WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday night he was considering “very strongly” commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence in a federal prison for corruption.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One as they flew back to Washington from El Paso, Texas, the president said he was open to giving Blagojevich, 62, a break. Trump said he knew he was making news with his comments, saying, “That’s a pretty big story.”
On Twitter Wednesday, the ex-governor’s wife, Patti, wrote: “Our President’s comments on Air Force One last night make us very hopeful that our almost 11 year nightmare might soon be over. We are very grateful.”
Patti Blagojevich, has been waging a campaign aimed at Trump to free Blagojevich, mainly through appearances on FOX News.
Trump noticed, saying, “And I watched his wife, on television, saying that the young girl’s father has been in jail for now seven years, and they’ve never seen him outside of an orange uniform. You know, the whole thing. His wife, I think, is fantastic. And I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly. I think he was — I think it’s enough: seven years.”
The pool report explained how Trump’s comments came about. “In the last hour of the flight, POTUS came back to the press cabin for a 45-minute off-the-record conversation. He then said the press could put one part on the record — that he is again considering commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.”
“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly; he was given close to 18 years in prison. And a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things — and it was the same gang, the Comey gang and all these sleaze bags that did it. And his name is Rod Blagojevich. And I’m thinking about commuting his sentence,” Trump said, getting the former governor’s prison sentence wrong.
“He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”
Patti Blagojevich has waged a focused campaign — primarily in FOX News appearances and through social media — to appeal to Trump for clemency. Blagojevich’s allies also have been writing op-eds in outlets Trump may see making the case for clemency.
The pool report did not mention why Trump wanted to discuss Blagojevich.
Contacted by a Sun-Times reporter late Wednesday, Patti Blagojevich was surprised to hear of the president’s comments but declined to comment at that time.
Blagojevich is scheduled to be released on May 23, 2024. He currently is serving his sentence in an Englewood, Colorado, facility.
On Thursday, the current Illinois governor, J.B. Pritzker, did not welcome the president’s proposal.
Pritzker “has said he believes the former governor is in prison, where he belongs. The president should instead focus his attention on the critical issues facing this country, like gun safety,” according to the statement issued by Pritzker’s office.
In May 2018, Trump first dangled the potential of helping Blagojevich.
That prompted the seven Republican House members from Illinois to urge the president not to commute the sentence after Trump raised the possibility of a clemency for the man he got to know on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010.
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.”
At the same time, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he’d support an effort to free Blagojevich.
“I think that the sentence imposed on Rod Blagojevich was definitely way too long. Fourteen years, it didn’t make sense,” Durbin said.
“And so I’m not commenting on whether he was culpable or guilty. That was decided by the courts, but I thought the sentence was outrageous, and if there’s a way to reduce the sentence for him and his family, I would support it.
Added Durbin, “I’ll let President Trump make that decision, but I certainly think 14 years was entirely too long.”
Blagojevich, a Democrat, was convicted among other counts of attempting to 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.
Blaogjevich started serving his sentence on March 15, 2012.
Contributing: Jon Seidel, Nader Issa, Tina Sfondeles
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT TRUMP IN PRESS GAGGLE ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Joint Base Andrews
August 7, 2019
10:25 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: (In progress) But we’re going to be doing something very, I think — very impactful. A man who is a Democrat, not a Republican — who I don’t know very well, but he was on “The Apprentice” for a couple of weeks — meaning, a couple of, you know, seasons; a couple of, what would you say? Episodes. I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly. He was given close to 18 years in prison. And a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things. And it was the same gang — the Comey gang and the — all these sleazebags – that did it. And his name is Rod Blagojevich.
And I am thinking about commuting his sentence. He’s been in jail for seven years, over a phone call where nothing happens. But over a phone — where nothing happened. Over a phone call where — which, you know, he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio, you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way (inaudible) -- but that have said a lot worse over telephones.
And I watched his wife, on television, saying that the young girl’s father has been in jail for now seven years, and they’ve never seen him outside of an orange uniform. You know, the whole thing. His wife, I think, is fantastic. And I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly. I think he was — I think it’s enough: seven years.
Not a friend of mine. He’s a Democrat, not a Republican. It’s Illinois. I think he was treated very, very unfairly, just as others were. Just as others were.
So Rod Blagojevich -- I am thinking very seriously about commuting his sentence so that he can go home to his family after seven years. You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people. They put him in jail for 18 years, and he has many years left. And I think it’s very unfair.
So I’ve been thinking about that for a long time. I thought, from day one — I said, “Boy, that is really tough stuff.” And I will say, we have a lot of support for that.
(The President speaks off the record.)
THE PRESIDENT: But Rod Blagojevich -- I think he’s got another 10 years to serve. And we’re thinking about it very seriously. So there’s something. That’s a pretty big story.
(The President speaks off the record.)
THE PRESIDENT: But we are looking very seriously at Rod Blagojevich. I think we can go with that. (Inaudible.) If you want to go with it, you can — I mean, you can have that part of it because —
Q: On the record?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s on the record.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. You can do that. I’m — in fact, I’m very strongly considering that — I think he was treated unbelievably unfairly. And he’s a Democrat; he’s not a Republican. And we’re thinking about commuting his sentence so he can go back home to his wife and children.
And I’m very impressed with his family. I’m very impressed with his wife. I mean, she has lived for this. She has — she’s one hell of a woman. She has lived — she goes on and she makes her case. And it’s — it’s really very sad.
END 10:30 P.M. EDT