Suddenly, Rod Blagojevich is caught up in another brewing scandal.
This time, though, he’s not the schemer at the center of it.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump pardoned shrill right-wing author Dinesh D’Souza and also said he is considering commuting Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence and pardoning Martha Stewart. Critics were quick to note Trump was subverting prosecutions involving his nemesis, former FBI director James Comey; Comey’s lawyer, Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney in Chicago; and Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired last year as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Comey was in charge of the office that prosecuted Stewart, Bharara prosecuted D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, and Fitzgerald prosecuted Blagojevich, as well as former Bush White House aide Scooter Libby, whom Trump pardoned in April.
Critics also speculated Trump was dangling the promises of pardons in front of his lawyer Michael Cohen and former campaign manager Paul Manafort, if they refuse pressure to flip on him. Trump also might be sending a message to campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, national security adviser Michael Flynn and deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, who have pleaded guilty, to stop cooperating with the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Whatever Trump’s motivations are, commuting Blagojevich’s sentence would be no travesty of justice at this point. We have long argued that the 14-year sentence he began serving in 2012 is too severe and that it should have been in line with the 6½-year sentence imposed on former Gov. George Ryan. A commutation now would achieve that.
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Although he was not convicted of personally enriching himself, Blagojevich tried to sell a vacant Senate seat and extort big campaign donations from a hospital and racetrack owner. Trump, as usual, was paltering with the facts when he said Blagojevich was convicted for “being stupid, saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say.” Yet, as we have said, Blagojevich was more of a fumbling goof than a master criminal.
The power of the presidential pardon should be used to correct flaws in the criminal justice system. Trump is using it as a weapon against what he cynically portrays as a “deep state” conspiracy against him, and unfair justice department treatment of him and his allies.
If Trump goes ahead with his plans, it actually would be a fair shake for Blagojevich, whose lawyer, Leonard Goodman, is an investor in our newspaper.
But no one should see Trump’s actions as anything other than yet another dangerous assault on the nation’s treasured rule of law.
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