Ex-Gov. Blagojevich's Lawyers File for Clemency, Days After Trump Raises Hopes
By Jason Meisner
Imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich filed official paperwork Tuesday asking President Donald Trump to commute his 14-year prison sentence on sweeping corruption charges.
The request for executive clemency was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Pardon Attorney, which oversees official pardon and commutation requests, according to Adam Farragut, a spokesman for Blagojevich's legal team. A copy of the paperwork was not made available Tuesday.
The request comes days after Trump said for the first time he was considering commuting Blagojevich's sentence, which he described as an overly harsh penalty for what essentially amounted to a "foolish statement" about what he could get in exchange for an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama on his election as president in 2008.
"There was a lot of bravado," said Trump, who knows Blagojevich from when the then-indicted governor was a contestant on Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" reality show. "... Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. He shouldn't have been put in jail."
There is no timetable for Trump to act on the request, but if he decides to grant the commutation, Blagojevich could be released within days or even hours from the minimum-security facility outside Denver where he has served just more than six years.
If the president denies the request, Blagojevich, 61, would not be due for release until May 2024.
Before news of the clemency filing broke Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked at the daily news briefing about the president's current thinking on freeing Blagojevich and whether he was aware of criticism of the potential move from some Republicans.
"The president hasn't made a final decision on that," she said. "But as you know, the president doesn't base his decisions off of the criticism of others, but on what he thinks is the right decision to make, and that's what he'll base it on."
Blagojevich's formal clemency plea was filed on the heels of a calculated media blitz orchestrated by his legal team in recent weeks attacking his conviction as unjust and politically motivated. On Memorial Day, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed piece by Blagojevich under the headline "I'm in Prison for Practicing Politics." It began by saying that the "rule of law is under assault in America."
His wife, Patti Blagojevich, has gone on national cable news _ including Trump's favorite, Fox News _ in not-so-veiled attempts to link her husband's prosecution to former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a close friend of fired FBI chief James Comey.
Critics, meanwhile, have slammed the commutation effort as a sordid attempt to rewrite the history of Blagojevich's case.
Blagojevich was convicted in 2011 on 17 counts related to the attempted Senate seat sale and the fundraising shakedowns of a children's hospital executive and a racetrack owner. Less than a year earlier, an initial trial had ended with a jury deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI, forcing the retrial.
In his first appeal in 2015, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago threw out five counts involving the Senate seat on technical grounds. But the court tempered the small victory for Blagojevich by calling the evidence against him overwhelming and making it clear that the original sentence was not out of bounds.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel resentenced Blagojevich in 2016 to the same 14-year prison term.
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