Color me confused. Wasn’t Rod Blagojevich one of those “sleazebags”? The former governor of Illinois got caught demanding valuable quid pro quos in selling off Barack Obama’s Senate seat and got 14 years in prison for his political corruption. Blagojevich’s defense team even admitted to the corruption in a last-ditch effort to get a more lenient sentence.
So who’s the sleazebag — the swamp creature that got caught, or those who caught him? Donald Trump weighed in, admittedly with some bias, on that question last night:
President Trump said on Wednesday night that he was “strongly considering” commuting the 14-year prison sentence of Rod R. Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who was convicted of trying to essentially sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for personal gain.
In remarks aboard Air Force One, Mr. Trump described the incriminating phone call in which Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, was taped discussing selling the seat as mostly a minor offense and something “many” politicians have done. …
“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly; he was given close to 18 years in prison,” Mr. Trump said. “And a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things — and it was the same gang, the Comey gang and all these sleaze bags that did it. And his name is Rod Blagojevich. And I’m thinking about commuting his sentence.”
The president made plans this week to commute the sentence, according to two people with knowledge of the talks, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations.
Blago’s allies, including his wife, have spent the last couple of years trying to get clemency from Trump. As recently as a month ago, Trump was reportedly considering a full pardon, but that appears to have given way to concern over the optics. After all, if anyone outside of the Beltway embodies Trump’s concerns over a villainous political “swamp,” it’s Blagojevich. Many politicians might have tried to get quid pro quos for appointments in the past, but few have done it so blatantly for personal pecuniary gain as Blagojevich.
Even the reasons given for considering a clemency action for Blagojevich seem a little swampy. According to the New York Times, Jared Kushner pushed it as a way to appeal to Blagojevich’s Democratic allies and to get some bipartisan cooperation. Trump’s rationale is even more transactional — he wants to embarrass Comey and the FBI after its Operation Crossfire Hurricane operation targeted him and his campaign.
Vice found another Trumpian angle to a commutation as well:
President Donald Trump said Wednesday he’s “strongly considering” commuting the prison sentence of corrupt former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — who just so happens to have been a contestant on “Celebrity Apprentice.” …
Trump said the former governor — whom he fired in a 2010 episode of Celebrity Apprentice, after a disastrous challenge related to Harry Potter — has gotten a raw deal.
It doesn’t help matters that Trump’s sparing use of his office’s clemency authority has gone significantly to people with personal or political connections to Trump himself. One could make a case that Blagojevich’s sentence was unduly harsh for a first conviction and that proportionality suggests seven years is sufficient punishment, without calling investigators “sleazebags” for having successfully prosecuted a corruptocrat. After all, Barack Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s 37-year sentence to a similar time-served length, and that involved the mass theft of US diplomatic and military secrets. That’s not the case Trump is making, though, which makes any possible commutation look a little swampier than usual.
Better yet, Trump could look around for more worthy cases for commutation, such as actual overzealous prosecution, rather than make a corrupt Chicago Machine villain he knows and likes into a victim. Blago earned his time in prison regardless of who made the case.