WASHINGTON — The seven Republican members in Congress from Illinois on Monday urged President Trump not to commute the sentence of imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, coming after Trump raised the possibility of a clemency grant for the man he got to know on the “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., organized the letter, which asked Trump, to “give thoughtful attention to our fear that granting clemency for the former governor would set a detrimental precedent and send a damaging message on your efforts to root out public corruption in our government.”
The letter also said, “the evidence against Rod Blagojevich was gathered through the diligent law professionals in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. To now excuse him (Blagojevich) would be demoralizing to those committed agents and officials who work hard every day in Illinois to fight public corruption and defend the rule of law.”
The other signers are Illinois Republican Reps. John Shimkus; Peter Roskam; Randy Hultgren; Adam Kinzinger; Rodney Davis, and Mike Bost.
Blagojevich is serving a 14-year sentence on corruption charges and has been in a federal prison in Colorado for more than six years.
The letter was copied to White House Counsel Don McGahn. Trump, stepping up his presidential power of clemency, and promising more to come on June 8, when he talked to reporters before departing for the G7 Summit in Canada, has been circumventing the Justice Department Office of Pardon Attorney. The White House has said clemency grants Trump is interested in are being routed through McGahn’s office.
The letter recaps the case against Blagojevich that led to his impeachment, removal from office and the public corruption conviction that sent him to prison.
Blagojevich was convicted of attempting to, among other counts, sell then-President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat; trying to shake down the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital for $25,000 in campaign contributions, and threatening to hold up a bill to benefit the racetrack industry for $100,000 in campaign contributions.
Blagojevich attorney Leonard Goodman said the letter “looks to me like it was written by cynical career officials who know very well that injustices occur in the federal system. A 14-year sentence for an elected official who never took a bribe, kickback, gift or loan from any supporter; never took a penny from his campaign fund; and was never in the pocket of any special interests, is indefensible.” Goodman is an investor in the company owning the Chicago Sun-Times.
The GOP House members told Trump that if he released Blagojevich now, it would “ensure the governor served less than the low end of the applicable guideline range.”
However, that would be true even if Blagojevich served the remainder of his sentence. U.S. District Judge James Zagel said in 2016 the low end of Blagojevich’s guideline range was around 24 years.
Trump zeroed in on the length of the Blagojevich sentence when he dangled a commutation last month, saying his sentence was “really unfair.”
Whether Trump cares about federal sentencing guidelines remains to be seen.
On June 8, Trump said “We are looking at literally thousands of names of people that have come to our attention that have been treated unfairly or where their sentence is far too long.”
The Illinois Republican House members also wrote, it was “important to point out” that Blagojevich lawyers did not ask the Trump administration for clemency until Trump raised the possibility. However, that leaves a misleading impression, because the Blagojevich legal team filed papers with the Justice Department for clemency in December 2016. The case was closed in May 2017, when Trump was in office. Patti Blagojevich said that was because they had not exhausted all their Supreme Court appeals.
Once the Supreme Court decided in April to not take up the Blagojevich case, drafting started on another application to the Justice Department Office of Pardon Attorney, which was filed last week.
Seidel reported from Chicago.