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Roy Cohn: Remembered By Friends and Foes

August 3, 1986 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Six months before his death, Roy Cohn was asked how he wanted to be remembered.

″I have no choice,″ he replied. ″I am going to be Joe McCarthy’s chief counsel for the rest of my life, no matter what else good or bad I should ever do in anybody’s eyes.″

When Cohn died Saturday at the age of 59, the obituaries, as predicted, billed him as a controversial communist hunter. But the good and bad Cohn did in his years after Washington also was debated by those he left behind.

To his law partner, Thomas Bolan, Cohn was a man with ″a side to him that was not known publicly. That was his great desire to help people in trouble. A great deal never came to public light.″

To a newspaper columnist, Jimmy Breslin, Cohn was one who ″lived on the edge, where only the devil’s luck could save him,″ who robbed people of ″their freedom and minds and careers,″ who died ″knowing he had made everybody else lousy, too.″

Cohn was a much-sought lawyer who was disbarred shortly before he died, a Democrat who often supported Republican presidents, a high liver who may have owed the government as much as $7 million, a friend and counselor to cardinals and mobsters.

″It was amazing to me the network of contacts he had,″ said Nassau County Comptroller Peter King, who worked for Cohn for two years. ″He seemed to have access anywhere - FBI agents, prominent senators, and the State Department. There seemed to be nobody he didn’t know.″

In the end, his enemies also were on his mind. Bolan said his partner was ″frustrated ... that he was physically unable to fight his enemies.″

Even his death was marked by dispute. Cohn had repeatedly denied rumors that he suffered from acquired immune deficiency syndrome, saying he had liver cancer.

But the National Institutes of Health listed underlying infections from HTLV III, an AIDS-related virus, as a secondary cause of death.

Cohn died six weeks after he was disbarred for dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation by a New York State appellate court which termed his conduct ″unethnical,″ ″unprofessional″ and in one case, ″particularly reprehensible.″

The judges found that in 1976 Cohn went into the hospital room of a dying friend, whisky magnate Lewis Rosenstiel, and tricked him into signing over control of his multimillion-dollar estate. Cohn also allegedly improperly used money from clients’ escrow funds.


In earlier years he was tried and acquitted three times on federal charges that included bribery, perjury, obstructing justice, mail fraud and extortion.

Cohn paid himself a relatively modest salary of $100,000 a year but lived in high style thanks to an expense account that paid for his cars, homes and lavish parties.

Cohn’s clients included alleged Mafia leaders Carmine Galante and Anthony Salerno as well as Roman Catholic Cardinals Francis Spellman and Terence Cooke. Others included Halston, the fashion designer, Andy Warhol, the artist, and Donald Trump, the builder.

″If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent you get Roy,″ Trump once said. ″People will drop a suit just by getting a letter with Roy’s name at the bottom.″

Neither the left nor the right ever forgot the arrogant, brilliant young inquisitor of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in the 1953.

Liberals assailed Cohn and McCarthy for using innuendo to destroy the reputations and careers of people they regarded as communists or sympathizers.

Earlier, Cohn worked as a clerk in the U.S. attorney’s office, where he helped prepare and later prosecute the case against atom bomb spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

He quit the Justice Department in 1953 to join McCarthy. He became friends with G. David Schine, a 26-year-old heir to a hotel fortune who worked for the subcommittee as an unpaid consultant.

Schine and Cohn went to Europe in the spring on an 18-day hunt for subversion on the shelves of U.S. Information Agency libraries in Europe, drawing ridicule from the foreign press but demoralizing agency staffers.

Schine was drafted into the Army that winter. When Cohn failed to get sufficent special privileges for Schine, he allegedly threatened to ″wreck the Army″ with an investigation.

Badgering the Army put McCarthy on a collision course with the Eisenhower administration. The upshot was an independent investigation - and the Army- McCarthy hearings of 1954.

During the ensuing Senate hearing, Army counsel Joseph N. Welch came across as a simple, plain-spoken hero, McCarthy as a bully.

With McCarthy’s power broken, Cohn quit Washington and entered private practice in 1954.

Bolan issued a statement Saturday saying funeral services would be private and a memorial service would be held sometime in September.

He suggested that donations in Cohn’s memory be made to the American Jewish League Against Communism.