By Christianna Silva
On Wednesday, February 27, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” appeared in Washington, D.C. to testify before the House Oversight Committee about his history with his former employer.
“I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is,” Cohen said in his opening remarks to the committee. “He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat. He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of DNC emails.”
Per the New York Times, Cohen did not hold back. "The country has seen Mr. Trump court white supremacists and bigots," he said, and further that the now-president "once asked me if I could name a country run by a Black person that wasn’t a 's--thole.' 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."
"And yet I continued to work for him," Cohen added. Cohen knew Trump's views and ideologies, and still chose to work for him for at least a decade. That he is now revealing his insights into Trump's person does not absolve or exonerate him for the work he did in connection with the Trump Organization.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2018 on one count of lying to Congress, and for campaign finance violations related to paying women who had allegedly experienced sexual encounters with Trump. Per the Daily Beast, House Oversight Committee chairman Elijah Cummings explained that the committee “[has] no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations, and to that end, we are in the process of consulting with Special Counsel Mueller’s office.” It remains to be seen how Cohen’s testimony will result in any further investigations, and if so, to what extent.
But, as New York-based lawyer Luppe Luppen told MTV News, Cohen’s appearance scrutinizes “the politics around Trump generally and the interpersonal relationship between the two men. It's clear they've had a bad falling out and part of this is score-settling for Cohen. For those of us in the public, it can be taken either as sour grapes from someone facing a long time in prison or validation of what we've observed on the outside from someone who spent a lot of time as a Trump insider.”
Some of Cohen’s testimony is scathing — a presidential candidate aware that someone was hacking into DNC emails for his own political gain should be shocking on its own — yet it’s telling that the overall reception of Cohen’s remarks seems to be less revelatory than a corroboration of what many people already believed to be true. The allegation that President Donald Trump is racist, for example, is not a new one, and it’s not even the first time that this has come from Cohen: A November 2018 interview he gave to Vanity Fair featured many of the same anecdotes as the ones in his prepared remarks. But other people have been calling Trump’s actions racist dating back decades, and for reasons Cohen didn’t mention.
Consider how the now-president kicked off his 2016 presidential bid: by disparaging all Mexican immigrants. “They are not our friend, believe me,” Trump said at the time. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
And that’s not nearly the first – or even most recent – time Trump has come under fire for being racist. Among other moments:
- • Before his political career even started, when Trump was a real estate tycoon in the 1970s, he was accused of refusing to rent to Black people, which led the Department of Justice to sue his company twice.
- • He has allegedly made a number of racist remarks to multiple people over the years; in 1989, he indicated to Fortune magazine that affirmative action has a negative effect on white people. “A well-educated Black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market. … If I was starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated Black, because I really do believe they have the actual advantage today,” he said at the time, per the Washington Post.
- • In the late 1980s, Trump took out a series of ads in favor of the death penalty around the time that the Central Park Five — five Black and Latino teenagers who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Central Park — were on trial. All five were convicted of multiple charges; it was only after a confession by another man and corroborating DNA evidence that they were cleared of all charges. Trump has continued to argue that they are guilty despite the dismissal of their charges, and a $40 million settlement paid to them by the city of New York.
- • On the back of the “birther” conspiracy, Trump claimed, for a shockingly long time, that President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S., despite zero evidence to the contrary.
- • During the 2016 presidential election, Trump insulted the family of a Muslim fallen soldier by targeting the way the soldier’s mother grieved: “If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me,” Trump said in July 2016.
- • In May 2016, Trump said a federal judge shouldn’t hear the Trump University case because he was Mexican. “We’re building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings—rulings that people can’t even believe,” he said at the time.
- • Trump also tweeted out an anti-Semitic meme about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. The tweet has since been deleted.
- • While campaigning in 2016, Trump pointed to a Black man at one of his rallies and said, “Look at my African-American over there.”
- • The New York Times reported that during a June 2017 meeting in the Oval Office, Trump said that Haitians “all have AIDS.”
- • During that same tirade, Trump also reportedly said Nigerian immigrants wouldn’t ever “go back to their huts” if they first traveled to the U.S.
- • And on a meeting on January 4, 2018, Trump referred to immigrants from Haiti and all 54 countries in Africa as coming from “s--thole countries.”
Yet despite this overwhelming evidence, Republican congressman Mark Meadows decided to bring Lynne Patton, a Black woman and a former Trump Organization employee who currently works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to the hearing. There, he spoke for her, and asked Cohen: “You made some very demeaning comments about the president that Ms. Patton doesn’t agree with. She says, as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way she would work for an individual who was racist. How do you reconcile the two of those?”
Of course, Trump employing one or more Black people does not mean he cannot hold racist beliefs or exhibit racist actions. It’s a false equivalency. His past actions – here, making friends with or hiring Black people — do not forever absolve him of racism. Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib both addressed that point in the chamber.
“Would you agree that someone could deny rental units to African-Americans, lead the birther movement, refer to the diaspora as ‘shithole countries,’ and refer to white supremacists as ‘fine people,’ have a Black friend and still be racist?” Pressley asked Cohen. His only answer was a simple “Yes.”
Tlaib also called out Meadows for using Patton as a silent prop. “Just because someone has a person of color, a Black person working for them, does not mean they aren’t racist … The fact that someone would actually use a prop, a Black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself,” she said. Meadows responded by calling Tlaib racist against him for singling his action out as racist.
These women all know Trump’s track record; so do the majority white male Republicans who spent the bulk of their time trying to discredit Cohen. But whether or not those men would have believed one of their own over the multiple people who have called Trump racist over the years — including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former White House advisor Omarosa Manigault-Newman — is beside the point. They have had years to come to this conclusion, because the signs have always been there. That they have seemingly chosen to ignore those signs, or at least ignore the anger and hurt voiced by scores of minority groups, is extremely telling.
As Luppen points out, people already believe what they want to believe, and testimony like Cohen’s isn’t likely to sway those mindsets. “Thus far, people's opinions of Trump seem to have been pretty set in stone and don't change much when new facts come out,” he says.
The truth is that some people might never care that Trump has been called racist; in fact, that’s why white supremacists like him. For most everyone else, however, it is and should be a major cause for concern, especially as Trump continues to petition for a wall at the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico, and maintains control over legislation that may disproportionately affect minority groups.
So Cohen told the House Oversight Committee, and all Americans, that Trump is racist. But if you really need Cohen to tell you what to think about Trump when the signs were already there, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself why.