President Trump announced on Tuesday that he had commuted the sentence of disgraced ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was caught on tape trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat and has served more than seven years of a 14-year sentence. While Blagojevich’s conviction won’t be overturned, he will be freed from prison as early as Tuesday afternoon.
“He served eight years in jail, a long time,” Trump told reporters. “He seems like a very nice person, don’t know him.”
Blagojevich’s commutation had appeared fairly likely since 2018, when Trump said he’d consider it amid a sustained public-relations campaign waged by the ex-governor’s wife, Patti. Trump has long been receptive to Blagojevich’s argument that he had been unfairly prosecuted, hardly a surprise for a man who seems to feel instinctive sympathy for those who are accused of abusing their power.
Trump’s claim that he doesn’t know Blagojevich isn’t quite right: Blagojevich appeared on Celebrity Apprentice back in 2010, where he was “fired” for, in part, not knowing enough about Harry Potter. (Yes, this is real life.)
Blagojevich’s corruption was about as obvious as it comes. On a recording made possible by an FBI wiretap, he famously said, of Obama’s then-vacant seat: “I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden. And I’m just not giving it up for fucking nothing.” In 2011, just months after his Celebrity Apprentice appearance, he was convicted on 17 counts, including wire fraud, attempted extortion, and conspiracy to solicit bribes.
But many legal experts have argued that even though his guilt was never in question, Blagojevich’s sentencing was extreme for the sort of crime that many politicians — and specifically many former governors of Illinois — have committed.
Also on Tuesday, Trump issued a pardon to Bernie Kerik, the ex-New York City police commissioner who went to prison on wide-ranging federal tax and obstruction of justice charges, as well as “junk bond king” and 1980s mainstay Michael Milken and ex-San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who was convicted of gambling fraud in 1998.