President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a series of surprise high profile pardons and commutations, moving to free former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who was convicted in 2011 of corruption for essentially trying to sell the official appointment to fill the U.S. Senate seat of President Barack Obama.
"He served eight years in jail - a long time," the President told reporters, as he noted he saw Blagojevich's wife on Fox News, and knew of Blagojevich from his time on 'Celebrity Apprentice.'
"That was a tremendously powerful and ridiculous sentence," Mr. Trump added, pointedly name-checking former FBI Director James Comey, and the special prosecutor in the case, former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
President Trump: "Yes, we have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich." pic.twitter.com/gnTC07fu35— CSPAN (@cspan) February 18, 2020
Blagojevich was Governor of Illinois in 2008 when Barack Obama won the White House, thus opening his seat in the Senate.
Evidence gathered by the feds showed Blagojevich quickly saw the vacant Senate seat not as a political opportunity, but one which could net the Illinois Democrat big money.
"I've got this thing and it's f#$%ing golden," Blagojevich was heard on a secretly recorded tape. "And I'm just not giving it up for f&#$ing nothing!"
In his indictment and trial, prosecutors described Blagojevich as angling for a quid pro quo with a possible Senate pick, where they would set up a non-profit company which would employ Blagojevich after he served as Illinois Governor, funneling big money to him as payback for the Senate appointment.
A reminder that Trump is *always* outraged by long punishments for fraud schemes, bribes, witness tampering, and other corruption crimes. Why he feels that way is left as an exercise for the reader. https://t.co/sGuQRJTKV1— Orin Kerr (@OrinKerr) February 18, 2020
Before being tried and convicted of corruption, Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois State House, and then convicted and removed from office by the Illinois State Senate in early 2009.
The vote was unanimous.
Illinois GOP lawmakers in the Congress issued a joint statement two hours after the President's announcement, saying they were disappointed by Mr. Trump's move.
"Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois," the lawmakers stated, adding 'we shouldn't let those who breached the public trust off the hook.'
IL GOP Congressmen LaHood, Shimkus, Kinzinger, Davis and Bost on fmr IL Gov Blagojevich:"We are disappointed by the President’s commutation of Rod Blagojevich’s federal sentence. We believe he received an appropriate & fair sentence...History will not judge Rod Blagojevich well." pic.twitter.com/aEY1PsRu3a— Craig Caplan (@CraigCaplan) February 18, 2020
The President on Tuesday also issued a pardon for David Safavian, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and making false statements in connection with his involvement in the famous Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.