Politics

Trump Commutes Sentence Of Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich departs his Chicago home in 2012. On Tuesday, Trump commuted the 14-year sentence of Blagojevich, who has been serving a prison term after being convicted of corruption charges.
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich departs his Chicago home in 2012. On Tuesday, Trump commuted the 14-year sentence of Blagojevich, who has been serving a prison term after being convicted of corruption charges.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Updated 4:10 p.m. ET Tuesday

President Trump has commuted the sentence of the ex-governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, who has been imprisoned since being convicted on corruption charges over his attempt to sell the Senate seat vacated by then-President Barack Obama.

On Tuesday, the White House announced that Blagojevich is among 11 people who will be receiving clemency.

Those individuals include Edward DeBartolo Jr., former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal; convicted Wall Street financier Michael Milken, who became known as the "junk bond king"; and Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who pleaded guilty in 2009 to tax fraud and lying to federal officials.

"Oftentimes, pretty much all the time, I really rely on the recommendations of people who know them," Trump told reporters.

For years, Blagojevich's family and allies have been attempting to persuade the White House to intervene in the case after exhausting all legal appeals. His wife, Patti, has made repeated pleas on Fox News and other national outlets.

In a statement, the White House said Blagojevich exhibited "exemplary character" during his eight years in prison.

"He tutors and teaches GED classes, mentors prisoners regarding personal and professional development, and speaks to them about their civic duties," the statement said.

The move would free Blagojevich from prison four years before his scheduled release date. The commutation would keep his corruption convictions in place.

Blagojevich, once seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, was a contestant on Trump's former reality show The Celebrity Apprentice.

Trump has made sympathetic comments about Blagojevich in the past, having said publicly multiple times that Blagojevich's sentence was unfair.

Blagojevich, Trump said in 2018, was convicted for "being stupid, saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say."

Among the evidence federal prosecutors gathered on Blagojevich was his now-famous profanity on a phone call secretly recorded by the FBI about his attempt to profit from Obama's vacated Illinois Senate seat.

"I've got this thing, and it's f****** golden," Blagojevich said in the wiretapped call. "And I'm not just giving it up for f****** nothing."

The team that prosecuted Blagojevich reacted to the news of his commutation, saying in a statement to WBEZ that extortion by a public official is a "very serious crime."

"While the President has the power to reduce Mr. Blagojevich's sentence, the fact remains that the former governor was convicted of very serious crimes. His prosecution serves as proof that elected officials who betray those they are elected to serve will be held to account," the prosecution team said.

Blagojevich, 63, has been serving a 14-year prison sentence since 2012, and he would be eligible for release in 2024.

In 2010, after Blagojevich was removed as governor of Illinois over the corruption scandal, he appeared on Apprentice, where Trump fired Blagojevich before saying, "I feel badly for him. He tried, but I feel badly."

A jury convicted Blagojevich in 2010 of one count of lying to FBI agents, unable to reach a consensus on 23 other charges. But in 2011, another jury convicted him of 17 counts, including 10 of wire fraud and one count of soliciting bribes.

A judge sentenced him to 14 years in federal prison.

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