Sunday, June 23, 2024

In early July, former President Donald J. Trump received a somewhat unlikely visitor at his golf club and estate in Bedminster, N.J.: who had been imprisoned for drug trafficking and attempted murder, came to meet privately with the man who had pardoned him.

Mr. Harris was connected to the former president by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and daughter Ivanka Trump, who had helped push him as a pardon candidate, according to two people familiar with the process. The couple were staying at Mr. Trump’s club at Bedminster when the meeting took place, and Mr. Kushner joined.

But their lunch served another purpose for some people close to Mr. Trump: Mr. Harris is the type of high-profile Black celebrity that some Trump associates hope will next year highlight the former president’s signature criminal justice reform law, the First Step Act, which was one of Mr. Kushner’s key priorities during his time as an adviser in the White House.

Although Mr. Harris is not a beneficiary of the sentencing law, having received his pardon on Mr. Trump’s last full day in office after serving decades in prison as part of a series of clemency grants, he has nonetheless become an evangelist for it.

Aide to Mr. Kushner and a spokesman for Mr. Trump did not respond to requests for comment.

Not everyone around the former president believes that he should highlight the First Step Act, which Mr. Trump himself soured on soon after signing it. Mr. Trump, who is often influenced by what he thinks his core voters want, felt affirmed in that view after a number of hard-core Republicans began to criticize it in 2021 and 2022 amid a rise in crime. Some of his conservative associates, who see the bill as problematic with Republicans, said privately that they were unhappy that he had met with Mr. Harris.

And the bipartisan First Step Act, which Mr. Trump signed in December 2018, is one part of his record that some of his allies believe they can use in 2024 to downplay his strongman rhetoric and actions around race and violence

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