Trump Considering Commuting Blago’s Sentence

President Trump says he's thinking about commuting the sentenced of Rod Blagojevich, who has served seven years of the fourteen-year sentence he received for public corruption.

On the way back to Washington from El Paso on Wednesday, President Trump told reporters that he is likely to commute the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich:

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Wednesday night that he was “strongly considering” commuting the 14-year prison sentence of Rod R. Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who was convicted of trying to essentially sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for personal gain.

But after a day of pushback from conservatives and the Illinois delegation of House Republicans, Mr. Trump was having second thoughts, people close to him said. On Thursday night, he said on Twitter that the matter was simply being reviewed.

White House officials had said the move could come as early as this week, but the president began to face mounting blowback given that Mr. Blagojevich’s crime has long been seen as the epitome of the kind of pay-to-play that Mr. Trump has claimed he wanted to stop when he took office.

Mr. Trump disclosed his initial plans aboard Air Force One on Wednesday after a day of highly critical news coverage that focused on the reception toward the president as he traveled to the sites of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 dead.

Describing the incriminating phone call in which Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, was taped discussing selling the seat as mostly a minor offense, Mr. Trump told reporters that it was something “many” politicians have done.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly; he was given close to 18 years in prison,” Mr. Trump said. “And a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things — and it was the same gang, the Comey gang and all these sleaze bags that did it. And his name is Rod Blagojevich. And I’m thinking about commuting his sentence.”

The men have crossed paths before. Before reporting to federal prison in 2012, Mr. Blagojevich appeared on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” a spinoff of the reality TV show that Mr. Trump starred in for 14 seasons.

The president decided this week that he would commute the sentence, according to two people with knowledge of the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser who has internally championed pardons and commutations, had suggested Mr. Blagojevich be pardoned, according to one administration official. Another official said that Mr. Kushner had merely favored a commutation. While Mr. Kushner said it would appeal to Democrats, this official said, he pointed to some high-profile figures like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who wrote a letter to the president supporting a commuted sentence and “a full pardon.”

Other aides told Mr. Trump that a pardon would be politically unwise given the nature of Mr. Blagojevich’s conviction; instead, commuting the sentence was what had been settled on, despite the lingering reservations of some aides.

In May 2018, Mr. Trump suggested that he was considering commuting Mr. Blagojevich’s sentence. A month later, official paperwork was filed requesting the commutation.

Speaking on the plane on Wednesday, the president noted: “He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”

Mr. Trump referred to Mr. Blagojevich’s wife, Patti Blagojevich, who has personally appealed to the president on Fox News to relieve her husband’s jail term.

“His wife, I think, is fantastic and I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly. I think it’s enough, seven years,” Mr. Trump told reporters.

Despite Trump’s apparent decision, House Republicans from Illinois are objecting to the idea:

House Republicans in the Illinois delegation are calling for President Trump to not commute the prison sentence of former Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving 14 years on federal corruption charges. 

The push comes in the wake of Trump telling reporters Wednesday he was “very strongly” considering commuting the sentence of the former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant — who was removed from office in 2009 and convicted of multiple charges, including attempting to sell former President Obama’s Senate seat — saying he believes Blagojevich “was treated unbelievably unfairly.” ADVERTISEMENT

In a statement released Thursday, GOP Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, and Mike Bost argued commuting the former governor could further the pattern of corruption among high-ranking politicians in the state. 

“It’s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois where four of our last eight Governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption,” they wrote. 

“Commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, who has a clear and documented record of egregious corruption, sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials. We stand by our letter and urge the President to not commute Rod Blagojevich’s sentence.”

That previous letter was sent in 2018 when Trump first suggested that he was considering granting clemency to Blagojevich, who has been in a Federal prison for seven years now. In part, that letter stated as follows:

“As you know, Illinois has gone through a difficult period of public corruption in the past, with several of our recent governors falling to corruption charges and convictions. This trend reached its pinnacle with the impeachment, and later criminal conviction, of former Gov. Blagojevich on 18 counts of public corruption including lying to federal agents, wire fraud, extortion, and bribery,” they wrote.

“The events leading up to his impeachment, conviction and sentencing to 14 years in prison grew out of a series of actions by the former governor that showed a consistent pattern of public corruption – both within the State of Illinois and it’s agencies – culminating in the ultimate act of public corruption attempting to sell a United States Senate seat.”

The charges against Blagojevich are rooted, of course, in the aftermath of the 2008 election after which Illinois ended up with an empty Senate seat due to the fact that Barack Obama was elected President. As Governor, Blagojevich had the responsibility to select someone who would serve in Obama’s place until a Special Election could be held according to law. Ultimately, Blagojevich ended up appointing Roland Burris to take Obama’s spot, which he did until Mark Kirk was elected in 2010.

Not long after Burris was appointed, though, it became clear that Blagojevich had engaged in a vast conspiracy to essentially sell the appointment to fill Obama’s seat. Most infamously, the former Governor was recorded say in reference to the appointment “I’ve got this thing and it’s (expletive) golden, I’m not just giving it up for (expletive) nothing.” Within a month after Obama had been elected President, Blagojevich was arrested and charged with over 20 counts of public corruption in relation to the appointment. By early January 2009, he was impeached by the Illinois House and, later, convicted and removed from office by the State Senate. The former Governor finally went to trial on the Federal charges in 2010 and he was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. As noted, he began serving his sentence in 2012.

The fact that Trump would use his power to grant a pardon or clemency to help Blagojevich isn’t entirely surprising. More so than any previous President before him, Trump has used that power to benefit people who are close to him or who are favored by political allies or others who have had the chance to lobby him one-on-one. The most prominent of these cases have been conservatives such as former Maricopa County, Arizona Joe Arpaio, former Chief of Staff to Vice-President Dich Cheny Scooter Libbey, and right-wing filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza. He has also granted pardons at the urging of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, and while some of those cases have had merit the fact that they came about because a celebrity chose to curry favor with the President is a pretty apt demonstration of how Trump views this power.

As noted, Trump knows Blagojevich due to the fact that the former Governor appeared the ninth season of Celebrity Apprentice, which was shot and aired prior to the time that he went to trial on the Federal corruption charges. Blagojevich was “fired” from the show during the season’s fourth episode but apparently had developed a good relationship with Trump. Good enough that Trump is now apparently ready to cut his Federal sentence in half.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, U.S. Constitution, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Hey Chump! When you get done with Blagojevich, why don’t you pardon Steve Stenger, the most corrupt Democrat in the history of STL county governance, and a guy who was so obviously breaking the law that he went from indicted to guilty in less than one month. I wonder just what corruptions the Feds agreed to ignore to get him to plead guilty so quickly. I figure there were some wealthy and well connected people putting pressure on both sides of that negotiation.

    In a statement released Thursday, GOP Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, and Mike Bost argued commuting the former governor could further the pattern of corruption among high-ranking politicians in the state.

    It’s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois where four of our last eight Governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption,” they wrote.

    “Commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, who has a clear and documented record of egregious corruption, sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials. We stand by our letter and urge the President to not commute Rod Blagojevich’s sentence.”

    The complete surrender to cognitive dissonance necessary to write this letter, using this language, to this president, boggles the mind.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    I would say that the attitude here in Illinois is that Trump is bonkers. Blago isn’t liked here–the support for him was more along the lines of “what’s he doing that other shysters haven’t done here in Illinois politics?” rather than “Blago, great guy!”

    Trump’s fee-fees must have REALLY gotten burned at that roast by President Obama. The only reason I can see why Trump would be doing this “pardon” of Blago is because in his tiny little mind he thinks that this somehow negates President Obama’s resignation of the Senate seat and gets rid of his presidency. As it is, he’s just coming off as a deluded old man yelling at clouds.

    (Sorry, Charlie. President Obama has, and always will, have more class in one skin cell than you have in your entire body. )

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist: (Sorry, Charlie. President Obama has, and always will, have more class in one black skin cell than you have in your entire body. ) FTFY so that the dif can really get under the lily white skin of most of his supporters.

  4. Kathy says:

    If a corrupt politician won’t stand up for another corrupt politician, then who will?

  5. Slugger says:

    I’m o.k. with letting Blago go. I have read that his personal wealth is largely dissipated, and his prospects for getting a public office are dim. I suspect his general employment options are probably limited. I get no kicks from the destruction of human lives by prolonged imprisonment.
    The law and its sanctions should function to deter wrongdoing. The deterrence is a function of the harshness of the sanctions and the risk of being caught. In many situations we have a low rate of apprehension and conviction, and we try to overcome this problem by the harshness of the sentence. We don’t catch many but try hard to destroy what we do catch. The harshness and length of our sentences result in a very expensive penal system. This may actually increase recidivism. A 23 year old guy who spends fifteen years in one of our prisons might not have a lot of options on release. Politicians are wimpy guys which is why they talk tough; five years is enough deterrence.
    Blago is 62. Whether he is released now or at age 69, he will be an old ex-con with few prospects. In my opinion, keeping him in serves more to throw someone on a pyre for the amusement of the crowd than to keep us safe from wrongdoing.

  6. KM says:

    @Slugger :

    Whether he is released now or at age 69, he will be an old ex-con with few prospects.

    Wingnut welfare, man. He gets a pardon from Trump, he’ll start shilling for him like you wouldn’t believe. Yeah he was a Dem but he’s in it for the money first and foremost. Conservatives will get a new pet “liberal” to spout on about failing commie policies and how radical his former side is. They won’t care how dirty this guy is or the ethics of it all – he’ll talk shit about Dems on command for them and that’s worth a paycheck or two.

    Your avergage elderly released prisoner is screwed in terms of jobs. Blago? Oh, he’ll find him some grift PDQ, you can bet on that!

  7. Slugger says:

    @KM: He’ll start shilling for Trump? I don’t think that his endorsement has much value. I don’t think Trump will pay him anything since Trump is famous for never picking up the check. Seriously, I doubt that anti-Trump voters will be swayed by Blagojevich. Will he be able to get some political sinecure? Politicians operate on a quid pro quo system, and he has little to give. He won’t be a rainmaker.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    We are being ‘groomed.’ Trump needs a few Democrats to pardon so that when he pardons Manafort, Gates, Stone and the rest of the criminal conspiracy with the Russians to steal the election, we’ll all shrug.

    12
    1
  9. Mister Bluster says:

    @Slugger:..The law and its sanctions should function to deter wrongdoing.

    Maybe…Illinois politicians convicted of crimes.

    It should be noted that Dan Walker was convicted and imprisoned after his term ended for crimes not related to government service.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    I love the comment made by Blago’s first lawyer, who finally walked out on him: “I don’t insist that my clients go along with my advice, but I do think they should at least listen to it!”

  11. Jen says:

    “He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”

    This is pretty much a guarantee that he has indeed been one of those many politicians who has said “a lot worse” over the phone.

    He thinks this will appeal to Democrats? This is Kushner’s idea? No one cares about Blago anymore, he’s done.

  12. An Interested Party says:

    Trump needs a few Democrats to pardon so that when he pardons Manafort, Gates, Stone and the rest of the criminal conspiracy with the Russians to steal the election, we’ll all shrug.

    Why would he pardon them at this point? He doesn’t show loyalty to most people and, unless he thinks any of them could still hurt him, why would he even care about them…

  13. Gustopher says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Why would he pardon them at this point? He doesn’t show loyalty to most people and, unless he thinks any of them could still hurt him, why would he even care about them…

    For winning. For taking whatever victories Robert Mueller and his merry band of out of control Democrats have had with this witch hunt, and smashing them. And to show that he can.

    This is what he has always meant by “so much winning.” He doesn’t care about Manafort or Flynn, he cares about whether his enemies are angry, and then whether Manafort and Flynn praise him.

    He isn’t loyal to those who work for him, but he does like some spite.

  14. Matt says:

    If this pardon happens it’ll be interesting to see how the trumpers in Illinois take it. The Trump supporters I know in Illinois HATE the Democratic party in Illinois and Blago. A pardon might actually hurt Trump in some of their eyes. Probably not though as these people can get quite creative at rationalizing their support for Trump…

  15. gVOR08 says:

    A small personal reminiscence on IL corruption. When I was at Univ of Illinois there was a news story that a favorite frat bar had been raided by uniformed cops checking IDs. Several students were hauled off and detained overnight. At the local driver’s license office. When contacted the local police and sheriff initially responded, “wha?” Turned out the cops were Secretary of State police. Who knew the SoS had police?

    There was a protest march. This was when Vietnam protests were common. The Prez of the local Young Republicans, some of whose frat bros had been detained, joined the protest, saying he didn’t’ hold with protests, but in such an egregious violation of civil rights yada yada.

    The leader of the raid, IIRC one “Porky” Porquero, got in trouble, on following up on the story reporters interviewed his wife in Springfield. And his wife in Chicago. Porky went to jail on bigamy charges. Later, and unrelated, the SoS, Paul Powell, died. The State Police went to close up his office and found his aids furiously hauling out records. They subsequently searched his residence and found boxes of cash. Illinois politics.

    Someone had a theory that corrupt parties like to keep one clean politician, for show and as sort of a hobby. In pre-war Missouri it was Harry Truman and in Illinois for a time it was Adlai Stevenson.

  16. Mister Bluster says:

    Who knew the SoS had police?

    The Secretary of State Police of Illinois is a statewide police force, established in 1913; it is responsible for enforcing the laws of the Illinois Vehicle Code such as regulating businesses involved with the sale of motor vehicles and vehicle parts. Its main purpose is to protect consumers against fraud through adherence to state statutes.
    WikiP