Obama to exit with no clemency for Blagojevich

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Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. | AP

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama made his final grants of clemency on Thursday with less than a day left in office, and imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was not on the list.

Blagojevich was handed a 14-year sentence on corruption charges, with one of the most sensational being his attempt to “sell” the U.S. Senate seat that then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was vacating after being elected president in November 2008.

The Justice Department earlier confirmed that Blagojevich, in year four of his imprisonment, filed a request to have his sentence commuted. He was arrested in December 2008, a few weeks after the presidential election.

The former governor, 60, is not due to get out of prison until 2024.

Blagojevich’s bid for clemency from Obama was always extremely unlikely because of the nature of his offense.

When Obama gave a perfunctory answer this month to an NBC5 reporter who asked about Blagojevich’s clemency bid — telling the reporter “we’ll see what gets to my desk” — former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich wrote on Facebook that, “He didn’t say no. Keeping up the prayers.”

U.S. District Judge James Zagel reinstated Blagojevich’s sentence just five months ago after it was wiped out by an appeals court.

His lawyer, Leonard Goodman, filed a brief in December with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking for a third sentencing hearing.

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Obama reduced the prison terms of 330 inmates convicted of federal drug crimes on Thursday. He has been focused on cutting the prison time of offenders with overly harsh sentences that would not be imposed under guidelines for judges in place today.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said in a statement, “In late August, we made a promise: that the Department of Justice would review and make a recommendation to President Obama on every commutation petition from a drug offender then in our possession.

“I’m proud to say we kept that promise. The Office of the Pardon Attorney has now processed more than 16,000 petitions since the launch of the Clemency Initiative in April 2014, ensuring that President Obama had the information he needed to evaluate worthy cases up until the final week of his presidency.”

“With 1,715 commutations in total, this undertaking was as enormous as it was unprecedented, and I am incredibly grateful to the teams of people who devoted their time and energy to the project since its inception. By restoring proportionality to unnecessarily long drug sentences, this Administration has made a lasting impact on our criminal justice system.”

In eight years in the White House, Obama released 568 inmates serving life sentences.

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