In 1973, the federal government sued Trump and his father, alleging systematic racial discrimination in the rentals at their dozens of New York City apartment buildings. Often interpreted mostly as confirmation of Trump’s deep-seated racial animus, it is at this point perhaps better understood as the origin of his distrust of federal law enforcement. It is where he first learned to view the government not as a potential righter of wrongs but as an impediment to his business interests, not as a protector of less powerful citizens but as a meddlesome obstacle in his pursuit of profit. And it is where he first demonstrated how he would combat it—with the same unapologetic, counterpunching, deny-and-delay, distractions-laced playbook on display today. When Rudy Giuliani earlier this year tagged FBI officials as “storm troopers,” it was not the first time an attorney advocating for Trump had used that term in that way. That was Roy Cohn. In 1974. Long before Michael Cohen worked for Trump, the chief counsel of disgraced Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting Senate subcommittee of 1950s infamy would become Trump’s most important adviser and most indispensable fixer—and the indelible Cohn-Trump mind meld of a partnership kick-started with this case.
“For Trump, it’s always about winning and always attacking your enemy, and I think those are both things that were associated with Roy Cohn as well,” said Alan Dershowitz, the retired Harvard law professor and periodic Trump defender who is one of a dwindling number of people who knows Trump and knew Cohn, too.