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The White House: Where star power and political power collide

Donald Trump has always been fixated with celebrity. Before he was President or even host of NBC's "The Apprentice," ...

Posted: Jun 18, 2018 8:21 AM
Updated: Jun 18, 2018 8:21 AM

Donald Trump has always been fixated with celebrity. Before he was President or even host of NBC's "The Apprentice," the real estate mogul spent years working the New York City tabloids to catapult himself to fame.

Since he took office, that hasn't changed. Trump elevated such people as reality show contestant Omarosa Manigault and WWE co-founder Linda McMahon to positions in his administration. And on Twitter, he often seems preoccupied with celebrities who are critical of him.

Trump isn't the first celebrity to sit in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan had a career in television and film before entering politics.

Trump isn't the only President to schmooze with stars, either. Ronald and Nancy Reagan hosted countless celebrities at the White House, and Barack and Michelle Obama rubbed elbows with Jay Z and Beyonc-.

But although most presidents rely on celebrities to raise funds and influence young people, it seems like celebrities are the ones influencing Trump.

Here's a look at three who recently helped influence the President's decisions.

Sylvester Stallone

In April, Trump got a call from "Rocky" actor Sylvester Stallone.

"Sylvester Stallone called me with the story of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. His trials and tribulations were great, his life complex and controversial," Trump tweeted. "Others have looked at this over the years, most thought it would be done, but yes, I am considering a Full Pardon!"

Boxing legend Jack Johnson was convicted in 1913 of taking his white girlfriend across state lines for "immoral purposes" under the White Slave Traffic Act, better known as the Mann Act. The law he was accused of violating was designed to protect white women from sex trafficking, but was later invoked to prosecute black men for relationships with white women, even if those relationships were consensual.

The sentence destroyed Johnson's career and reputation. He died in 1946.

Since 2004, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have periodically pushed for a pardon of Johnson but no President ever took up the case.

About a month after Trump tweeted about his conversation with Stallone, he granted Johnson a full posthumous pardon.

"This was very important to Sylvester Stallone, my friend for a long time, 'Sly' and the whole group," Trump said during the announcement in the Oval Office, with Stallone among those standing behind him.

Trump was pretty clear: He felt Jackson's cause was worth his time and consideration because it was important to his high-profile friend.

Kim Kardashian West

At the end of May, Kim Kardashian West stepped into the Oval Office for a meeting with the President.

She was there to make the case for pardoning Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old woman who had been serving a life sentence in prison since 1996 for her involvement in a conspiracy to sell cocaine. It was Johnson's first conviction.

Activists had been working on Johnson's behalf for years. In October, Kardashian West came across a video on her Twitter feed about the movement to free Johnson. She was immediately moved.

"I just felt this connection to her, like instantly," Kardashian West said in an interview with CNN's Van Jones. "I wanted to help her.

Kardashian West called Ivanka Trump and requested a meeting with the President. Over the next several months, she worked with a team of lawyers to build the case for pardoning Johnson and engaged in talks with Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner.

After hearing her plea, Trump was sympathetic. He commuted Johnson's sentence.

Kardashian West's success is different from Sylvester Stallone's in a notable way. It'd be a stretch to call her a friend of the President. She endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and has voiced support for causes opposite to Trump's rhetoric and policies.

Some people criticized Kardashian West's meeting with Trump as an endorsement of the President. But she accomplished what she set out to do without causing much controversy, unlike her husband Kanye West.

That Kardashian West was able to get through to Trump suggests that he has a desire to be liked by Hollywood's in-crowd. It also signaled that he's willing to reward stars who take a non-combative approach with him.

Dennis Rodman

Last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman traveled to Singapore for the historic meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump.

It was the first meeting between sitting leaders of both nations, and Rodman saw himself as instrumental to the talks.

Though it's unusual for a retired pro basketball player who's also dabbled in movies and TV to involve himself in matters of foreign policy, Rodman has been working on his own unique brand of diplomacy with North Korea for several years.

He also might be the only person in the world who can claim a personal relationship with both Trump and Kim.

Trump and Rodman know each other from Trump's reality TV days, when Rodman was twice a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice." Rodman also endorsed Trump for president in 2016.

Through his multiple visits to North Korea, Rodman has developed a friendship with Kim, an avid basketball fan. Though he's been sharply criticized for engaging with a leader accused of human rights abuses, Rodman has insisted that his visits show a willingness on Kim's part to negotiate with the US. If only a US leader would hear him out.

Analysis: The case of the curiously compelling Dennis Rodman-Chris Cuomo interview

In an emotional interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Rodman said he tried appealing to Obama about Kim and got emotional recounting how the former President didn't take him seriously. With Trump, it seems he finally broke through.

Though a US official said Rodman had no official role in the summit, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called to thank him on behalf of Trump.

It's unclear exactly how much influence Rodman had on Trump's decision to meet with Kim. But it does seem that Trump has had a change of heart when it comes to the NBA star's approach to North Korea.

"Crazy Dennis Rodman is saying I wanted to go to North Korea with him. Never discussed, no interest, last place on Earth I want to go to," Trump tweeted in 2014.

But after becoming President, he adopted the same willingness to engage with the regime that Rodman has been advocating for years.

Although Trump often seems to be acting on his own whims, some of these recent moves suggest the President can be swayed by star power.

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