President Donald Trump on Tuesday commuted the remaining years of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence for corruption. “He’ll be able to go home with his family after serving eight years in jail,” Trump said. “That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence, in my opinion.”
Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat, was sentenced to 14 years in prison after he was convicted of corruption tied to his attempt to sell then newly-elected President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
Before he was sent to prison, Blagojevich was a contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice,” Trump’s hit NBC TV show. Blagojevich competed on the Apprentice in 2010, just months before he was arrested. Blagojevich served as governor of Illinois from 2003 until 2009, when he was impeached and removed from office by the state legislature.
Without Trump’s action, Blagojevich would have been in prison until at least 2024.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, wouldn’t comment on the specifics of Trump’s decision to commute Blagojevich’s sentence, but said it was bound to frustrate some people.
“I think there’s a lot of people who oppose this action given what Blagojevich did during his time in office,” she said Tuesday in Springfield.
Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Trump’s commutation “sends the wrong message to society.”
“I was involved first-hand with the impeachment efforts and I saw a governor who was rogue on steroids,” Durkin said. “He didn’t care about the state of Illinois, he cared about his own ambition. He abused the office and the legislature did the appropriate thing. The federal courts did the right thing … Why should he get special treatment over other people who have been sitting in the Department of Corrections on drug offenses for 30- and 40-year sentences?”
Since Trump took office in 2017, he had said multiple times that he was considering a commutation for Blagojevich. In 2018, Illinois’ Republican congressmen wrote a letter to Trump opposing any kind of mercy for Blagojevich.
The letter reminded the president of the evidence against Blagojevich, including his shakedown of Children’s Memorial Hospital for a $50,000 campaign contribution and the delay in signing a new law for the state’s horse tracks until he had secured $10,000 contribution.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Trump’s decision was wrong.
“Illinoisans have endured far too much corruption, and we must send a message to politicians that corrupt practices will no longer be tolerated,” the governor said in a statement. “President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”
Pritzker also said he remained committed to passing legislation aimed at preventing corruption.
“I’m committed to continuing to take clear and decisive steps this spring to prevent politicians from using their offices for personal gain, and I will continue to approach this work with that firm conviction,” he said.
Pritzker was criticized during his gubernatorial campaign when FBI wiretaps from Blagojevich’s investigation were leaked. The leaked wiretaps included Pritzker talking with Blagojevich about political positions he’d be interested in. In one taped conversation, Pritzker called former Senate President Emil Jones “crass” in recommending long-time Secretary of State Jesse White to be appointed to Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
A commutation is a reduction in a prison term but the conviction remains on a person’s record. A pardon is an absolution of the crime.