From the start of Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s views on race took center stage.
Trump’s former attorney did not mince words, flat out calling his former boss “a racist” who believed “black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
“Mr. Trump is a racist. The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots,” Cohen said in his opening remarks.
Race and racism came up time and again during the televised hearing, which was chaired by an African-American man and saw several freshman lawmakers of color get in questioning.
Cohen, who previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, told the House Oversight Committee that he continued to work for Trump despite a history of racist comments.
Several Republican lawmakers, who maintained that Cohen is a perpetual liar who cannot be trusted, questioned Cohen’s characterization.
“I’ve talked to the president over 300 times,” said GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina. “I’ve not heard one time a racist comment out of his mouth in private. So, how do you reconcile it? Do you have proof of those conversations?”
The NAACP said the testimony affirms what Trump has already demonstrated through unfair housing practices, birther accusations against Obama and a failure to call out white supremacists.
“Trump’s presidency and entire career has been an affront to civil rights so nothing in Michael Cohen’s testimony is surprising for a person that has historically racialized and stigmatized those around him,” President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement.
Cohen then pointed out that the Trump Organization has no black executives.
In perhaps the day’s most heated exchange, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan took issue, as did others before her, with Meadows bringing in Trump administration worker Lynne Patton, a black woman, to the hearing. Meadows referenced Patton, who works at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in his questioning. She would not work for someone who was racist, Meadows said.
When it was her turn for questioning, Tlaib said, “Just because someone has a person of color, a black person, working for them does not mean they aren’t racist … the fact someone would actually use a prop, a black woman in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself.”
A visibly irate Meadows asked her statement be stricken from the record because it was a personal attack. Committee Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings asked Tlaib to clarify that she wasn’t calling Meadows a racist. She denied doing that, but said bringing in Patton was a “racist act.”
The episode quickly became fodder for social media, both in support of Tlaib’s comments and in opposition. Many were outraged and accused Meadows of throwing out the “I have a black friend” argument to refute the idea that he is racist. He cited having nieces and nephews of color and his friendship with Cummings “that’s not based on color.”
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., defended Meadows.
“Yet another display of reckless incivility by this new House Democrat majority,” McCarthy tweeted. “My friend and colleague @RepMarkMeadows is one of the most decent people that I know and he showed tremendous class in the face of an absurd accusation from Rep. Tlaib.”
Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley, the first African-American woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, used her time with Cohen to circle back to the issue.
“Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African-Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as (expletive) countries, and refer to white supremacists as fine people have a black friend and still be racist?” she asked Cohen.
Cohen said “yes.”