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It wasn't exactly Elvis meets Nixon, but the moment when Q-Tip got together with Hillary Clinton reveals more than you might think about how power and celebrity interact in Washington.
Thanks to stolen emails published by WikiLeaks, we can get sense of the behind-the-scenes wrangling between the rapper Q-Tip's staff and Clinton's campaign aides to set up the meeting — and get maximum advantage out of it.
The emails show it began with a note from Q-Tip's assistant Betsy Jones, who contacted Clinton campaign chair John Podesta on Aug. 29, 2015. "Hello Mr. Podesta, I hope you are well," Jones wrote. "I am writing you to arrange a meeting between Hip Hop icon and visionary Q-Tip and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton."
Jones said Q-Tip could help Clinton reach out to the "Hip Hop generation" during the 2016 campaign. "He is a big supporter of the work Mrs. Clinton has done throughout her career and has also worked alongside former president Bill Clinton at a 2003 DNC fundraiser," Jones wrote. She also noted that Q-Tip was a DJ for Chelsea Clinton's 25th birthday party in 2005. "Q-Tip would love to have short one-on-one with Mrs. Clinton as soon as her schedule permits," Jones wrote.
Podesta responded that he would get back to her. Privately, he forwarded the email to Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook with a note saying "We should get on this," and noting that the designer Kenneth Cole had helped make the Q-Tip connection.
Mook looped in Tony Carrk, the campaign's research director, who could vet Q-Tip and flag any potential problems with a meeting.
Other Clinton staffers weighed in, amazed.
"Q-Tip? seriously? I am so old," wrote Clinton's close aide Huma Abedin.
"It's just a vivrant thing," chimed in Marlon Marshall, Clinton's director of states who is seen as key to Clinton's African-American outreach — a reference to the first single on Q-Tip's 1999 solo album.
Another staffer asked to be allowed to go to the meeting. "This email is priceless," wrote aide Teddy Goff.
But the enthusiasm dampened as Carrk reported back his findings about Q-Tip to the rest of the group: "So, some quick things from our end. There are a couple of altercations he pleaded guilty to, but they were from a while back," Carrk wrote.
But there was something else that concerned him: "However, more recently shouted "pigs" at NYPD officers while protesting the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson," Carrk wrote. He included a New York magazine account of Q-Tip's attendance at a protest in Times Square. (Wilson is the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot Michael Brown.)
That incident doesn't seem to have been enough to derail a meeting with Clinton.
Months later — on Nov. 19, 2015, a Clinton aide emailed a summary of the Q-Tip meeting to other staffers. "Everybody was happy," she wrote. "He was lovely and eloquent. He talked to her about how it's important to let a young black kid in Harlem know how the events in Paris effect [sic] him and how its so important to connect with the millennial generation in ways that speak to them — being unique and authentic."
The aide noted that Clinton remembered that Q-Tip had DJed Chelsea's birthday party without prompting — "She's amazing!" — and said she had raised the possibility of doing a radio appearance with Q-Tip and an audience of "diverse influencers."
The same day, Podesta forwarded that report along to Cole, with this note: "Well this took forever, but great outcome. Thanks for lighting the fuse." Podesta asked Cole for his feedback on the campaign: "Haven't talked in a long time. How do you think we are doing other than better?"
Cole responded: "All looks and feels better. Let's chat when you have a few minutes." But in the end, everyone involved in the meeting got what they wanted: Q-Tip got his session with Clinton, Clinton got to bask in the celebrity glow, Podesta got to reconnect with Cole, and Cole got a promise from Podesta for a private chat — perhaps about an entirely new meeting.
The Clinton campaign has never confirmed the authenticity of the stolen emails posted by WikiLeaks.
Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin did say on Tuesday: "It's troubling to see today that the Republican House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul told Donald Trump that Russia is using hacked information to influence the election but Trump refused to accept it. Trump has also ignored the clear findings of the U.S. intelligence community while calling for more espionage and cheering on WikiLeak's Russian-directed propaganda. No wonder Secretary of State [Madeleine] Albright said that Donald Trump has been turned into a 'useful idiot' by the Russians and Former Acting Director of the CIA Michael [Morell] concluded he's 'an unwitting agent' of the Russians. Trump's actions as Putin's puppet have gone from bizarre to disqualifying."