In late October, just days before the presidential election and almost a year after federal authorities seized a pistol from his private plane, rapper Lil Wayne spent nearly an hour with Donald J. Trump at the President’s Doral Golf Club in Miami.
Bradford Cohen, a South Florida attorney who attended and arranged the meeting, said the two men discussed Lil Wayne’s upbringing in New Orleans and his burgeoning interest in criminal justice reform.
“I think they had a very strong connection,” said Cohen, who starred in Trump’s 2004 TV show The Apprentice.
The encounter culminated in a thumbs-up smiley photo, which the rapper then posted on Twitter – an endorsement that came from Mr. Trump in the re-election campaign to improve his standing with black voters, despite the fact that he often slandered blacks had and often tried to divide the land along racial lines. The support of a largely apolitical artist met with backlash from some fans.
Less than a month later, Lil Wayne was charged with gun possession and soon pleaded guilty. A sentencing, originally slated for later this month, saw him face up to 10 years in prison.
That judgment will never come. As of early Wednesday, Lil Wayne was among the 143 pardons and commutations former President Trump announced during his final term in office. He joined three other characters from the hip-hop universe, including Florida rapper Kodak Black, another of Mr. Cohen’s clients; Desiree Perez, the executive director of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation; and Michael Harris, known as Harry-O, a founder of Death Row Records who has been in prison for 30 years.
The grace decisions closed a complex, symbiotic, and often controversial, relationship between Mr. Trump and rap that dates back to the 1990s when the businessman was a frequent club-goer and a lyrical motif depicting wealth and lightning.
“He’s in the entertainment world,” Cohen said in an interview about the former president on Wednesday. “He has a style that is similar in terms of the way he wears himself, and a lot of rappers and people in the industry refer to it.”
Mr Cohen said Lil Wayne’s threatened gun charge, which has been investigated for almost a year, was not the reason for his pre-election summit or support for Mr Trump. But he conceded that this may ultimately have been a factor in the pardon decision as thousands advocated last-minute grace.
“It never hurts that someone gets a full understanding of a person just by looking at a piece of paper,” he said. “In retrospect, I think it worked.”
38-year-old Lil Wayne, née Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., is widely recognized as one of the most successful and influential hip hop artists of his generation. But apart from one song criticizing George W. Bush for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, he had usually avoided politics altogether and distanced himself from partisanship and the Black Lives Matter movement. When asked about Mr. Trump before the 2016 election, Lil Wayne laughed and replied, “Who is that?”
The charges arose from a search of his private plane as it landed in the Miami area on December 23, 2019 when authorities found a 45-caliber gold-plated Glock pistol and ammunition and a cache of drugs (the number one was in Billed) and nearly $ 26,000 in cash. Lil Wayne was unable to legally carry a firearm after pleading guilty in 2009 in New York to possessing a gun. He had served on Rikers Island for eight months.
Howard Srebnick, an attorney who represented Lil Wayne in the criminal case last year, said in a statement Wednesday: “A pardon for Mr. Carter is consistent with the views of many lawyers, including Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, that the prosecution of a nonviolent citizen with only a gun is in violation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. “
He added, “The gold-plated firearm that Mr. Carter never used is a collector’s item given to him as a Father’s Day gift.”
Lil Wayne’s request for pardon was supported in letters from Deion Sanders, the NFL Hall of Famer, and Brett Berish, the executive director of a sparkling wine brand, according to the White House, which also highlighted the rapper’s charitable donations.
Mr Cohen said he started the pardon petition process immediately following the indictment against Lil Wayne in November, and the rapper was “thrilled” with the president’s decision. Through representatives, Lil Wayne declined to comment.
Mr. Cohen – whose connection to Trump orbit included representing former President’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski – also led advocacy for Kodak Black. Black, whose legal name is Bill Kapri (nee Dieuson Octave), has been granted a commutation forgiving the remainder of his 46-month sentence for lying on background papers trying to buy weapons. He’s served nearly half that time and could be released from a federal prison outside of Chicago as early as Wednesday, Cohen said.
While many paid thousands of dollars to lobby for grace, Cohen said he was relying on a month-long social media and letter writing campaign to recruit notable figures like Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens and the former New York City Police Department commissioner Bernie Kerik vouch for Black’s character and philanthropy.
“Our route was less conventional. We had supporters like Gucci Mane and Lil Yachty and Vanilla Ice, ”Cohen said. “We did everything to take a look.”
Power of grace ›
Presidential pardons, explained
President Trump has discussed possible pardons that could test the limits of his constitutional powers to waive criminal liability. Here is some clarity about his ability to forgive.
- Can a president grant potential pardons before an indictment or conviction? Yes. In Ex parte Garland, an 1866 case involving a former Confederate Senator who had been pardoned by President Andrew Johnson, the Supreme Court stated that the pardon “extends to any offense known to the law and may be any after yours Inspection can be carried out. either before legal proceedings, or while they are pending, or after conviction and judgment. “It is unusual for a president to issue a potential pardon before a charge is brought, but there are examples, perhaps the most famous 1974 pardon of President Gerald R. Ford by Richard M. Nixon to prevent him after that Watergate scandal will be prosecuted.
- Can a president forgive his relatives and close allies? Yes. The Constitution does not prohibit pardons that create the appearance of self-interest or conflicts of interest, even if they could provoke political backlash and public disgrace. In 2000, shortly before he left office, President Bill Clinton issued a number of controversial pardons, including to his half-brother Roger Clinton for a cocaine conviction in 1985 for which he served about a year in jail Susan H. McDougal. A former Clinton business associate who was arrested as part of the Whitewater investigation.
- Can a president grant a general pardon? It is unclear. Usually pardons are written to specifically describe what crime or activity they apply to. There is little precedent for the extent to which a pardon can be used to instead exclude criminal liability for anything and everyone.
- Can a President forgive himself? It is unclear. There is no definitive answer as no president has ever tried to apologize to himself and was prosecuted anyway. As a result, there has never been a case where the Supreme Court has had an opportunity to resolve the issue. In the absence of a precedent, legal thinkers are divided on this matter.
- You can find more answers here.
Kodak Black continues to be charged with criminal sexual behavior in South Carolina as of 2016, despite a trial being repeatedly postponed. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Bold names may have helped with the other commutations in the hip hop world as well. Snoop Dogg reportedly championed Mr. Harris or Harry-O, an early funder of his previous label Death Row Records, who helped bring gangster rap into the mainstream. Harris, 59, was commuted by the President for conspiracy in first degree murder after serving a 25-year sentence for three decades.
Snoop Dogg worked with reform attorney Alice Johnson, who was pardoned by Trump himself last year after a campaign by Kim Kardashian West and others. “They did a great job while they were there and they did a great job on their way out,” Snoop Dogg, once a vocal critic of Trump, said of the administration when he heard the news, New York said Post Office.
A longtime Jay-Z employee, Desiree Perez, 52, woke up at 5 a.m. this morning with a text messaging phone telling her that her pardon had been granted. Now she is the managing director of Roc Nation, the management company and the label with a component for social justice. In 1994 she was convicted of conspiracy to distribute drugs. Ms. Perez said she applied for pardon only two days earlier after seeing news of Mr. Trump’s plans for his final term in office.
“I feel fine, but a little numb,” Ms Perez said in a telephone interview. “I haven’t forgiven myself and I’m not sure I’ll ever do it.”
Ms. Perez works closely with the NFL in her partnership with Jay-Z, and the White House has named her “an advocate for criminal justice reform in her community”.
“There is so much judgment that comes with a belief without the time and thought of others about how someone ended up in this place. There is a reason for my story, ”said Ms. Perez. “Every story has a reason. I’m just a Bronx girl thinking about all of the things I had to overcome and how I persevered to get to where I am. Well now you make me cry “
When asked about her personal feelings about Mr. Trump, Ms. Perez declined. “I would prefer not to answer that question today,” she said. “It’s not the best etiquette.”
Katie Rosman contributed to the coverage.