Jun 6, 2018

Go deeper: How Kim Kardashian got Trump to commute a lifetime sentence

Kim Kardashian enters the White House grounds. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old woman serving a life sentence without parole for a nonviolent drug offense, on Wednesday following his recent Oval Office meeting with Kim Kardashian West on Johnson’s case.

The big picture: Thanks to pressure from Kardashian, the commutation, in addition to the president's other high-profile clemency cases, puts a renewed focus on the Trump administration’s push for prison and sentencing reform. Meanwhile, an internal battle has been playing out between Jared Kushner, who's pushing for more criminal justice reform, and the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department, which has adopted a “tough on crime” approach toward drugs and sentencing guidelines.

  • Johnson, who’s has been serving her sentence in federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama, was convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts related to a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation. The White House said she has served almost 22 years in federal prison for a first-time criminal offense.
  • Kardashian told Mic that Johnson’s case came to her attention last October when she watched a video about the case.
  • A month later, she reportedly tasked a team of attorneys, including her personal lawyer, to provide legal support for a petition seeking clemency for Johnson.
  • In early May, Mic and Axios reported that Kardashian and Kushner were talking directly by phone about a possible presidential pardon for Johnson.
  • Kardashian met with Trump and Kushner last Wednesday at the White House to discuss prison and sentencing reform, as well as Johnson's case.
What they're saying:

A statement released by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Johnson “has accepted responsibility for her past behavior and has been a model prisoner ... worked hard to rehabilitate herself in prison, and act as a mentor to her fellow inmates. ”

  • Key quote: "While this Administration will always be very tough on crime, it believes that those who have paid their debt to society and worked hard to better themselves while in prison deserve a second chance."

Be smart: Criminal justice reform advocates view Johnson’s case, and many others still serving, as a glaring example of why systemic reform is needed. There are 1,545 people in federal prisoners without parole for drug offenses, the American Civil Liberties Union said, citing the Bureau of Prisons statistics.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a joint statement Thursday outlining their demands for coronavirus funding, including a guarantee that the eventual vaccine is affordable.

The big picture: Pelosi criticized the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus outbreak, calling it "chaotic" and chiding President Trump for "name-calling" and "playing politics." She added at a press conference that bipartisan congressional leaders are nearing an agreement on emergency funding.