President Trump has tossed out a few names of prominent people for whom he's weighing a pardon or sentence commutation, including domestic diva Martha Stewart and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Setting aside whether his focus within this realm should be trained on more deserving and less influential people, there's a case to be made for wiping Ms. Stewart's record clean. The disgraced Illinois Democrat, however, is another story. In a Fox News segment over the weekend, Blagojevich's wife pleaded for her husband to be released from prison ahead of schedule, arguing that his case merited leniency. The host of the show -- a vocal Trump enthusiast -- followed the president's lead and evinced sympathy for the cause, advancing a number of interesting assertions:
Blagojevich’s wife goes on one of Trump’s favorite shows to describe how hard his imprisonment has been on their kids. Judge Jeanine says Blago was popular and just doing “politics” when he tried to sell a Senate seat for personal gain. Audience of ONE https://t.co/13Nz0uskSs— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) June 3, 2018
Patricia Blagojevich: "Our system of government [has] a system of checks and balances for a reason, and sometimes the courts and these prosecutors get it wrong...and it takes a strong leader like President @realDonaldTrump to right those wrongs." @JudgeJeanine pic.twitter.com/idKVzJhjd0— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 3, 2018
The 'hey, it was just politics' line was recently offered by Blagojevich himself in a Wall Street Journal op/ed he submitted from prison: "Under the legal arguments the prosecutors used to convict me, all fundraising can be viewed as bribery," he wrote. This is revisionist rubbish, as is the claim that 'Blago' was beloved by his constituents:
Blagojevich:— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) June 4, 2018
1) Schemed to sell a US Senate seat
2) Shook down a children’s hospital for money
3) Sought to get critical journalists fired from their jobs
4) Left office with approval numbers in the single digits to low teens https://t.co/LcBz0JtHRO
He was convicted on multiple federal counts connected to items one and two, and was recorded on tape plotting item three. It's true that five of the counts were later dismissed by an appeals court, but 13 convictions were upheld. Furthermore, the higher court "also suggested the original sentence wasn't necessarily extreme, even when factoring in the newly tossed convictions." Another judge declined to reduce the sentence in 2016. Let's review relevant evidence elucidating all four bullet points mentioned in my tweet. On auctioning off a vacant United States Senate seat in exchange for seven-figures in donations and related considerations:
The governor of Illinois brazenly put up for sale his appointment of Barack Obama’s successor in the United States Senate, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. In recorded conversations with advisers, the governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, seemed alternately boastful, flip and spiteful about the Senate choice, which he crassly likened at one point to that of a sports agent shopping around a free agent for the steepest price, a federal affidavit showed. At times, he even weighed aloud appointing himself to the job, the prosecutors said. “I’ve got this thing,” Mr. Blagojevich said on one recording, according to the affidavit, “and it’s [expletive] golden. And I’m just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I’m not going to do it. And I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”
On shaking down a children's hospital for donations:
Blagojevich was sentenced today to 14 years in federal prison following his conviction at trials in 2010 and 2011 on 18 felony counts of corruption during his tenure as governor, including his effort in 2008 to illegally trade the appointment of a United States Senator in exchange for $1.5 million in campaign contributions or other personal benefits. Blagojevich was also sentenced for shaking down the chief executive of a children’s hospital for $25,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for implementing an increase to pediatric reimbursement rates; holding up the signing of a bill to benefit the Illinois horse racing industry in an attempt to illegally obtain $100,000 in campaign contributions; and lying to the FBI in 2005.
On pushing for unfriendly journalists to lose their jobs at the Chicago Tribune, as a quid pro quo for state assistance on a real estate deal:
FOLKENFLIK: According to court documents, Blagojevich was taped in recent weeks ordering his chief of staff to pressure the Tribune Company to - well, let's let U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald take it from there.
PATRICK FITZGERALD (U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Illinois): In the governor's words, quote, "Fire all those bleeping people. Get them the bleep out of there. And get us some editorial support," close quote. And the bleeps are not really bleeps.
FOLKENFLIK: John McCormick was the only bleeping person mentioned by name. The Tribune Company owns other big papers, but it also owns the Chicago Cubs. And the Tribune Company wants - well, needs really - to sell the Cubs and Wrigley Field to help pay down its staggering debt of $13 billion. That debt came from controlling owner Sam Zell's takeover of the company a year ago, which required him to put down very little of his own money. Tribune filed for bankruptcy on Monday. State help in financing the sale of Wrigley Field could have been worth 100 million to 150 million dollars to Tribune. In exchange, Blagojevich was demanding he be rid of the nuisance on the editorial page.
Selling a US Senate seat for cash and other perks. Extorting an executive at a children's hospital for campaign donations as a condition for more favorable government treatment vis-a-vis said children's hospital. Threatening and bullying a newspaper to get rid of inconvenient voices, in order to facilitate a more favorable real estate arrangement. These are all egregious actions that tear at the fabric of civil society and devastate public trust. On point four, Illinois voters reacted accordingly, sending Blagojevich out the door with microscopic approval ratings -- ranging from seven to thirteen percent. Watching the clip above, one may feel some sympathy for Mrs. Blagojevich and her children. But Mr. Blagojevich should have considered the consequences of his actions, for himself and his family, before he set out to exploit the levers of power he controlled in order to benefit himself, often in the most unseemly and sleazy ways imaginable. His ongoing rationalizations and blame-shift suggest that he still has not learned his lesson.
Furthermore, Illinois has suffered from a serious corruption crisis, lasting decades. When Blagojevich was sentenced, four of the state's seven most recent governors ended up in prison. That is extraordinary. Throwing the book at Blagojevich as a deterrent for continued criminality at the highest levels of Illinois politics was arguably a worthy end unto itself. The man cynically campaigned as an anti-corruption reformer, then became the beast he'd promised to slay -- and did so with cartoonishly contemptible conduct. Of all the Americans who might conceivably crop up on a presidential pardon or commutation list, the dishonorable Rod Blagojevich does not deserve to be anywhere near the top of that roster.