After thinking about it for over a year, President Trump announced on Tuesday that he has granted clemency to Rod Blagojevich, the Democrat Illinois governor who was convicted in 2010 of a wide array of corruption charges.
“I did commute his sentence. So he’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail,” Trump told reporters before departing for a multi-day trip to the West Coast. “That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others.”
Trump said he didn’t know Blagojevich “very well” but the former governor had been on his television show “The Apprentice” for a short while many years ago.
“Many people disagreed with his sentence,” Trump added, going on to point out that the prosecution was brought by some of the same people who perpetrated the Russia hoax.
“It was a prosecution by the same people—Comey, Fitzpatrick—same group,” he said. Then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald prosecuted the Blagojevich case along with former FBI Director James Comey. Fitzgerald joined Comey’s legal team in 2018.
Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office for corruption in January of 2009 after he solicited bribes for political appointments, including Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat after Obama was elected president in 2008.
The smoking gun in the case was tape recording of him speaking about the pay-for-play scheme involving Obama’s seat.
“I’ve got this thing, and it’s f*cking golden. I’m just not giving it up for f*cking nothing,” Blagojevich said in the phone call.
Blago was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison and reported to jail on March 15, 2012.
Under federal rules, Blago was eligible for early release in March 2024, based on good behavior. By commuting his sentence, Trump shortened his prison term by four years.
The president first talked about commuting Blagojevich’s sentence in 2018. Trump broached the subject again last summer, telling reporters aboard Air Force One that he was inclined to commute Blago’s sentence.
“You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people,” Trump said at the time. “They put him in jail for 18 years, and he has many years left. And I think it’s very unfair.”
Several high profile Illinois Democrats have in the past called for a reduced sentence for Blago, including Sen. Dick Durbin and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, The Hill reported.
But members of the Illinois House Republican delegation issued a statement last year amid talk of clemency for Blagojevich discouraging Trump from the move, citing the state’s long history of corrupt governors.
The former governor has advocated for a pardon or a reduced sentence for years, appealing directly to Trump in some cases.
Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, regularly appeared on Fox News to make the case for clemency, and the governor penned an op-ed from prison in January in which he ripped House Democrats for impeaching Trump, claiming lawmakers would have done the same to Abraham Lincoln.
Nearly a dozen other individuals received pardons on Tuesday, including former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and financier Michael Milken.
Democrats, predictably, contemned the pardons.
“President Trump commutes sentence of politician who tried to use official powers for personal gain. No surprise there,” Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) tweeted of the governor’s commutation.
“There are people who deserve commutations but won’t get them from this president because he sees pardons as a way to undermine the rule of law, not to see justice done,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted.