Kardashian pushes clemency at White House

Kim Kardashian West renewed her call for sentencing reform and clemency review during a visit to the White House.

Posted: Sep 6, 2018 8:46 PM
Updated: Sep 6, 2018 8:50 PM

Kim Kardashian West arrived at the White House on Wednesday to discuss sentencing reform and clemency issues with White House officials, two White House officials told CNN.

The reality TV star and entrepreneur was not expected to meet with President Donald Trump, one White House official said, though the plans could change.

Kardashian West, who successfully lobbied Trump earlier this summer to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a nonviolent drug offender serving a life sentence, returned to the White House on Wednesday for a listening session on clemency issues with White House officials, including the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

"Today at the White House, members of the administration are hosting a listening session about the clemency process. The discussion is mainly focused on ways to improve that process to ensure deserving cases receive a fair review," deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

Kardashian West was just one of several prison reform advocates and legal activists at the White House for the listening session on Wednesday, including Van Jones, a CNN political commentator and former adviser to President Barack Obama; Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society; Mark Holden, the general counsel of Koch Industries and Jessica Jackson Sloan, a human rights attorney and prison reform advocate.

Other attendees include Rachel Barkow, Brittany Barnett, Alex Gudich, Shon Hopwood, Paul Larkin, Mark Osler and Kevin Sharp, a former federal judge.

Kardashian West was an active participant in the listening session, which lasted about an hour and a half, and gave the group "concrete feedback," according to Sloan, who co-founded #cut50, a bipartisan prison reform initiative.

"(Kardashian West), like everybody else in that room, agreed that we need a more streamlined and transparent process that respects those who are inside throughout it but one that can lead to clemency being used more regularly," Sloan told CNN.

The President's daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, also joined the listening session to talk about the link between clemency and the administration's workforce development and vocational training initiatives.

The presidential power to grant clemency is an issue that animated Trump earlier this summer, when he issued a series of pardons and commutations.

Trump's exercise of that clemency power has so far been on a case-by-case basis and frequently animated by personal loyalty or personal advocacy efforts. The White House is now seeking to create a regular review process for clemency review.

Kardashian West has signaled in recent days that she is taking up another case, appearing on the podcast "Wrongful Conviction" to say that she is now working on the case of Chris Young, who is serving a life sentence related to a drug case due to a mandatory minimum prison sentence.

"It started with Ms. Alice, but looking at her and seeing the faces and learning the stories of the men and women I've met inside prisons I knew I couldn't stop at just one. It's time for REAL systemic change," Kardashian West tweeted after the meeting Wednesday.

The FIRST STEP Act, a bill aimed at criminal justice reform, passed the House earlier this year, but stalled in the Senate due to differences on sentencing reform.

Progress has been made, Sloan said, because Trump has now "given a thumbs-up to sentencing reform" after meetings with governors, pastors and formerly incarcerated advocates.

"I think there's a very strong commitment from the White House to improve the clemency process," she said, praising the "very dedicated group of staffers led by Jared Kushner," whom she described as "one of the most persistent and passionate advocates for criminal justice reform."

The bill has White House backing, and as passed by the House earlier this year, it focused on reforming federal prisons without addressing sentencing policy. Wednesday's event marked the latest overture from supporters of the bill and the White House for interest in passing the bill, but a clear timetable to passage has yet to materialize.

Key senators and interest groups have demanded any prison reform legislation be coupled with measures to address sentences, while Attorney General Jeff Sessions and some hardline conservatives in Congress have signaled strong opposition to sentencing measures, creating a sizeable gap to bridge as the number of working days in Congress dwindle ahead of the midterm elections and the next Congress at the start of the new year.

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