WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump exercised his pardon power again on Wednesday, commuting the life sentence of a 63-year-old woman convicted of illegal drug offenses after reality TV star Kim Kardashian West pleaded for her release at the White House.
A week after issuing his fifth pardon to conservative filmmaker and pundit Dinesh D’Souza, Trump commuted the sentence for Alice Marie Johnson, who has served almost 22 years in prison for a first-time offense for her role in a multimillion-dollar cocaine operation.
Johnson was released hours later and ran into her family members’ arms.
“Ms. Johnson has accepted responsibility for her past behavior and has been a model prisoner over the past two decades,” the White House said in a statement. “Despite receiving a life sentence, Alice worked hard to rehabilitate herself in prison, and act as a mentor to her fellow inmates.”
Kardashian West met with Trump on May 30 to support prison reform, and to make the case for Johnson.
“BEST NEWS EVER!!!!” Kardashian West tweeted Wednesday after hearing the news.
Michael Scholl, a member of Johnson’s legal team, said she was released just before 6 p.m. from federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama. Footage from local news station WVTM-13 showed Johnson running toward her family, throwing her arms wide open and embracing them in front of a crowd of onlookers.
“Everybody was crying and hugging,” Scholl said.
Johnson ranked as No. 1 on a list of Top 25 women deserving clemency by the nonprofit group CAN-DO, which seeks pardons and commutations for people convicted of strict drug laws. She applied to the Obama administration for early release but didn’t get it.
Kardashian West said she’d been moved by Johnson’s story after seeing a video by the news outlet Mic. “I think that she really deserves a second chance at life,” Kardashian told Mic. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get her out.”
Trump has signaled he’s prepared to pardon many more prisoners he believes have been treated unfairly. CNN reported he has a list of 30 potential pardons.
The president has acted after conversations with TV and movie stars or conservatives, and has ignored the rigorous process established by the pardon attorney in the Justice Department.
On Friday, Trump suggested he might pardon lifestyle businesswoman Martha Stewart, who served 5 months, and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is still serving a 14-year sentence for extortion and an attempt to sell the former Senate seat of President Barack Obama.
Democrats and Trump critics have warned that the president might be sending a message to his former aides and associates caught up in the special counsel’s Russia investigation or the probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office.
On May 31, Trump pardoned D’Souza, who illegally funneled $20,000 to the campaign of Republican Wendy Long in her race against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in 2012.
In response, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted that “the possibility that he may also be sending a message to witnesses in a criminal investigation into his campaign is extremely dangerous.”
Trump has pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a staunch campaign supporter; Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide; and a U.S. Navy sailor convicted of taking photos of classified portions of a submarine who complained that Hillary Clinton was not also prosecuted for violating security laws with her personal email server.