In an altogether stunning day as Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee, one moment stood out.
It came early on, when the Republican side—on the same committee where back in 1998 I was the first black person ever to be an investigative committee counsel on the GOP majority counsel team—brought into the hearing room a non-committee staffer, Lynne Patton, and allowed her to stand on the GOP side of the dais while a member of Congress berated a sworn witness in the middle of a nationally televised hearing.
Patton, a former party planner for the Trump Organization and old friend of Cohen’s who now oversees public housing in New York and New Jersey for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, stood silently as Representative Mark Meadows (R-NC) pointed to her, a black woman:
“Lynne Patton says she would not work for a man who is racist,” the congressman said, after Cohen had referred to Trump in his prepared remarks as a racist. “She disagrees with you.”
“She says as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Ala., that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was a racist,” said Meadows. “How do you reconcile the two of those?”
Cohen replied, “Neither should I as the son of a Holocaust survivor.” Later, he pointedly noted that the Trump Organization employs no black executives.
Meadows’ argument here—as he stressed that Patton had appeared on her own time and not as a government employee, even as he pointed to her government work to “pardon” Trump— is preposterous, offensive, and demeaning to back people with roots in Alabama, or to any of us who deal with racial micro-aggressions routinely, including from our employers.
And yes, we know how to spot racial language from this president:
Insulting “shithole countries,” which all happen to be mostly black.
Calling black women like Omarosa Manigault “a dog,” and black female members of Congress “dumb,” “wacky,” and worse, i.e., Representatives Maxine Waters and Fredericka Wilson to name two.
Calling black NFL players who peacefully protest racism in America by taking a knee “sons of bitches.”
Trump showed us all who he is—if there was any doubt remaining—when he said there were fine people on “both sides” after the white supremacists' murderous march through Charlottesville.
As for Patton, Eric Trump’s former party planner, she finally spoke for herself hours later, telling PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, "Today was not about the color of my skin" but about a president who only "sees success and failure. He doesn't see color, sex, race, creed, religion."
Hours after that, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) flat-out said Meadows had used Patton as a "prop." I agree. Meadows was enraged, saying that he believed Tlaib was calling him "racist." She was not. She was clear that "it is racist" to do such a thing, speaking to the action rather than the person.
Meadows tried to defend his actions by mentioning his nieces and nephews of color. In my lifelong experience as a black person, that does not make you a person who cannot do racist things.
As to Patton, who says she works for a man who doesn't see color, yes this is the same woman heard on a call with Katrina Pierson and Omarosa, who’d recorded it when she was in the White House and shared it with CBS News after she’d left it, and was selling a book. In the recording, which was not independently verified, the three black female staffers discuss the president’s alleged use of racial slurs, talking about what they would do if the long-rumored tape of then candidate Trump saying the N-word existed and were made public.
“I am trying to find at least what context it was used in to help us maybe try to figure out a way to spin it,” Pierson said.
Patton then says, “I [told Trump], ‘Well, sir, can you think of any time where this happened?’ And he said, ‘no’… He goes, ‘How do you think I should handle it?’ and I told him exactly what you just said, Omarosa, which is, well, it depends on what scenario you are talking about. And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you just go ahead and put it to bed.’”
In the audio recording, Pierson—who later claimed she had just “humored” Omarosa about the tapes—replies, 'No, he said it. He is embarrassed.”
Meadows should be more than embarrassed; he should be ashamed of himself. To bring in a black woman to point to as a silent “prop” to supposedly show that President Donald Trump couldn’t be racist is about as low as I have seen the GOP sink. And I have seen them sink pretty damned low in the over 25 years I have been a member of and staffer to the Republican Party.