Criminal-justice reform advocate Alice Johnson spoke on behalf of President Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention Thursday night. But that doesn’t mean she supports him in the 2020 election.
Appearing Friday on CNN with Jake Tapper—just hours after Trump issued her a full pardon—Johnson explicitly declined to endorse his campaign.
During the interview, Tapper pointed out that while she “praised President Trump for his compassion” in commuting her life sentence for a first-time drug offense, she “did not formally endorse him” in her remarks. “Was that intentional?” he asked. “Do you endorse him?”
“Well, you know, I’m so appreciative of everything the president has done. And of course I support him as a president,” Johnson replied. She explained that as of Thursday night she did not have the right to vote as a convicted felon and had therefore not yet registered to vote in the 2020 election. “So I thought it would have been a little bit hypocritical of me to not be able to vote, and then say, I’m endorsing,” she said. “But I do support the work and things that the president is doing.”
“Do you want him to be re-elected?” Tapper asked directly.
“Well, I would like to continue to work with him on criminal-justice reform. So I would like to see that happen, to be able to continue to do this work,” Johnson replied. “But Jake, for me, this is not about politics, this is about people. And I try to really stay focused on what my mission is.”
She added, “This really is not a partisan issue, criminal justice reform. It’s something that reaches across the aisle, that has affected, that has impacted both Republicans, independents, Democrats. It’s American citizens who have been impacted by this.”
Though she would not endorse the president’s re-election directly, Johnson did push back on the notion that he is “racist,” telling Tapper, “I have not seen President Trump on a personal level—you know, I don’t just anyone's heart.” Noting the president “has been very kind” to her, she added, “I know him personally and I don’t see that in him.”
Those who’ve worked with Johnson say that her non-endorsement of Trump 2020 fits with how she’s long operated as a pragmatist.
“Alice is someone who finds this issue more important than politics: she will work with either party to make sure the women she says she left behind also have access to a second chance,” said a reform advocate familiar with her work. “On her not endorsing Trump, I assume that’s because she doesn’t want to make this work a party issue. She wants to work with anybody who supports this issue. She’s spoken on bipartisan panels. She’ll work with anybody... And I think that’s why she spoke at the convention.”
The source continued: “Last night, when she said ‘God bless Trump,’ she’s obviously very grateful to him. But her message overall was focused on the issue she cares about, and reaching the widest audience she could with her message of hope and redemption... Going forward, whoever is president next year, I don’t think she wants to put herself in a box.”
During a brief interview with The Daily Beast last week, Johnson conspicuously did not once mention Trump’s name.
“I’ll be there [at the GOP convention] talking about criminal justice reform, that is my main mission,” Johnson said. “I’m there because I’ve been affected by our criminal justice system, and that’s my mission.”
She added, “I left so many people behind, and I made a promise to the women there that I would fight for this wherever and whenever I can.”
—Asawin Suebsaeng contributed reporting.