Have they no sense of decency?
Trump and his lackeys are trying to smear Judge Engoron’s law clerk
On Saturday, Trump gave a Veterans Day speech Saturday in which he called his opponents “vermin.”
“We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections … They’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America and to destroy the American Dream.”
Trump further stated — and remember, this is Veteran’s Day — that “the threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within. Because if you have a capable, competent, smart, tough leader, Russia, China, North Korea, they’re not going to want to play with us.”
The reaction from the Republican Party? Nada. The reaction from the Democratic Party? Almost nada.
Trump’s craziness has been normalized, to our peril.
And Trump and his allies continue to engage in character assassination.
On Friday, Trump Republicans in the House turned their ire on the judge presiding over Trump’s civil fraud trial and his law clerk.
Representative Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership, filed an ethics complaint against Judge Arthur F. Engoron — claiming that the judge and his law clerk are biased against Trump and calling on Engoron to resign.
This is the latest chapter in the Trump Republican playbook of character assassination and intimidation.
I once had the great opportunity to be a law clerk to a judge of immense intelligence and generosity: Frank M. Coffin, then chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. I learned then that the relationship between a law clerk and a judge is built on mutual trust. A law clerk becomes the intellectual partner (a junior partner, to be sure) of a judge. A judge depends on his law clerk and protects that relationship and clerk.
Early on in his civil trial for fraud, Trump understood that a way to harass Judge Engoron and attack his integrity was to go after his law clerk, Allison Greenfield, whom Trump described as “Trump-hating.” Trump even made up a story that Greenfield was dating Sen. Chuck Schumer (who is married), and shared Greenfield’s Instagram details on Truth Social, effectively ushering a scourge of far-right boors onto her social media accounts.
When Trump’s attorneys continued to attack Ms. Greenfield, Judge Engoron said, “it's a shame you've descended to this level,” and issued a limited gag order barring Trump or his attorneys from speaking about the judge’s law clerk. The judge cited “repeated, inappropriate remarks” about court staff and the “hundreds” of threats that the court has received since the trial began, “falsely accusing his principal law clerk of bias against them and of improperly influencing the ongoing bench trial.” He added:
“The threat of, and actual, violence resulting from heated political rhetoric is well-documented. Since the commencement of this bench trial, my chambers have been inundated with hundreds of harassing and threating [sic] phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters, and packages.”
Engoron’s narrow gag order doesn’t bar Stefanik or any other Trump ally in Congress from making false and incendiary charges. Stefanik’s Friday complaint came from a Breitbart story alleging that Judge Engoron’s law clerk made contributions to individual candidates, local Democratic clubs, PACs, and the New York County Democrats. Stefanik’s letter discusses the clerk at length, detailing her purported political donations to Democratic donors and causes and criticizing the gag order.
This whole shameful strategy of attempted character assassination and intimidation reminds me of something that occurred almost 70 years ago, when Senator Joe McCarthy went after Joseph Welch’s young staff attorney during the Army-McCarthy hearings in June 1954.
Joseph Welch, a private attorney, was representing the Army. McCarthy claimed Welch’s staff attorney was a communist — a charge that was likely to end the young man’s career. I imagine Welch felt as protective toward his staff attorney as Judge Engoron feels toward his law clerk.
During the televised hearings, as McCarthy continued his attack on Welch’s staff attorney, Welch broke in. “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.”
When McCarthy didn’t let up on his attack, Welch raised his voice and demanded that McCarthy listen to him. “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator,” Welch said. “You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
That did it. Almost overnight, McCarthy imploded. His national popularity evaporated. Three years later, censured by his Senate colleagues, ostracized by his party, and ignored by the press, McCarthy drank himself to death, a broken man at the age of 48.
Trump, his attorneys, and Elise Stefanik have no sense of decency. They don’t care about the emotional (and potentially real) injuries they’re inflicting on Judge Engoron’s law clerk, for no reason other than to harass the judge, intimidate his staff, and raise questions in the public’s mind about the judge’s impartiality.
Yet America is at a different place than it was in 1954. Trump’s cynical hatefulness is larger than Joe McCarthy’s, the willingness of the Republican Party to amplify hate is also larger, the emotional and physical dangers to the targets of such hatefulness are larger, and the public’s tolerance for such smear tactics also seems larger.
By the way, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, McCarthy’s chief counsel was Roy Cohn.
After McCarthy’s downfall, many assumed that Cohn’s career was also over. Yet Cohn reinvented himself as a power broker in New York who proved useful to a young real estate developer named Donald Trump, then undertaking several large construction projects in Manhattan, who needed a fixer.
In 1973, the Justice Department accused Trump Management Inc., its 27-year-old president, Donald, and its chairman, Donald’s father, Fred, of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968 in 39 of his properties — alleging that the company quoted different rental terms and conditions to prospective tenants based on their race and made false “no vacancy” statements to Black people seeking to rent.
Trump employees had secretly marked the applications of Black people with codes, such as “C” for “colored,” according to accounts filed in federal court. The employees allegedly directed Black people away from buildings with mostly white tenants, steering them toward properties that had many Black tenants.
Representing the Trumps, Cohn filed a countersuit against the government for $100 million, asserting that the charges were “irresponsible and baseless.” Although the countersuit was unsuccessful, Trump settled the charges out of court in 1975, asserting he was satisfied that the agreement did not “compel the Trump organization to accept persons on welfare as tenants unless as qualified as any other tenant.”
Three years later, when the Trump Organization was again in court for violating terms of the 1975 settlement, Cohn called the charges “nothing more than a rehash of complaints by a couple of planted malcontents.” Donald Trump denied the charges.
In 1986, Cohn was disbarred by the New York State Bar for unethical conduct after attempting to defraud a dying client by forcing the client to sign a will amendment leaving Cohn his fortune. (Cohn died five weeks later from AIDS-related complications.)
In his first and best-known book, The Art of the Deal, Trump drew a distinction between integrity and loyalty. He said he preferred the latter.
Trump compared Roy Cohn to “all the hundreds of ‘respectable’ guys who make careers out of boasting about their uncompromising integrity but have absolutely no loyalty ... What I liked most about Roy Cohn was that he would do just the opposite.”