Donald Trump has issued four pardons in the year and a half of his presidency.
News that Kim Kardashian West, of all people, will visit the White House Wednesday to ask for another one, could bring his total to five.
We’ll have to see if that new pardon request to a former reality star by the current doyenne of the form comes to be, and whether it leads to a larger effort on prison reform like the one being pushed by presidential family members/advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, which passed the House and is currently being debated in the Senate.
But the news that Kardashian West will get a White House meeting with the President with the aim of a specific pardon request, according to Vanity Fair, comes less than a week after Trump posthumously pardoned boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champ.
Trump issued that pardon with Sylvester Stallone, noted for his portrayal of boxers in movies, standing behind him.
The Johnson pardon, by the way, was passed over by two previous administrations despite lobbying from people like former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, but the request from Stallone got Trump’s attention.
Perhaps Kardashian West will get his attention, too, as she will reportedly push for Trump to pardon for Alice Marie Johnson, who is serving a lifetime sentence and who wrote about her story for CNN earlier in May. Johnson describes her descent from happily married mother to participant in a drug conspiracy, albeit nonviolent, after the death of her child.
It’s a heartbreaking tale and similar ones could probably be told from any US jail. The US has more than 20% of the world’s prisoners, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
President Barack Obama granted nearly 2,000 clemencies – usually choosing to commute sentences rather than issuing full pardons. Most, though not all, were for nonviolent drug offenders and they were spread over the course of his presidency. It led to a spike in applications and helped contribute to the growing national debate over prison reform that Trump could carry on.
Regardless of that larger effort, Trump has treated the power of the pardon much differently than his predecessors.
Where previous presidents waited until after their first midterm election to issue their first pardon, and would quietly issue batches of pardons of clemencies, Trump has so far issued them one at a time, and with great fanfare.
He’s teased them on Twitter, as in the case of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and Johnson, touted them at campaign-style rallies, held ceremonies like the one with Stallone. He clearly enjoys the power to erase convictions. He has not yet issued a clemency, as Obama did for people like Chelsea Manning. But as Trump meets with Kardashian West to hear her case for Johnson, there are some lessons to extrapolate about the ingredients of a Trump pardon – it needs to either help him make a political point or, barring that, have a celebrity backer.
Settling political scores
All three of Trump’s first pardons had a distinctly political overtone.
Pardon 1 – Arpaio was an early Trump backer and aided in pushing the conspiracy theory about Obama’s birthplace.
Pardon 2 – Navy submariner Kristian Saucier, who was convicted of misusing classified data and then unsuccessfully used the so-called “Clinton defense” to argue his crime was no worse than her treatment of classified email.
Pardon 3 – Scooter Libby was the chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby got clemency but no pardon from former President George W. Bush for lying to a special counsel investigating the Valerie Plame affair. Trump’s pardon came as former campaign aides were cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia election meddling investigation. The Libby pardon also featured in the memoir recently released by fired FBI Director James Comey. Trump pardoned Libby days before the book’s release. Maybe that’s a coincidence. Probably not.
Righting wrongs with a celebrity assist
If Trump pardon Johnson after meeting with Kardashian West, it could create a new trend for Trump – the pardon with a celebrity assist. Jack Johnson had Sylvester Stallone, who made the pitch to Trump. Alice Marie Johnson has Kim Kardashian West, whose husband Kanye recently made headlines for his support of Trump.
Presentation is everything in the Trump White House, even for pardons.