Trump Mulls Commutation for Disgraced Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

While the president's mercy might be self-serving, it's not necessarily wrong.


President Donald Trump is reportedly considering commuting the federal prison sentence for former Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich. His comments to reporters on Air Force One last night have unleashed yet another round of outrage.

Blagojevich is about halfway through a 14-year prison sentence for political corruption. He was convicted of pay-to-play tactics that involved allegations he attempted to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama after Obama was elected president.

Trump's reasons for considering commuting Blagojevich's sentence are personal to the point of comic absurdity. When talking to reporters last night, Trump pointed out that Blagojevich had been on his show, Celebrity Apprentice, before saying he thought that Blagojevich had been "treated unbelievably unfairly." He blamed Blagojevich's conviction on former FBI Director James Comey's "gang and all these sleazebags." The Wall Street Journal notes that some conservative commentators have been hot on the fact that Robert Mueller was director of the FBI when Blagojevich was arrested. The idea that any of that would or should relate to how Trump is being treated and investigated is utter nonsense (nobody had an inkling at the time that Trump would become president), but that's the kind of environment we're in.

Trump furthermore complained to reporters last night, "You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they've killed 25 people." We can only hope that was deliberate hyperbole, and that Trump doesn't actually believe this.

As is typical, the "optics" are inspiring the most anger. While Trump was talking about Blagojevich's raw deal, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers were rounding up hundreds of immigrants working at meat processing plants in Mississippi for suspicion of being in the country illegally (many of those people have since been released). Attorney General William Barr has announced the Justice Department will resume executing inmates on death row after a decades-long moratorium, and Trump has made it clear that he'd like to see even more prisoners face the death penalty. The administration has continued Obama's war on whistleblowers, as Reality Winner languishes in federal prison for leaking documents that show how Russian hackers attempted to infiltrate and potentially manipulate voting systems across the country. More recently, Daniel Everette Hale, who exposed problems with how drones were being used for assassination strikes in foreign countries under Obama, was arrested and charged by Trump's administration with a host of crimes.

In other words, Trump talking about Blagojevich's unfair treatment sounds pretty hollow coming from the head of an administration that should be remembered for its intentional, callous, and reckless cruelty (Support for the FIRST STEP Act aside).

And yet, Trump's not wrong on this. The Wall Street Journal notes that Rev. Jesse Jackson (whose son was also caught up in a corruption case years later) is encouraging Trump's mercy. The relevant question here is whether there's a public safety need to keep Blagojevich in a federal prison cell. The answer is a resounding no.

Blagojevich poses no physical threat to anyone outside of a federal prison. His political record is so tainted that he'd have a hard time running any sort of scam in the free world. The only reason to keep him in prison is to debase and punish him for abusing the powers of his office. That desire is understandable, but we should be asking ourselves whether there's any real value to his continued incarceration and whether that value exceeds the cost of keeping him behind bars.

Trump appears motivated to exercise mercy for the wrong reasons: his personal relationship with Blagojevich and his desire to undermine anybody remotely connected to the investigation against him and his campaign. But it is nevertheless important to foster an attitude of mercy toward federal prisoners, who face excessive sentences and do not have the option of parole.

We should be encouraging Trump to free more prisoners, even if that means he'll free some of them for the wrong reasons.

NEXT: Was Charging Sarah Palin With Complicity in Mass Murder an Honest Mistake?

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  1. His political record is so tainted that he’d have a hard time running any sort of scam in the free world.

    You could say the same thing about Madoff? Ready to let him out too?

    Or maybe I killed my rich uncle and inherited his millions. No reason to keep me locked up. I’ve already got all the money I need, so I don’t need to kill again, and even if I did, there’d be so much notoriety that rich people would be sure to avoid me and not put me in their will.

    1. Or Barion Marry of DC Mayor fame, who DID run another political scam of getting elected.

      Still, there is a difference between murder and just “normal” political corruption funneling taxes to cronies.

  2. The relevant question here is whether there’s a public safety need to keep Blagojevich in a federal prison cell.

    The question is one of deterrence. Do you want to discourage the next would-be corrupt politician to have that haircut?

    1. Yeah it seems Reason no longer (if they ever did) believes that deterrence or punishment are legitimate reasons for incarceration.

    2. I’d take it a step further. Perhaps Reason does disagree with the notion of deterrence or punishment. I don’t think that is particularly egregious; what I think would be egregious is that the consideration of “not a threat to public safety” is only granted to corrupt politicians, and not to the myriad other prisoners who are very likely also not a threat to public safety.

    3. Trump is just running low on the best and brightest who will work for him. If a job in the admin comes down to either Chris Christie or Rod Blagojevich; I say pardon his ass.

    4. Blago’s action was no more corrupt than any time legislators trade votes. No more corrupt than any number of deals we never blink at, whtouth which politics practically wouldn’t be politics. It was nothing like cash in Blago’s pocket for a senate vacancy appointment, as you might infer from the way it’s couched here.

      Next look up Dan Halloran’s federal conviction for “failure to perform honest services” in the wire and mail fraud statutes. What he did wasn’t against New York law. Or look up the whole jurisprudence of this “honest services” business, it’s crap.

      If they want government to be less corrupt, they need to have less to be corrupt (or “corrupt”) about.

      1. Blago’s action was no more corrupt than any time legislators trade votes.

        For cash? Because that’s what he was convicted of. And extortion.

        It was nothing like cash in Blago’s pocket for a senate vacancy appointment

        It was exactly that. In addition to the extortion.

        1. We read exactly the same source and yet read it differently, unless you edited it.

      2. Next look up Dan Halloran’s federal conviction for “failure to perform honest services” in the wire and mail fraud statutes.

        You mean the Dan Halloran who took a bribe from an undercover agent and then suddenly decided he didn’t want to run for re-election for NY City Council? Who was convicted both of acting as a liaison between [jailed NY State Senator Malcolm] Smith [(D)] and Republican Party officials and of taking at least $15,000 in bribes for designating about $80,000 in New York City funds to a nonprofit entity, allowing the money to be embezzled through a no-show job?

        That Dan Halloran?

        1. Yes, that Dan Halloran, because allowing someone to run in their primary was the business of the Republican Party alone, and he did not take a bribe for deciding which of several nonprofits the municipal money would go to.

    5. The only thing Blagy’s prosecution did was tighten the Chi-town machine’s hold over corruption in Illinois. The idea that it actually deterred corrupt politicians in Illinois is laughable.

      1. Chicago should be under martial law.

  3. Governor Blag is one of the reasons I left Illinois when I got out of school.
    He’s the epitome of corruption the most corrupt state in our union.
    Why Trump pardoned him is beyond me.

    1. Trump hasn’t pardoned him, not yet anyway. He’s just considering it

      1. Trump is not even considering pardoning him, according to TFA, he is considering commuting his sentence. That would mean reducing the number of years he has to serve probably to current time served, in which case he will be released within a few hours from the time that the order is signed.

        The original conviction will still stand.

        1. Yeah, I don’t really get the commutation either. I mean, 14 years didn’t seem an unduly harsh punishment, given that the guy got caught trying to sell a Senate seat. There doesn’t appear to be any upside to Trump or anyone else in pardoning him. But it’s not like he’ll hold office again and he’ll still be a convicted felon, so who really cares?

          1. It wouldn’t break my heart if Blago died in prison after many more years there.

  4. There’s always to keep an Illinois politician in prison. Let him rot. How many pot dealers on his watch got 20+ years?

  5. The only reason to keep him in prison is to debase and punish him for abusing the powers of his office.

    Yup. Your point is?

    1. Yeah, there’s no shortage of sleazy politicians outside of prison. We don’t need to start looking in the prisons to find more.

  6. Let’s see…he’s done 7 of 14 years…I’m not so sure what’s magical about the number 14 versus the number 7, but maybe a comparative study of prison sentences would show if he’s getting what other people get.

    Meanwhile, he could be let out on humanitarian grounds because the Illinois governors’ wing of the federal pen is getting overcrowded.

  7. You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people.

    The future libertarians want

  8. The dude tried to sell a senate seat.

    We need to discourage that.

    1. A “gently used” Senate seat.

    2. Obama was negotiating to buy that seat for Valerie Jarrett. When that hit the wiretap the Feds pounced. Sleazy as Blago is money and office never changed hands. Jessie Jackson was also negotiating for his son and the current Illinois Governor is also on tape haggling with Blago for another job. I’d like to see all of them in jail.

      1. Seeing Obama spend the rest of his life in a SuperMax facility is a dream of mine.

  9. When I read about Blago’s case years ago, I really thought he was convicted for doing what’s ordinary politics, and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind. What’s characterized here as “selling a US senate seat” was actually trading a political favor for a political favor, where both ends of the trade were within the traders’ legal discretion. Can someone explain to me what makes this quid pro quo any worse, having any more reason to be illegal, than the type of political dealing that’s made at all levels of politics, right down to grass roots citizen participants trading for each other’s help?

    1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought there was an actual money/bribery component to it as well.

      1. Looked it up…he wanted cash in campaign contributions for the seat (clear quid pro quo), a well-paid job at a non-profit, a well-paid job ($150K or so) for his wife, and an ambassador appointment.

        Yeah, I’d say that went pretty far into bribery and beyond the usual corruption that’s winked at.

        1. I wonder how far beyond “usual” corruption that went. I’d bet there’s just as much going on all the time, if not quite so blatantly.

        2. Then why did he not keep any of that a secret? (And it wasn’t “and”, it was “or”. Those were alternative prices.) Quid pro quo is the stuff of all politics, why is this deal any different from any other?

          Politicians hurt us in all sorts of ways. The deals they extract from each other are just so much chickenshit. If this one’s wife didn’t get a government job, someone else would, so the taxpayer’s on the hook for someone’s salary no matter what.

        3. I don’t know how anyone has a problem with Blago rotting in prison.

    2. I live in Illinois and I’m no fan of Blago or his fatter clone Pritzger. He was a horrible governor. But I’m also no fan of the DOJ and particularly Obama’s DOJ. I read most of the evidence and it’s mostly just him shooting his mouth off to his buddies on the phone. The actual crimes are standard political crap in Chicago that are rarely prosecuted and arguably actually legal in Illinois. But if the DOJ comes after you, you will go down. End of story.
      My question has always been, why did Obama sicc his FBI goons on his old pal Blago? Did he suddenly become concerned about political corruption in Illinois or was he desperate to divert attention from his own sordid past there.

  10. I just hope he pardons Dan Halloran next.

  11. For The Don to release a crooked Dem politician framed on some trumped-up charges incomprehensible to the world is worth it–just to see the other looters squirm.

  12. As is typical, the “optics” are inspiring the most anger.

    What about the optics of a guy who promised to drain the swamp pardoning the poster child for swamp dwelling?

    1. You actually believed Trump when he promised to do that?

  13. I don’t know much about Blagoivich or Illinois politics for that matter, but this kind of stuff has been going on as long as there have been polticians-not excusing it or anything, but Blago happened to get caught and apparently Illinoisans continue to elect crooks, so you can’t say locking up Blago has had any deterrent value.

  14. but, but, but…. he is a Democrat!

  15. So am I sensing that the general vibe here is that Blagojevich is one of the good Democrats because he was corrupt enough to resemble a Republican? Or is being Trump’s friend enough?

    1. He’s one of yours. On the other hand, he betrayed you by trying to sell St. Obama’s seat.

  16. Every year this comes up, I suspect because it makes the press write about how every Illinois politician had to go to him to run.
    What is going to destroy the Democrats is the Epstein case. Barr is not Mueller. He will do his job. Those who supported Hillary over Trump- shame on you.

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