People thought I was kidding with this post yesterday. Listen here: The odds that Trump will turn his pardon power into some sort of de facto reality show before his term ends are no worse than 50/50. It’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in reverse. Instead of celebs competing and one being dismissed each week for having performed the worst, now they compete and one is rewarded each week for having performed the best. It’s sensational drama and there’s nothing POTUS loves more than drama. And it puts him in the same role, essentially, that he played on “Celebrity Apprentice,” the all-powerful executive whose word is law. Pardoning is his most kingly power. Of course he’d take a shine to it.
Kim Kardashian West was a tough contestant to beat. Mega-famous, a media manipulator on par with Trump himself, married to America’s most famously MAGA-friendly hip-hop star. Sly Stallone was the first winner of “Celebrity Supplicant” with the Jack Johnson pardon but she’s a worthy successor.
She’s pretty excited about her win too:
So grateful to @realDonaldTrump, Jared Kushner & to everyone who has showed compassion & contributed countless hours to this important moment for Ms. Alice Marie Johnson. Her commutation is inspirational & gives hope to so many others who are also deserving of a second chance.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 6, 2018
Mic has the details about Alice Johnson’s case. If you predicted that the right-wing president who got elected as a law-and-order authoritarian would commute the sentence of a convicted drug trafficker, come collect your winnings.
Johnson was convicted for her role facilitating communications in a cocaine trafficking operation in Memphis, Tennessee. She was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole, plus 25 years, after her co-conspirators testified against her in court.
But inside of prison, Johnson focused extensively on rehabilitation and became known as a model citizen and a mentor to other women, as well as a playwright and a minister.
Due to her exemplary behavior, she was granted permission to participate in a program to hold video conversations with people outside of prison. Through that program, she spoke to students at Ivy League universities, as well as employees at top companies like Google, which is how Mic learned about her story.
A far worthier case than Dinesh D’Souza’s. In fact, if POTUS continues to focus on people like Johnson and, hopefully, Matthew Charles, his critics will quickly find themselves in the strange position of finding the circumstances of pardon-palooza distasteful — arbitrary, star-studded, driven by Trump’s narcissism — but nonetheless supportive if it means worthy convicts seeing a little mercy from the federal government. If someone who’s done 30 years for a nonviolent drug offense can get freedom in exchange for NBC airing “Celebrity Supplicant” Wednesday nights at 9, then chop chop. Let’s get pre-production going right now.
There’ll be no shortage of content either. If CNN is right, Trump might be ready to hand out enough pardons to get the new show all the way to syndication:
The White House has assembled the paperwork to pardon dozens of people, two sources with knowledge of the developments tell CNN, signaling that President Donald Trump is poised to exert his constitutional power and intervene, in some instances, where he believes the Justice Department has overstepped.
In light of his recent pardoning spree, several of the President’s outside friends and allies have begun advocating for people they believe should also be forgiven.
CNN claims that paperwork has already been prepared for no fewer than 30 people. I’m almost afraid to ask how the names are being compiled. Is the DOJ’s pardon office handing POTUS files of its worthiest contenders or is Trump on the phone with, say, Mike Tyson asking him for ideas? The latter may be more likely than the former: According to WaPo, both John Kelly and White House counsel Don McGahn opposed commuting Alice Johnson’s sentence on account of the fact that, um, she’s a convicted drug trafficker, however pleasant she may have been behind bars. Trump’s not listening to advisors on this, in other words. This pardon thing, which another WaPo source claims he’s been “obsessed” with lately, is all his.
Two final points. One: Every story you read about this today is apt to mention that it’s Jared Kushner’s baby. He was the one in contact with Kardashian about Johnson, even attending her White House meeting with Trump. It may be that Jared is legit committed to prison reform and this is his canny way of getting Trump interested in it too — get a few celebs involved, let POTUS get a taste for clemency and the praise that comes with it, and hope that he takes an issue in prison reform more broadly. The other, more self-interested possibility is that Kushner’s desperate to get back into Democrats’ good graces and believes that this is a high-profile way to do so. Championing a Kardashian project and steering Trump towards leniency for criminals is a PR master stroke. He’ll never be viewed the same way again by his old friends after joining the Trump White House but this is a way to signal to them that he’s still one of them at heart.
Two: Every celebrity in the country is now basically invited to take up the cause of a convict and lay it before Trump somehow, either with a personal meeting or, if that’s not possible, by appealing to him through media. (Fox News is the place to be if you want to make sure he sees it.) In the aggregate that may reduce the hostility Trump gets from the entertainment industry. Now that they know he’s highly receptive to lobbying from celebrities, on pardons and maybe on other things too, they have an incentive to tone down the contempt and start working him a bit. Pardons are destined to become a new form of celebrity activism in the Trump era. Not a bad development, provided the cases they take up are truly worthy.
Exit question from Daily Beast reporter Asawin Suebsaeng: Is Kim Kardashian going to end up breaking up the U.S. and Turkey?
Kim K will absolutely be the one to get Trump to do a tweet officially recognizing the Armenian genocide, to the chagrin of allies on Capitol Hill and in his admin
— Asawin Suebsaeng (@swin24) June 6, 2018