Trump grants clemency to grandma whose case was championed by Kim Kardashian West
Gregory Korte, USA TODAY Published 12:33 p.m. ET June 6, 2018 | Updated 9:09 p.m. ET June 6, 2018
President Trump granted clemency to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old woman sentenced to life in prison. The move comes a week after Trump met with Kim Kardashian West, who became involved in Johnson’s case after viewing a viral video last year. Just the FAQs
WASHINGTON – President Trump granted clemency Wednesday to a Tennessee woman serving a life sentence for cocaine trafficking — after hearing a plea from reality television star Kim Kardashian West in an Oval Office meeting.
Alice Marie Johnson, who celebrated her 63rd birthday last week, had her life sentence commuted to time served after 22 years. Trump’s clemency warrant ordered her to be released immediately from Aliceville Federal Correctional Institution in Alabama.
It was Kardashian West who informed Johnson of the president’s decision, said Shawn Holley, a Kardashian lawyer who helped advocate for clemency.
“I just got off the most wonderful, emotional and amazing phone call with Alice, Kim and Alice’s lawyers,” Holley said. “It was a moment I will never forget. Once Alice’s family joined the call, the tears never stopped flowing.”
Johnson was convicted in 1996 of five counts of drug trafficking and one count of money laundering and sentenced to life in prison — despite the fact that it was her first offense.
“Ms. Johnson has accepted responsibility for her past behavior and has been a model prisoner over the past two decades,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “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.”
Johnson’s plea for clemency was denied by President Obama weeks before he left office in 2017, despite an initiative aimed at freeing drug offenders serving long mandatory minimum sentences. Case files are not public, so it’s unclear why Obama found her petition undeserving.
More: Can Trump really do that? The presidential pardon power, explained
A long list of officials — Congress members, the U.S. attorney and even the warden at her prison — asked the pardon attorney to reconsider.
“At 63 years old, I am closer to heaven than to earth,” Johnson wrote the judge in her case last year. “I’m a broken woman. More time in prison cannot accomplish more justice.”
Trump has taken a different approach to presidential pardon power than his predecessor. Obama took recommendations from the Justice Department’s Office of Pardon Attorney. Trump has bypassed that process to grant pardons in high-profile cases such as those involving former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, Bush White House aide Scooter Libby and former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson.
Johnson received a rare posthumous pardon last month after Sylvester Stallone of Rocky fame championed his case.
More: ‘It’s about time:’ The 97-year history of Jack Johnson’s quest for a pardon
Trump’s use of his clemency power in a drug trafficking case suggests he might be open to the kind of commutations for non-violent drug offenders that Obama championed though his clemency initiative. Obama commuted more sentences than the previous 10 presidents combined.
Last week, the Trump White House asked clemency advocates to send lists of people who may deserve commutations for Trump’s consideration.
More: After pardoning political allies, Trump quietly denies clemency for 180 others
The Can-Do Foundation, which advocates shorter sentences for non-violent drug offenders, put Johnson at the top of its list of federal prisoners most deserving of a presidential commutation.
Commutations shorten a prison sentence while leaving the other consequences of a conviction intact. Trump’s clemency warrant requires Johnson to meet the conditions of court-supervised release for five years, Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas said.
Amy Povah, a former federal inmate who started the Can-Do Foundation after President Clinton commuted her sentence in 2000, said Johnson is one of many who deserve presidential mercy.
“But today is about Alice Johnson, and we are elated that Kim Kardashian has done what others have not,” she said. “She has used her celebrity status to lift up a specific case of injustice and give Alice the spotlight her case deserves. Hopefully, there will be more to come in the future.”
Kardashian West got involved in Johnson’s case after she was profiled in a viral Facebook video last year. Her husband, rapper Kanye West, is a high-profile Trump supporter.
Kim Kardashian West appears with attorney Shawn Chapman Holley at the White House on Wednesday.
Kim Kardashian West appears with attorney Shawn Chapman Holley at the White House on Wednesday. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)
The celebrity daughter of a defense lawyer — Robert Kardashian, who represented O.J. Simpson in his murder trial in 1995 — Kardashian West brought her own high-powered lawyer to the White House last week. Holley has represented celebrity clients such as Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie.
More: Trump pushes for prison changes at White House summit. Will that lead to more changes?
They met with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who has taken on prison policies as a signature issue. Kardashian West said Wednesday that Kushner — whose father spent time in prison on corruption charges — was instrumental in the commutation.