Trump, getting facts wrong, says he may free Blagojevich

FILE - In this March 14, 2012, file photo, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, with his wife Patti at his side, speaks to the media in Chicago before reporting to federal prison in Denver. President Donald Trump says he's "very strongly" considering commuting the sentence of Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year prison term on multiple federal corruption convictions. Trump suggested more than a year ago that he was considering a commutation for Blagojevich, who then filed paperwork requesting a commutation. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

CHICAGO — President Donald Trump has sent his clearest signal yet that he may be about to sign commutation papers freeing former Illinois governor and one-time "Celebrity Apprentice" contestant Rod Blagojevich from federal prison in Colorado.

The 62-year-old Democrat, who was once best known and the butt of jokes for his thick, meticulously coiffed hair, is seven years into a lengthy sentence for extortion, bribery and other wide-ranging political corruption.

"I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One this week about Blagojevich. He added: "I'm thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly."

Trump's comments on Blagojevich's case contained several errors and underplayed the severity of the crimes, which included attempting to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008.

A look at Blagojevich's crimes, Trump's characterization of them and why the president may be taking a special interest in the case:

Q: WAS BLAGOJEVICH CONVICTED FOR BRAGGING?

A: Trump echoed an assertion Blagojevich has made for years that federal prosecutors came after him for mere musings and boastful talk on the phone, which, unbeknownst to Blagojevich at the time in 2008, had been tapped by the FBI.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, Trump said Blagojevich was behind bars "over a phone call where nothing happens." He added Blagojevich "shouldn't have said what he said, but it was braggadocio."

Judges and prosecutors rejected such interpretations. The majority of Illinois residents, many who seemed otherwise jaded by the state's long, ignominious history of political corruption, expressed shock at what Blagojevich did.

His conviction for trying to sell an appointment to Obama's Senate seat for campaign contributions stood out, in part, because of Blagojevich's excited, expletive-laden talk captured on wiretaps about how he could parlay his power to name a new senator into campaign donations.

"I've got this thing and it's f------ golden," he is heard saying. "And I'm just not giving it up for f------ nothing."

Prosecutors said the crime went beyond talk, with Blagojevich dispatching emissaries to press potential donors and to convey the message that they'd have to pay to play.

His other convictions included trying to shake down a Chicago children's hospital. It's CEO, Patrick Magoon, testified that Blagojevich threatened to cancel an $8 million state pediatric-care reimbursement unless Magoon paid $25,000 into Blagojevich's campaign coffers.

A federal appeals court in 2015 did toss five of 18 convictions, including ones in which Blagojevich offered an appointment to the Senate for a high-paying job. But the convictions for trying to trade an appointment for campaign cash where upheld.

Q: WAS TRUMP RIGHT ABOUT THE SENTENCE?

A: In his comments, Trump was right about the amount Blagojevich has served to date when he said: "I think it's enough: seven years."

Blagojevich reported to prison in 2012, after which his hair quickly turned white because hair dyes are prohibited behind bars. Inside, the Elvis Presley fan formed a prison band called "The Jailhouse Rockers," his lawyers have said.

Trump was wrong in saying Blagojevich "was given close to 18 years in prison." Judge James Zagel sentenced Blagojevich in 2011 to 14 years in prison.

"The abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than the abuse of any other office, except the president's," Zagel said in sentencing the two-term governor.

"When it is the governor who goes bad," the judge said, "the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired."

Federal felons must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, meaning Blagojevich would be eligible after serving 12 years. That would put his release date in 2024.

In speaking about how he thought Blagojevich's sentence was too long, Trump also said: "You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they've killed 25 people." It's unclear what Trump meant.

Q: WHAT'S TRUMP'S INTEREST IN THE CASE?

A: Trump appeared to draw a link between the federal prosecution of Blagojevich and the federal investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

"And it was the same gang — the (James Comey) gang and the — all these sleazebags — that did it," said Trump.

But Comey, who Trump fired as FBI director in 2017, wasn't in the FBI or anywhere in the Department of Justice during the investigation and indictment of Blagojevich. During that period, he was a vice president and general counsel at Lockheed Martin Corp. He left private practice in 2013, after Blagojevich was already in prison, and was confirmed that year as FBI director.

The Blagojevich investigation began during the George W. Bush's presidency, when a familiar figure in the Russian investigation led the FBI: Robert Mueller.

Trump fired Blagojevich from the "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show in 2010 after Blagojevich struggled to complete basic tasks on a cellphone, like sending texts and e-mails. But Trump also expressed admiration for Blagojevich, whose first trial was about to begin. Trump praised him for how he was fighting his criminal case, telling him: "You have a hell of a lot of guts."

Q: HAS TRUMP DISCUSSED THIS BEFORE?

A: Trump first publicly mentioned the idea of freeing Blagojevich in May 2018. He said at the time that Blagojevich was convicted for "being stupid, saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say."

As time passed with no action by Trump, Blagojevich's wife, Patti, went on a media blitz with an apparent target audience of one: Trump himself.

Patti Blagojevich, who comes from a influential family of Chicago Democrats, went out of her way to praise the Republican president. And in comments that would have pleased Trump, she likened the investigation of her husband to the Russia investigation that the president repeatedly called a "witch hunt."

In his comments this week, Trump expressed sympathy for the Blagojevich daughters and admiration for Patti.

"I'm very impressed with his wife," he said. "She's one hell of a woman."

___

Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm

You may also interested in

'Pink Star' diamond sells for record $71.2...

Apr 5, 2017

US-AUCTION-SOTHEBYS-DIAMOND:'Pink Star' diamond sells for record $71.2 million in bidding war

China blocks online broadcast of computer go match

May 24, 2017

Censors blocked China's internet users from seeing Google's online broadcast of a national go...

China controls information about ailing Nobel...

Jul 12, 2017

As China faces mounting pressure to let imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo go...

Chinese activist stands trial accused of inciting...

Aug 22, 2017

A prominent Chinese human rights campaigner accused of inciting subversion of state power said at...

Hong Kong businessman and socialite David Tang...

Aug 30, 2017

David Tang, a flamboyant and outspoken socialite and entrepreneur who founded the Shanghai Tang...

About Us

Buzz Online Daily brings to you the trendy and up-to-date viral news, entertainment news, and local breaking news exclusively to our dedicated readers.

Contact us: sales[at]buzzonlinedaily.com

Subscribe Now!