Trump Pardons Alice Johnson After Racial Tensions Clouded Convention

Donald Trump on Friday granted a full pardon to Alice Johnson -- a Black woman whose life sentence he had already commuted -- as Republicans sought to assuage voter concerns about his rhetoric on race and as protesters marched in Washington for equal justice.

Trump called reporters into the Oval Office in a surprise event to sign the pardon for Johnson, who had spoken on Trump’s behalf at the Republican convention a day earlier.

“Alice Johnson has been just incredible. She’s gotten out, she’s recommended people to us,” for clemency, Trump said Friday. “She has been just so outstanding, and I’m so proud of you. We are giving Alice a full pardon.”

Trump has regularly praised Johnson, who had served more than two decades of a life sentence in prison for drug and money laundering offenses before the president commuted her sentence in 2018. Trump initially acted after Kim Kardashian West advocated on Johnson’s behalf.

Johnson was a guest of the president at the 2019 State of the Union address, and has been featured in Trump campaign advertisements. On Thursday, the final night of the Republican National Convention, she thanked the president again.

“But by the grace of God and the compassion of President Donald John Trump, I stand before you tonight,” Johnson said. “He saw me as a person. He had compassion. And he acted. Free in body thanks to President Trump. But free in mind thanks to the almighty God.”

The Republican convention featured testimonials from Black speakers, including some who explicitly said they did not believe Trump is a racist, in a bid to offset unease with the president’s rhetoric on race. However, the convention also featured loaded phrasing, warning of mobs set to derail American life if Biden is elected.

At the same time on Friday, protesters demanded government action to address police brutality against Black Americans, including Jacob Blake, who was repeatedly shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, earlier this week.

Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights leader, told reporters that the election could determine whether further criminal justice reform is signed into law.

“I think that if people in large numbers come out and elect a new president and new members of the United States Senate, yes, there will be progress,” he said in remarks broadcast by WJLA-TV in Washington. “If people’s votes are suppressed and for whatever reason do not come out, it’s going to be very difficult under a Trump administration to galvanize the kind of progress that we need to see.”

He also chided Trump for his criticism of voting by mail.

“We shouldn’t have to risk our lives to cast our votes. We need to be able to do what President Trump does: vote safely by mail,” King said in his public remarks.

Trump did not take any questions on Friday after signing the pardon, and Johnson did not make any extended remarks during the Oval Office event before press were escorted out. He handed Johnson the pardon and the pen used to sign it.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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