At the end of a long day of congressional testimony on Wednesday, sparks flew as accusations of racism were hurled around the room. The spat centered on a surprise guest: Lynne Patton, a Department of Housing and Urban Development official whom Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) had singled out as proof that President Trump wasn’t racist, countering the claims of Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. But Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) argued that Patton, a black woman, had been used as “a prop,” which was “racist in itself,” prompting a furious Meadows to call Tlaib’s accusation racist.
Hours later, Patton took to Instagram to offer her own heated defense.
“Today a race card was played,” she wrote on her personal account late Wednesday. “But not by Congressman Mark Meadows.”
Members of the House Oversight Committee, she went on to say, had “sadly placed more credence on the word of a self-confessed convicted perjurer, than that of a highly-educated black woman.” Touting her experience working for the Trump family and speaking at the Republican National Convention, and her current position at HUD, she concluded: “That is not the resume of a prop. It is, however, the resume of someone who remains completely unfazed by the criticism of others and laser focused.”
It was a classic display of combativeness from one of Trump’s most controversial appointees. Patton, who speaks openly about her former struggles with drug addiction, worked her way into Trump’s inner circle, then landed a highly paid position in his administration after helping with minority outreach on his 2016 campaign. But she has been dogged with criticism that she inflated her résumé and lacks the necessary experience for her position at HUD, where she’s been accused of flubbing her work and repeatedly landed in hot water for inflammatory social media posts. Through it all, she has fiercely defended her longtime boss against accusations that he disrespects minorities.
In her lengthy response on Instagram, which has more than 6,000 likes as of early Thursday, Patton said her presence at the hearing “was simply about one longtime employee disputing the testimony of another longtime employee who both know the President extremely well. Period.” She told her more than 71,000 followers that she did not have a book deal — or a nondisclosure agreement. If that’s true, as the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman noted on Twitter, that would make Patton one of only a very small number of Trump’s former employees not required to sign an NDA.
Despite Patton’s insistence that she hadn’t been used, her surprise showing at the hearing was widely panned by critics on Wednesday. On “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah joked that the Trump family seemed to have a “bat signal” for Patton, allowing them to call her up whenever new accusations of racism surface.
“I wonder how many times she has to show up places because of something racist Trump has said,” the Comedy Central host said. “Like, it feels like she has to bail him out. At 3 a.m., she’s getting texts from Trump like, ‘Quick, Lynne, I need you to come down to the golf club. I thought someone was Steve Harvey . . . but it was not Steve Harvey!’ ”
This isn’t the first time she has spoken up to defend Trump against accusations of racism. In a video that she posted to YouTube in 2016, portions of which were later played at the 2016 Republican National Convention, she described herself as the daughter of a black man born in Birmingham, Ala., who had managed to become a respected doctor at Yale University against all odds. No amount of money, she professed, would have bought her loyalty if members of the Trump family had expressed “intolerant and bigoted ideologies.”
Speaking to the Times in 2017, the native of New Haven, Conn., said that she had worked as an actress in Los Angeles and struggled with drug addiction before returning to the East Coast and finding work as a paralegal. Later, she said, she was introduced to the Trump family by Cohen, whom she once considered a close friend.
Initially hired as a senior adviser to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Patton came under scrutiny in August 2017, when she was tapped to oversee the department’s regional office for New York and New Jersey at an annual salary of $161,900. As The Washington Post’s Tracy Jan reported at the time, she had no experience with housing policy and instead had worked as a personal aide to Trump’s children before joining his 2016 presidential campaign. HUD staffers who spoke with Politico on the condition of anonymity described her first six months working for the agency as a disaster, accusing her of bungling a poorly received listening tour that was eventually canceled after a series of blunders.
Though the résumé she submitted as part of the transition listed Yale University and Quinnipiac University School of Law under “education,” when questioned by reporters, Patton admitted that she had not graduated from either institution. She had taken summer classes at Yale and had attended Quinnipiac Law for two semesters before dropping out, she said.
On the same résumé, Patton said that in 2005 she had worked as a liaison between the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in New York, helping to coordinate Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. In 2009, she began working for Eric Trump’s charitable foundation and as his primary aide, which entailed scheduling calendar appointments, media appearances and travel “as well as home & spousal responsibilities.”
Those responsibilities included helping to plan his wedding, the New York Daily News reported in a cover story. Patton would later say that she had only volunteered, as a “close friend,” to pick out Lara Trump’s wedding dress and finalize the guest list for the event. In 2012, she was named the chief of staff for the Trump family, helping to manage their personal affairs and plan charity golf tournaments at Trump properties.
Patton was responsible for minority engagement during Trump’s 2016 campaign and helped craft talking points before meetings with African American and Hispanic community leaders, she wrote on her résumé.
Her tenure at HUD has been rife with controversy and social media mishaps. In January 2018, she apologized and deleted a tweet that mocked American Urban Radio Networks journalist April Ryan, referring to her as “Miss Piggy” and a “bankrupt blogger.” An extremely active user of Instagram, Patton came under fire last September when she commented on Donald Trump Jr.'s post mocking sexual assault allegations against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh with the crying-laughing and praise hands emoji. That same week, she posted a meme that falsely accused CNN’s Anderson Cooper of misrepresenting the extent of flooding caused by a hurricane. In December, The Washington Post’s Jan and Juliet Eilperin reported that Patton had tried to get a colleague at HUD fired by citing her connections to Eric Trump, to no avail.
But Patton has also received praise from some unexpected quarters. Last week, the Daily News’ editorial board praised her for moving into public housing in the Bronx for a month so she could personally witness the conditions that residents routinely experience, from rats scurrying through the garbage to elevators getting stuck in between floors.
“Just more than week in to her stay, Patton has already shined invaluable light on the lives of 400,000 New Yorkers,” said the editorial, which praised Patton for her empathy.
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