On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he would be commuting the sentence of drug trafficker Alice Johnson. She was sentenced in 1996 to life in prison for her role as a leader of a multi-million dollar cocaine ring trafficking in 2,000 to 3,000 kilograms in involvement with the deadly Colombian Cali drug cartel. The judge in that case (who now sits on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and was confirmed to that seat by a 95-0 vote in the Senate) called Johnson “the quintessential entrepreneur.” Cocaine trafficking ends with dead people on both ends of the business — in both the gathering and shipment of cocaine, and in the addiction to it by users.
But Mic made a video about her:
Kim Kardashian saw the video and decided to get involved. That's how we got here.
Johnson told her story to CNN:
[A]fter almost two decades together and a tumultuous relationship, my husband and I divorced in 1989. It was during this time that my life began to spiral out of control. I lost my job -- and -- then my youngest son was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. No mother should have to bury her child. This weight was unbelievable, and it was a burden I couldn't sustain. I made some very poor decisions out of desperation. I want this part to be clear: I acknowledge that I have done wrong. I made the biggest mistake of my life to make ends meet and got involved with people selling drugs.
Johnson didn't "get involved with people selling drugs." She was an integral part of a drug ring, as the trial documents demonstrate. Johnson writes plays and she’s a grandmother. That’s the case for her clemency. But we all get older. That’s not a case for commutation. And some people write plays. That isn’t either.
Now, as a libertarian-leaner on the drug war altogether, I’m not supremely perturbed by Johnson’s commutation. But I am perturbed by the fact that celebrity suitors seem to have sprung Johnson, rather than a principled examination of the issues. President Trump has said he wants to seek the death penalty for drug traffickers. He stated, “If you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty. These [drug dealers] can kill 2,000, 3,000 people, and nothing happens to them.” Trump has suggested that illegal immigration presents a threat to the United States thanks to drug trafficking. Johnson was guilty of these sins.
Kim Kardashian’s visit to the Oval Office got Johnson out of prison. If Trump really wants to reconsider the drug war, he should go ahead and do that — it's long beyond reconsideration. But if he just wants to cater to whatever big names with a sex tape wander into his office, that’s bad policymaking.