Sen. Dick Durbin Says He'd Support Shorter Sentence For Rod Blagojevich

Jun 5, 2018
Originally published on June 5, 2018 5:25 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has new hope of being released from prison early. Last week, President Trump argued that Blagojevich was treated unfairly, convicted on political corruption charges. Trump hinted that he may soon commute the former governor's 14-year sentence. As NPR's David Schaper reports, Blagojevich is in prison for, among other things, trying to sell President Obama's former Senate seat for personal gain.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: It's the fall of 2008, and Rod Blagojevich is halfway through his second term as Illinois governor. He's already under investigation for allegedly trading official acts for campaign contributions, and his approval rating among Illinois voters has plummeted to 13 percent. After then-Senator Barack Obama wins the presidency, Blagojevich gets to pick his replacement, and he sees that as a ticket to a lucrative job, maybe even a position in the Cabinet or millions in campaign cash.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH: I mean, I've got this thing, and it's [expletive] golden. And I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing.

SCHAPER: With strong evidence from conversations recorded by FBI wiretaps, agents arrest Blagojevich in December of 2008. He's charged with two dozen counts of political corruption, impeached and removed from office. Not one to stay out of the limelight, the Chicago Democrat goes on a nationwide publicity tour to proclaim his innocence, like in this appearance with David Letterman.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")

DAVID LETTERMAN: Why exactly are you here? Honest to God, what?

(LAUGHTER)

R. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, you know, I've been wanting to be on your show in the worst way for the longest time.

LETTERMAN: Well, you're on in the worst way. Believe me.

R. BLAGOJEVICH: I sure am.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHAPER: In 2010, he appeared on "The Celebrity Apprentice," a reality show hosted by a certain future president.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CELEBRITY APPRENTICE")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And, Governor, I have great respect for you. I have great respect for your tenacity, for the fact that you just don't give up right. But, Rod, you're fired.

SCHAPER: Now the ex-governor is again seeking favor from Donald Trump, hoping to get out of prison early. In an op-ed published last week in The Wall Street Journal headlined "I'm In Prison For Practicing Politics," Blagojevich claims he was railroaded and did nothing worse than everyday political horse trading and campaign fundraising. It's an argument his wife, Patti Blagojevich, last week took to Trump's favorite cable network. On Fox News, she compared her husband's situation to the president's.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATTI BLAGOJEVICH: These same people that did this to my family, these same people that, you know, secretly taped us and twisted the facts and perverted the law that ended up my husband in jail - you know, these same people are trying to do the same thing that they did to my husband just on a much larger scale.

SCHAPER: It appears that President Trump may be sympathetic. Last week he told reporters on Air Force One that Blagojevich is only, quote, "in jail for being stupid." He called what he said on the FBI recordings foolish but that, quote, "plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse, and he shouldn't have been put in jail."

RANDY SANBORN: Unfortunately those comments were ill-informed.

SCHAPER: Randy Sanborn worked for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago during the Blagojevich investigation.

SANBORN: It's all a one-sided revisionist history narrative that makes it sound like everybody does this, but that is clearly contraindicated by the record at trial and what the evidence showed.

SCHAPER: Sanborn says those same arguments were rejected by a jury, by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the evidence of Blagojevich's corruption, quote, "overwhelming," and by the U.S. Supreme Court twice. But he concedes there's legitimate disagreement over the length of the former governor's sentence. And in remarks last week at Saint Anselm College, former Attorney General Eric Holder agreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC HOLDER: I thought the 14-year sentence was a little harsh. You know, that was a case brought while I was attorney general. I thought that sentence was a little harsh.

SCHAPER: Democratic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is the latest to agree that the six years Blagojevich has already served might be enough. Blagojevich's lawyers today formally filed a request for the president to step in and commute his sentence for his sweeping political corruption conviction. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.