Donald Trump’s allies and high-profile figures jockeyed for the former president’s pardons for their criminal convictions at the end of his term. Rappers Kodak Black and Lil Wayne received them, along with Mr Trump’s associates like Steve Bannon and Roger Stone.
Advocates for James Rosemond – a hip-hop kingmaker in the early- and mid-2000s – spent several years petitioning the White House for his release.
Also known as Jimmy Henchman, Mr Rosemond managed Akon, Brandy, The Game, Gucci Mane and Salt-n-Pepa, among others, before he was convicted in 2012 of cocaine trafficking, money laundering and a murder-for-hire plot involving rapper 50 Cent, among other crimes allegedly tied to a bicoastal drug business. He has been imprisoned for more than a decade.
His appeals have been roundly dismissed in court, though his attorneys and celebrity advocates – including NFL icon Jim Brown, several elected officials, Queen Latifah and late actor Michael K Williams – have waged a campaign for his release, arguing that he was unjustly convicted.
Now his attorneys argue that he is unconstitutionally imprisoned, after the former president gave his word to the Brown family on a phone call that Mr Rosemond would be “home for Christmas” in December 2020, according to affidavits filed in US District Court on 7 October.
Nearly one year later, Mr Trump is out of office, and Mr Rosemond remains in a federal prison in West Virginia, setting off an “unprecedented” legal battle that his attorneys argue has never happened in US history.
“Rosemond is serving a sentence that no longer exists,” according to his attorneys.
Advocates and attorneys for Mr Rosemond have argued that the cases against him have relied on prosecutors falsely establishing him as a drug kingpin despite lack of evidence. Their case built momentum during Kanye West’s visit with Mr Trump in 2018 – Jim Brown and his attorney joined the meeting, during which they say they discussed Mr Rosemond’s case with Mr Trump and White House counsel.
Attorneys spent the next two years discussing the case with a White House team joined by Jared Kushner, according to Mr Rosemond’s attorneys.
“The Browns and Rosemond’s other supporters participated in multiple calls with President Trump’s advisors, and visited the White House three more times to discuss Rosemond’s case,” attorneys claim.
Mr Rosemond’s team also hired a former federal prosecutor for $40,000 to help secure a pardon, according to Families of the Wrongfully Convicted.
On 18 December, 2020, Mr Trump agreed to commute Mr Rosemond’s sentence to time already served during a phone call with Jim Brown and his wife Monique, along with people in the room during the call, establishing a “public announcement” of his clemency, according to Mr Rosemond’s petition for writ of habeas corpus filed on 7 October.
Mr Trump told the Browns “let’s get this guy home for Christmas” and “I want to do this,” according to a sworn affidavit from Mr Brown.
“He told me that he had ‘looked at everything’ – meaning the materials we had provided about Mr Rosemond’s case – and ‘believe you guys’ that Mr Rosemond’s sentence should be commuted,” he said.
Mr Trump’s pledge that Mr Rosemond could be “home” by 25 December “reasonably communicated to the listeners that Rosemond would no longer be in prison” one week after the call, according to his attorneys.
“President Trump never suggested that he had decided against the act of clemency – nor could he, because the December 18 decision was irrevocable under the law,” they argue.
The Independent has requested comment from a spokesperson for Mr Trump.
Neither President Joe Biden nor the prison warden has the authority to overturn Mr Trump’s alleged announcement of Mr Rosemond’s commutation, attorneys said.
“Rosemond does not belong in prison for another day,” they wrote.
Attorneys and advocates have reportedly sought Mr Biden’s assistance, though those attempts have been “unsuccessful,” they say.
Legal scholars told The Washington Post that the unusual case raises an interesting question over whether a president must have to “write something down” to secure a pardon’s legitimacy, though it is unclear whether his pledge to the Browns is enough to suggest he meant it.