ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump is once again using his power to grant clemency. Today, he commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a woman serving life in federal prison for drug conspiracy and money laundering. Her case came to his attention via reality TV star Kim Kardashian West. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe joins us now from the White House to talk about this. Hi, Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hi.
SHAPIRO: What more can you tell us about this specific case, Alice Marie Johnson?
RASCOE: Johnson was convicted in a case involving a cocaine trafficking ring. She admits she made a mistake, but it was a first-time offense. Advocates say that she's been a model prisoner, and she really doesn't deserve to spend the rest of her life in prison. She's already served more than 20 years behind bars without any option for parole.
SHAPIRO: Many people saw the photo of Kim Kardashian in the Oval Office with President Trump. How did she get involved in this?
RASCOE: Kim Kardashian became aware of Johnson's story after seeing an interview that Johnson did with the news website mic.com. She came across the article and decided to become Johnson's advocate. She set up a legal team for her, and she lobbied for a meeting with the White House, which she got last week. Here's Kardashian in an interview with mic.com talking about Johnson.
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KIM KARDASHIAN WEST: I'm just in a different place in my life, so I thought, well, if I could put the money into a shopping spree, which sounds ridiculous, to save someone's life and do that once a year, then that would make me - just - my heart fuller.
RASCOE: And today, she was successful.
SHAPIRO: Put this one grant of clemency into context. President Trump has been doing this a lot lately and often with public figures, right?
RASCOE: Yes, and it's unusual. Recent presidents have not used their clemency power at all in the beginning of their terms. They waited until closer to the end or the second half of their terms to issue a lot of pardons and commutations. But Trump has already granted five pardons and now two commutations. Last week, he pardoned Dinesh D'Souza and his first pardon went to former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Almost all of these have involved a public figure or have been lobbied for by a celebrity, like this case with Kardashian. And so - or have been a national news story. President Trump is also saying he's not done. He wants to do more - possibly former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and even maybe a pardon for Martha Stewart.
SHAPIRO: Do you see a larger strategy here or a message that the president is trying to send?
RASCOE: We can't say for sure. There has been speculation that with the Trump - with the Russia investigation, which President Trump calls a witch hunt, that he may be trying to let anyone who might be indicted or maybe even could testify against him in this probe that he would be - let them know that he would be willing to use his pardon power for them. President Trump did say this week on Twitter that he has absolute power to pardon himself, although he went on to say he doesn't need to do that because he hasn't done anything wrong. But setting aside that question, the pardon power for the president is really one of those things that he can do that's really unchecked. And so he can almost basically pardon almost anyone for any reason he wants.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe speaking with us from the White House. Thank you.
RASCOE: Thank you.
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