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Ex-Illinois governor Blagojevich, granted clemency by Trump, sues for right to seek elected office again

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (D) holds a news conference outside a federal courthouse in Chicago on Monday. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/AP)

Former Illinois governor and felon Rod R. Blagojevich (D) on Monday sued the state, demanding that his right to run for state and local elected office — which was yanked by the Illinois legislature in 2009 — be restored.

“I’m back from the dead. And it’s good to be alive again,” Blagojevich, who served eight years in prison before his 14-year sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump in 2020, told reporters outside a Chicago federal courthouse. “It’s about the people’s right to choose their own leaders.”

The 64-year-old was convicted of 18 felony counts of corruption in 2011, although several were later dismissed by a U.S. appeals court. Federal prosecutors had accused Blagojevich of corruption and campaign finance violations, including seeking contributions in return for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama after his election to the White House in 2008.

“I’ve got this thing, and it’s … golden. And uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for … nothing,” Blagojevich, who as governor had the right to appoint Obama’s successor, was recorded as saying in one federal wiretap. The former politician maintains his innocence.

Following his arrest in 2008, Blagojevich was near-unanimously impeached, then removed from his governorship. (The Illinois House voted 114-1 to impeach, while the state Senate voted 59-0 to remove him from office.) The state Senate subsequently passed a resolution banning him from running for state and local office in Illinois.

Blagojevich declares himself ‘a freed political prisoner,’ thanks Trump

In his federal complaint against the state and the Illinois legislature, Blagojevich said state lawmakers who impeached and removed him did so unconstitutionally. He asserts that state lawmakers barred him from calling and questioning witnesses. He also argues he was denied the right to present potentially exculpatory evidence, including the full federal wiretaps.

The Illinois governor’s office didn’t return a request for comment. A spokesman for state Senate President Don Harmon (D) had no comment. In a short statement, Jim Durkin, the Republican minority leader in the state House of Representatives, dismissed Blagojevich’s lawsuit as “meritless, frivolous, and not worth the paper it is printed on."

Four years ahead of his projected release date, Blagojevich was released from a federal prison in Colorado after Trump commuted his term in February 2020. Trump’s move has helped push Blagojevich, once viewed as a star in the Democratic Party, into becoming a staunch loyalist of the Republican. On Monday, Blagojevich, calling himself a “Trumpocrat,” again expressed thanks to Trump.

While publicly considering commuting Blagojevich’s sentence, Trump said he thought that the former Illinois governor had served sufficient time for an offense that he did not view as particularly serious. “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,” the then-president said.

(Blagojevich’s trial included not only the wiretap but also numerous witnesses testifying he had taken campaign cash in exchange for official acts.)

Blagojevich, who is giving paid speeches and writing a book, was noncommittal about the possibility of seeking a political comeback. “As of right now, I’m not allowed to run. Let’s see where this lawsuit goes,” he said.

While speaking to reporters, Blagojevich recalled finding an entry about himself in a 2013 almanac that was “very negative” and “very dispiriting.”

“If I were to fall dead right here, my obituary in tomorrow’s papers wouldn’t be that good,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll live a lot longer, and I can do things in my life … where that obituary might be corrected.”

Ashley Parker contributed to this report.