Why Obama May Be Terrified by Trump Commuting Blagojevich’s Sentence

President Barack Obama speaks during the awards dinner for Syracuse University’s Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, in Washington, Monday, March 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Ever since President Trump commuted the sentence of disgraced former governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich, I’ve been asking myself why he would do such a thing. I have a theory about what might have contributed to the decision, and if I’m right, Barack Obama should be concerned.


When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, it was then-Governor Blagojevich’s responsibility to appoint someone to fill the seat. But, Blagojevich didn’t just want to give it away, he wanted something for it. “A Senate seat is a f—ing valuable thing. You don’t just give it away for nothing,” Blagojevich said at the time.

In 2011, Blagojevich was sentenced to 11 years in prison on corruption charges. Of course, he wanted a pardon from Obama, but never got one. That had to be tough for the disgraced governor, considering Obama granted clemency to terrorists and traitors, but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give one to a former political ally.

This naturally should have people asking: Why?

In my opinion, it all comes back to Blagojevich’s attempt to sell Obama’s former Senate seat. Soon after Obama’s victory, negotiations began for Blagojevich to appoint an Obama-approved candidate to fill his seat. Obama even provided a list of suitable candidates. At the top of the list was Valerie Jarrett. But, as previously mentioned, Blagojevich didn’t just want to give away the seat to someone. He wanted something in return: a position in Obama’s cabinet. Unfortunately for him, at the time, he was politically unpopular and the target of a federal corruption probe, and being wiretapped by the FBI. The chances of him getting picked for a cabinet position were slim. Jarrett also eventually decided to follow Obama to the White House as an advisor.


When the Senate-seat-for-sale scandal broke, Obama denied having any contact with the governor about his Senate seat, and his transition team conducted an internal investigation, which obviously cleared him of violating any laws–because what other conclusion would the Obama transition team come to? However, the criminal complaint and sworn testimony during Blagojevich’s trial contradicted Obama’s statements, as did media reports at the time. Obama advisor David Axelrod also accidentally revealed that Obama spoke directly with Blagojevich about the Senate seat–though he later claimed he misspoke.

Blagojevich even wanted Obama subpoenaed to testify in his trial. One government witness in the trial testified that Obama sent intermediaries to negotiate on his behalf about who should be named to fill his former seat–directly contradicting Obama White House claims to the contrary.

Now that Blagojevich is a free man, slighted by Obama but ingratiated by Trump, it could mean that he’ll be willing to talk more freely about Obama’s illegal actions in the Senate-seat-for-sale scandal. I’d love to see that happen. That scandal was one of many that Obama was never held accountable for.



Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis


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