Something curious happened about 90 minutes into the Michael Cohen testimony which transfixed much of Washington on Wednesday: A woman rose behind Rep. Mark Meadows as the North Carolina Republican grilled President Trump’s former fixer on his characterization of the president as a racist.
The woman — sunglasses affixed to her head, white cape draped over her shoulders — was Lynne Patton, longtime Trump family aide and an official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Most important, for the cameras, she is African American.
“I asked Lynne to come today in her personal capacity to actually shed some light,” Meadows said.
Cohen acknowledged his longtime friendship with Patton, saying that he was responsible for her joining the Trump Organization as well as for her current job as the HUD official overseeing New York and New Jersey.
Meadows got to his point: “You made some very demeaning comments about the president that Ms. Patton doesn’t agree with. In fact, it has to do with your claim of racism. She says that as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was racist. How do you reconcile the two of those?”
“As neither should I, as the son of a Holocaust survivor,” Cohen replied.
Patton remained standing — silently — for less than a minute, before Meadows’ chief of staff whispered to her to sit down “so the camera could see my face,” Patton told The Washington Post.
She said the television screens in the hearing room are fixed to show the faces of people who are seated.
Patton, in an interview via text message during the hearing, said that she happened to be in Washington for HUD meetings when Meadows invited her late Tuesday night to attend the Cohen hearing as his “special guest” because he was impressed by her “longtime pushback against accusations of racism." She would sit behind him, in the seats normally reserved for congressional staffers.
“He asked that I simply come push back against a confessed perjurer who knows [Trump] equally as well,” Patton said.
Meadows had seen an Instagram post by Patton, a prolific social media user, of an old photo of herself and Cohen, someone she considered “one of my very best friends for the past 10 + years — virtually inseparable during our tenure at the Trump Organization (and even before.)”
Patton’s lengthy post went on to say she was “sad to have wasted so much time and energy caring, supporting and loving” Cohen and rebutted his “unsubstantiated claims” of “bigotry and racism” against Trump.
“As the daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, there is no amount of money in the world that would make me work for a man who I thought harbored bigoted or racist ideologies,” she wrote Tuesday.
During Trump’s presidential campaign, Patton had released a personal five-minute video countering charges that her boss’s immigration platform was aligned with racist, hate-mongering groups.
Cohen, in his opening testimony, had called Trump a racist.
“The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots. You have heard him call poorer countries ‘shitholes.’ In private, he is even worse,” Cohen said.
“He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘shithole.’ This was when Barack Obama was President of the United States.
While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way.
And, he told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
Cohen later told Meadows to ask Patton “how many people who are black are executives at the Trump Organization, and the answer is zero.”
Patton’s unusual appearance during the hearing was immediately panned by black politicians and journalists.
“So . . . you bring out the president’s black employee. And say, see, how could he be racist? This is something,” tweeted Lena Tillett, a reporter at WRAL in Raleigh.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said during the hearing that she, as a black person, has “endured the public comments of racism from the sitting president.”
“To prop up one member of our entire race of black people and say that that nullifies that is totally insulting," Lawrence said.
“He brought out a black woman who is loyal to President Trump to prove that President Trump is not racist,” tweeted Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour. “It was like show and tell. Incredible.”
Later in the day, Meadows angrily responded to another lawmaker’s criticism that he had committed a “racist act” by using “a black woman” as a “prop.”
“It’s racist to suggest that I asked her to come in here for that reason,” Meadows said during a tense, emotional exchange with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). “She came in because she felt like the President of the United States was getting falsely accused.”
Patton dismissed criticism that she’s being used because of her race. “Everyone keeps spinning it as ‘tokenism,’ but in my mind, it’s just two people who know the president well and disagree,” she told The Post. “Just one person’s word against another.”
Patton’s appearance during the hearing confused HUD employees, who were expecting her to show up to work Wednesday. Patton said she took an official leave and will partially reimburse the government for her travel costs.
She interrupted her highly publicized month-long stay in New York public housing complexes to be in Washington this week. Her stay, chronicled by the New York media as well as Patton herself, is supposed to highlight the troubled condition — mold, rodents, lead, lack of heat and hot water — of low-income apartments run by the nation’s largest housing authority. Already Patton has been rescued from a stuck elevator and fielded a call from Trump angry about what she characterized as “the inhumane conditions of his fellow New Yorkers.”
Patton, who revels in the limelight, has drawn criticism for her quick rise in the administration, culminating in a $160,000-a-year post despite having no housing expertise. She’s also made tabloid headlines for public spats, including with Omarosa Manigault Newman, former reality TV star and White House staffer who called Trump a racist after she was fired.
Patton, in her Tuesday Instagram post, wrote, “The bottom line is that, much like Omarosa Manigault Newman, it does not take someone 15 years to figure out someone is a racist. Unless, of course, they’re not one.”