President Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.
“Yes, we commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews . “He served eight years in jail, a long time.”
President Trump: "Yes, we have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich." pic.twitter.com/gnTC07fu35
— CSPAN (@cspan) February 18, 2020
Blagojevich, 63, was impeached in 2009 after being accused of multiple instances of corruption, including attempting to sell the seat of then President-elect Barack Obama. He was later convicted of 11 counts related to the attempt to sell the Senate seat, as well as 6 counts related to an attempt to extort money from a children’s hospital for campaign contributions.
“I’ve got this thing, and it’s fucking golden,” Blagojevich was recorded saying in regards to Obama’s seat. “I’m just not giving it up for fucking nothing. It’s a fucking valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”
Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison, which he began serving in 2012.
Over the years, Blagojevich’s wife Patti made several appearances on news channels – particularly Fox News – to make the case for clemency for her husband. In January, the former governor himself penned an op-ed from prison saying that House Democrats would’ve impeached President Abraham Lincoln for obstructing Congress.
President Trump floated the idea of commuting Blagojevich’s sentence multiple times. In May of 2018, he said the former governor was convicted for “being stupid, saying things … many other politicians say.” In August 2019, the President tweeted that White House staff were “reviewing the matter.” In October, he asked donors at a fundraiser at his Chicago hotel for a show of hands from people who supported clemency.
Rod Blagojevich, the former Governor of Illinois, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He has served 7 years. Many people have asked that I study the possibility of commuting his sentence in that it was a very severe one. White House staff is continuing the review of this matter.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2019
On Tuesday Trump said that though he didn’t “know him very well,” he had met Blagojevich “a couple of times,” referencing the former governor’s time on the Apprentice, and that he had “watched his wife on television.”
“Seems like a very nice person…don’t know him,” Trump said. “He served 8 years in jail, has a long time to go. Many people disagreed with the sentence. He’s a Democrat, he’s not a Republican. It was a prosecution by the same people, Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group. Very far from his children. They’re growing older, they’re going to high school now, they rarely get to see their father outside of an orange uniform. I saw that and I did commute his sentence.”
Political figures in Illinois from both sides of the aisle condemned Trump’s decision.
“Illinoisans have endured far too much corruption, and we must send a message to politicians that corrupt practices will no longer be tolerated,” Governor JB Pritzker said in a statement to NBC5. “President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believes [sic] this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”
Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider called Blagojevich’s record as governor a “stain upon Illinois and its citizens” in a statement emailed to press. “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,” Schneider wrote. “Rod Blagojevich is certainly no exception.”
Other Illinois politicians took to Twitter to give their opinions.
— Illinois Comptroller (@ILComptroller) February 18, 2020
The commutation of Rod Blagojevich’s sentence by President Trump is yet another reason ethics reform must be passed at both the state and federal level. We must pass ethics reform during this legislative session to ensure we never have another case like Blagojevich’s. https://t.co/lkbiPnmfat
— Julie Morrison (@SenatorMorrison) February 18, 2020
It's extremely disappointing that Donald Trump thinks someone who extorted a children’s hospital is deserving of clemency. https://t.co/9hkvKAlLOA
— Senator Dave Koehler (@SenatorKoehler) February 18, 2020