Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina questioned President Donald Trump’s former attorney about his claims that the president is “racist.”
And he did so by bringing a black Trump administration official to the hearing.
Meadows’ decision became a flashpoint late in the hearing, when one Democratic lawmaker accused him of using “a black woman as a prop.”
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney who is headed to prison for lying to Congress and other charges, testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. In his opening remarks he said of Trump: “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat.”
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Cohen gave specific examples of racist comments he said Trump told him in private, saying they were worse than some of his public comments.
“He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a s---hole. This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States,” Cohen said. “And while we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. He told me black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
Meadows, a Republican who represents far western North Carolina and one of Trump’s staunchest allies in Congress, invited Lynne Patton, a former Trump Organization employee and now a political appointee in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Meadows said he asked Patton to attend the hearing in a personal capacity and he entered a statement of hers into the record. He said she didn’t agree with Cohen’s characterization of Trump as racist.
“She says as the daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way she would work for an individual who was racist. How do you reconcile it?” Meadows asked.
“Neither should I, as the son of a Holocaust survivor,” Cohen replied.
Meadows said he has had “over 300” conversations with Trump.
“I’ve never heard one time a racist comment out of his mouth in private,” Meadows said.
He asked if Cohen had proof or had recorded conversations with Trump that would show he is racist.
Cohen said he did not have tapes, but said he did have proof.
“Ask Ms. Patton how many people who are black are executives at the Trump Organization,” Cohen said. “The answer is zero.”
Patton did not speak during the exchange. But she posted on Twitter that she supports Trump.
“I am honored to be the special guest of @RepMarkMeadows today. I am here in support of @POTUS and in support of the truth, as Michael Cohen (knows that I know) it to be. And the truth is that it doesn’t take you 15 years to call someone a racist. Unless they’re not one,” Patton wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Michigan Democrat, responded to Meadows later in the hearing. Lawrence is black.
“Having endured the public comments of racism from the sitting president, as being a black person, I can only imagine what is being said in private. To prop up one member of our entire race of black people and to say that nullifies that is totally insulting,” she said.
Near the end of the hearing, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a first-term Democratic lawmaker from Michigan, made comments about Meadows bringing Patton.
“The fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee is alone racist in itself,” Tlaib said.
Meadows became visibly upset at the characterization and demanded the words be stricken from the record.
“It’s racist to suggest I asked her to come in for that reason,” Meadows said.
Chairman Elijah Cummings, a black Democrat from Maryland, gave Tlaib a chance to rephrase her comments, and after several minutes of back and forth, Tlaib made it clear she was not calling Meadows a racist.
Meadows said his nieces and nephews are people of color. “Not many people know that,” he said.
Meadows said he and Cummings are very close, and Cummings agreed, noting that “that shocks a lot of people.”
“You’re one of my best friends,” Cummings said. “I could see and feel your pain. I feel it.”
Trump has faced criticism over statements he’s made about Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans and people from poorer, mostly black, countries during the campaign and throughout his presidency.