Evangelical leader Alveda King says she’s optimistic that President Trump will unleash a “good tidal wave” of clemency after she delivered to the White House a list of nearly 100 prisoners who she wants Trump to release.
The niece of Martin Luther King Jr. participated in an Aug. 1 discussion between Trump and African-American pastors and left behind her list of names with the office of the presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
King, a supporter of Trump and leader of the anti-abortion group Civil Rights for the Unborn, declined to provide a copy of her list, citing the potential sensitivity of clemency decisions, and would not discuss specific details about her interactions at the White House.
“I did not, on purpose, count or remember the names, I just submitted the list,” King told the Washington Examiner. “I’m trying to get a good tidal wave, a positive tidal wave, a tidal wave to maybe change things and make things better.”
King wants to see a "jubilee" or mass awarding of clemency and said there are misperceptions about what’s happening behind the scenes. She said it’s her understanding that the White House, through Kushner’s office, is processing recommendations in an orderly manner.
Trump has used his constitutional clemency powers nine times — releasing four inmates, two with pardons, and issuing post-release or pre-sentencing pardons to five others — almost always at the urging of celebrities or political allies, giving the impression of haphazard grants based on influencer requests.
[More: Trump's clemency list has 3,000 names, NFL players invited to add more]
But King said she believes the White House has in place a process for reviewing a deluge of recommendations following the June release of Alice Johnson, a drug conspiracy convict who Trump released at the urging of reality TV star Kim Kardashian.
Trump unleashed tremendous enthusiasm behind bars by releasing Johnson, and then declaring: "There will be more pardons. ... I want to do people that are unfairly treated like an Alice."
There were signs of increasing internal work on clemency applications at about the time Johnson was released. Days earlier, White House counsel Don McGahn called a right-leaning policy advocate and asked him to assemble lists of worthy clemency aspirants. The outside contact gathered names from the CAN-DO Foundation and Families Against Mandatory Minimums and hand-delivered the lists to McGahn and Kushner.
Some policy advocates have urged Trump to create an in-house clemency commission that would supplement the work of the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which clemency advocates view as ineffectual and biased in favor of prosecutors. But so far, no official in-house review process has been announced.
A White House official responded to a request for comment by providing a description of how the standard clemency application process review works. But King said it’s her understanding that the White House is taking names and reviewing them through some in-house process.
“It’s not disorder, it’s a very orderly process. … I'm a person who believes in order, and I believe they have a good system in place," King said. "I didn’t try to go in and put a list in the president’s hands. ... You can get it to Jared Kushner’s office, and they will look at it."
Angela Stanton, a former prison inmate, author, and King’s goddaughter, took the lead in assembling King's list. She said that inmates who already served more than 10 years in prison were given priority.
“Everybody deserves to get out and everybody deserves a second chance,” Stanton said. “The majority of these people decided to go to trial, and if they had not gone to trial, they would have been home.”
A couple names on the list already were submitted to the White House, such as Michelle West, 25 years into a life sentence for drug-related crimes, and paralyzed inmate Michael Pelletier, 12 years into a life sentence for smuggling Canadian marijuana into Maine.
Others were profiled in a New York University report featuring inmates left behind by an Obama administration push to shorten drug sentences, including Lavonne Roach, a mother of three who is 20 years into a 30-year methamphetamine sentence; Chad Marks, who is more than a decade into a 40-year sentence for drug dealing; David Barren, 10 years into a 30-year cocaine sentence; and Craig Cesal, who since 2003 has been serving a life sentence for marijuana crimes.
King discussed her list with the Examiner the same week as former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted of tax and bank fraud. Trump publicly expressed sympathy for Manafort, resulting in significant discussion of whether he would issue a pardon. There's also been broad speculation about whether he would pardon former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI.
The social advocate said she's not interested in weighing in on whether Trump should give clemency to his former aides ensnared in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
"I don't feel qualified to answer those types of questions," she said. "There could always be room for human compassion. I think every case should one by one be considered."