During recent weeks of the presidential transition, rapper and TV personality Snoop Dogg has quietly worked with a pair of activists close to the White House and outgoing president as part of a last-ditch effort to convince Donald Trump to commute the sentence of Death Row Records co-founder Michael “Harry-O” Harris, The Daily Beast has learned.
In the final, dark and deadly days of the Trump administration, the effort has indeed gotten the attention of the president, according to one of the activists with whom the rap artist has been communicating.
“The president knows about it. I’ve spoken with Ivanka [Trump] and I’ve spoken with Jared [Kushner], and I’ve been told that President Trump is aware of the case and has been reviewing it,” Alice Johnson, a criminal-justice reform advocate whose life sentence was commuted by Trump roughly two and a half years ago, said in an interview on Sunday evening. “I’ve spoken to [White House chief of staff] Mark Meadows about it, and he said he’d take a look at it.”
Johnson continued, “The president knows how much this case means to me… In reviewing Michael Harris’ case, his story, and what he’s gone through, this is such an unfair case… He should have been home a decade ago. I really felt for this man. I am very hopeful that he will be home before the end of the Trump administration.”
Harris, who is nearly 60, has spent roughly three decades behind bars on attempted murder and cocaine trafficking-related charges. The former kingpin has been locked up at Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc, with a sentence that was supposed to last until late 2028. The federal facility has attracted national attention and press coverage for its outbreak of the coronavirus last year. Harris and his attorneys previously sought an early compassionate release, arguing that an autoimmune disease put him in even graver danger from the virus. The request was denied.
The West Coast record label he helped finance and create became famous for signing such artists as Snoop Dogg (born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr.) and Tupac Shakur, and the rise and fall of Death Row Records became a major saga in hip-hop history.
Harris’ advocates insist that he has reformed himself in prison, and he told the Daily Mail in 2019, “Over 30 years ago, I was part of the problem. However, over the years I have repeatedly proven myself to be part of the solution. It’s about returning to society with my newfound vision, talents, and insights [and] giving back to the communities where my help is so desperately needed.”
Now, Harris’ case for clemency has apparently landed on Trump’s radar. According to activist Weldon Angelos, a former music producer and one-time federal prisoner who was pardoned by Trump last month, that might not have happened if not for a chain of events set off in December by Snoop Dogg, a rapper who has never hid his negative opinions about Trump.
“I don’t give a fuck, I tell ’em straight up, motherfucker: If you like that nigga, you motherfuckin’ racist,” Snoop Dogg said about Trump, his MAGA fans, and the president’s pal Kanye West in 2018. “Fuck you and fuck him. Now what?” In March 2017, Trump had tweeted, “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!” (Trump was referring to a music video—in which Snoop aims a toy gun at a clown who looks like the 45th U.S. president—that had clearly gotten the leader of the free world worked up.)
“Snoop brought this case to me, and I brought Alice Johnson on board to help it with me, and she brought it to the West Wing,” Angelos said on Sunday. “In the past, the president has given her the ability to select cases. And she doesn’t get [clemency for] all of them… But with Mr. Harris, she is not taking no for an answer.”
Snoop Dogg could not be reached for comment on Sunday evening. Meadows and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Angelos recounted how on Dec. 26, Snoop Dogg had gotten in touch with him about pushing to get his friend Harris’ sentence commuted. Angelos said he then flagged the case for Johnson, who began reading about it that night. The following day, the rapper, Johnson, and Angelos jumped on a conference call together to discuss how to get the case on the desk of the outgoing president and, they hoped, signed before the Democratic president-elect took over on Jan. 20. Trump was at the time, of course, deeply consumed and distracted by hamfisted, anti-democratic legal efforts and pressure campaigns to try to overturn Joe Biden’s clear victory in the 2020 presidential election.
During the conference call, Johnson asked Snoop Dogg whether Harris had a tendency to get into trouble behind bars, or get into any physical altercations, Angelos recalled. “Snoop said no… [and] said he’s a pillar of the community, and that we need more leaders like him to get out and help lead the younger generation.”
As for Johnson, she said Harris’ life and incarceration reminded her of her own.
“It’s not because of who he is in the entertainment field but who he is as a fellow prisoner,” she said. “He’s like me. I was where he is. And I wanted to help Michael Harris. It wasn’t the Harry-O part of it, it was the Michael Harris part of it. When you go to prison, it doesn’t matter who you were on the outside. He and I share that in common, that we spent so many years in prison.”
In 2018, Trump commuted Johnson’s sentence not long after Kim Kardashian had advocated, during an Oval Office conversation with the president, for granting her clemency. By that point, the now former federal inmate had served more than two decades of her life sentence following conviction on cocaine and conspiracy-related charges. Last year, Trump pardoned her, as well.
Despite Snoop Dogg’s public opposition to Trump, Johnson said that during their conference call, the rapper told her how “appreciative” he is of what the president has done “in terms of getting folks released from prison,” in Johnson’s words. She also said Snoop Dogg gave her a message that he wanted her to relay to Trump, which went, in Johnson’s paraphrase of it: “I appreciate what you’ve done for some of our brothers, even if you don’t release Mr. Harris.”
Johnson told The Daily Beast, “He asked me to convey that message to the president. I was able to convey that message to the White House about two weeks ago.”
A new round of pardons and commutations issued by Trump is expected to land between now and Tuesday, the day before he is set to leave office under a cloud of wide condemnation, including for instigating this month’s bloody MAGA riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. For his role, Trump became the first president in American history to be impeached by the U.S. House twice.
As of Sunday, Harry-O was still waiting to hear if he’ll be out of prison and headed home as the Biden era dawns.