“Yes, we commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich," Trump told White House reporters before boarding Air Force One to travel to the West Coast. "He served eight years in jail, a long time. He seems like a very nice person, don’t know him.”
Blagojevich, a Democrat, served as the 40th governor of Illinois from 2003 to 2009, when he was impeached and removed from office on charges of corruption. The former governor was later found guilty on 17 charges related to his attempt to sell a US Senate seat that had been vacated by US President Barack Obama upon his election as commander-in-chief.
Though Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison and began serving his time behind bars in 2012, he was previously slated for release in 2024 if he exhibited "good behavior" in the federal prison.
Trump's decision regarding Blagojevich's case comes months after the US president announced that his administration was reviewing the case in August 2018.
Rod Blagojevich, the former Governor of Illinois, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He has served 7 years. Many people have asked that I study the possibility of commuting his sentence in that it was a very severe one. White House staff is continuing the review of this matter.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2019
At the time, the US president received same-day pushback on the matter from House Republicans of Illinois Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost, who urged Trump to reconsider.
“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," read the representatives' August 8 news release. "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. We stand by our letter and urge the President to not commute Rod Blagojevich’s sentence.”
This plea followed a June 2018 letter from the entire Republican House delegation of the state to Trump. The lawmakers noted that Blagojevich's "quid pro quo behavior" was unacceptable and said the granting of clemency to the disgraced governor would "set a detrimental precedent and send a damaging message on your efforts to root out public corruption in our government."
Though 45 claims to not know Blagojevich, the former governor was a contestant on Trump's "The Celebrity Apprentice" in 2010. According to the Daily News, Trump spoke highly of Blagojevich, noting that he had "tremendous courage and guts" and may be the reality show's breakout star. The former governor was later eliminated in the fourth episode of the season.
In addition to Blagojevich's sentence commutation, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Edward DeBartolo Jr., ex-owner of the San Francisco 49ers, each received pardons from the US president on Tuesday.
Kerik was sentenced to 48 months behind bars after pleading guilty to a total of eight felony tax and false statement charges in 2009. He was later released from prison on October 15, 2013. While Debartolo did not receive any jail time for his 1998 conviction for failing to report a felony, he was fined $1 million and given two years of probation.