Ed Cox and the Ghost of Bob Morgenthau

The son-in-law of President Nixon, Ed Cox, who knows a thing or two about political prosecutions, suggests Bob Morgenthau is spinning in his grave.

AP/Stephen Chernin, file
The former New York City district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, in 2010. AP/Stephen Chernin, file

Good for the chairman of the Republican Party in New York state, Ed Cox, for his statement suggesting that Bob Morgenthau must be spinning in his grave over the prosecution that is being readied against President Trump. Morgenthau, the late longtime district attorney of New York County, was a Democrat. Yet the fact is that Mr. Cox, son-in-law of President Nixon, knows a thing or two about political prosecutions.

Mr. Cox understands what Mr. Bragg is doing, and he is right as rain to mark how horrified Bob Morgenthau would have been. It happens that Morgenthau spoke highly, if privately, of his regard for Mr. Trump. From opposite sides of the political divide, both gave of themselves to two important charities, the Police Athletic League and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a Living Memorial to the Holocaust, at lower Manhattan.

Morgenthau went out of his way, in several conversations, to let us know of his opinion of Mr. Trump. That was back when Mr. Trump’s campaign was just getting started. We weren’t taking notes, but we tried to get Morgenthau to go public with his comments. He demurred. His sense of duty to the Democratic Party held him back. He just wanted to share his admiration for Mr. Trump. He felt that Mr. Trump’s critics were missing something.

A Morgenthau biographer, Andrew Meier, in a piece in today’s Times, writes that Trump and Morgenthau were friends in the way “that politicians and fixtures on the city’s social circuit call one another friends,” and calling their relationship “transactional.” Before Morgenthau died, Mr. Meier asked him “what his greatest fear was,” he says, and the prosecutor “did not hesitate to answer: ‘Trump.’” 

We don’t doubt Mr. Meier’s account, though our own last conversations with Morgenthau were not much before the period of which Mr. Meier writes and Morgenthau did not speak that way. All the more notable to us was Morgenthau’s praise for Mr. Trump, even if sotto voce. We have little doubt that the way Mr. Trump has been pursued by prosecutors would have horrified Morgenthau, who often warned of cases built on charges more vague than the underlying offense.

Which is what Mr. Cox was talking about when, in his statement, he warned of indicting a former president — and declared presidential candidate for the pending election — “on a criminal charge for an alleged infraction typically classified as a misdemeanor.” Particularly when, as Mr. Cox put it, the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York “looked at the issue and seemingly passed on it long ago.”

The broader point to bear in mind for New York, Mr. Cox suggests, is the contrast with the way Mr. Bragg has “abdicated his basic responsibilities by releasing criminals back onto the streets to wreak havoc on New York’s citizens and minority communities in particular.” Mr. Bragg’s modus operandi has been to go weak on crime. To suddenly turn on one criminal raises questions. That, too, would have shocked Bob Morgenthau.


This editorial has been revised from the bulldog to include reference to Mr. Meier’s account in today’s Times.

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