President Trump said Wednesday that he was seriously considering commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois.
Blagojevich is seven years into a 14-year sentence for convictions in 2010 tied to trying to sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat, as well as other campaign finance violations, and Trump said he thought Blagojevich “was treated unbelievably unfairly.”
“His name is Rod Blagojevich,” Trump said, speaking to members of the media aboard Air Force One as he returned from a visit to El Paso. “And I’m thinking about commuting his sentence.”
Trump has considered pardoning Blagojevich before, including roughly a year ago in 2018, when he became obsessed with his authority, as president, to offer pardons. More recently, Jesse Jackson and his son, former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), urged Trump to pardon Blagojevich.
The president knows Blagojevich from his time on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010, which Trump hosted.
Blagojevich was caught on FBI wiretaps talking about trying to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat, saying it was a “valuable thing” and “you don’t just give it away for nothing.” But Trump told reporters that he thought Blagojevich had served sufficient time for an offense the president did not view as particularly pernicious.
“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,” Trump said. “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 the telephone.”
Trump added: “His wife, I think, is fantastic, and I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly. I think it’s enough, seven years.”
Trump has routinely downplayed and mischaracterized the case against Blagojevich, whose trial included not only the wiretap but also numerous witnesses testifying he had taken campaign cash in exchange for official acts.
In his comments, Trump also falsely blamed Blagojevich’s treatment on “the Comey gang and all these sleazebags,” a reference to James B. Comey, the FBI director Trump fired amid the mounting investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Comey was in the private sector at the time of Blagojevich’s prosecution and conviction in December 2011.
Patti Blagojevich, the wife of the former governor who has been vigorously campaigning for his release, voiced appreciation for Trump’s words Thursday.
“Our President’s comments on Air Force One last night make us very hopeful that our almost 11 year nightmare might soon be over,” she said in a tweet. “We are very grateful.”
Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.