Why would President Donald Trump think of setting Rod Blagojevich free?
a) Trump has always felt bad about firing the former Illinois governor on “The Apprentice.”
b) Trump can relate. Like Blagojevich, the president is an ethics-adverse puff of artfully arranged hair.
c) Trump wants to change the narrative. This past week was a bad one for the president, what with all kinds of mean people accusing him of being a spiritual accomplice to at least one mass murder, given the way he eggs on haters.
d) Trump has carefully considered the merits of Blagojevich’s case, weighing the seriousness of the former governor’s crimes against the length of his sentence. The president is concerned about proportionality of punishment in our criminal justice system. And he is taking into account any evidence that Blagojevich has grown from his mistakes or expressed contrition.
We’re just kidding on that last one. You know that.
If Donald Trump ever commutes Blagojevich’s sentence, it will be because Trump sees something in it for himself and nothing more.
That’s who Trump is, and that’s the tragedy of it.
Blagojevich sits in a federal prison in Colorado, seven years into a 14-year sentence that we believe is too long, and his chances of getting sprung early depend not at all on the merits of his case.
They depend on the whim of a president who’s perfectly happy to dangle out hope and then whip it away.
Trump is jerking Blagojevich around, and the ex-governor’s family, too.
Blagojevich deserved to be locked up. He had it coming. He tried to sell a vacant Senate seat and extort big campaign donations from a hospital and a racetrack owner. Even in Illinois, those are no-nos.
But we have long argued that Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence was too severe. A more appropriate sentence would have been in line with the 61⁄2 years given former Gov. George Ryan for equally — if not more — serious betrayals of the public trust.
We don’t agree with Trump that Blagojevich’s only crime was to say things “many other politicians say,” but we have always felt he is more ridiculous than venal.
Trump began the week by hinting he might commute Blagojevich’s sentence. Our best guess is that the president thought this might give him rhetorical ammunition in his attacks against the Justice Department, whose supposed “deep state” operatives he despises for pursuing an investigation into his presidential campaign’s ties to Russia.
The federal prosecutors who charged Blagojevich were “sleazebags,” said Trump, who treated the former governor “unbelievably unfairly.” He said “many people” had asked him to commute Blagojevich’s sentence.
By Thursday evening, though, Trump was in retreat. This one wasn’t playing out as expected.
Those “many people” were not to be found, and nobody was cheering him on. On the contrary, elected officials across Illinois were calling on Trump to reconsider. Republicans and Democrats alike, from Winthrop Harbor to Cairo, were of a like mind that Blagojevich should remain right where he is — prison.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, said Blagojevich had “disgraced his office” and never expressed contrition.
Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin said commuting Blagojevich’s sentence would “send a message that if you’re a kind of character and you’ve been turned into a folk hero by the president . . . you have a good shot at not serving your sentence and paying your debt to society.”
By Thursday night, Trump seemed to get it. Setting Blagojevich free would not add to the narrative of a Justice Department out of control. It would add to the narrative of a president who has a soft spot for fellow conmen.
So he backed down. He tweeted that the matter would simply be “reviewed.”
And by Friday morning, the president was back to railing about “racist” Hollywood “elites,” the “failing NYT” and other bugaboos.
Rod Blagojevich doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon.
And given how Trump has completely politicized the commutation process, tainting any decision he might make, the former governor may be going nowhere for a long time.
Which is not right.
Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.