In his testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, Michael Cohen offered a blunt assessment of President Trump: “Mr. Trump is a racist,” the president’s former personal attorney said in his opening statement. But his claims about Trump’s behavior may reveal more about Cohen than the president.
Cohen detailed what he described as some of Trump’s comments behind closed doors. “The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots,” he said. “You have heard him call poorer countries ‘shitholes.’ ”
In private, Cohen alleged, Trump is “even worse.”
“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,” Cohen told the panel. “While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way. He told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
“And yet,” Cohen said, “I continued to work for him.”
That’s right. Cohen continued to work for him.
Cohen’s descriptions of Trump don’t come as much of a surprise. Four decades ago, Trump and his father were sued by the federal government, which accused the Trumps of giving preferential treatment to white people trying to rent the Trump company’s apartments. Donald Trump allegedly mistreated black workers in his casinos and, according to a former hotel executive, once said “laziness is a trait in blacks.” Years later, Trump would call for five black and Latino teenagers to be put to death after they were accused of raping a jogger in Central Park. The teenagers were later exonerated.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe that the president is a racist, according to a February 2018 Associated Press poll. That number is much higher among African Americans.
As Adam Serwer, a fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, noted this in a tweet responding to the claim that Trump called African Americans “stupid” for voting against him: “The irony of Trump calling black voters ‘stupid’ for not voting for him is that no constituency realized exactly what he was as quickly or tried as vehemently to stop him from inflicting himself on the country.”
Cohen has said he’s a reformed man. But for years he tolerated Trump’s comments about African Americans and even pushed back against the criticism. During the 2016 campaign, Cohen traveled to predominantly black churches to try to convince congregants that Trump had their best interests at heart.
Trump’s alleged views and comments aren’t breaking news. Perhaps the most significant takeaway from Cohen’s remarks at the hearing is just how willing he was to ignore what was right in front of him.