The governor informed the CEO of the funding, and Blagojevich’s brother made the pitch for a contribution. It didn’t work. A few weeks later, Blagojevich checked to see whether the change that would yield the $8 million had been made. It hadn’t. Without the contribution, it was at risk.
The highest-profile charge on which Blagojevich was convicted was his effort to leverage the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama’s election to the White House for his own benefit. But it wasn’t the only charge. His efforts to leverage the $8 million in funding for the hospital were among more than a dozen corruption-related charges for which Blagojevich was convicted in 2011. He was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison.
On Tuesday, his sentence was commuted by President Trump.
Earlier this month, Trump himself stood accused of having tried to leverage his official position to benefit himself, facing trial in the Senate on charges that he tried to strong-arm Ukraine into launching politically useful investigations by similarly withholding funds from that country. With impeachment in the rearview mirror, though, Trump moved forward on freeing Blagojevich, something he had reportedly been mulling for some time.
It’s remarkable that one facet of Trump’s defense during the impeachment trial was that his interactions with Ukraine were both appropriate and centered on his desire to uproot official corruption. It was an indefensible claim on its face, given that the extent of the corruption for which Trump had expressed any concern was that allegedly surrounding former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 opponent of Trump. But Trump’s flurry of presidential acts of clemency on Tuesday truly makes clear how indifferent he is about misbehavior by public officials — particularly when considered alongside his past pardons and commutations.
Trump also pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., probably at least in part because of DeBartolo’s ties to the politically important region of northeastern Ohio. DeBartolo’s crime? Agreeing to a bribe solicited by a former governor of Louisiana and not reporting it.
He pardoned David Safavian, convicted of obstruction of justice and making false statements in connection with the sprawling corruption investigation into former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Trump also pardoned former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, convicted of making false statements about a bribe he took while working in Iraq.
In a statement accompanying the announcement of the pardons and commutations, the White House revealed some of those who had encouraged a pardon of Kerik. Among them were Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, two Fox News personalities and retired Navy chief petty officer Eddie Gallagher.
Gallagher, too, has been a beneficiary of Trump’s generosity, having his position with the Navy SEALs restored by the president after facing war crimes charges. Trump has pardoned several members of the military convicted of war crimes, including Mathew Golsteyn and Clint Lorance.
Far more of those given a pass by Trump, though, committed crimes centered on some form of political lawbreaking, official malfeasance or corruption.
There was former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, pardoned for an obstruction of justice charge after Arpaio refused to heed a federal court order intended to halt his practice of racially profiling Hispanics. He pardoned Scooter Libby, once an aide to former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who was convicted of making false statements, perjury and obstruction of justice as part of an investigation into the leak of the identity of an undercover CIA officer. He pardoned prominent conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions. He pardoned his friend Conrad Black, convicted of embezzlement and obstruction of justice. He pardoned former Republican lawmaker Pat Nolan, who was convicted in 1994 for taking illegal campaign contributions. He commuted the sentence of Ted Suhl, an Arkansan who paid bribes aimed at increasing Medicaid payments to his company. On Tuesday, Trump pardoned Judith Negron, sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2011 for Medicare fraud.
There have been other pardons and commutations, too, including pardoning individuals accused of nonviolent drug crimes. But for each of those cases, Trump’s pardons have been focused on political allies, friends, friends of celebrities and people who’ve been lucky enough to have advocates who appear with some frequency on Fox News. (Gallagher and the others, for example, were the focus of advocacy by “Fox & Friends” host Pete Hegseth.)
In announcing his decision about Blagojevich, Trump noted that he’d seen the former governor’s wife on television.
It’s fascinating that the flurry of legal actions on Tuesday comes in the context of Trump’s very public and repeated questioning of the conviction of his former adviser Roger Stone on charges of making false statements and witness tampering. The message that Stone might receive from Tuesday’s announcements? Hang tight.
The same holds for Giuliani himself, reportedly the target of an investigation being conducted by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York. If Giuliani — cited as an individual supporting the pardons of Kerik and financier Michael Milken — is offering recommendations to the president, it’s hard to imagine that Trump won’t give his personal attorney a clean bill of health should the Justice Department obtain an indictment. What could Giuliani have done that others who’ve already been pardoned by Trump haven’t? Giuliani checks every box on Trump’s get-out-of-jail-free list.
During the impeachment trial, Trump’s attorneys were asked specifically about whether Blagojevich’s conviction served as a framework for similarly finding that Trump abused the power of his office. It did not, Trump attorney Patrick Philbin said, unsurprisingly.
The government regularly held aid to seek better behavior from foreign countries, as “when there’s something legitimate to look into,” Philbin argued. “There could be a situation where the United States would say, ‘You’ve got to do better on corruption, you’ve got to do better on these specific areas of corruption, or we’re not going to be able to keep having the same relationship with you.’ ”
Clearly this is something that keeps Trump up at night.