Trump commutes sentence of former governor who tried to sell Senate seat

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Rod Blagojevich was convicted in 2011 of trying to sell the Senate seat that previously belonged to President Obama.

Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that he had commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor and "Apprentice" contestant who is serving a 14-year sentence for corruption.

"He served eight years in jail," Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One. "A long time."

He added that he did not "know [Blagojevich] very well" but had met him on "The Apprentice" years ago. He said Blagojevich "seemed like a very nice person."

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"He served eight years in jail, that's a long time to go," Trump reiterated. "Many people disagree with the sentence. He's a Democrat, he's not a Republican."

He then noted that Blagojevich was prosecuted by former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017, triggering the nearly two-year-long Russia probe, as well as others.

Blagojevich, Trump added, "has been 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," he said. "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."

ABC News first reported Trump's decision earlier on Tuesday. The New York Times reported a short while later that he had already signed the necessary paperwork but had not yet made the decision public.

Blagojevich was convicted in 2011 of trying to sell the Senate seat Barack Obama vacated when he became president. According to the criminal complaint filed against him by federal prosecutors, Blagojevich told an associate in November 2008, "... If I don't get what I want and I'm not satisfied with it, then I'll just take the Senate seat myself.'' He later added that the Senate seat "is a [expletive] valuable thing, you just don't give it away for nothing."

Blagojevich is currently set for release in 2024, "factoring in two years of credit for good behavior," according to ABC News.

Trump has reportedly been mulling for some time whether to pardon Blagojevich outright or commute his sentence.

"Rod Blagojevich, the former Governor of Illinois, was sentenced to 14 years in prison," Trump tweeted in August of 2019. "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."

Blagojevich had also been lobbying Trump hard to help his legal predicament. In January, Blagojevich wrote an op-ed in Newsmax — a right-wing, Trump friendly publication — in which he defended Trump against impeachment. Blagojevich himself was impeached and removed from his position as governor of Illinois thanks to his scheme to sell Obama's Senate seat.

His op-ed — which argued that today's Democrats would have impeached President Abraham Lincoln — was filled with historic inaccuracies.

"Today's Democrats would have impeached Lincoln for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power when he unilaterally issued his Emancipation Proclamation," Blagojevich claimed, among other things.

Trump's decision to commute Blagojevich's sentence is his latest move to help a friend or ally convicted of federal crimes.

Blagojevich was a contestant on Trump's show "The Apprentice" back in 2010, a year before being convicted of 17 federal charges including attempted extortion, accepting bribes, and wire fraud. Blagojevich's crimes stemmed from his attempt to fill Obama's Senate seat back in 2009, after Obama was sworn in as president.

Trump has also been trying to intervene in the criminal proceedings against longtime ally Roger Stone, who was convicted of seven counts of witness tampering, obstruction of justice, and lying to Congress in the Russia investigation back in November. Trump has pushed for Stone to receive a lighter sentence for his crimes, with speculation that Trump may ultimately pardon Stone.

The Times also reported Tuesday that Trump was considering whether to commute Stone's still undetermined sentence.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers. DeBartolo pleaded guilty in 1998 for bribing former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards with $400,000 to obtain a riverboat gambling license. It's unclear what sparked Trump to pardon the more than two-decade-old crime, for which DeBartolo was only sentenced to probation.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.