Background Briefing: May 28, 2024

The Ghost of Roy Cohn Hangs Over Trump’s Hush Money Trial as Closing Arguments Were Heard Today

We begin with today’s closing arguments in the New York hush money trial that could be the first to convict an American president of a crime and speak with an historian writing a book about Trump’s mentor Roy Cohn, whose shadow hangs over the trial since the apprentice Trump has adopted Cohn’s Mafia tactics of attacking judges, juries, witnesses and the legal system itself. Joining us is Kai Bird, the director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography and a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist whose books include American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which was the basis of the blockbuster movie “Oppenheimer,” and The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. He is working on a biography of Roy Cohn and we discuss his op-ed at The New York Times, “Will Roy Cohn Save Donald Trump’s Hide One Last Time?”


Bibi and MbS Have Biden in a Trap and the Pentagon and the C.I.A. Have Drunk the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid

Then, as the war in Gaza grows more grim, we examine the extent to which Biden is trapped in a situation supporting Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s MbS, both of whom want Trump re-elected. Joining us to discuss this and how the Pentagon and the C.I.A. have drunk the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid is Andrew Cockburn, the Washington Editor of Harper’s magazine and the author of many articles and books on national security, including, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins as well as the New York Times Editor’s Choice Rumsfeld and The Threat, which destroyed the myth of Soviet military superiority underpinning the Cold War. His latest book is The Spoils of War: Power, Profit and the American War Machine and he blogs at where he has an article we discuss “When Presidents Show Backbone, Israel Listens” and another at Harper’s, “The Pentagon’s Silicon Valley Problem.”  


The Libertarians Boo Trump and Quickly Reject RFK Jr.

Then finally we look into the Libertarian Party convention at which Donald Trump has roundly booed and RFK Jr. was quickly rejected in his attempt to run on the Libertarian ticket. Joining us is James Gray, a California Superior Court Judge and a former Federal Prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles. He was a Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004 and ran for Vice President of the United States on the Libertarian Party Ticket with Gary Johnson. His books include Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It and All Rise! The Libertarian Way, and his latest, a novel co-authored with his wife, 2030 Kids: We are the Rising Heroes of the Planet.