Trump Again Considering Early Prison Release For Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Trump has once again floated the idea of releasing a former Illinois governor from prison early. A jury convicted Rod Blagojevich of trying to sell Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat once Obama was elected president. The former Democratic governor is now halfway through his 14-year prison sentence. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Tony Arnold reports on how Trump's comments have united Illinois Republicans and Democrats.
TONY ARNOLD, BYLINE: Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went down in infamy with this 2008 secretly wiretapped catchphrase.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROD BLAGOJEVICH: I've got this thing, and it's [expletive] golden. And I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing.
ARNOLD: The expletive golden thing Blagojevich refers to was getting to appoint Barack Obama's replacement to the U.S. Senate. A jury eventually convicted Blagojevich of leveraging that power to try to enrich himself. He was also convicted of shaking down a horse race track owner and the head of a large children's hospital for campaign donations. Trump did not mention those convictions when talking with reporters on Air Force One last night. He said he's thinking of commuting Blagojevich's prison sentence, calling it unfair. Trump called James Comey a, quote, "sleazebag," end quote, and argued Blagojevich was treated, quote, "unbelievably unfairly." That's exactly how Illinois' former first lady Patti Blagojevich has framed what happened to her husband in numerous appearances on Fox News in an attempt to get Trump's attention.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PATTI BLAGOJEVICH: These people are so far from Eliot Ness, they're a million light years away.
ARNOLD: John Cullerton is the Democratic president of the Illinois state Senate, which impeached Blagojevich. He accuses the president of trying to use this case to get out of a political jam.
JOHN CULLERTON: It's just a diversion. It's just a diversion.
ARNOLD: Cullerton says President Trump is trying to change the subject from his response to the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso.
CULLERTON: Governor Blagojevich sits in jail, wondering whether he's serious or not or just a diversion from not confronting the fact that he was very incendiary in his comments.
ARNOLD: Even Illinois Republicans disagree with the president on this topic. Jim Durkin is the current Illinois House GOP leader and was the ranking House Republican during Blagojevich's impeachment hearings. Speaking from his car, he says he finds Trump's comments a bit odd.
JIM DURKIN: I wrestle with many things that this Republican president has done since he's gone into office. Just add this to the list.
ARNOLD: And Durkin says the president will get no political points with Republicans or Democrats if he does Rod Blagojevich a favor. After all, Blagojevich appealed his case, got a few convictions dropped and still got stuck with 14 years. Rod Blagojevich is such a stain on Illinois politics that even now, 10 years after his arrest, Republicans still invoke the former governor's name to attack Democrats. And the state GOP leader, Jim Durkin, says there are many other people in prison who are far more deserving of having their sentences commuted than Rod Blagojevich.
For NPR News, I'm Tony Arnold in Chicago.
(SOUNDBITE OF XXXY'S "EVADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.