‘We Sort of Helped Build Him Up’: Three Things to Know About Al Sharpton’s Cozy Relationship With the Obama White House

The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose controversial career made him known as more of an agitator than a reconciler, has become the go-to man for the Obama White House not only on the fallout from the Ferguson, Missouri tragedy, but on all race matters, Politico Magazine reported.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Rev. Al Sharpton as he arrives to speak at Sharpton’s National Action Network conference, Friday, April 11, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Here are three key items revealed by the publication about the close relationship between the reverend and the president, including why the White House has a  “trust factor” with Sharpton and why the Obama administration decided to “build him up.”

1. What advice is Sharpton giving the White House on Ferguson?

White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, perhaps the closest confidant of President Barack Obama, has been in consistent contact with Sharpton, according to Politico. Jarrett is staying in the Oak Bluff’s section of Martha’s Vineyard near where the Obama family is staying for their vacation. During various conversations Jarrett told Sharpton that Obama was “horrified” by the TV images of the unrest in Ferguson that erupted after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old black man.

Jarrett would gather info from Sharpton and relay directly back to the president. The questions she reportedly asked were, “How bad was the violence? Was it being fueled by outside groups—and could Sharpton do anything to talk them down? What did the Brown family want the White House to do?”

Sharpton has told Jarrett that the White Hosue needs to lean on Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor to replace St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who some activists have argued can’t be objective in prosecuting the case against the police officer.

“We’re not going to get a fair investigation with that guy, he’s got to go,” Sharpton told Jarrett, according to Politico.

2. How did Sharpton go from being politically radioactive to having a ‘trust factor’ in the White House?

Sharpton is not only a frequent visitor to the White House, but he also frequently emails and texts Jarrett and Attorney General Eric Holder, who is also in Ferguson this week.

The article talks about Sharpton’s reputation and how Democratic politicians – such as former President Bill Clinton – distanced themselves from him. This was for various protests and notably the Tawana Brawley case in the 1980s. The story said that Obama campaign aides also wanted their candidate to stay away from Sharpton in 2008.

But Sharpton tells Politico of Obama, “He realized I wasn’t as irrational or as crazy as people thought.”

Sharpton went on to say: “I realized he was just a different kind of guy. … He wasn’t going to be guided by emotions. He was not intimidated. There was no game you could play [with him]. The key for him was seeing that I wasn’t insincere, that I actually believed in the stuff I was talking about.”

An anonymous White House advisor told Poltico, “There’s a trust factor with The Rev from the Oval Office on down.” The official continued, “He gets it, and he’s got credibility in the community that nobody else has got. There’s really no one else out there who does what he does.”

3. Why Al Sharpton and not Jesse Jackson?

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was once the key civil rights leader and close to the Clinton White House. So why has his role been relegated? In part, it’s personal, a White House official told Poltico.

It dates back to the hot mic moment in 2008 when Jackson was finishing up an interview.

“Jesse wasn’t an option for us. He had gotten too old… and Obama completely eclipsed him—and then he had that hot-mic deal where [Jesse] said he wanted to cut [Obama’s] balls off,” the official told Poltico. “But there really was only one Jesse, and we needed to have someone to deal with in the African-American community, and Sharpton was the next best thing, so, yeah, we sort of helped build him up. … Sharpton was the last guy standing.”

Sharpton said of Jackson, “I’ve come into my own and he’s got to deal with it.”

“[The relationship is] respectful but it’s clearly not protégé-mentor,” Sharpton added. “I still admire what he did, I just think that things pass on. I’m going to pass on—everybody has their day.”

At least on the record, Jackson is taking it in stride, telling Politico: “I’ve known Al since he was 12 years old, and he’s arrived at the level he always wanted to arrive at, which is gratifying. He’s the man who’s the liaison to the White House, he’s the one who’s talking to the Justice Department.”

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