Trump commutes sentence of ex-Illinois Gov. Blagojevich in rash of clemency orders

President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeSantis on Florida schools reopening: 'If you can do Walmart,' then 'we absolutely can do schools' NYT editorial board calls for the reopening of schools with help from federal government's 'checkbook' Mueller pens WaPo op-ed: Roger Stone 'remains a convicted felon, and rightly so' MORE on Tuesday granted clemency to almost a dozen individuals, including former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and ex-New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, sparking criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

"I did commute [Blagojevich's] sentence. So he’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail," Trump told reporters in reference to the disgraced Illinois governor who had served roughly half of a 14-year sentence on federal corruption charges. "That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others."

The commutation, confirmed by Trump before departing for a multi-day trip out west, concludes more than a year's worth of hemming and hawing within the White House over whether to intervene in the Blagojevich case.

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Blagojevich was removed from office in 2009 and was later convicted of a wide array of corruption charges, including attempted extortion of a children's hospital for campaign contributions and trying to sell former President Obama’s Senate seat after he was elected to the White House in 2008. The former governor began serving a 14-year prison sentence in 2012.

He was infamously caught on tape speaking about the pay-for-play scheme involving Obama's seat.

"I've got this thing, and it's f-----g golden. I'm just not giving it up for f-----g nothing," Blagojevich said in a recorded phone call.

The president first floated a commutation for Blagojevich in 2018. The two men knew each other previously from when the former governor appeared as a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice."

Trump broached the topic again last August, telling reporters aboard Air Force One that he was inclined to commute Blagojevich's sentence.

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"You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people," Trump said. "They put him in jail for 18 years, and he has many years left. And I think it’s very unfair."

A handful of Illinois political figures — including Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats MORE (D) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson — have come out in support of reducing Blagojevich's jail time.

“Former Governor Blagojevich betrayed the people of Illinois and engaged in a pattern of corrupt behavior for which he was held accountable and which cost him more than seven years of freedom," Durbin said in a statement on Tuesday after the commutation was announced. He went on to call for the Illinois and federal governments to pass stricter ethics requirements.

An official for Durbin added that the senator "never lobbied any President" to commute Blagojevich's sentence. Durbin had publicly expressed that he felt the sentence was too long.

But members of the Illinois House Republican delegation issued a statement last year amid talk of clemency for Blagojevich discouraging Trump from the move, citing the state's long history of corrupt governors.

Five congressional Republicans from Illinois issued a statement Tuesday afternoon voicing their disapproval with Trump's decision, calling Blagojevich "the face of public corruption in Illinois" and noting the ex-governor had not shown any remorse for his actions.

"As our state continues to grapple with political corruption, we shouldn’t let those who breached the public trust off the hook. History will not judge Rod Blagojevich well," Reps. Darin LaHoodDarin McKay LaHoodEncouraging a safe business environment can help drive America's recovery Trump says 'decoupling' from China on the table House GOP to launch China probes beyond COVID-19 MORE, John ShimkusJohn Mondy ShimkusBottom line Bottom Line Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic MORE, Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerPentagon: 'No corroborating evidence' yet to validate troop bounty allegations Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Trump faces bipartisan calls for answers on Russian-offered bounties MORE, Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Fauci says focus should be on pausing reopenings rather than reverting to shutdowns; WHO director pleads for international unity in pandemic response State and local officials beg Congress to send more election funds ahead of November The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases MORE and Mike BostMichael (Mike) J. BostMORE said in the statement.

The top Republican in the Illinois statehouse also slammed Trump's move on Tuesday, saying the president must not be "concerned about the state of Illinois for next November."

The former governor has advocated for a pardon or a reduced sentence for years, appealing directly to Trump in some cases.

Blagojevich's wife, Patti, regularly appeared on Fox News to make the case for clemency, and the governor penned an op-ed from prison in January in which he ripped House Democrats for impeaching Trump, claiming lawmakers would have done the same to Abraham Lincoln.

The president on Tuesday noted he had seen Patti Blagojevich on television. He also seized on a connection between U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who prosecuted Blagojevich's case, and former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTrump on possible Roger Stone pardon: 'His prayer may be answered' How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Bolton book sells 780,000 copies in first week, set to surpass 1M copies printed MORE. Fitzgerald in 2018 took a role on Comey's legal team.

Blagojevich was one of several individuals who received clemency on Tuesday. In total, Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of 11 people.

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He also pardoned Kerik, who was convicted of tax fraud and making false statements, as well as financier Michael Milken.

Trump also pardoned former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who pleaded guilty in 1998 for failing to report that he was extorted by an ex-Louisiana governor.

In many cases, the individuals who received clemency had high-profile advocates urging the White House to intervene in their cases, including conservative media personalities and GOP lawmakers.

Democrats appeared exasperated by the decision to aid Blagojevich in particular.

"President Trump commutes sentence of politician who tried to use official powers for personal gain. No surprise there," Rep. Mary Gay ScanlonMary Gay ScanlonDemocrats introduce resolution condemning acts of violence against the press Behind every gun law is a mom marching for her children COVID-19 is no excuse for Attorney General Barr to skirt the rule of law MORE (D-Pa.) tweeted of the governor's commutation.

"There are people who deserve commutations but won't get them from this president because he sees pardons as a way to undermine the rule of law, not to see justice done," Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted.

Updated at 3:51 p.m.