Note: This article was originally published on April 16, 2018.
With the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear Rod Blagojevich’s appeal of his conviction on corruption charges, it appears his family has finally given up hope that the judicial system would free the former Illinois governor from federal prison.
The court’s announcement Monday seems to be drawing the curtain on the long, futile legal fight waged by Blagojevich ever since his early-morning arrest in December 2008.
“Rod, Amy, Annie and I could not be more disappointed in the decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Patti Blagojevich, his wife, said in a statement Monday. “From the beginning we’ve had faith in the system and have felt the court would bring Rod back to us. Now, with the judiciary no longer an option, we’ll have to put our faith elsewhere and find another way.”
“Another way” could refer to a grant of clemency from President Donald Trump — the former governor’s old boss on the reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice.” Short of that, Blagojevich will likely finish out his 14-year sentence in a federal prison in Colorado.
“Throughout this grueling saga we’ve maintained hope that Rod will come back home where he belongs,” Patti Blagojevich said in her statement. “Although we are disheartened by this decision, we are thankful for the outpouring of support we’ve received along the way. We will continue to push forward and work towards the day when our family can be whole again.”
Patti Blagojevich took to Fox News — the president’s favorite TV channel — on Monday night to express her disappointment in the ruling.
But she sidestepped the chance to make a direct appeal to Trump when host Tucker Carlson asked her to make her “pitch” for a presidential pardon.
“We were so disappointed today that the Supreme did not decide to take up our case and end this very dangerous conflict in we have now in the law,” Patti Blagojevich said.
“This is dangerous because it allows the FBI and power-hungry, overzealous prosecutors like [former Chicago U.S. Attorney] Patrick Fitzgerald to go after anyone that they don’t like. just because that person might be unpopular or controversial.”
The former first lady did note that Fitzgerald prosecuted her husband as well as I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, whom Trump pardoned last week. Libby was convicted of perjury in a CIA leak case dating to his time as chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The ex-governor is not due out of prison until May 2024, though he would receive some credit for good behavior while incarcerated. The 61-year-old Democrat has already served six years of a 14-year sentence. And his name is synonymous with Illinois corruption.
Gov. Bruce Rauner even took advantage of the Supreme Court review of Blagojevich’s petition Friday by offering a Snapchat filter outside the courthouse in Washington, D.C. It let people virtually wear Blagojevich’s famous black coif, which has gone white in prison.
Patti Blagojevich called that move “disgusting.”
A little less than three years ago, there might have been a glimmer of hope for Blagojevich in an appellate ruling that overturned five of his 18 criminal convictions. It also ordered him re-sentenced, and many experts thought Blagojevich would get a break when he returned by video link to U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s courtroom.
However, federal prosecutors asked the judge to restore Blagojevich’s original sentence, arguing he remained convicted “of the same three charged shakedowns of which he stood convicted at the original sentencing.”
Those scams included an attempt to sell then-President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, to shake down the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital for $25,000 in campaign contributions, and to hold up a bill to benefit the racetrack industry for $100,000 in campaign contributions. A jury also convicted him of lying to the FBI.
In August 2016, over the sobs of Blagojevich’s daughters, Zagel did as the feds asked. An appellate court quickly affirmed Zagel’s decision, forcing Blagojevich to go to the high court.
Things have looked increasingly grim for Blagojevich, as a result. He had tried to get the Supreme Court’s attention in November 2015, during the lead up to his re-sentencing, only to be turned away in March 2016. There was little reason now to think his odds would improve.
His attorney, Leonard Goodman, presented the Supreme Court this time with two questions: Whether prosecutors in a case like Blagojevich’s must prove a public official made an “explicit promise or undertaking” in exchange for a campaign contribution, and whether more consideration should have been given to sentences handed down in similar cases.
After Monday’s denial, Goodman said the justices had missed a chance to clarify those issues.
“The Supreme Court has decided not to correct a dangerous conflict in the law that makes it incredibly easy for federal prosecutors in Midwest cities like Chicago to jail elected officials, while prosecutors on the coasts have a much higher burden,” Goodman said in a written statement.
“Rod Blagojevich never sought a bribe or a kickback; he never took a penny from his campaign fund; he never promised anything to any donor in exchange for a campaign donation. Yet he is serving one of the longest prison sentences ever handed down to an elected official.”
Goodman is a member of the investor group that recently purchased the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader.
“Our petition lays out a compelling case that the Supreme Court needs to settle the confusion among federal courts about the dividing line between campaign fundraising, something all elected officials are required to do (unless they are billionaires) and the federal crimes of extortion and bribery,” Goodman said last year.
The attorney also complained that Blagojevich’s sentence “was more than twice as long as that given any other official convicted of corruption.”
Contributing: Mitchell Armentrout