It was with amazement and bemusement that I read, two years ago, that Donald Trump was disappointed in Jeff Sessions: his new attorney general’s recusal meant he could not fill the role Trump had laid out for him—that of a new Roy Cohn.
When I was growing up in my progressive household of the 1950s, two evils were incontrovertibly lodged in my brain: the Rosenbergs were dirty spies bent on helping the evil Commies get the atomic bomb, and Roy Cohn was one miserable S.O.B. who was, as much as Joseph McCarthy, responsible for the Red Scare and the concomitant persecution of many writers, professors, and everyday citizens.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on the same day in 1953. Julius was probably guilty, Ethel probably not; but both were the victims of Cold-War paranoia. Roy Cohn, whose career (as one put it) revolved around hollow threats and spurious lawsuits, simply went on with his life, one which intersected with Donald Trump’s just long enough to propel Trump’s real estate career.
We have Trump because of Cohn’s influence and mentoring, and now Trump has Cohn again. No not the original—he died 36 years ago. He has a new and improved version who is more than simply Joe McCarthy’s chief counsel: this one is the Attorney General of the United States.
It took two years in office, but Trump has his Roy Cohn...in spades.
We had an inkling in March when Barr gave us the Cliff’s notes version of the Mueller Report, we had a notion after that when he talked about redactions and delays, and we received a concussive hit upside the head this morning when Barr made an exculpatory campaign speech for the criminal who currently occupies the White House. (And Trump is a criminal, not yet charged but clearly guilty of—at the very least—treason, money laundering, and tax evasion. Even his supporters have trouble denying that.)
But today belongs to William Barr. Today this public servant with an unspectacular but creditable record consummated his little Faustian compact. He became Tom Walker selling his soul out of pure avarice, Guy Woodhouse selling his soul (and wife Rosemary) to the devil for fame and success, Homer Simpson selling his soul to Ned Flanders for a doughnut. Lots of souls in hell from bad deals with the devil—none worse than William Barr’s today.
And yet oddly Barr’s may have been most similar to Homer Simpson’s. The payoff was so small...and the ignominy so great. Homer at least got a doughnut—it’s unlikely that, in the annals of history, William Barr will claim even that little a victory.