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"Previously on the West Wing" spoken by C.J.

As the State of the Union speech nears, the President ponders a lengthy list of prisoners eligible for pardon -- but he must weigh the political implications of "the benign prerogative" -- while Charlie befriends an attractive young woman and shares insider tidbits until he learns that she will begin the White House beat as a reporter. Elsewhere, Toby takes the heartland's temperature by joining pollster Joey on a mall polling tour that could affect the language of the upcoming speech. In addition, the First Lady vows to be more pro-active in influencing her husband while Bartlet entertains a Colorado couple whose fundraising efforts also include an impassioned plea.


Opening - January 20th[]

C.J. is talking to Toby about the upcoming State of the Union.  Carol tells C.J. that "Gentle Ben" has called again and C.J. tells her to keep him on hold.  Donna comes to see C.J., Donna's face tells C.J. that something bad has happened.  Senior Staff come to Leo's office to inform the President.  Outside the Oval Office - Meeshell comes to see Charlie, and she slaps him - just as the President comes out of the Oval.

Act I[]

Meeshell apologizes about hitting Charlie and the two of them start to talk about what happened:

Three Weeks Earlier - New Years Eve[]

Charlie is at a party at Angela's where she meets Meeshell (an intern for the Afro-American) and the two of them talk. 

January 6th- C.J. and Carol talk about Ben, who is calling repeatedly.  C.J. spots Toby and they talk about the State of the Union, which is finished and looks great.  Donna and Josh are talking and he has learned that Joey Lucas is around and wants to talk about the State of the Union Message.  When Joey appears, she is pregnant.

In Leo's office, Joey is briefing the Senior Staff on the State of the Union - and proposes a focus group to test the speech.  Angela comes to see Leo to tell him there is a bill making its way through Congress and it may be ready for the President to sign - but there's an amendment that's been attached.

January 8th- Margaret is giving Toby the details on the focus group - he is going to Michigan to meet with Joey and to observe the focus group. Margaret tells Toby that he has a new assistant, Rena, who "started" at the White House during the shutdown.

Angela comes to the Oval Office, where she sees Charlie reading a copy of the Afro-American.  She asks him about Meeshell, and then goes into the Oval Office where Josh and Leo are waiting, talking about the Crime Bill. The bill about to make its way to the President's desk.

Abbey and the President arrive in the Oval Office and they talk about the details of the bill.  Leo offers caution about making pardons at the same time as the crime bill.  Leo, Angela, and Josh talk about how to respond to the First Lady's comments on moving forward with pardons.  Leo tells them to slow the process down so as to not distract from the State of the Union.

Act II - January 10th[]

Josh and C.J. are talking about possible candidates for a Presidential Pardon.  She wants to know if there are any definite names.  Josh tells her to deflect any questions about pardons.  In Josh's office, Donna has the files on pardons - he tells her to look through the files.

Grand Rapids Mall[]

Joey is explaining to Toby how the focus groups work - respondents will be shown three versions of the speech and will be asked which one they like best.

Charlie is talking to Meeshell on the phone, he offers to show her around the White House.  Will comes by and asks for five minutes with the President for the Kaehlers, a prominent Colorado fundraising couple, who are coming to Washington. The President and Leo are meeting about pardons - the President asks about the meeting that's taking place - when the President realizes that no one from Counsel's office is in the meeting, nor is Josh, the President gets up and goes into the meeting where Donna is meeting with the Pardon Attorney.  They discuss the people on the list and how to go about getting some people they want to pardon - by adding some names that won't stir controversy.

Sunday - January 11th[]

Charlie brings Meeshell to the White House and gives her a tour.  Meeshell tells Charlie that she has taken a job for NBC and will be part of the White House Press Corps.  He is very angry with her. They meet Donna, who is going over the pardon files. 

In the residence, Abbey and Jed talk about pardon candidates.

Act III - January 13th - Bradenton, Florida[]

At the focus group - Toby stops a man who was walking away in disgust to ask him what the problem is.  He tells Toby that "to impress him, just do something."  Josh calls and tells Toby that Toby needs to come back to the White House - the President is making decisions that may affect the State of the Union.

At the White House - the Senior Staff discuss the planned veto of the Crime Bill and the presidential pardons.  Toby proposes a bold strategy - veto the bill / amendment on the day before the State of the Union, followed by the list of pardons, and then go deliver the State of the Union with a strong, forceful message.

Margaret comes to tell Leo the First Lady has called about President's Day - they won't take no for an answer. 

January 16th- C.J. is talking with Carol. C.J.'s old flame, Ben, has been calling frequently - C.J. finally gives in and agrees to talk to him the next time he calls.  She then sees Charlie and asks about Meeshell - Charlie tells her to not worry about it - she doesn't need to extend her any special invitations.  Angela comes to see Charlie about Meeshell.  She tells him to give her a chance - but he's angry at her for not being truthful with her.

Donna comes to see Josh to tell him that a prominent fundraising couple are waiting in the Mural Room.  She is angry at having to deal with the list of commutations and pardons.  Will comes to see Josh to tell him that the fundraisers are actually here to make a case for their son for clemency.  Josh comes to see the President to tell him about the Kaehler's son - Josh brings Donna in, she has met with the Kaehlers and makes their case to the President.  Unfortunately, the President decides he can't commute the boy's sentence at this time.

Act IV - January 20th - Morning of the State of the Union[]

The President is rehearsing the State of the Union in the Oval Office.

That Night Before[]

Leo is in his office when Abbey comes to see him - they talk about things - including his ex-wife's upcoming wedding and Abbey's invitation to Leo to spend time with them in New Hampshire.

Donna answers the phone at her desk and is disturbed at what she hears.  She comes to C.J. to tell her that the Kaehler's son has killed himself in prison.  Senior Staff come to tell the President, Donna runs off, Josh goes after her.

Angela walks in with Meeshell - Angela tells Meeshell to stay away from Charlie, but she comes to see him anyway.  They argue but the conversation ends with the two of them at odds.

Two Hours Later[]

At the White House, Donna brings the Special Guests into the Mural Room to meet with the President.  The Special Guests are those who were pardoned by the President.

Trivia / Goofs[]

  • The Afro-American is a prominent publication.
  • The pardon of fictional tribal leader Gabriel Lesseur discussed in the episode is most likely a reference to Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist who was convicted of the murder of two FBI agents during a conflict at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. His story is recounted in the 1992 doumentary, Incident at Oglala.
  • It is mentioned that early in Bartlet's his first term as governor of New Hampshire and on the advice of his parole board, he released a man named Wallace Turner, who is strongly implied to have then carried out a serious crime - this decision haunted Bartlet politically and personally years later. Joshua Molina compared this to the Willie Horton scandal in real life from when Michael Dukakis was Massachusetts governor[1]
  • "Grand Rapids Mall" is not a real location in Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Stephen Lee, who portrays the Registered Voter, also appeared in the 1998 film The Negotiator with John Spencer.
  • Charlie's business card lists an email address on @opd.eop.gov, which is a real domain used by the US federal government, however it would be used for staff in the Office of Policy Development[2]. It's more likely that Charlie would have had an email address on @who.eop.gov, the White House Office domain, as Charlie had never worked in the Office of Policy Development.


Donna Moss: 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 molesters get. I don't see a list anymore. These are people.



Special Guest Stars[]

Guest Starring[]


  • Melissa Fitzgerald as Carol Fitzpatrick
  • Chris Gardner as First Guest
  • Wil Hall as Other Guest
  • Mark Costello as Guest
  • Breena Shepard as Kandy Holmes
  • Anthony R. Jones as Holmes
  • Charles Howerton as Actor President
  • Brooke Baumer as Bradenton Pollster
  • Charles C. Stevenson Jr. as Bradenton Pollster #2
  • Bradley James as Secret Service Donnie
  • Doug Hale as Network Host


"The West Wing" Benign Prerogative (2004)