West Wing Continuity Guide
path: Home / Fifth Season Episodes * #511 "The Benign Prerogative"
Janel Maloney as assistant Donna Moss
NBC Photo: Michael O'Neill

Written by: Carol Flint, Directed by: Christopher Misiano
Takes Place: Starts the night of the State of the Union and has flashbacks to New Year's eve.
Broadcast: January 14, 2004
Query: Where does the title come from?

Charlie got involved with an intern for an Afro-American publication on New year's eve at a party at Angela's place. Later Angela encourages him to continue the relationship.
"Are you the devil?" Charlie asks her.
"It's folks that act like angels that I worry about."

Toby has finished the State of the Union speech early and Joey Lucas's polling says it is ready for prime time. Meanwhile, Bartlet is annoyed with another amendment from Congress that limits the discretion of judges. He wants to talk about pardons and mandatory sentences.
"War on Drugs. War on Crime. Somehow, it turned into a war on judges.
"Apparently," Abbey says, "we no longer need subtle minds on the bench."
Later after the President and First Lady leave the room, Josh asks Leo, "Could there be a worse time to consider pardons?"

Though Josh has been told to do some preliminary research on pardons, he doesn't want it to appear to be something the Deputy Chief of Staff is involved with so he delegates Donna to read 36 files and to meet with Justice. But the President becomes involved in the meeting on "victims of minimums".

And back to the Charlie story, his new girlfriend's internship is ending and she has accepted a "really entry level job in the Press Corps."
You're covering the White House --- the President.... You didn't mention this.... Everything I said was off the record.... He depends on my discretion.... He's not just the President!"
"...I really don't think this should change anything." Charlie doesn't answer but he now looks on her with suspicion.

Toby joins Joey in malls to test aspects of how the speech should be delivered. One tester expressed disgust and walks out. Toby follows and asks him why he walked out.
"Politics. What is it you want? You want to make me feel I'm part of the club? ...Well, you won't do it with words. Not words that are pre-tested and reworked, sanded down, wrapped in a bow. Hey, you want to impress me? Do something. Talk's cheap, Pal...."
"What was that?" Rina asks.
"That's my guy," Toby tells his new assistant. "That's who I write for."

Toby is called back when the President wants to go ahead with some pardons. C.J. is having trouble explaining this to the Press. Josh tells her,
"He's strictly granting computations where minimums and guidelines have resulted in unfair sentences...."
"Actually I think the President's instinct is right. We don't run away from this.... in the State of the Union."

Leo agrees and wants the pardons restricted to five or six of the most sympathetic. Donna thinks the list has been culled enough,
"A lot of them, their judges spoke at their sentencing about the harshness of what they had to impose.... Scrutinize away. You tell me? Do we toss out Daisy Aimes, mother of three... had a boyfriend who stored a kilo in her closet. She's done eight years and is facing eleven more. That's longer than rapists and child molestors get.... I don't see a list anymore. These are people."

Josh supports Donna and with one exception so does the President. The morning of the State of the Union speech, we see him practicing it:
"We have to listen to what our Federal Judges are telling us about the sentencing guidelines and Mandatory Minimums. And Congress has to wean themselves from the expensive high they get inacting laws which appear tough on crime but are ineffective. I will never surrender in the War on Drugs but if you are consistently getting slaughter on the battlefield, you've probably misjudged your enemy."

Of course, it's not that easy.

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