Trump commutes sentence of former Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich
President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he had commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office in 2009 on corruption charges, and pardoned former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik.
A federal spokesman said Tuesday night that Blagojevich had been released and was no longer in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The news came hours after Trump signed an executive order granting a full pardon to former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. related to a decades-old corruption charge, one of nearly a dozen pardons and commutations the White House announced Tuesday.
Another big name on the list was that of Michael Milken, the former junk bond trader who pleaded guilty in 1990 to racketeering and securities fraud. The man who prosecuted Milken was one of the people who advocated for his pardon, according to the White House — Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers.
Giuliani also advocated for a pardon for Kerik, who was Giuliani’s hand-picked police commissioner when he was mayor of New York. Kerik was sentenced in 2010 to four years in prison after pleading guilty to eight felony charges, including tax fraud.
Blagojevich, 63, was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in federal prison on corruption charges related to his solicitation of bribes in an attempt to “sell” the Senate seat Barack Obama left open after he was elected president.
Trump, who has repeatedly floated the idea of pardoning Blagojevich, told reporters that he had received “a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence.”
“He served eight years in jail, a long time,” Trump told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. “I don’t know him very well. I met him a couple of times. He was on for a short while on ‘The Apprentice’ some years ago. He seems like a very nice person. I don’t know him.”
Trump said “many people” thought the sentence was unfair. “He’ll be able to go back home to his family,” he added.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, had been at the low-security Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado. He’d been a contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010.
The president said in August that he was “very strongly” considering giving Blagojevich a reprieve.
“I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One then.
“He’s been in jail for seven years, over a phone call where nothing happens … over a phone call where, 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 — that have said a lot worse over telephones,” he added.
In one wiretapped phone call, Blagojevich said of Obama’s Senate seat: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—— golden. And I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing.”
The current Democratic governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, took to Twitter to blast the pardon.
“President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time,” Pritzker tweeted.
Prosecutors said Blagojevich and others working for him began “a pattern of racketeering activity” soon after he took office in 2002, using the powers of the governorship in “exchange for financial benefits for themselves and others.”
He was arrested in late 2008 on allegations that he had tried to profit from selling off Obama’s open Senate seat, and he was impeached in January 2009 after he refused to resign.
Blagojevich was convicted in federal court in Chicago later that year on one of 24 felony counts — lying to the FBI about the extent of his involvement in campaign fundraising. Jurors deadlocked on the other counts.
At his 2011 retrial, he was convicted of three separate shakedown attempts — one involving a children’s hospital, one involving a racetrack and one involving the Senate seat.
In between his trials, he tried to rehabilitate his image and signed up as a contestant on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010. He was “fired” after four episodes after bungling a Harry Potter presentation.