President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen appeared before the House Oversight Committee under the heavy expectation that he would reveal more about the president’s potential crimes. He had some to add to the list. He supplied detail on campaign-finance violations, “collusion,” the misuse of the Trump Foundation, and fraudulent financial practices. But he was there less as a fact witness than as a character witness; he had a story to tell about Trump as a “con man,” “cheat,” and “racist.” And this piece of his testimony was extraordinary, enough that, with so much attention to any evidence he might offer of crimes, it may have slipped too far out of focus.
Among the exhibits that Cohen submitted along with his written testimony was a news article (Exhibit 7) reflecting Trump’s years of championing the “birther” claim against President Barack Obama. Trump repeatedly hawked the lies that Obama was born in Kenya, had hidden his real birth certificate, and had manufactured the one he publicly presented. And if there was any chance that this was not true—and Trump left little room for that possibility—he questioned whether Obama had traded on his race to gain admission to elite educational institutions. With this one, ugly political stunt, Trump managed to display both of the ugly character traits that his former lawyer singled out for the House: the conning (i.e., chronic lying) and the racism.