Roy Cohn and Barry Landau

I read Eliza Gray’s compelling piece, “The Collector”, on Barry Landau, currently indicted on conspiracy and theft.

A relevant section from “The Collector”:

On August 28, 1979, [Andy] Warhol’s diary records, “On the front page of the [New York] Post was a big picture of Barry Landau saying that he saw Hamilton Jordan at Studio 54 asking where he could get coke.” Hamilton Jordan happened to be President Carter’s chief of staff, and the allegations caused a major sensation. And Landau wasn’t the only accuser—he was joined by Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell and a drug dealer named Johnny C. The Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to investigate.

But Jordan was never charged. This was in part because Landau proved to be a very unreliable witness. Years later, Arthur Christy, the special prosecutor, recalled to the Associated Press that he became so frustrated with Landau that he shoved him up against a wall. “It was apparent that Mr. Landau was not telling the truth,” Christy said.

It also became apparent that Landau had been pressuring Jordan for favors for some time. Jordan’s assistant testified that her boss had instructed her to send a telegram from the Carters to a client of Landau’s, Broadway star Lucie Arnaz, to congratulate her on an opening. After that, the secretary said Landau called her repeatedly seeking other favors for clients, like a tour of the White House or a staged meeting with the Carters at the Kennedy Center. The secretary thought he was a “creep” and said other administration staffers had warned her that he was a “pest” and a “con artist.”

Landau clearly craved access to the first family. But he may have craved acceptance from Studio 54’s inner circle even more. At the time the Jordan story exploded, Rubell and his co-owner, Ian Schrager, were facing prison terms for tax evasion. At one point, Warhol suggests that the accusations against Jordan were a ploy by Rubell to get a more lenient sentence on the tax charges. “He said wasn’t it great what Barry was doing, and for a second I forgot Barry was doing it for Steve and so I started to say how horrible Barry was, but I caught myself,” Warhol writes. “It’s Steve’s deal with the government—if he gives them names he’ll get a better deal. So Barry’s helping him give names.” The gambit failed; after the Jordan case fell apart, both Rubell and Schrager were convicted on the tax charges and went to jail.

I thought across the name of Barry Landau before. I have.

From Citizen Cohn by Nicholas Von Hoffman:

If Roy [Cohn] was sometimes accused of betraying his clients, it can’t be said of his efforts to keep Steve Rubell out of jail. The government has said that Rubell and [Ian] Schrager to save themselves, pointed the Justice Department in the direction of “various disco owners skimming money and evading taxes,” but in all likelihood it was Roy who was supplying information in Rubell’s name to curry the United States Attorney’s favor. Roy took a certain risk providing this information to help Rubell. One disco owner, a client of Roy’s who had been paying Roy to bribe New York City officials to get a zoning variance, had confidential lawyer-client tax information turned over to the government to rescue the owners of Studio 54 from impending incarceration. It didn’t work, but the man, who went to the penitentiary himself, might have taken Roy with him had he learned of his attorney’s treason soon enough.

When offering up one of his clients to the government to save another didn’t work, somebody, Roy or Mitchell Rogovin, Schrager’s lawyer, thought if the federal prosecutors wouldn’t eat catfish they might be fed salmon. This time, instead of being given up an unknown proprietor of a Manhattan discotheque, they were offered President Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan. “Here we had information that wasn’t necessarily prosecutable – that the chief of staff to the President was using cocaine in public. But I can tell you from my CIA background that it’s the kind of thing the government would want to know, because the Russians might try to blackmail Jordan if they knew,” Rogovin said.

The accusation that Hamilton Jordan took cocaine one night at Studio 54 broke in the New York Times and Roy was blamed for it.

Whether Roy had launched the allegation into public print, he did decide to run with it. A Columbia Journalism Review study of the episode concluded that, at this point, “The story needed buttressing. Enter Barry Landau, a Studio 54 regular, a friend of Rubell, a man whom a Post reporter overheard shouting in a hotel lobby that his bills should be sent to ‘my lawyer Roy Cohn,’ and a self-described PR consultant who had no office and no clients but who had, as subsequent coverage revealed, falsely represented himself as the PR man for Lucille Ball and Andy Warhol. Landau gave Cohn a sworn statement in which he claimed that on the night Jordan visited Studio 54, Jordan had asked him where he could obtain cocaine. The Landau story was offered to the Times…the Times found reason to doubt Landau’s credibility.

“Finding no quick takers for the Landau information elsewhere, Cohn reportedly turned to the Post which decided to go with the story. As a Post reporter who checked out Landau recalls, his editor, told that Landau was ‘a flake,’ replied: “Who cares about Landau being a flake? We’re selling newspapers. We’ve got a story on the number two man in the government!’…The Post‘s sensational cover line read JORDAN BOMBSHELL A KEY WITNESS TELLS JUSTICE DEPT. CHIEF OF STAFF ASKED ME WHERE THE COCAINE WAS AT STUDIO 54.”

Harvey Mann, who was doing public relations for Studio 54 and remembered the incident, agreed with the Columbia Journalism Review‘s assessment: “None of that shit took place. Just none of it. Absolutely none of it. It was all from the fertile imagination of…Barry Landau…A real putz. A major putz.”

By this time the object of the game may not have been to get Roy’s client off, since what Roy was doing risked raising the ire of the highest people in the Carter administration, but to inflict damage on political opponents. This explanation fits what the Review reported transpired next: “Times stories the next two days undercut the credibility of this ‘key witness.’ But no sooner had Landau started to fade than a new character was brought into the act…Claudia Cohen, editor of the Post‘s Page Six, retailed a Fugazy limousine driver’s version of the one of Jordan’s wild nights on the town…” Be it remembered that is Roy’s friend Bill Fugazy. Claudia Cohen was a newer friend but a good one, for the dying Roy summoned the strength to go to her wedding luncheon. “The driver,” continued the Journal, “who refused to be identified, spoke of a ‘beautiful blonde’ who had accompanied Jordan and then told what came to be popularly known as the ‘Fugazy Blow Job Story.’ According to the driver, one of Jordan’s friends had ‘performed a sexual act’ with a woman inside the limousine while the driver waited in front of a hotel for Jordan. Claudia Cohen refuses to comment on whether this was a Cohn-fed story designed to discredit Jordan by association.”

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