Disgraced governor Rod Blagojevich leaves jail after wife's campaign of Trump flattery

Alex Woodward
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and wife Patti speak to the press following a verdict at his 2010 corruption trial in Chicago: Getty Images

Following several appearances on Fox News appealing directly to Donald Trump, the wife of a convicted former governor of Illinois appeared to have helped secure her disgraced husband's release, after he spent eight years in prison for offering up an open senate seat in his state in exchange for campaign contributions.

Patti Blagojevich, whose husband Rod Blagojevich was among an unusual list of presidential pardon recipients on Tuesday, has commanded the political family's spotlight after her husband's conviction. On television, Ms Blagojevich frequently appeared on Fox to praise the president and urge for her husband's release, wrote op-eds in the conservative press, and shared flattering messages about the president on social media.

And the president relayed his approval back in statements to the press.

On 7 August aboard Air Force One, the president announced his intention to commute Mr Blagojavich's sentence, saying that he was "impressed" with her television appearances, calling her "fantastic" and "one hell of a woman".

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Trump again mentioned he watched Ms Blagojevich on television and told reporters that the former governor's children "rarely get to see their father outside of an orange uniform".

He said: "I saw that and I did commute his sentence. So he'll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail. That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence, in my opinion."

Blagojevich was sent to prison in 2012 after federal prosecutors found him guilty of a pay-to-play scheme in which he tried to sell a senate seat left open by then-president Barack Obama in exchange for campaign cash. A law enforcement wiretap captured him saying he wasn't going to give up the seat "for f****** nothing".

As he returned back to Illinois, he expressed his "everlasting gratitude" to the president and jokingly referred to himself as a "Trumpocrat".

His release has drawn stern warnings about the president's abuse of power and interference in the justice system, appearing to send a message that his pardon excuses corruption and reward his friends with indemnity from the consequences of their offences.

Before his sentence, he had appeared as a contestant on Trump's The Celebrity Apprentice. (He was "fired".) Despite that connection, Mr Trump has denied knowing him well, though he says he "seemed like a very nice person".

The daughter of a longtime Chicago political family, Ms Blagojevich staged a yearslong campaign to free her husband, picking up the media blitz that her husband waged in the days after his impeachment to plead his innocence.

Her husband was impeached and removed from office in 2009 after corruption charges surfaced in 2008.

During the Trump presidency, she communicated directly to the president in the kinds of phrases implicitly meant for Mr Trump to hear, from criticising the FBI for its investigation into the president following 2016 election interference to defending Mr Trump against his impeachment foes, comparing those perceived injustices to the ones endured by her family.

Last year, the president echoed her comments, saying that "a lot of people" though his conviction was unfair, saying "it was the same gang" that put him in jail - "all these sleazebags", including Robert Mueller and James Comey - as the team responsible for the probe into Russian-backed interference in the president's 2016 campaign.

Though Mr Mueller was heading the FBI during the investigation into Blagojevich at that time, it was then-US Attorney General Michael Mukasey who made the call to tap the former governor's phones. Mr Comey was not working with the FBI at that time.

Mr Trump also compared the FBI's wiretapping in the Blagojevich case to his own brewing phone call controversy at the heart of his own impeachment. "He shouldn't have said what he said, but it was braggadocio," the president said last year. "I would think that there have been many politicians - I'm not one of them, by the way - that have said a lot worse over telephones."

Blagojevich now heads home to Illinois after being locked up in Colorado for eight years.

The White House says he "has demonstrated exemplary character, devoting himself to improving the lives of his fellow prisoners", including tutoring, teaching high school equivalency exam lessons, and offering mentorship and professional development.

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