.”

Most recently we learned that the former president would not be taking the witness stand and exposing himself to cross-examination, choosing instead to let a stream of prominent Republicans visitors make his case for him on the courthouse steps. That is the strategy that Mr. Cohn lived by.

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