Alice Marie Johnson’s Sentence Commuted By President Trump

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Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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51 Responses

  1. Avatar Em Carpenter
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    says:

    Compare/contrast the system which demanded a life sentence for this woman with the one that permitted Aaron Persky to give a rapist only 6 months.

    One is federal; one is state, obviously. But beyond that, I think it lays bare a lack of common sense and an unjustified disparity- the failed “war on drugs” vs a violent sex crime that leaves a specific victim dealing with lifelong consequences.

    Good on Trump (and I promise you all, I am extremely unlikely to ever say that again.) It may have been a favor for a celebrity, a gimmick for accolades, what have you, but it was the right thing to do. I hope to see more of this.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Em Carpenter
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      says:

      Would you rather have too many Type I errors or too many Type II errors?

      Report

      • Avatar Em Carpenter in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Tricky question.
        I don’t think its zero sum. One need not be sacrificed for the other and it is a matter of balance. I would like to see punishments that fit the crime. Obviously opinions will vary on that, but in no case would I imagine six months a fitting punishment for rape, or life in prison commensurate to drug dealing.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Em Carpenter
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          says:

          While I don’t think it’s zero sum, I do think that the only way to get down to an acceptable level of one is to enact policies and guidelines that will increase the other (and, get this, the privileged will always be able to game the crap out of the system anyway).Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Jaybird: Would you rather have too many Type I errors or too many Type II errors?

        Is it maybe possible that a lenient sentence for a White Stanford bro who commits rape and a harsh sentence for an unemployed Black mailwoman who works as secretary to a drug dealer aren’t actually errors that exist in opposition to each other?Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Em Carpenter
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      says:

      It’s because we just can’t really decide what we want our criminal justice system to do. Punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation?Report

      • Avatar Em Carpenter in reply to Oscar Gordon
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        says:

        That’s a good point. And I think the answer is all three, which may be unobtainable.Report

        • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Em Carpenter
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          says:

          Agree, it should be all three. There has to be a will though; piecemealing the justice system is how we got this current mess in the first place. There is broad support for reform if you can get the right people to drive it legislatively.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Em Carpenter
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          says:

          Something I’ve said before is that our CJ system is largely divorced from any concept of harm when it comes to making the sentence align to the crime; i.e. it’s too easy for the harm the crime causes to be utterly unrelated to the severity of the sentence.

          Thus we get financial crimes that leave large swaths of the population destitute resulting in light prison terms and no meaningful restitution, and minor drug crimes with little direct harm to any person resulting in life sentences.

          And why is this? My theory is that this is because the people setting the punishments look at such things and wonder, in the back of their mind, ‘is this something I could get in trouble doing?’. Thus fraud, financial crimes, corruption all get light sentences regardless of harm, and stuff like drugs gets severe stuff, because they need to be seen as tough on crime and besides, it’s not like they wouldn’t be able to wiggle out of such a charge if they were dumb enough to get caught.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon
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            says:

            @oscar-gordon

            This is where I have a hardtime with libertarianism and/or small/anti-government folks. When I read a lot libertarians and small or anti-government advocates, I feel like they believe the government is made of a different kind of person who thinks very differently than the average people on the street. It is these weirdo aliens in government that make things different.

            The government whether it be admin, policy types, lawyers, legislature, whomever is made of people. These people are not different from the average person on the street. They are not different than you and I.

            The reason we have really strict drug laws is because until very recently, a lot of Americans wanted very strict drug laws. This is not some conspiracy from above. This is something the majority of Americans wanted for a long time. This is still something that a great many Americans want. I think it is changing but more unraveling and reform will come slowly over years.

            As to white-collar crime, proving that is often really hard and requires a lot of resources. A prosecutor’s office and/or U.S. Attorney’s office does not necessarily have those resources believe it or not. They are often still no match for a White & Case or other white shoe firm.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw
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              says:

              We have what is effectively a political class that is typically in the top 5% or higher. You will have to work harder than that to convince me that politicians are just like everyone else (except at the very lowest levels of government).

              Alternatively, you can admit that corporate executives are just like everyone else and don’t see things very differently from the general population.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon
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                says:

                @saul-degraw

                And the political class gets to keep their jobs via elections. Our current drug laws were passed because of racism and moral panic in the early 1900s. That continued through the 20th century.

                There is change on marijuana and mainly in states where it can be done via proposition. I see very little evidence that most people are for legalizing harder drugs.

                The majority of Americans for our entire lives wanted harsh drug laws and rewarded politicians who promised to enact them by voting for these politicians into office.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw
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                I recall, just a decade ago, some very loud calls for financial crimes to be easier to prosecute and carry harsher sentences. How’s that coming along? Last I heard… Oh wait, I barely hear about it, because our political class isn’t interested in making it an issue the way they wanted to make drugs an issue (Nixon was the GrandDaddy of that, but many others followed suit).Report

            • Avatar Iron Tum in reply to Saul Degraw
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              says:

              This is where I have a hardtime with libertarianism and/or small/anti-government folks. When I read a lot libertarians and small or anti-government advocates, I feel like they believe the government is made of a different kind of person who thinks very differently than the average people on the street. It is these weirdo aliens in government that make things different.

              The government whether it be admin, policy types, lawyers, legislature, whomever is made of people. These people are not different from the average person on the street. They are not different than you and I.

              The reason we have really strict drug laws is because until very recently, a lot of Americans wanted very strict drug laws. This is not some conspiracy from above. This is something the majority of Americans wanted for a long time. This is still something that a great many Americans want. I think it is changing but more unraveling and reform will come slowly over years.

              There are a few problems with this:

              1. Statists/authoritarians seem to believe that government officials are NOT the same as everyone else, they are better. If the random person off the street shouldn’t be given the powers of life and death over others, why should a random person who has been given a robe, or a badge, or an American flag lapel pin?

              2. Government-types may begin life as no different than other people (though the existence of political dynasties may indicate otherwise) but people are shaped by their experiences. The educational backgrounds of career politicians and bureaucrats are not typical of the American population as a whole. And the lifestyle of the multi-decade politician is radically atypical.

              2a. Incentives matter. A police officer can beat, rob, rape, or kill someone and has a very high probability of getting away with it. This makes policeman a very attractive career for someone who would enjoy beating, robbing, raping, or killing someone without negative consequence. If someone is a petty, vindictive, abusive authoritarian, a judgeship is a dream job. Want to stand in front of cameras and condemn evildoers while having other people praise your righteousness? Right this way, Mx. congressperson. Since these jobs are not randomly assigned, the self selection effect indicates that government types will be drawn from a population morally worse than America as a whole. Power attracts the corruptible.

              3. Yes, Americans (and people in general) are susceptible to moral panics; whether it’s the opiate crisis, human trafficking, the devil weed, the demon rum, white slavery, the Masonic conspiracy, diabolism, etc. etc. This is why “democrat” was (and “demagogue” still is) a slur. It’s also why libertarians don’t distinguish between “democratic” and “populist” and also want to put fundamental rights well away from rules that can be changed by 50%+1 (or less, in the case of “I have a phone and a pen.” ) of the population.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Oscar Gordon
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        In the absence of doing any of those well (except maybe “punishment”), the answer seems to be “sequestration”.

        We don’t know what to do with these people and so we might as well put them aside until they’re too old to be much trouble.

        I’m pretty sure that using this as a response to the whole “recreational drugs” thing is a human rights violation of some sort but when it comes to crimes that involve violence? I’m hard-pressed to come up with a better solution. (Are we ready to have the “should we explore bringing back flogging” conversation? No?)

        The “release drug offenders” idea is one that I can very quickly and easily get behind but when it comes to crimes that even libertarians agree are crimes, what should we, as a society, do?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Em Carpenter
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      says:

      I agree 100 percent that Anne Marie Johnson should not have received such a severe sentence.

      But I don’t understand the overwhelming need for a lot of people with left-leaning views to “give credit where credit it due” when it comes to Trump. Trump antics, rants, and raves are so frequent and so odious that it makes it hard to think some action he undertakes doesn’t have a catch.

      Maybe this is only a gimmick and relatively low on the Trump is a bad faith actor problem but even then, I worry about our society and becoming driven by reality TV stars doing public advocacy and semi-policy work.

      Credit where credit is due is a noble instinct but one that feel like it leads to getting suckered.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        The alternative to saying “good on Trump” here is to basically pretend like he didn’t just do something that you’re glad that he did. I don’t know what the purpose of that would be. Doesn’t mean we’re suddenly fans. Just that I hope he does more things like this and fewer things like Arpaio and D’Souza.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman
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          I am a deeply cynical person. I think the election of Trump (even if a freak event) says something deeply is wrong with the state of American society possibly. Or maybe human nature considering the rise of authoritarian populism.

          But there is a strong power to be in denial of to this possibility or fact. We see it when people say credit where credit is due. We see it when pundits babble endlessly about how they hope or think Trump is becoming presidential!

          I have a large amount of contempt for pundits of this sort. At best, they are cowards. At worse, they are lick spittle lackeys who just want money and access and fawn in front of power. Or they just don’t want to go on American TV and talk about what is wrong because that is a quick way to lose a paycheck.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw
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            There is no cynicism that can outrun the actual events engulfing us.

            A President conspiring with a hostile foreign power to meddle in our elections, his family selling visas and trading trade favors for bribes, the various Cabinet officials selling their office to the highest bidder…I mean, African dictators are watching in amazement doing a slow golf clap.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Saul Degraw
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            says:

            I agree with most of this. In some ways I agree in different terms. In others, I think I agree with them more than you actually do.

            But I think equating being happy that Trump did a good thing with the above is off-base. It’s not cynical so much as pouty. A good thing is a good thing. I wish there were more of them, even though I don’t expect there to be. But the guy who did the good thing gets credit for doing the good thing.Report

            • Avatar Maribou in reply to Will Truman
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              says:

              @will-truman

              “But the guy who did the good thing gets credit for doing the good thing.”

              Yeah, I give Kanye a lot of credit for taking a major hit on the credibility front and freaking out half of everybody, in order to get his very savvy (and in this case, non-coincidentally pulchritudinous) wife into a room with Trump where she could convince / flatter / manipulate him into being an instrument of her and Kanye’s efforts to do a good thing.

              I also give Ms. Kardashian West a lot of credit, more than I’ve ever seen occasion to give her before for anything FWIW.

              Trump can have the half-a-teaspoon of credit I have left over.

              Seriously, this is one of the most frustrating things I hear about terrible people of Trump’s ilk. Like, yes, they probably DO do some good things. Rarely does any abuser manage to get by on abuse alone. If you don’t sweeten the pot with things that make people happy from time to time, you don’t last long. Perfectly consistent vile behavior is really hard to pull off successfully. But on the other hand it takes very little good behavior from an abusive person to keep most people hoping for more, despite the preponderance of evidence. (Intermittent reinforcement is relevant. I don’t buy behaviorism for normal-life psychology because Skinner literally starved his lab animals, so they weren’t in “normal” situations – but if you’re looking at shitty-situation psychology, for the same reason, his theories become a lot more plausible.)

              That said, if Trump had to do something to distract people from how totally miserable Melania looked at her press conference, I’m glad it was a good thing he chose to do.Report

      • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        I find what Saul is saying to be much in line with my thinking. Even though I moderate more than our friend does and try to just call balls and strikes with Trump despite harboring no illusions about his character, I think the “credit due” is a limited and somewhat meaningless thing. My concern here is Trumps involvement, and to a lesser extent Kardashians, is overshadowing the two underlying issues of how drug offenses are sentence in the federal system, and more to the point the lack of parole, or any review whatsoever, that should be the way cases like the Johnson one are handled and not dependent on advocacy and presidential whim.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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          says:

          Yes.
          This is the feudal lord demonstrating the Rule of Men over the Rule of Law.Report

          • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Chip Daniels
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            says:

            Perhaps, but I doubt he put that much thought in it; this seems like several streams crossed right in front of the president and he managed to handle it well, for a refreshing change. Clemency/Commuted sentence was appropriate action here, as opposed to full pardon, and other than the photo op with Kim K he didn’t make a show of it (by his standards). Not bad considering.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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          says:

          I agree that “credit due” ultimately doesn’t mean much, but that’s also why I find it unobjectionable.Report

          • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Will Truman
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            says:

            I’m ok either way…I don’t think its a medal worthy thing, at the same time you can get down the “right thing but did it the wrong way” rabbit hole pretty quickly with a personality like the president.Report

            • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Andrew Donaldson
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              says:

              A related thought is that I am really disinclined to give the president credit for what any president would do. Like, I’ve never congratulated him for being able to string together a conventional speech.

              But this isn’t something other presidents would necessarily do. As indicated by the fact that the last president didn’t do it.Report

              • Avatar Andrew Donaldson in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                Your first thought I agree with in principle and struggle with in practice. Indeed one of my chief pushbacks against the MAGA-land folks is that a good deal of what Trump has “accomplished” just about any republican president would have accomplished, probably with a lot less of the circus involved. But at the same time if its good its good and its dishonest to not say so.

                The contrast of his action here when President Obama declined at least three offical requests to do so makes this one a bit different. In researching the post I couldnt find any solid reasoning from reliable sourcing why he didnt, or his thinking on the matter. Some point to the mass group of pardons at the end of his term, many of similar charges and circumstances, and wonder why she wasnt included-but its all speculation. Same with the Jack Johnson pardon. Then again maybe wer are overthinking it and its more of a “only Nixon can go to China” thing, where Trump actually gets into these tangents and does things others lip service.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        Credit where credit is due is a noble instinct but one that feel like it leads to getting suckered.

        This is Trump we’re talking about. He, totally amoral that he is, found a way to indulge in his narcissism without wrecking (or even ending) people’s lives. He wouldn’t lose any sleep over leaving her to rot for the rest of her life. If he’s not rewarded for “good” behavior, we won’t see any more of it because he’s not going to do it for internal reasons.

        So I’m real good with getting “suckered” on this one. Similarly I’m good with him engaging in pro-growth economic policies and taking too much credit for job creation and so forth.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Em Carpenter
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      But it’s worth noting that both stories are extreme exceptions. Indeed, we never would have heard about either of them if they weren’t such outliers.

      I’ve seen estimates that men receive 63% longer prison sentences for the same crime on average.Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Pinky
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        The primary factor driving mass incarceration is overcriminalization combined with severe sentencing guidelines and enhanced sentencing statutes. Judges mostly stick to them, even at the federal level post Booker.

        Doing something for people with ridiculously long sentences for non-violent drug crimes is a good thing but basing the conversation around them is a dodge. Conservatives can give some leniency without damaging their law and order cred and progressives can throw a scrap to some strategic constituencies even though the broader movement doesn’t actually care about the issue, except maybe in a very theoretical way.Report

  2. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    So given what we know of the man, it is completely reasonable to ask with regard to these pardons, what favors/ money were offered and accepted?

    Because every action with this man is transactional.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      He probably got told that he’d get good will in return.

      If he discovers that he can get good coverage by using the pardon the way that it was intended by the founders…

      I shudder to think.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      I say yes but that makes me a pooh poohing cynic.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      What can’t be explained by greed must be explained by narcissism.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels
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      says:

      Every president does good and…well, at least questionable, things with the pardon. Trump doesn’t follow convention, so he’s not saving them up for his last couple of days. It’s that weird thing about him, that when it comes to criticism he’s somehow both off-the-charts sensitive and insensitive. We’ll see whether Trump overall pardons more people than the average president. It’s anybody’s guess. But without any evidence, we probably shouldn’t accuse Trump of being bought off, at least any more than most.Report

      • Avatar Iron Tum in reply to Pinky
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        “any more than most” is not a category that can be applied to Trump.

        Regardless of Wilson, Trump is the most racist president ever.
        Regardless of Johnson, Trump is the crudest, most lying president ever.
        Regardless of Kennedy, Trump is the most philandering president ever.
        Regardless of Clinton, Trump has raped more women than any president ever.
        Regardless of Truman, Trump is the worst president on civil rights ever.

        And when it comes to corruption and self enrichment… the list of presidents that may appear to be worse than Trump is currently very long, but Trump hasn’t completed a full term yet, so it will get pared down considerably.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Iron Tum
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          says:

          I was talking about pardons, which typically are issued near the end of a presidency.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Iron Tum
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          Truman and Clinton are remembered quite well by history. Without Johnson we might still not have the civil rights legislation which ultimately reformed the South. Kennedy died too soon for full eval but is normally liked. I doubt the racism thing is correct, some of our guys were seriously foul and some openly supported slavery.

          None of your examples were removed from office for their misdeeds and it’s now thought the GOP attempting to do so with Clinton was a mistake. More importantly, the American people have already given Trump a pass on being Trump, i.e. being a foul mouthed crude philandering ass.

          The actual standard is probably Nixon’s misuse of gov resources for his campaign’s benefit and trampling laws left right and center doing so.Report

  3. Avatar Aaron David
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    says:

    I would say the “greed” in this case is the desire for a greater portion of the African American vote. Compound this with greater job numbers for the black community and voices like Kanye, and you could see real movement in that direction.Report

  4. Avatar dragonfrog
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    says:

    I’m not one to attribute any kind of strategic thought beyond the basest to Trump, but I wonder now about Kanye West. Was his dragon energy / slaves were complicit in their enslavement business a deliberate play to get influence so he and Beyonce could do some good?Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to dragonfrog
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      @dragonfrog He and Kim, you mean?

      Or what does Beyonce have to do with it??Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Maribou
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        Well, now that Beyonce and JayZ (is that the right pairing?) know the price and cost of Presidential influence… is there anything *they* might want?Report

        • Avatar Maribou in reply to Marchmaine
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          says:

          @marchmaine Yes, that is, and if I were them I’d be thinking about it.

          I just don’t like the idea of anyone mixing up Kim and Beyonce (if that was what @dragonfrog was doing)… They’re not much alike beyond rich, pulchritudinous, super-famous, and media-savvy. (Plus the whole married-to-a-rapper thing.) Which, you know, doesn’t really make them peas in a pod.Report

          • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Maribou
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            Yes, Kanye and Kim is what I meant. Wow, those are two very different people to go getting mixed up.

            I don’t know where I got the idea that Beyonce was somehow involved in lobbying Trump on this, but I was still mixing that confused idea in with its being Kanye’s spouse who was doing so.Report

  5. Avatar Kolohe
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    The handwringing of the sort ‘Omg Trump is listening to celebrities’ seems forgetful of those times George Clooney lobbied for Dafur intervention, Bono for developing world debt relief, Meryl Streep against Alar (& for a new ERA), and everyone else that’s been in a movie or TV show and has testified in front of a congressional committee not quite out of that character?Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe
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    says:

    From what I’m reading, John Kelly and Don McGahn are going to make an effort to see that very few to no more of these cross Trump’s desk.Report

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