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President Trump ‘Looking Very Seriously’ At Granting Leniency To Former Gov. Blagojevich; ‘He Was Treated Unbelievably Unfairly’

CBS Chicago logoCBS Chicago 8/8/2019 Syndicated Local – CBS Chicago
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CHICAGO (CBS) — It could be a big break for Rod Blagojevich; President Donald Trump is “looking very seriously” at commuting the former Illinois governor’s 14-year prison sentence.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday night, Trump confirmed he was thinking about commuting Blagojevich’s sentence, which would mean the former governor would be released from prison early.

“I am thinking very seriously about commuting his sentence so that he can go home to his family after seven years. You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people,” Trump said.

Before his conviction on corruption charges, Blagojevich was a contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality show.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly. He was given close to 18 years in prison, 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 sleazebags — that did it,” Trump said.

New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman reported Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, urged the president to pardon Blagojevich, and aides got Trump to agree instead to commute his sentence.

Blagojevich has served more than seven years of his sentence, following his 2011 conviction for, among other things, trying to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat once held by Barack Obama before he was elected president in 2008.

Trump repeatedly has suggested Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence was too severe for his crimes.

“I am thinking about commuting his sentence. He’s been in jail for seven years, over a phone call where nothing happens. But over a phone — where nothing happened. Over a phone call where — which, you know, he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio, you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way, just in case — but that have said a lot worse over telephones,” Trump said Wednesday.

CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said momentum for shorter sentence for Blagojevich has been growing the past couple years.

“Frankly, a lot of people are behind it. Dick Durbin, the Senate minority leader, is in favor of it. I think this time it’s going to happen,” he said.

Other high-profile people – including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. – also have been pushing for leniency for Blagojevich.

Miller noted that if Trump does commute Blagojevich’s sentence, it would not necessarily mean the former governor would go free right away. It would be up to the president to decide how much to reduce Blagojevich’s sentence.

“He could say I’m going to commute his sentence, and I want him to get out on December 31st of this year,” he said. “But it could be today. It’s totally up to the discretion of the president when that commutation will take effect.”

As CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reported, there have been rumblings that Trump might grant Blagojevich clemency over the past year, intensifying in the past two weeks.

Blagojevich’s wife, Patti Blagojevich, had not addressed Trump’s comments on social media as of Thursday morning. She also had not responded to messages for comment.

Defense attorney Leonard Goodman, who last year formally filed a petition asking Trump to grant Blagojevich clemency, said he could not comment on Trump’s announcement. Sheldon Sorosky, who was Blagojevich’s defense attorney in both his criminal trials and remains close to the former governor, said a commutation is what team Blagojevich has been hoping for – but he has not heard anything official.

Trump is Blagojevich’s last hope to get out of prison early. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his last-ditch appeal, leaving presidential clemency as his only option to go free before his sentence is over. He formally filed a petition for leniency last year.

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