WASHINGTON — Wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, rapper Kanye West, in a wide-ranging, free-flowing session with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office Thursday, talked about ways to reduce crime in Chicago and pressed the president to grant clemency to notorious Gangster Disciples kingpin Larry Hoover, who is currently serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Colorado.
West also confronted Trump over his call earlier in the week to give Chicago police more stop and frisk powers and told Trump bluntly that push “does not help.” West also told Trump, who consistently accuses city officials of not being able to adequately address crime, “Actually, our murder rate is going down by 20 percent.”
On Monday, Trump told a convention of police chiefs that a pact between the Chicago Police Department and the ACLU of Illinois to curb stop and frisk abuses by police was “terrible.” On Tuesday, Trump’s Justice Department said it will object to a pending consent decree forged in the wake of police misconduct.
On Thursday, the remarkable session in the Oval Office with an unscripted West, one of Trump’s most famous African-American supporters who was raised in Chicago, unfolded like a reality television episode. Trump sat behind his Resolute Desk, facing West. Hall of Fame NFL running back Jim Brown and his daughter and Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, were also in attendance.
After what amounted to a monologue of about 10 minutes, where West brought up everything from hydrogen-powered planes to Hoover, I was able to ask the rapper a question: What did he want Trump to do for Chicago, since a reason he came to the White House was to talk about the city’s crime?
In reply, West said he met Wednesday night at Soho House in the West Loop with Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and Michael Sacks, a close friend of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and one of his most influential advisers. In the hour-long meeting, Johnson laid out the city’s position in opposition to Trump. West then came to the Oval Office and told Trump his views on Chicago policing were wrong.
“We feel that stop and frisk does not help the relationships in the city. And everyone that knew I was coming here said, ‘Ask about stop and frisk.’ That’s … the number one thing that we’re having this conversation about,” West said.
Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet asks West what he would like to ask President Trump to do for Chicago.
And with that, Trump, who on Monday seemed locked into the stance that the city needs a tougher stop and frisk policy, switched gears.
“So, they have to do something, and I am totally open — if we can do it a different way Kanye, I’m totally open. But they have to do — I mean we all agree they have to do something, that’s for sure,” Trump said.
Another reporter asked West if he thought he could change the president’s mind about stop and frisk.
Replied West, “Yes, we’re — we’re going to — we’re going to discuss it. I didn’t mean to put you on blast like that bro, but … ” Trump jumped in. “I’m open-minded, I’m here. I am open-minded.”
West, who also met with Adidas honchos in Chicago on Wednesday — he is a powerful salesman for the company — said crime goes down with more jobs. He wants to bring Adidas manufacturing jobs to Chicago.
“Not even on shore, into the core. It’s not about the borders. The core of Adidas, and Chicago, is the core of middle America. We have to make middle America strong,” West said.
Trump did not comment about the plea for Hoover. Sitting next to West was Hoover attorney Justin Moore, who is based in Dallas and who started representing him earlier this year.
Bringing up clemency for Hoover — and having the clout to bring in his attorney to the meeting — seemed to me a bit of a mixed message for West.
West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, the reality show star, in June won a commutation for Alice Johnson, a non-violent drug offender after pleading her case in a private meeting with Trump. Trump said he was looking for more people like Alice Johnson to help. But Hoover is no Alice Johnson. He has a long, violent criminal history.
In a stream of consciousness riff, West said of Hoover, “There’s infinite amounts of universe and there’s alternate universe so it’s very important for me to get Hoover out because in an alternate universe, I am him and I have to go and get him free. Because he was doing positive inside Chicago just like I’m moving back to Chicago and it’s not just about, you know, getting on stage and being an entertainer and having a monolithic voice that’s forced to be a specific party, you know, people expect that if you’re black, you have to be Democrat.”
West: ‘We are going to make America great’
Earlier, at the start of the extraordinary meeting, West told Trump “they” didn’t want him to wear his MAGA hat.
“It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman. That’s my favorite super hero. And you made a Superman cape for me.”
West said, “Trump is on his hero’s journey, right now. And, he might not have expected to have a crazy motherf—– like Kanye West, run up and support, but best believe we are going to make America great.”
West tried to mediate a peace accord between Trump and football player Colin Kaepernick, whose taking a knee during the National Anthem created a wedge issue for Trump to exploit.
West said he wanted a cap that just said, “Make America Great.”
“But I would love to see at the Super Bowl, Trump wearing the Make America Great hat, Colin wearing the — wearing the Make America Great and showing that we can bend a bit on this side, we can bend a bit on this side and we can learn how to be malleable in the infinite universe that we are, and the loving beings that we are. That we don’t have to stick to all traditions and — we are a side, we are one unit, we are one country, we are one moment in history in time.
“We might’ve been here before, but right now we are together. And the greatest value that people have are other people. And we need to stop working on random who — it’s like a gang again.”
Near the end of his visit, West walked behind the desk and hugged Trump.
Said West, “I love this guy.”
Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown arrives at the White House on Thursday. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press