The journey that took Kim Kardashian West to the Trump White House began with a single tweet.
Over the last year, Kardashian West, 38, has been making criminal justice reform a priority — a surprising evolution to some, she realizes, given her reality TV background.
“It’s never one person who gets things done; it’s always a collective of people, and I’ve always known my role,” she told Vogue in a May cover story, in which she also opened up about studying to become a lawyer.
“I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society,” she said. “I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more.”
The revelation that she’s pursuing a law career — despite never having graduated from college — had many fans raising an eyebrow, but sources previously told PEOPLE that Kardashian West was brushing off any negative feedback.
“Kim realizes that some people are laughing at her for the lawyer thing, but she really doesn’t care,” a source told PEOPLE last week. “She is focused that this is what she wants to do and she’s going to do it, regardless of what people think.”
It was 18 months ago that Kardashian West first shared a viral tweet about Alice Marie Johnson, a grandmother imprisoned in Alabama for life for a nonviolent drug crime. Since then, she’s repeatedly, successfully lobbied President Donald Trump’s administration on criminal justice issues, according to others involved in the process.
Kardashian West has stopped short of voicing broader support for the president — something other family members like Caitlyn Jenner and husband Kanye West have done (though Jenner changed her mind). But the reality star has taken part in a bipartisan group of White House officials, lawmakers and activists like CNN’s Van Jones who are working on prison reform. This marks an unusual consensus in the Trump era, when the president’s platform largely features divisive issues such as restricting immigration.
“She brings an important spotlight to this issue,” a source familiar with Kardashian West’s White House work tells PEOPLE, noting the instant headlines her attention can generate. “Any time you ask her for anything, she immediately tries to be helpful.”
Managing Public Opinion of Her White House Connections
While working with the Trump administration, Kardashian West has developed a relationship with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Kushner, 38, is one of the few senior aides to survive rapid turnover over the last two years despite widespread scrutiny of qualifications. He has been a voice for criminal justice reform over the objections of other top Trump officials, such as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
According to the insider, Kardashian West was connected to Kushner by his wife, Ivanka Trump, after Kardashian West first saw the viral tweet about Johnson in 2017.
In the initial months, Kardashian West’s focus was on freeing Johnson. During a high-profile trip to the White House last May, she met with the president himself in the Oval Office. She seemed to have some effect: Within weeks of her visit, Trump had commuted Johnson’s life sentence.
But the solemn tone of that appearance stood in stark contrast to the fawning and rambunctious affection her husband displayed for the president in his own October meeting.
“Kim did not support Trump, and her family didn’t support him,” another source previously told PEOPLE.
“But,” said this source, “she knows that she has a very rare opportunity to have the ear of the president, and she has some things that she’s very passionate about and is willing to meet with him to talk about the things she believes.”
Kardashian West was also accused of being used as a political pawn by the Trump White House, which has been almost entirely shut-out by prominent celebrities.
“I was working on this before. I don’t think I would be used,” she said in an interview with Jones last year. “At the end of the day, he [Trump] heard me out. We got the job done. What could he really use me for?”
Speaking to Vogue, Kardashian West clarified her and her husband’s relationship with politics.
He “doesn’t represent either side,” she told the magazine. “But he doesn’t want to be told what he should be. It can be confusing. I get it. The one thing that I respect so much is that he is who he is, no matter what anyone tries to tell him to do.”
Of her own Oval Office visit, she told Jones last week, “I made a decision to go to the White House when everyone was telling me, ‘Don’t go, your career will be over; you can’t step foot in there.’ And I was like, ‘It’s my reputation over someone’s life?’ Weigh that out. People talk s— about me all day long. It will just be another story about me versus someone getting their life back.”
According to the person familiar with Kardashian West’s White House relationships, she’s only gotten more involved since advocating on Johnson’s behalf.
“She’s extraordinarily attentive,” the source says. “She knows that she doesn’t necessarily have the legal background, for example, but she does bring an important sort of — I don’t know if ‘comms’ is the right word — she understands what matters to people.”
Getting Close with the Kushners
In December, Trump signed the First Step Act. The law, a significant reform of the criminal justice system including sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders such as Johnson, was the months-long work of a unlikely group, as detailed by CNN. Kardashian West played a small role, including returning to the White House in September to lobby for the legislation despite the president’s reluctance that it could be a political liability.
“Honestly she’s mostly attentive when she comes to meetings, hearing, listening, trying to understand the best way she can motivate her supporters,” says the source familiar with her White House work.
The source adds: “You’ll notice after the meetings, she always tweets.”
Since Kardashian West first connected with Kushner, the two have stayed in touch, according to the source. She had dinner with him and Ivanka at their Washington, D.C., home last year when she met the president.
The source says Kushner also passed on a lead to Kardashian West to help find a residence for Matthew Charles, another prisoner whose case she became interested in. (She met and spoke with an attorney for Charles in the fall, the attorney previously told PEOPLE.)
Charles is believed to be the first person freed under the reforms of the First Step Act.
“I never in a million years thought we would get to the point of getting laws passed,” Kardashian West told Vogue. “That was really a turning point for me.”