Rod Blagojevich: Ex-Illinois governor gets prison break from Trump

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The Celebrity Apprentice — Pictured: (l-r) are Rod Blagojevich, Michael Johnson and Donald Trump. (Mitch Haaseth/NBC)

By Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Ross Weidner, ABC7 News

President Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. His 14-year prison sentence is expected to be commuted to time served.

Trump spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon before he boarded Air Force One, calling Blagojevich’s sentence “ridiculous.”

“We have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich,” Trump said. “He served eight years in jail – a long time… I don’t know him very well, I’ve met him a couple of times. He was on for a short while on ‘The Apprentice’ years ago.”

Blagojevich has been locked up for more than seven years at the Federal Correctional Institution-Englewood south of Denver, Colorado.

Trump noted that Blagojevich, 63, is a Democrat and that “many people disagree with the sentence.”

“There was a prosecution by the same people – Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group,” Trump said.

President Trump appears to be referring to former FBI Director James Comey and former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Pat Fitzgerald. Comey was not the director of the FBI at time of the Blagojevich investigation.

The timing of Blagojevich’s actual release from the prison is not certain, but the process is expected to move quickly. Prior to presidential action, Blagojevich was looking at a release date of March 2024.

“He’s very far from his children, they’re growing older, they’re going to high school now,” Trump said. “They don’t get to see their father outside of an orange uniform. I saw that and I did commute his sentence. So he’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail. That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others.”

Talk of clemency for Blagojevich had been brewing since the convicted governor lost his final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2018. Former Illinois First Lady Patti Blagojevich had been waging a public relations campaign, apparently hoping that President Trump would hear her cries for clemency.

In June of 2018, the possibility gained traction when President Trump mentioned that he was considering such a move.

Blagojevich and Trump do have history. Trump hosted Blagojevich on his Celebrity Apprentice TV show in 2010.

In a separate, and now unnecessary procedure, Blagojevich’s attorneys filed paperwork with the Department of Justice asking for a sentence commutation. That official method can take years and usually doesn’t end well for applications. In the case of executive clemency by a president, there are no rules or regulations as to how it is carried out or who receives White House mercy.

In 2011, Blagojevich was convicted on 17 counts related to the attempted sale of Barack Obama’s U.S. senate seat and the fundraising shakedowns of a children’s hospital executive and a racetrack owner. About a year earlier, the impeached governor’s initial criminal trial ended with a jury deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI, forcing a retrial.

LAWMAKERS REACT TO BLAGOJEVICH COMMUTATION

Illinois lawmakers are responding to the news that Blagojevich’s sentenced has been commuted.

In a written statement, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said: “Illinoisans have endured far too much corruption, and we must send a message to politicians that corrupt practices will no longer be tolerated. President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time. I’m committed to continuing to take clear and decisive steps this spring to prevent politicians from using their offices for personal gain, and I will continue to approach this work with that firm conviction.”

Democratic State Rep. Will Davis, who represents Chicago’s south suburbs, told ABC7’s Craig Wall he was “stunned and surprised by the news.

“We have a president who is more about the theatrics of governing than the reality of governing,” Rep. Davis said. “I’m sure this effort is more about just trying to detract from those things that he is challenged with as a president, versus focusing his efforts and energies on real, substantive issues that impact the country.”

In a written statement, Illinois GOP chairman Tim Schneider said: “In a state where corrupt, machine-style politics is still all too common, it’s important that those found guilty serve their prison sentence in its entirety. Rod Blagojevich is certainly no exception. The former Governor’s proven record of corruption is a stain upon Illinois and its citizens. We must stand up and send the message that corruption will not be tolerated in Illinois.”

State Senator Cristina Castro (D-Elgin), who serves on the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, issued the following statement: “Rod Blagojevich’s sentence was commuted because he is friends with the president and appeared on his realty show, and no other reason. The misdeeds he committed while governor of our great state are disgraceful and embarrassing, and it’s a shame that his friendship with the president affords him the luxury of not facing the full consequences of his actions.”

This article originally appeared on ABC7 News.

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