CNN reports that President Trump has commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, the 63 year old Tennessee woman who is serving a life sentence for possession of cocaine and money laundering.
President Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a first-time nonviolent drug offender, two White House officials told CNN, a week after Kim Kardashian West pleaded her case during an Oval Office meeting with Trump.
Johnson has already served 21 years of a life sentence after she was convicted on charges of conspiracy to possess cocaine and attempted possession of cocaine, according to the nonprofit Can-Do, which advocates for clemency for non-violent drug offenders.
She is expected to be released from prison soon.
Kardashian West hailed the commutation, tweeting, “BEST NEWS EVER!!!!”
The act of clemency is President Trump’s sixth in 17 months in office and the second after a request from a celebrity. Last month, he posthumously pardoned heavy weight boxing champion Jack Johnson at actor Sylvester Stallone’s request.
The president has often surprised his staff and, at times, even the person being pardoned with his sometimes controversial decisions. When Trump unexpectedly pardoned Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in April, Libby was surprised and his attorney says he learned about it from media reports. Dinesh D’Souza, who the president pardoned last week, is a vocal Trump supporter who says his pardon came as a surprise, having never met the president.
Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, another political supporter, was pardoned amid controversy. Kristian Saucier, a sailor convicted of taking pictures of classified areas of a submarine, was pardoned in March.
Johnson’s commutation comes amid a flurry of pardon news and a report that the White House has prepared paperwork for the pardoning of at least 30 people.
Last week, after D’Souza’s pardon, Trump told reporters that he is considering pardoning Martha Stewart, who spent five months in prison for charges relating to securities fraud. She was found guilty of felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and making false statements to federal investigators. Rod Blagojevich, former Illinois governor who was impeached and convicted on corruption charges, is being considered by for a commutation of his 14 year sentence commuted. He has been in prison since 2012.
Blago’s wife appeared on Fox News, with Tucker Carlson, to ask President Trump to pardon her husband.
Not long after that plea, the wife of George Papadopoulos, Trump campaign adviser who has plead guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation, made a similar plea on Carson’s show.
George Papadopoulos' wife Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos: "I trust and hope and ask to President Trump to pardon him." pic.twitter.com/ASYP0RE7Vj
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 5, 2018
CNN points out that there is a process in which clemency is given and President Trump tends to ignore that protocol.
Trump has not followed the typical procedure for granting pardons, often choosing instead to bypass the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney while wielding his constitutional power.
He has, in the case of the Alice Johnson pardon, reportedly gone against the advice of chief of staff John Kelly and, per Axios, White House counsel Don McGahn has questioned the merits of pardoning Johnson. CNN reports the White House is evaluating more than 2,000 petitions for pardons.
The office recently informed 180 petitioners that they would not be granted clemency at this time, a White House official confirmed to CNN, but the administration has said it will continue to review pardons and make decisions on a rolling basis. There are currently 2,108 petitions for pardons, according to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
The office had made clear in its guidelines that a pardon does not establish innocence.
“A presidential pardon is ordinarily a sign of forgiveness. A pardon is not a sign of vindication and does not connote or establish innocence. For that reason, when considering the merits of a pardon petition, pardon officials take into account the petitioner’s acceptance of responsibility, remorse and atonement for the offense,” according to the written instructions.
Most notably in this week’s pardon news, the president tweeted that he has the absolute right to pardon himself, although in the tweet he wondered why he would do so when he has done nothing wrong. His critics question whether the flurry of pardons is a message being sent to individuals who have plead guilty or are facing criminal charges in the ongoing Russia investigation.
Why It Matters
While the President does have the Constitutional right to grant pardons, that right has long been restrained by protocol and public opinion. In the absence of restraint, there is a very real danger of the Oval Office becoming, via Fox News in this administration, a vending machine for politically opportune pardons rather than being a mechanism for righting wrongs and miscarriages of justice.
As far as whether the current interest the president has in pardons is sending a message to his campaign staff who have found themselves in the sights of the special counsel’s investigation, Robert Mueller will be evaluating that possibility.