The Illinois House delegation signed a letter to the president asking him not to pardon former Governor Rod Blagojevich, saying it would “set a detrimental precedent” and hamper efforts to end the massive public corruption in the state.
The letter recounted Illinois’ “difficult period of public corruption” and said Blagojevich’s crimes were the “pinnacle.” It pointed out that Blagojevich’s removal from office had overwhelming bipartisan support in the state legislature and his 14-year prison sentence has been upheld in multiple legal appeals.
“The evidence against Rod Blagojevich was gathered through the diligent efforts of law enforcement professionals in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the letter said. “To now excuse him would be demoralizing to those committed agents and officials who work hard every day in Illinois to fight public corruption and defend the rule of law.”
The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood of Peoria, John Shimkus of Collinsville, Peter Roskam of Wheaton, Randy Hultgren of Plano, Adam Kinzinger of Channahon, Rodney Davis of Taylorville and Mike Bost of Murphysboro.
The state GOP is angry because they have been trying to tie the current Democratic nominee for governor, J.B. Pritzker, to the Blagojevich scandal. Incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner is in a losing battle with Pritzker, who was caught up in the scandal when several phone conversations he had with Blagojevich were recorded by the FBI, including one in which he asked the former governor to appoint him state treasurer.
Blagojevich was convicted on several counts relating to his efforts to sell the Senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president in 2008.
Trump’s comments on Blagojevich show he has little understanding of the extraordinary nature of Blagojevich’s corruption or how the disgraced governor symbolized the depths to which Illinois politics had sunk.
Trump last month told reporters on Air Force One that he was considering lessening the 61-year-old Blagojevich’s prison sentence, describing it as overly harsh. Blagojevich is not due for release until May 2024. Trump also said he was considering a pardon for Martha Stewart.
“I’ll tell you another one … there’s another one that I’m thinking about. Rod Blagojevich,” Trump said, according to a pool report. “Eighteen (sic) years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know that many other politicians say.”
“And if you look at what he said, he said something to the effect like, ‘What do I get?’ … Stupid thing to say. But he’s sort of saying … he’s gonna make a U.S. senator, which is a very big deal,” Trump said. “If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado. … Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. He shouldn’t have been put in jail.”
Trump also referred to Blagojevich’s stint on his reality show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” but downplayed any relationship between them, saying, “I don’t know him other than that he was on (the show) for a short period of time.”
The sale of the Senate seat was only part of Blagojevich’s corrupt tenure as governor. There were also several “pay to play” scandals where he promised prominent Democrats cushy positions on state boards and commissions in return for campaign dollars.
This was no ordinary corruption, even for Illinois. Trump should listen to those House Republicans and keep his pardon pen in his pocket.