U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday commuted the life sentence for drug offender Alice Marie Johnson, whose case was championed by reality TV star Kim Kardashian West.
Kardashian West met with Trump at the White House last week and urged the president to pardon Johnson, 63, who was imprisoned for her role in a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation.
“BEST NEWS EVER!!!!” Kardashian West exulted on Twitter after hearing about Trump’s commutation of Johnson’s sentence. Johnson had not been eligible for parole.
Kardashian West voiced her gratitude “to everyone who has showed compassion & contributed countless hours to this important moment. … Her commutation is inspirational & gives hope to so many others who are also deserving of a second chance.”
A White House statement said Johnson, convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts, “has accepted responsibility for her past behavior and has been a model prisoner over the past two decades.”
“Despite receiving a life sentence, Alice worked hard to rehabilitate herself in prison, and act as a mentor to her fellow inmates,” the statement said. “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.”
The 1994 indictment in Johnson’s case describes a drug-trafficking operation that involved more than a dozen people, including dozens of transactions and deliveries, many of them involving Johnson. Her bid for clemency had been rejected when former President Barack Obama was in office, although the reasons are unclear why.
She had sought her freedom in court petitions, at one point telling a judge, “I’m a broken woman. More time in prison cannot accomplish more justice.”
Trump, according to U.S. news accounts, has become enamored of his power to pardon or commute sentences of those he feels have been wronged by the criminal justice system. He seems particularly interested in cases advocated by conservatives, celebrities or those who once appeared on his reality television show, “The Apprentice.”
Last week he pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who had been convicted of violating a campaign finance law.
Earlier he had pardoned two other notable conservatives, former Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” convicted of engaging in a crackdown on illegal immigrants, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the one-time chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of lying about the unmasking of the identity of a CIA agent.
Trump said he is considering pardons or commutations of sentences for two other prominent figures convicted in recent years: lifestyle maven and television star Martha Stewart, who served five months in prison in a securities fraud case, and former Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who once appeared on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice reality television show.
Blagojevich is in the midst of serving a 14-year term for trying to sell an appointment to the Senate seat in Illinois that Obama vacated when he was elected president. At the time of the TV show, Trump praised Blagojevich for his “tremendous courage and guts,” but then fired him on the fourth episode of the 2010 season.
U.S. presidents have wide discretion in their use of pardons.
Trump boasted this week of his “absolute right” to pardon himself in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but questioned why he would since he has “done nothing wrong.”