For nearly a decade, Rod Blagojevich and his wife have aimed their message at the public, jurors and a collection of federal judges from Chicago to Washington, D.C.
As of this month, they are finally down to an audience of one: President Donald Trump.
But if they want to end the former governor’s 14-year prison sentence early, they’ll have to get Trump’s attention. To do so, Illinois’ former first lady and her husband’s supporters are already beginning to point toward two of Trump’s favorite targets:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey.
“This same cast of characters that did this to my family are out there trying to do it to the president,” Patti Blagojevich told the Chicago Sun-Times in a phone interview.
A new chapter dawned for the Blagojevich family April 16 when the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would not hear the former governor’s appeal. The move put an end to Blagojevich’s long-running legal battle. In a statement that day, Patti Blagojevich acknowledged the judiciary was “no longer an option.”
Rather, barring an unexpected development, Blagojevich’s best hope for freedom appears to lie with Trump, who is beginning to wield his clemency power.
Blagojevich, 61, is not due out of prison until May 2024. Though an appellate court tossed five of his convictions in 2015, federal prosecutors say he remains convicted “of the same three charged shakedowns” for which he was first sentenced in 2011, including an attempt to sell then-President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
The imprisoned Democrat’s attorney, Leonard Goodman, has said Blagojevich “never sought a bribe or a kickback; he never took a penny from his campaign fund.” And last week, when asked about the Blagojevich clemency pitch, Goodman said, “I sincerely hope that it does get the president’s attention.”
“In my view (Blagojevich’s) conviction and his lengthy sentence are unjust,” Goodman said. “The president is the last line of defense when the courts fail, as they have here, to correct an injustice.”
Goodman is a member of the investor group that purchased the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader in 2017.
Blagojevich filed a petition for a commutation in the waning days of the Obama administration. It was inherited by Trump, but a Justice Department spokeswoman said Blagojevich’s file was administratively closed in May 2017.
Patti Blagojevich said the file was closed because her husband hadn’t finished his appeal. Now that he has, she said they will seek clemency again — and possibly ask for a pardon. But regardless of whether the paperwork gets filed, she pointed out that “the president, as we know, can do anything he wants, whenever he wants.”
Hours after the Supreme Court decision, the former first lady granted an interview to Fox News — Trump’s favorite network — where Tucker Carlson let her make a “pitch” for a presidential pardon. She said she was disappointed the court passed on a chance to offer clarity about when political fund-raising becomes criminal activity.
“This is so dangerous,” she said. “Because it allows the FBI and power-hungry, overzealous prosecutors like Patrick Fitzgerald, who prosecuted both my husband and Scooter Libby, to go after anyone that they don’t like.”
Patti Blagojevich made that comment just days after Trump pardoned Libby, who was former Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. When Comey was a deputy attorney general, he selected Fitzgerald to lead an investigation that led to Libby’s conviction. At the time, Fitzgerald was Chicago’s U.S. attorney.
Fitzgerald did not respond to a message seeking comment. He and Comey are friends —a point not lost on Patti Blagojevich. And it turns out Fitzgerald has been a member of Comey’s legal team ever since May 2017, when Trump fired Comey from his job atop the FBI. Trump recently called Comey a “slimeball” on Twitter, and Comey told ABC News this month that Trump is “morally unfit to be president.”
But there’s another dot Patti Blagojevich has connected between the prosecution of her husband and the investigation, led by Mueller, now swirling around Trump. In an interview on the nationally syndicated “Beyond the Beltway” radio show, she noted that, “Mueller was the FBI director when my husband was arrested and this whole thing started.”
Last week, she also told the Sun-Times these men “have a history of targeting people that they don’t like or that they don’t approve of and using their offices for political means. I think that’s what happened in my husband’s case.”
Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor who worked under Fitzgerald for six years and helped put ex-Gov. George Ryan in prison, said he has “the utmost belief in the integrity of Pat Fitzgerald.” He said attempts to tie Mueller to the Blagojevich prosecution are “fanciful.” And he said Blagojevich should have been charged and convicted based on the evidence against him.
However, Collins told the Sun-Times he thinks Blagojevich’s sentence “was severe, if not overly severe.” And when asked about the apparent strategy being used to land clemency for the governor, Collins said: “When you’re going to court as a lawyer, you tailor your arguments to the judge.”
He said Blagojevich’s supporters are “very craftily” — and, he added, “cynically” —“trying to put some red meat in front of this judge.”
“I understand why they’re going there,” Collins said.
The Blagojevich family has one more reason for hope. Trump met the former governor and his family when Blagojevich was a contestant on Trump’s old TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice.” Patti Blagojevich said she and her daughters once found themselves taking an elevator ride with Trump.
“He told my daughters that they should be proud of their father,” she said. “And he’s a good man.”