Trump's Roy Cohns: William Barr has the power, but Rudy Giuliani slings the mud

Trump's Roy Cohns: William Barr has the power, but Rudy Giuliani slings the mud
William Barr image via PBS NewsHour
News & Politics

While he was in Japan, Donald Trump demanded that the American press “apologize” for reporting on the Russia investigation. That would include reporting such as this January 2018 article from The New York Times in which it was disclosed that Trump had ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to pressure then-Attorney General Jefferson Sessions into unrecusing himself from the Mueller investigation. The reporting of those events turned out to be exactly right, and Congress would still like to chat with McGahn about that episode of obstruction. Except Trump is obstructing it.

The whole issue of Sessions’ recusal is worth remembering for another reason. It was at this point, when he saw that the attorney general was following the law by stepping down from an investigation of a campaign in which he had personally played a key role, that Trump issued one of his most memorable laments: “Where’s my Roy Cohn?

Cohn—most famous for his role in Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hearings on supposed Communist infiltration of the U.S. government in the 1950s—had served as a mentor and father figure to Trump at the start of his career, teaching him such valuable techniques as always being on the attack, never admitting a mistake, and never, never apologizing. With Cohn’s help, Trump survived overt instances of racism in his real estate business, despite being caught red-handed at them by federal agencies.

When Trump cried out for a new Cohn at the outset of the Russia investigation, he was shocked to find that even the first senator to have signed on to his campaign would hesitate to defy all past standards and sign on to defend Trump in any other cause. Two years later, that genuinely is shocking. Because in that time many if not all Republican senators have made it clear that they would push justice off a cliff for Trump, no problem. Now Trump has his Cohn 2.0 in the form of William Barr. Barr demonstrated his willingness to distort the Mueller report, openly scorn congressional inquiry, and turn the government inside out for Trump, with the result that he’s been gifted with the authority to selectively declassify and reveal any government information, no matter how dangerous to national security.

But Trump didn’t locate just one new Cohn. He found two. And as Politico reports, Rudy Giuliani is anxious to prove that he can be just as dangerous, just as destructive, and just as corrosive to the fabric of democracy as any other crooked attorney.

Giuliani’s job in the White House isn’t the traditional role of a personal attorney. It’s not even technically opposition research. What Giuliani is performing for Trump is the role of official White House character assassin.

He has already made trips to Ukraine in attempts to spark a “scandal” involving Joe Biden. The effort involved both threatening to pull U.S. support from a nation under assault from Vladimir Putin’s Russia and promising to support a corrupt prosecutor already shown the door by Ukraine’s new president. Giuliani placed phone calls directly to Trump from the prosecutor’s office so that Trump could encourage the prosecutor to spread a lie about Joe Biden’s son.

The clumsiness of Giuliani’s hatchet work would seem to make him not just a poor choice but a negative one to act as a tool for Trump. After all, Giuliani appears on news networks or in New York Times interviews to regularly produce statements that are both outrageous and outrageously wrong on every level.

But the reason that Giuliani’s job is not in doubt, no matter how many blatant lies and contradictory things he says in front of a national audience, is exactly that. News networks keep putting him on. The New York Times keeps interviewing him, writing up whole articles on the basis of “tips” passed along by Giuliani. Despite every whopper he has dropped on it, it keeps putting out front page paragraphs from Giuliani is if they were verified facts.

It’s not Giuliani himself who is valuable to Trump; it’s Giuliani’s media access. So long as CNN is always nearby with a mic and the Times keeps a Giuliani stenographer warmed up 24/7, Rudy has a job swinging his little hatchet of lies.

As visitors to the 2016 Republican National Convention pointed out, Giuliani was both one of Trump’s best messengers and also “a little unhinged.” In his case, one of those things may actually help with the other. Likewise, The New York Times is both the excellent paper of record that documented the events between McGahn and Sessions over a year before the Mueller report appeared and the paper that blindly repeated Giuliani’s statements about investigations in Ukraine without spending even five minutes attempting to verify what it had been told. In the paper’s case, playing footsie with Giuliani definitely does not enhance its credibility on other issues.

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