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June 6, 2018

Kimme’s accomplishment: Prez Trump commutes LWOP sentence of Alice Johnson!!

Only a week after an in-person meeting with Prez Trump, Kim Kardashian West can and should be credited with getting President Donald Trump to do something bold and consequential with his clemency power.  This official White House statement explains:

Today, President Donald J. Trump granted a commutation to Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who has served almost 22 years in Federal prison for a first-time criminal offense.

Ms. Johnson 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.  Her Warden, Case Manager, and Vocational Training Instructor have all written letters in support of her clemency.  According to her Warden, Arcala Washington-Adduci, “since [Ms. Johnson’s] arrival at this institution, she has exhibited outstanding and exemplary work ethic. She is considered to be a model inmate who is willing to go above and beyond in all work tasks.”

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.

I give Prez Trump a lot of credit for now moving beyond seemingly politically-motivated clemencies on to seemingly celebrity-motivated clemencies.  Excitingly, this CNN report today, headlined "Exclusive: Trump considers dozens of new pardons," reports that the Trump Administration "has prepared the pardoning paperwork for at least 30 people," which means we might soon get a lot more than just political-celebrity-buzz-worthy grants. 

As we anticipate even more clemency action, I hope someone makes sure to tell Prez Trump that he is now still 1713 commutations (including 567 LWOP sentences) behind President Barack Obama's modern records.  As this accounting highlights, Prez Obama, after a slow start, became the modern pace setter for federal clemency.  Here is hoping that Prez Trump will look to break Prez Obama's record.

Especially amusing among the stories covering all these clemency developments is this new Splinter piece (which predates the grant to Ms. Johnson).  It is titled "Donald Trump is Reportedly Torn Between Kim Kardashian and John Kelly," and it starts this way:

Picture if you will a befuddled Donald Trump. On one shoulder is a tiny Kim Kardashian angel. A tiny John Kelly devil is perched on the other. Both Kelly and Kardashian begin whispering their advice into the president’s ears.

That, essentially, is what is apparently taking place at the White House, as Trump mulls a pardon for 63-year-old Alice Johnson—a great-grandmother currently serving out a life sentence in prison for a non-violent drug-related conviction—following Kardashian’s high profile oval office visit in late May.

Oh how I wish I had the computer graphics skills to turn this imagined Kimme/Kelly shoulder debate into the gif that keeps on giving, especially now that we know how it turned out.

A few of many recent related posts about Trumpian clemency activity:

June 6, 2018 at 01:42 PM | Permalink


Is it commuted to time served? The statement does not say. This is well-deserved and I am glad to see the president do the right thing here.

Posted by: defendergirl | Jun 6, 2018 2:02:20 PM

"I give Prez Trump a lot of credit for now moving beyond seemingly politically-motivated clemencies on to seemingly celebrity-motivated clemencies."

Not true, you are a celebrity and he hasn't granted any of your suggested pardons yet.

Posted by: Boom | Jun 6, 2018 2:21:46 PM

"I give Prez Trump a lot of credit for now moving beyond seemingly politically-motivated clemencies on to seemingly celebrity-motivated clemencies."

I get this comment might have been made in jest, but I'm not sure I see any difference between politically-motivated and celebrity-motivated in this context. It seems to me Trump has found that in addition to some pretty big sticks, the position of President also has at its disposal some pretty juicy carrots as a means of compelling others to act a certain way. The pardon power is an excellent example, and it is made even more powerful in that the President's use of is not subject to another branch's check (barring impeachment).

If he is gearing-up for a political showdown with Congress over the pending investigation, then he needs public opinion to move towards him, or at least pockets of public opinion. What better way to get spokespeople on your "team" than to either pardon them (Martha Stewart) or pardon someone whose cause they support (Kim Kardashian). Kardashian has approximately 73 million Twitter followers (and Kanye West's followers can likely be added also), which puts her in the top ten on that social media platform. That means she has an audience who listen to her and accept her framing of events. She will likely now tweet about how the President "righted a wrong" and has exercised his power in "the name of justice." Members of her audience, particularly those with little political interest, may think 'this Trump guy can't be all that bad, he listened to Kim and pardoned this nice old lady; he must be a just president.'

I would imagine that with Trump nothing comes free. If he pardons you or someone you are advocating for, there is going to be an expectation of something in return. That is the business mentality, and our government is now run with that mentality. I will be interested to see what other celebrities, or individuals with large followings on social media (in other words, a platform and an audience) advocate for a pardon on someone's behalf, and then suddenly start tweeting/talking about Trump in a positive light. Once the dust settles there will be some interesting research that could be done using social media statements before and after the pardoning of those who are connected with the individual being pardoned.

Or I could be completely wrong.

Posted by: anonuser879 | Jun 6, 2018 2:28:17 PM


Posted by: Fluffyross | Jun 6, 2018 2:58:26 PM

defendergirl I don't think anyone has seen the warrant yet.

Of course we're hoping for many more for nonviolent marijuana offenders serving life without parole. There are some very natural categories that would be fiscally responsible as well compassionate and just. Nonviolent offenders with life sentences most often were charged with conspiracy and went to trial.

Posted by: beth | Jun 6, 2018 3:28:38 PM

At this point in Obama's presidency, how many clemencies, pardons, etc. had he done? That is, how many does Trump have to do to catch up to where Obama was at the same point in time?

Posted by: Duke | Jun 6, 2018 7:36:46 PM

Trump is a weak leader and a NYC liberal. Berman removed my Comment on a theory of a sexual encounter between Kim Kardashian and Trump. It would totally account for this decision, and the overcoming of obstacles to it.

He is going to release a drug kingpin, a feminist, who likely serially killed dozens of competitors, and hundreds of addicted customers. Because she has antisocial personality disorder, she did so without giving any thought to any.

All her crimes after release are 100% the fault of the federal government. It should be sued by all future victims of her violence. Her resumption of her crime spree is 100% foreseeable.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 6, 2018 7:51:01 PM

You castigated Obama at every turn and now are heaping praise on Trump because an instagram star had a private meeting with him.Yes Doug that's how it should work. Pathetic.

Posted by: [email protected] | Jun 7, 2018 6:13:56 AM

True, Trump was lobbied for the commute. Thats how one gets things done at the federal level.

Pres if good old USA has more fish to fry than worrying about who he should pardon/commute. Its not a perfect world, but for this lady, shes out and has another chance. Thats the skinny if it..

Trump should pardon, Martha Stewart and commute Blagos sentence. Blago sucks in my book, but hey, he did enough time..

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jun 7, 2018 7:07:02 AM

Duke: at this point in Obama's presidency, he had issued exactly ZERO clemencies --- no pardons and no commutations.

[email protected]: My answer to Duke is why I castigated Obama. Also Obama, notably, did not prioritize any form of criminal justice reform during his first two years in office despite hi parties having large majorities in Congress. Obama did, to his credit, support crack sentencing reform (though he indicated that there should be crack/powder equality and yet settled for legislation with an 18:1 disparity). As noted in this post, Obama by the end of his second term became a record-setting modern Prez in terms of granting clemency. But academics have long been urging change in clemency process/structure, and Obama did nothing to be transformative here.

In the end, I grade both Prez on the "criminal justice curve" that they set for themselves. Prez Obama promised "hope and change" and delivered relatively little of either until very late in his Prez; Prez Trump promised to be a crime warrior and has been less awful than feared (though AG Sessions has been pretty bad, even though I sincerely worried he would be even worse).

Posted by: Doug B | Jun 7, 2018 7:56:05 AM

for a contrary view: http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2018/06/trump-frees-big-time-narcotics-trafficker-even-obama-didnt-help.php

Posted by: federalist | Jun 7, 2018 8:09:43 AM

Would you agree that Paul Mirengoff sounds a lot like David Behar in the post you link? To be fair, David says Ms. Johnson "likely serially killed dozens of competitors" whereas Paul just says "in all likelihood Johnson’s drug ring was responsible for more than a few deaths."

I highlight this parallel in part to showcase for others one reason I am disinclined to ban David from commenting. I often believe some of his comments, even those most crude and childish, serve to pull back the curtain on what many persons may think (but do not say here) about a variety of crime and justice issues. Thanks to your link, federalist, it is notable to see intriguing commonalities between what David is saying here and what a more "respectable" commentator has to say.

Posted by: Doug B | Jun 7, 2018 9:05:18 AM

Two questions posed by the fact that none of the early pardons have gone through the Pardon Office process.

First, every Administration has a curve of putting people it trusts into key positions that allow the new President to assure that his policies/standards are being implemented. (And some reports indicate that Trump is way behind the curve.) Given this time lag, how long has it taken past Presidents before they started issuing pardons that have been processed through the Pardon's Office?

Second, as far as grants of pardons and commutations, what has been the balance (both overall and on a progressive year-by-year basis) between pardons/commutations granted based on the Pardon Office process and those granted outside that process for recent past presidents? (My hunch says that the percent granted through the normal process increases as you get further into a presidential term.)

Posted by: tmm | Jun 7, 2018 10:49:14 AM

"Prez Obama promised "hope and change" and delivered relatively little of either until very late in his Prez"

"Relatively little" ... whatever that means. There actually was change in multiple ways. I won't repeat myself but I cited some examples more than once. But, not enough based on the "curve."

Said "curve" needs to take into consideration the whole picture in both cases. Trump has repeatedly did things in respect to criminal justice, including his own part in corrupting justice, but DB grades on a curve here and Trump somehow comes out better.

tmm's questions are good ones.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 7, 2018 1:20:57 PM

I have always been a quirky grader, Joe, but maybe I can provide a (fitting?) metaphor here that should make sense to lawyers: Imagine being told a law professor and a high schooler were submitting amicus briefs in a complicated SCOTUS case. The law professor's brief could be much better, but I am likely to be more impressed by the high schooler's brief if it is any good at all. (And we can throw in idea that the lawprof bragged at length about how good his brief was going to be, while the high schooler says he barely had time to work on his.) Again, it is all about expectations here.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 7, 2018 5:30:44 PM

When President Obama took office there were 210,227 inmates in federal prison. This number continued to rise until it reached an all time high in 2013. In 2013 the number was 219,298

At that time, Clemency Project 2014 was announced. Holder announced that they believed there would be 10,000 or more commutations granted. The process remained in the DOJ with layers of oversight and procedure.

At the end of the Obama administration a little over 1,700 petitioners had received commutations.

There were over 8,000 petitions left at the DOJ for the Trump administration. over 4,000 petitions had been closed without action and over 18,000 petitions had been denied.

It was a great disappointment for the inmates and their families who had great hope for compassion and mercy. During The Trump administration, the federal prison population has decreased by 8,000

There was hope that Obama would issue clemency through a clemency board created in the White House and eliminate the natural tendency of the prosecutors in the DOJ to evaluate each petition from a prosecutors point of view. That did not happen.

Gerald Ford created what he called a clemency board within the White House to evaluate petitions for clemency for those who had violated the Selective Service act. That was what clemency advocates hoped President Obama would do. In the proclamation, Ford called it a clemency board, but of course it was different.
This Ford's White House Board granted 13,000 petitions that year.

President Obama did not adopt that model and the result was a great disappointment to inmates, their families and advocacy groups. You can find this data on the .gov sites

Posted by: beth | Jun 7, 2018 7:07:31 PM

Prof. Berman. The high school brief is likely to be in plain language, terse, to contain facts from the physical world, and to appeal to ordinary common sense. The lawyer brief, well, is likely to be the opposite.

That is why, I have proposed that judging become a separate profession, not in any way connected to the lawyer profession. Indeed, lawyers should be precluded from serving as judges. That way, the owners of the law, the public, would have an equal likelihood of prevailing as hyper-proceduralist, know nothing, total jerk, anti-family, anti-crime victim, male feminist running dog assholes.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 7, 2018 7:24:45 PM

Prof. Berman. If you ever get a chance to strike a conversation with any random stranger, average person, with a job and regular responsibilities, and not dependent on government for a living, ask about sentencing policy. You will learn that my views are totally ordinary, widely held, and quite mainstream.

The views of elitist, four eyed bookworms radicalized by Ivy Law Schools, quite divorced from any street reality, are quite deviant. That why the elitists on the Supreme Court, looking down their noses on ordinary members of the public, are quite unpopular. Their elitist views are divorced from the reality of the street and of daily living under the thumb of our tyrannical federal government.

You American lawyers run a tighter ship than the KGB or Castro's secret police. Make a politically incorrect joke now, and you are destroyed. The American public, that is not progressive, has been silenced more than any Soviet citizen in the days of the Gulag. That is the best explanation why Trump is in office, and why the elitists are a little upset by their polls' failing to predict that catastrophe for them.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 7, 2018 7:38:43 PM

I don't care about "quirky."

Care about double standards that are ridiculous and in the process aid and abet Trump, which includes diminishing those who net improved justice, making them out as losers that bragged so much and accomplished so little.

But, go ahead ... be upset at Obama "bragging," more of the "St. Obama" disappointed fatuous approach I have seen too much from people I thought were more able to realistically understand Obama as a whole, not single out his most idealistic hopes and goals. Meanwhile, what was actually done is demeaned as trivial.

This isn't about that high school student, who btw in this case was the biggest braggart out there. So, that part is as fatuous as the rest.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 7, 2018 7:39:03 PM

Prof. Berman said, "...Prez Obama promised "hope and change" and delivered relatively little of either until very late in his Prez; Prez Trump promised to be a crime warrior and has been less awful than feared (though AG Sessions has been pretty bad, even though I sincerely worried he would be even worse)."

This is an illustration of the Immutable Law of Political Irony. You decide what you want, then vote for the candidate who opposes it to the extreme. Political scientists even have a name for this immutable phenomenon, Nixon to China.

Want to bash the poor on welfare, vote for Clinton; want an orgy of nation building, vote for Bush Jr. (no nation building under my administration, in the 2000 debate); wants a massive tax increase, vote for Bush Sr (Mr. Read my Lips, No New Taxes), hate and want to savage the poor, the black, the female, the gay, and the young, and not to forget, the convicted felon, vote for Obama. I wanted massive income inequality, so I strongly supported doctrinaire Stalinist, Bernie Sanders.

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 7, 2018 7:53:54 PM

Joe: what became clear to me, as I came to "understand Obama as a whole," was that he was much more interested in using his political skills and political capital in areas other than CJ reform. That was his choice to make as Prez, but I (perhaps foolishly) hoped for so very much more. I suppose I am glad to hear that he did not disappoint you, but I am not going to hide or sugar-coat how much he disappointed me in this context. But I will readily concede that this disappointment flows from how much I was hoping and expecting from him.

Meanwhile, Trump has been a real surprise as of 2018 with both his aggressive support for prison reform and now his new affinity for clemency grants. And I will readily concede that this surprise flows from how little I was expecting from him.

In all, this is an object lesson is "under-promise and over-deliver." On CJ fronts, Trump has not yet "over-delivered," but he already has done more than promised. Obama, as I see it, failed to deliver what he promised. But I concede I may have expected way too much.

Posted by: Doug B | Jun 7, 2018 8:40:15 PM

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