Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress ended Wednesday with two lawmakers getting in a very awkward fight about racism.
It started earlier in the hearing, when Republicans presented Lynne Patton, a black official in the Trump administration, apparently as evidence that the president can’t be racist.
“You made some very demeaning comments about the president that Ms. Patton doesn’t agree with,” Rep. Mark Meadows said while addressing President Trump’s former personal lawyer at the hearing. “In fact, it has to do with your claim of racism. She says as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way that she would work for an individual who was a racist.”
Later on in the hearing, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a freshman Democrat from Michigan, called Meadows out, saying it was racist that a black woman would be used as a “prop.”
“Just because someone has a person of color, a black person, working for them doesn’t mean that they aren’t racist,” Tlaib said. “And ... the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself.”
Meadows, a Republican, became extremely angry at Tlaib’s remark, at one point getting red in the face. He also asked that her remarks be stricken from the record.
In response, Tlaib read back her statement, adding that she was not personally calling Meadows a racist, only pointing out that it was “a racist act.”
“I did not call Mr. Meadows a racist,” Tlaib said. “I’m trying, as a person of color ... to express myself and how I felt at that moment. Just for the record, that’s what was my intention.”
But Meadows continued to defend himself, adding that his “nieces and nephews are people of color,” and arguing that Tlaib herself was racist for her remarks.
“To indicate that I asked someone who is a personal friend of the Trump family, who has worked for him and who knows this particular individual, that she is coming to be a prop, it’s racist to suggest that I asked her to come in here for that reason,” Meadows said.
Meadows also pointed to his close friendship with the committee’s black Democratic chair, Elijah Cummings, as further proof that he’s not racist.
Cummings defended Meadows, acknowledging their friendship and urging Tlaib to “clarify” her statement.
"If there’s anyone that’s sensitive to race, it’s me — son of former sharecroppers that were basically slaves,” Cummings said. “I’m not going to put words in her mouth, but I think she said that she was not calling you a racist, and I thought that we could clarify that.”
Cummings also told Meadows he “could see and feel your pain” at thinking he was being called racist.
“I don’t think Ms. Tlaib intended to cause you that kind of pain and that kind of frustration,” Cummings said.
The heated exchange prompted a whole lot of people to call out Meadows for using his family members, who are people of color, as evidence of his lack of racism.
Some said he was bothered more by “being accused of doing a racist thing than he is by actual racism.”
Asked about the exchange after the hearing, Meadows told BuzzFeed News he believed Tlaib when she said she wasn’t calling him a racist.
“She apologized, and I take her at her word,” he said.
California Rep. Katie Hill, a Democrat, told BuzzFeed News she found the exchange “insulting to a lot of people of color.”
“I think it shows that there are still very real race tensions in our country,” she said. “What happened earlier was insulting to a lot of people of color, and his...response was hopefully genuine too. But it’s tough. It's not something that's going to get resolved right now, either.”
Georgia Rep. Jody Hice, who along with Meadows is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, vehemently disagreed, telling BuzzFeed News he thought it was “one of the most insane uncalled for exchanges ever.”
“Mark Meadows is one of my closest friends, I know him extremely well,” Hice said. “There is not a bone in his body that is racist at all and for that to even be implied is infuriating. I thought Mark handled himself extremely well.”
Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, told BuzzFeed News he thinks “you have to be really careful when you talk about each other as members and colleagues.”
“We have to obviously call a spade a spade, but we have to be very careful about making assumptions about people in both directions,” he said.
Still, Krishnamoorthi disagreed with Meadows’ decision to bring in Patton to make his point.
“I understood why he tried to do that, but at the same time, having one person who happens to be African American vouch for the president and all of his policies, it’s not very helpful,” Krishnamoorthi said.