CHICAGO — President Donald Trump freed former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich eight years into his 14 year corruption sentence.
The FBI investigators and the lawyers who prosecuted and defended Blagojevich reacted to the news with a variety of responses, from delight to disappointment.
Blagojevich’s former attorney Sam Adam said the sentence was too harsh.
“I’m ecstatic, I’m thrilled to have Mr. Blagojevich back with his family and to have those two little girls reunited with their father,” he said. “As we’ve said a hundred times before, and I’ll probably say a thousand times again, nothing’s more important than having a father, and a mother in a home. … Seven years for the things he was convicted of – in my humble opinion – was enough and I’m glad the president saw it that way.”
But former FBI agent Rob Grant, who was in charge of the Chicago field office during the Blagojevich investigation, said the commutation sends the wrong message about corruption.
“This is a state that is just rife with systemic corruption and has been for a long, long time and the only way to really weed that out is to get very stiff sentences to public officials that engage in it,” he said. “And this just weakens that.”
Grant said the commutation appears to be based on emotion, not legal reasoning. He said the president was likely swayed by watching Blagojevich’s wife on Fox News, and by his own unsubstantiated view that the FBI conducts “witch hunts,” not proper investigations.
“He connects this case to Jim Comey which Jim Comey has nothing to do with the Rod Blagojevich case,” Grant said.
The team of federal prosecutors who handled the case defended the conviction. It included former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. He said the law and facts were on their side.
The prosecutors released a statement that said, “While the President has the power to reduce Mr. Blagojevich’s sentence, the fact remains that the former governor was convicted of very serious crimes. His prosecution serves as proof that elected officials who betray those they are elected to serve will be held to account.”
But Adam says it’s a day to rejoice for the Blagojevich family and especially for the governor who maintains that he never committed a crime, that he just engaged in political horse-trading.
“If you truly feel you’re innocent, why not shout it from the rooftops?” Adam said.
Lawmakers Speak Out
Reaction also poured in from both sides of the aisle. And the sentiment is mostly much the same, Trump made a mistake.
Illinois House Republican leader Jim Durkin said it’s wrong.
“I don’t understand what his motivation. I think it’s wrong,” he said. “I was involved first hand with the impeachment efforts and I saw a governor who was rogue on steroids. He was a person that didn’t care about the state of Illinois. He cared about his own ambition.”
In a statement, current Illinois Governor JB Rritzker said: “President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”
Even members of Blagojevich’s democratic party condemned the commutation and said in a statement, “The president’s own Republican advisors have warned him that Mr. Blagojevich is guilty of corruption, which the president vowed to fight once in office. His actions today are simply incomprehensible.”
And Illinois’ Republican congressional delegation expressed disappointment with the president’s decision. They released a joint statement that said, “Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois, and not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes that undermined the trust placed in him by voters.”
Durkin said he believes there are more deserving people who are serving time in federal prisons for drug-related offenses.
“It’s just because of the celebrity of Rod Blagojevich is why he’s getting this type of relief,” he said. “I think it’s wrong and it sends a bad message to the people in this country that you know what you don’t exactly have to pay your debt to society.”
Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed sympathy for the family while criticizing Trump.
“If the president was somebody who stood for integrity in government, recognized and respected the rule of law and wasn’t constantly trying to undermine the Department of Justice, federal judges and playing favorites with people who’ve been convicted of serious crimes, I think an action who have a lot more creditability than this one is ever going to have,” she said.
Former governor Pat Quinn, who Blagojevich’s lieutenant governor told WGN News he didn’t agree with decision and he though Blagojevich should serve out his sentence.
WGN News also reached out to House Speaker Mike Madigan to get his reaction to the news and was told not to expect one.