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Trump commutes term of Kardashian-championed drug offender

Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller, Associated Press | 6/7/2018, 6:11 a.m.
Flexing his clemency powers once again, President Donald Trump on Wednesday commuted the life sentence of a woman whose cause ...
This combination photo shows President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Moon Township, Pa., on March 10, 2018, left, and Kim Kardashian West at the NBCUniversal Network 2017 Upfront in New York on May 15, 2017. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

WASHINGTON — Flexing his clemency powers once again, President Donald Trump on Wednesday commuted the life sentence of a woman whose cause was championed by reality TV star Kim Kardashian West.

"BEST NEWS EVER!!!!" was the exuberant Twitter response from Kardashian West, who visited the White House last week to press the case.

Alice Marie Johnson, 63, had spent more than two decades behind bars, serving life without parole for drug offenses. She was released hours after the White House announcement and ran into her family members' arms.

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.

"I'm just so thankful. I feel like my life is starting over again," Johnson said moments after her release, calling Kardashian West an "angel" and thanking Trump "for giving me another chance at life and restoring me to my family."

Unlike a pardon, the commutation will not erase Johnson's conviction, only end her sentence.

Trump's decision, his latest inspired by a celebrity champion, comes amid a flurry of recent pardons issued by the president. He says he's considering a long list of other clemency actions for those famous and not, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving 14 years in prison for corruption, and celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart, who served about five months on charges connected to an insider trading case.

Trump has been working outside the traditional pardon process usually overseen by the Justice Department, and has appeared to favor cases that catch his attention — because they've been championed by friends, celebrities or conservative media, or involve people he sees as rivals. Trump has also been drawn to cases in which he believes prosecutors may have been motivated by politics — situations that may remind him of his own predicament at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling.

Trump recently pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who was convicted of a campaign finance violation. And he granted a posthumous pardon to boxing's first black heavyweight champion, which had been championed by actor Sylvester Stallone. The federal prosecutor who oversaw Stewart's case in New York was James Comey, one of Trump's principal antagonists and the man he fired as FBI director last year.

Some have seen the pardons as sending a message to former campaign aides now ensnared in the Mueller probe or other legal inquiries, including Trump's longtime lawyer and legal "fixer" Michael Cohen, whose finances are under federal investigation.

Indeed, the wife of former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, appeared on Fox News this week to lobby her husband's case.

"I trust and hope and ask to President Trump to pardon him," Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos told Trump's favorite network.