It was April 2010, and Rod Blagojevich was braced for what he was about to hear. Dressed in a gray suit and purple tie, the disgraced former Illinois governor sat alongside his partners. They were in trouble.
But they weren’t in a courtroom. They were in a boardroom — the boardroom — and businessman Donald Trump was their judge.
“Your Harry Potter facts were not accurate. Who did the research?” Trump demanded to know, in a clip tweeted by IJR editor Josh Billinson last week.
Guest judge Erin Burnett — at the time a CNBC host, now a prime-time CNN anchor — looked on in silence as Blagojevich floundered for an explanation.
“Governor, I have great respect for you,” Trump interjected. “I have great respect for your tenacity, for the fact that you just don’t give up,”
He lowered his voice: “But, Rod, you’re fired.”
Once Blagojevich had left, Trump told Burnett, “I feel badly for him. He tried, but I feel badly.”
Ten years later, Burnett’s and Trump’s relationship has obviously soured, but the president apparently still “feels badly” about Blagojevich. On Wednesday, he told pool reporters on board Air Force One that he was “very strongly” considering commuting the Democrat’s 14-year prison sentence.
“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly ... and a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things,” he said.
The president mused about it again on Twitter on Thursday night.
Illinois Republicans reacted with horror, warning the president not to help out Blagojevich, who served as governor from 2003 to 2009.
“It’s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois where four of our last eight Governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption,” Republican Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost said in a joint statement. “Commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, who has a clear and documented record of egregious corruption, sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials.”
Blagojevich was convicted in 2010 and 2011 on federal corruption charges related to an attempt to sell the Senate seat vacated by then-President-elect Barack Obama while he was governor of Illinois. When he appeared in Trump’s reality-TV competition, he had already been removed from office and was under indictment awaiting trial.
In the fourth episode of the season, Blagojevich was made the project manager for the male contestants’ team, challenged with creating a 3-D Harry Potter display for Universal Studios Florida.
It hadn’t gone well: According to a Chicago Magazine episode recap, Blagojevich was unable to figure out how to do research on a laptop computer provided to him on Trump’s private jet. He opted to take a nap instead, while Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks — the project manager for the women’s team — studied up on wizards and Hufflepuff.
Rocker Bret Michaels, who went on to win the show, did the best he could to get the display built without guidance. But when they presented it to Potter fans, their lack of research torpedoed their chances.
They called Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry “Hogwards.”
Later, in the boardroom, Blagojevich continued the blunders, referring to Slytherin as “Slithering” and Ravenclaw as “Ravencloth.”
Four months after being “fired” by Trump, Blagojevich’s streak of bad luck continued. He was convicted of one count of lying to the FBI. Jurors were unable to come up with a verdict on the other charges. Retried in 2011, he was convicted on 17 additional counts and sentenced to 14 years.
Five charges were later thrown out by an appeals court, but a judge resentenced him with the same 14-year term. He has been in a federal prison in Englewood, Colo., since 2012.
Trump first considered freeing Blagojevich last year, after he pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza for making an illegal campaign contribution.
Trump has also said he’s considering a pardon of another person with a connection to “The Apprentice” — Martha Stewart, who had her own spinoff of the series in 2005.
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