There is something eerily familiar about Donald Trump’s avalanche of thuggish attacks on the Justice Department, the FBI, the Rule of Law, and standard prosecutorial tactics like getting witnesses to “flip” on bigger criminals, and his rabid ranting about “rats.”
The cascade of cringing complaints sound exactly like my brother’s whining, when he was sentenced to prison as a bagman for John Gotti, for not paying income taxes on the illicit money he collected for the Gambino Family crime boss.
Trump, who hung around with New York’s mobsters — including Gotti and John Cody, associates of my brother Michael’s — always wanted to be thought of as “tough,” like they were. He never wanted them to know he lived a soft, coddled life, chauffered back and forth to private school in his mother’s rose colored Rolls Royce. He cursed and used Mob lingo, echoing my brother and his friends with their bitter attacks on the “Feds” and the “fuckin’ gov’ment.” But the Mob guys, not bullshit artists like Trump, knew that the make-believe Don was nothing more than a blowhard — a light-haired, lightweight, little rich boy, who pretended that using four-letter words made him a Gangster.
Like Trump, the real mobsters of the Gambino and Genovese crime families who swirled around our family for decades, cursed the government and the FBI more intensely as the charges against them became more real, and their prison sentences became a certainty. My brother continued to bad-mouth the FBI and the “fuckin’ gov’ment” even afterhe got out of prison. He spoke as virulently about “rats” and people who “broke” and “stand-up-guys,” with the same vehemence that Trump now does. The more they saw themselves portrayed in “The Godfather,” or “Goodfellas,” or later in the “Sopranos,” the more they felt validated in the Mob life they lived.
Trump was, and still is, a punk-wannabe among punks: an amoral actor doing business with amoral peers. My brother’s mobbed-up friends repeatedly demonstrated that they had zero respect for the fake, little Lord Fauntleroy Don. They knew they could squeeze him for as much as they wanted, since all that mattered to Trump was money. That’s a language understood very well by organized crime — whatever dialect was spoken by the Gambino, Genovese, Scarfo or Russian criminal enterprises. It’s also a way of life deeply understood by Robert Mueller, who devoted his stellar law enforcement career developing great expertise — and extraordinary results — in holding such criminal enterprises accountable to the law.
Before indictments, convictions, guilty verdicts, and plea deals began tumbling down upon Donald Trump and his associates like a ton of cheap cement — including the direct implication of the Fake Don himself in federal crimes by his former trusted fixer Michael Cohen — many of us were baffled as to how long the ultimate target of several criminal investigations involving the Russians and his own corrupt business dealings, could get away with his lunatic, erratic, racist, fanatical behavior, false claims about “fake” news, and histrionic attacks on the FBI and every federal law enforcement and intelligence agency.
That same kind of charade worked for a few other real crime family bosses, until members of Robert Mueller’s FBI investigative team induced Sammy “The Bull” Gravano — a man who murdered 19 people — to “flip” and provide evidence to convict John Gotti of still greater crimes. After the Boss of the Gambino crime family was put away for life, Mueller’s men enticed the same Gravano to come out of the safety of witness protection and testify again; this time, that Mob Boss Vinnie “The Chin” Gigante was totally lucid, and his insane behavior had all been an act.
Gigante, like Gotti, was convicted on Gravano’s testimony and sentenced to life in prison, where he died. Mueller, his crack law enforcement professionals , and the FBIwere thus responsible for ending the reign of two of the most feared mobsters in the United States, and they did it by “flipping” others for evidence of crimes committed. Rudy Giuliani, a former organized prosecutor himself, should remember that, even though he now relishes playing the real-life role of the Fake Don’s Mafia consiglieri, as if he’s auditioning for a Mob movie.
In my book, Tightrope: Balancing A Life Between Mario Cuomo & My Brother(Heliotrope Books, NY) I write about the Trump family’s incestuous relationship with organized crime, and how my brother knew many of the mob guys Trump did business with, who joked that they could make the bleached hair of the heir of Fred Trump’s construction business stand on end, getting whatever they wanted from him.
It’s a lesson that was also not lost on Russian mobsters, like Felix Sater, Trump’s partner in his SoHo hotel, and a many of his wealthy, well-connected oligarch friends. As we’re learning, it was also a neon-lighted road map for Vladimir Putin.
In Trump: The Deals and the Downfall, Wayne Barrett wrote that in addition to attending Roy Cohn-arranged meetings with Genovese crime family boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno and Gambino Boss Paul Castellano to make deals on purchasing concrete for his construction projects, Cohn also represented Trump in meetings with another key New York construction industry player during the 1980’s — convicted labor racketeer John Cody.
Cody, another one of my brother’s associates, at the peak of his power in the mid-1970s through 1982, was no small operator. As President of Teamster Local 282, Cody controlled 4,000 drivers of delivery trucks in New York City and Long Island. He had the power to bring to a grinding halt the multi-billion dollar construction industry. He could shut down any construction project in New York, including Trump Tower, by pulling out his drivers. Cody told Barrett: “Donald liked to deal with me through Roy Cohn.” Barrett reported that Trump did, however, have to deal directly with John Cody’s girlfriend, Vernia Hixon, to whom Trump gave a sweetheart deal for several apartments, one floor beneath his own penthouse in Trump Tower.
Despite his posturing as a New York power player, Trump cowered in front of John Cody, behaving more like a bagman, than a big man. As recently as October, 2016 — less than one month before the Presidential election — Cody’s son, Michael, told Christopher Dickey and Michael Daly of The Daily Beast how Donald gave Cody whatever he wanted: “Trump was a guy who would talk tough, but as soon as you confronted him, he would cry like a little girl. He was all talk, no action.”
John Cody made sure Trump took good care of his special friend Vernia Hixon, who lived directly under Trump’s penthouse. The mobster funneled some $500,000 to Hixon for renovations of her apartments, while he was in jail for racketeering and income tax evasion. When Trump balked at fulfilling some of his promises to Cody’s girlfriend, Barrett reported that “Cody and Hixon cornered him in a nearby bar and got his agreement.”
“Anything for you, John,” was Hixon’s recollection of Trump’s comments to John Cody. “Anything for you.”
Trump was so terrified of crossing Cody that at one point, when Cody called Trump from prison to complain about construction problems on Hixon’s apartments, Barrett reported that “Trump greeted him nervously on the phone. “Where are you?” Trump asked. “Downstairs?”
“My father walked all over Trump.” Michael Cody told The Daily Beast.
“Anytime Trump didn’t do what he was told, my father would shut down his job for the day. No deliveries. 400 guys sittin’ around.”
To John Cody and his colleagues, Donald Trump was just another patsy, who did whatever the mob guys asked to keep them happy. He was in business with these guys, had buildings to complete, and they had fortunes to make. Cooperating with the FBI or federal and state law enforcement officials to clean up the mobbed-up NY construction trades industry was not in Donald Trump’s self-interest. Making money was.
Nothing has changed in the Fake Mafia Don’s behavior. Although Trump holds the nation’s highest elected office, he acts exactly the same way toward the Russian mob and its’ international criminal empire as he did with the New York and Philadelphia Mob families. See no evil, speak no evil — especially if your business, your addiction to money, power, adulation, and your self-interests, are wholly dependent upon the mobsters under investigation. Anybody threatening your criminal enterprise is labeled an enemy of the people — your people, who, like Trump, have always operated outside of the rules of law.
The only question left for the Fake Don is, how much he can get away with destroying before he’s forced to “flip” himself, to stay out of prison — a place my brother and his real-life Mob associates were willing to go for a while, as the price for doing their dirty business. The Fake Don is terrified of jail — especially since there are so many Blacks and Latinos there now — and he’ll use the Presidency, everyone around him, and every American institution, as leverage for self-preservation. It’s all that’s ever mattered to him.