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Lawmakers' racial dispute mars Cohen hearing

Rep. Mark Meadows(R-NC)holds up a paper as Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Feb. 27, 2019. Copyright Mandel Ngan AFP - Getty Images
Copyright Mandel Ngan AFP - Getty Images
By Dareh Gregorian with NBC News Politics
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Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib and GOP Rep. Mark Meadows got into a heated exchange over a black Trump family friend.


An already tense hearing involving former Trump fixer Michael Cohen got heated when a Democratic congresswoman and a Republican congressman traded accusations of racism.

The flareup started when Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., was questioning Cohen and took a swipe at Rep. Mark Meadows for bringing Lynne Patton, a black woman who's friends with the Trump family and works for the federal government, to the hearing as a "prop." Meadows had presented Patton to the hearing to push back against Cohen's claims that the president is a racist.

"Just because someone has a person of color, a black person, working for them does not mean they aren't racist, and it is insensitive that some would even say — the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself," the freshman Democrat said.

An angry Meadows demanded Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, strike her comments from the record. "I'm sure she didn't intend to do this, but if anyone knows my record as it relates, it should be you, Mr. Chairman," he said to Cummings.

Asked to clarify her remarks, Tlaib said, "I'm just saying that's what I believe to have happened and as a person of color in this committee that's how I felt at that moment, and I wanted to express that. But I am not calling the gentleman, Mr. Meadows, a racist for doing so. I'm saying in itself it is a racist act."

The North Carolina Republican and close Trump ally denied he'd used Patton as a prop — and said that accusation was racist.

"To indicate that I asked someone who is a personal friend of the Trump family, who has worked for him, who knows this particular individual, that she's coming in to be a prop — it's racist to suggest that I ask her to come in here for that reason," he said. "She loves this family. She came in because she felt like the president of the United States was getting falsely accused."

He said he took the accusation especially personally because "my nieces and nephews are people of color. Not many people know that. You know that, Mr. Chairman."

Cummings responded that he could "see and feel" Meadows' pain, and referred to him as "one of my best friends" before giving Tlaib another opportunity to clarify her remarks.

She maintained it wasn't her intention to call Meadows a racist and said, "I do apologize if that's what it sounded like."

"As everybody knows in this chamber I'm pretty direct so if I wanted to say that I would have, but that's not what I said," she said.

Patton, now an official at the U.S. Department of Housing and Development, made her unusual cameo appearance earlier in the hearing.

"I asked Lynne to come today," Meadows told Cohen as she stood behind the congressman.

"You made some very demeaning comments about the president Ms. Patton doesn't agree with. She says as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, there's no way she would work for an individual who's a racist. How do you reconcile that? "

Cohen responded, "Ask Ms. Patton how many people who are black are executives at the Trump Organization. The answer is zero."

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