Roy Cohn was an American lawyer who had served as the chief counsel of Joseph McCarthy. The duo was known for investigating and prosecuting communists for crimes of espionage. The two also pursued government officials and artists who were closeted homosexuals or associated with foreign communists. Before teaming up with McCarthy, Cohn rose to fame for playing a significant role in incriminating Ethal and Julius Rosenberg for spying on the U.S. government on behalf of the U.S.S.R. He represented high-profile personalities such as U.S. president Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, George Steinbrenner, and Aristotle Onassis. He also represented people with criminal pasts, such as Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti. He also advised politicians such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Regan. However, his career came to an unceremonious end due to his unethical and unprofessional conduct. It later came to light that Cohn was a closeted homosexual. He died due to complications from AIDS.
Childhood & Early Life
Roy Marcus Cohn was born on February 20, 1927, into a strict Jewish family in The Bronx, New York City, U.S.A.
He was the grandnephew of Joshua Lionel Cowen, a renowned inventor and the founder of ‘Lionel Corporation.’
He was the only child of his parents, Dora (nee Marcus) and Judge Albert C. Cohn.
He attended two major Ivy preparatory schools: the ‘Horace Mann School’ in The Bronx and the ‘Fieldston School’ in New York City. He attended the ‘Columbia College’ on the main campus of the ‘Columbia University’ in Manhattan, New York City. At the age of 20, he graduated from ‘Columbia Law School,’ the professional graduate school of ‘Columbia University.’
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Roy Cohn was admitted to the bar on May 27, 1948. He leveraged his family’s influence to work with the then-U.S. attorney, Irving Saypol, in Manhattan.
One of the earliest cases assigned to him was the prosecution of communist party leaders under the ‘Smith Act.’ He succeeded in convicting 11 of them.
In 1948, he became a board member of the ‘American Jewish League Against Communism.’
In 1950, he secured the indictment of William Remington for perjury.
He was instrumental in the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for spying on the U.S. government.
His role in the Rosenberg trial was noticed by J. Edgar Hoover, who referred him to Joseph McCarthy.
Between 1951 and 1954, Roy Cohn worked with McCarthy to investigate many suspected communists. They also claimed that foreign communists had compelled closeted homosexuals working with the U.S. government to spy on their behalf, in exchange for keeping their sexuality secret. Their theories even convinced U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to sign a decree to bar homosexuals from working with the federal government.
Even prominent cultural figures were targeted by Cohn and McCarthy for their sexuality. They also blackmailed several opponents by threatening to divulge their sexual orientation.
However, the Army–McCarthy hearings led to the downfall of the team of McCarthy and Cohn. Cohn resigned from his position in 1954 and began private practice.
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He had a flourishing career as an attorney. He counseled influential politicians such as Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan business magnates such as George Steinbrenner and Aristotle Onassis; members of the mafia such as Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti; and religious organizations such as the ‘Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.’
He became Donald Trump’s attorney in 1973 and also worked as a mentor. They worked together until 1985.
Roy Cohn introduced his client Rupert Murdoch, a world-renowned media mogul, to Trump.
In the 1970s and the 1980s, he was investigated by the federal authorities, but they could not prove the charges of unprofessional conduct leveled against him.
In 1986, he was disbarred for unethical practices and professional misconduct, including coercing his client to alter his will.
Takeover of Lionel Corporation
Roy Cohn, along with a group of investors, bought 200,000 of about 700,00 shares of ‘Lionel Corporation’ from founder Joshua Lionel Cowen and his son, Lawrence Cowen.
However, Cohn failed to steer the company in the right direction leading to losses. He was compelled to quit in 1963.
Personal Life, Illness, & Death
Roy Cohn lost his mother when he was 40. He was extremely attached to her.
It was rumored that Cohn was gay and had had a sexual relationship with his colleague G. David Schine. However, Cohn vehemently denied both these claims. Nevertheless, there were strong indications that he was a closeted homosexual.
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In 1984, after he was diagnosed with AIDS, Cohn tried his best to keep it a secret. He also undertook experimental drug treatment and participated in clinical trials of ‘AZT.’
He desperately wanted to maintain that he was suffering from liver cancer, and not AIDS, even to the last day.
He died due to complications resulting due to AIDS on August 2, 1986, in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.A, at the age of 59.
He was interred in the ‘Union Field Cemetery’ in Queens, New York.