Former Illinois governor was convicted of corruption charges, once appeared on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’
By Jess Bravin and Alex Leary, The Wall Street Journal
President Trump on Wednesday, August 7, 2019 said he is considering commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Air Force One while traveling back to Washington from Texas, where he visited with victims and first responders from the mass shooting in El Paso.
Mr. Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2011 following a conviction on corruption charges.
“And a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things,” Mr. Trump said, having floated the idea in May 2018. “I think it’s enough, seven years.”
Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, appeared on Mr. Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality show in 2010.
The 62-year-old is midway through a 14-year sentence for multiple counts of corruption. He was arrested in December 2008 after he was heard on wiretaps allegedly seeking to sell an appointment to the Senate seat that Barack Obama had vacated upon his election as president.
“I’ve got this thing, and it’s f— golden. I’m just not giving it up for f—- nothing,” Mr. Blagojevich was overheard saying. Within weeks, he was impeached and removed from office by the Illinois Legislature.
The U.S. attorney who oversaw the prosecution, Patrick Fitzgerald, said Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest had “interrupted a political-corruption crime spree.”
A 2010 trial resulted in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked on most charges. Mr. Blagojevich was retried and convicted on 17 corruption counts the following year. In 2015, a federal appeals court in Chicago threw out four counts related to the Senate vacancy, but the severity of the remaining convictions—for soliciting bribes and related pay-to-play schemes—meant there was no reduction in his sentence.
Mr. Blagojevich has insisted to this day that to convict him, prosecutors had redefined corruption to include routine fundraising and political back-scratching.
Both to support himself and to make his case to the public, he spent the time between arrest and conviction mounting a media campaign, including the “Celebrity Apprentice” appearance.
Among those urging the president to act are the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
His oldest son, former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., was among those considered to fill Mr. Obama’s Senate seat. At Mr. Blagojevich’s 2011 trial, Mr. Jackson Jr. testified that he never offered to raise money or was asked to provide anything in exchange for the appointment, which the governor eventually gave to a former state attorney general.
But the then-congressman did testify that his relationship with Mr. Blagojevich had been “frosty” since 2002, when Mr. Jackson Jr. didn’t support his primary bid for governor.
Federal investigators turned their attention to Mr. Jackson Jr. after the Blagojevich trial, and in 2013 he pleaded guilty to one count of felony fraud for converting campaign funds to personal use.
In appeals for clemency, Mr. Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, and some conservative commentators have sought to portray his case as a trial run for the special counsel probe into President Trump’s campaign’s connections with Russia.
They point out that Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the time of Mr. Blagojevich’s arrest and that Mr. Fitzgerald is a former Justice Department colleague of James Comey, Mr. Mueller’s successor. Mr. Trump fired him in May 2017.
“It was the same gang, the Comey gang and all these sleazebags, that did it,” Mr. Trump said.
Messrs. Comey and Mueller have declined to comment on such insinuations.
This article originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.