One month ago, all hope seemed lost for Rod Blagojevich.
Suddenly — and for the first time in years — his fortunes look significantly brighter. President Donald Trump said Thursday he might commute the former governor’s prison sentence, possibly springing Blagojevich as many as six years early.
The president told reporters Blagojevich went to jail “for being stupid” and saying things “many other politicians say.” Trump also said the sentence handed down twice by U.S. District Judge James Zagel was excessive. However, Trump repeatedly misstated the length of that sentence Thursday. Zagel gave Blagojevich 14 years.
“What (Blagojevich) did does not justify 18 years in a jail,” Trump said. “If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado … but it does not … plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. And it doesn’t, he shouldn’t have been put in jail.”
Should Trump commute Blagojevich’s sentence to time served, prison consultants said Blagojevich could walk free in days.
Former First Lady Patti Blagojevich reacted to Trump’s comments with a statement that said she and her daughters have “something that has been hard to come by recently … hope.” For about a month, she has been engaged in a public clemency campaign directed at the president.
“From the beginning, we’ve eagerly awaited the day when Rod could come back home where he belongs, and we continue to pray our family will be made whole again soon,” Patti Blagojevich said.
Patti Blagojevich declined to comment further as she left her home in Ravenswood Manor with her youngest daughter, Annie. But when asked if she had hope, she crossed her fingers.
Appearing later in the evening on Fox News, Patti Blagojevich said she had spoken with the ex-governor over the phone, and that he was “so grateful that the president is thinking of us in this way.
“It’s been such a long road for us and we’ve been so disappointed so many times before. . . . But we know that President Trump is a kind man, he’s compassionate, he’s always been kind to my family, he knows how important it is that my husband gets home to be a father to our daughters, that we can’t help but be hopeful.”
Rod Blagojevich’s attorney, Leonard Goodman, said in his own statement that, “It’s time for Rod Blagojevich to come home to his wife and daughters.”
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The former governor’s brother, Robert Blagojevich, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “I would applaud President Trump if he were to have mercy and graciously commute my brother’s sentence. Because that would be justice.”
Robert Blagojevich called Trump “the ultimate political disrupter,” adding that, “this would be evidence of that.”
The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment. Just two years ago, Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Riggs Bonamici successfully argued that Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence should be reinstated after it had been vacated on appeal. She dismissed the idea that Blagojevich was “caught unawares by murky laws.”
“That’s not true,” Bonamici said in 2016. “These are serious crimes. These affect our very way of government. These affect how we live every day. Corruption is serious.”
Trump made his comments Thursday on Air Force One following his announcement on Twitter that he planned to pardon conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza. He also said he might pardon Martha Stewart.
A commutation would reduce Blagojevich’s prison sentence, but it would not wipe out his convictions. If Trump were to reduce the former governor’s sentence to time served, it could still take a few days for Blagojevich to walk free.
That’s mostly because the Bureau of Prisons needs to see the paperwork, said John Webster, managing director of National Prison and Sentencing Consultants. “They don’t really believe tweets,” Webster said.
Once the paperwork is done, Webster said it would take about two hours to process Blagojevich out of the Colorado prison where he’s been living.
If recent behavior is any indication, Trump may already have made up his mind about the commutation. Last week, he signed a posthumous pardon of boxer Jack Johnson; but Johnson’s great-great-niece, Linda Haywood of Chicago, revealed at that time she’d been told of Trump’s decision a month earlier.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced April 16 it would not hear an appeal from Blagojevich, finally ending a years-long battle by the former governor and his family in the courts. Since then, executive clemency has been Blagojevich’s only hope.
That’s why Patti Blagojevich launched a campaign aimed at Trump, quickly trying to tie the case against her husband to 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,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times last month.
Most recently, the Wall Street Journal published a letter from Rod Blagojevich in which he said, “the rule of law is under assault in America” by “some” in the Justice Department and the FBI.
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.
Those include his 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 Blagojevich of lying to the FBI.
Blagojevich’s attorney, Goodman, is a member of the investor group that purchased the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader in 2017.