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Trump frees Rod Blagojevich from prison years early, commuting the ex-Illinois governor's 14-year sentence

Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday commuted the 14-year sentence of Rod Blagojevich, springing the former Illinois governor from prison more than four years early and writing a stunning final chapter to one of the state's most notorious corruption cases.

The controversial move comes after he granted a full pardon to former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. Tuesday and more than a year after Trump first revealed he was considering commuting Blagojevich's sentence.

Trump said Blagojevich's daughters have not seen their father outside of prison, and he thought of them as he made his decision.

"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," Trump said in Maryland on Tuesday.

Throughout his first term, Trump had repeatedly dangled the suggestion of freeing Blagojevich, who appeared briefly on the president's former "Celebrity Apprentice" show. Trump often cited what he characterized as the former Democratic governor's harsh sentence while not mentioning the details that sent him to prison -- including trying to sell the Senate seat of then President-elect Barack Obama for personal or political enrichment.

He last raised the prospect in August, when he told reporters aboard Air Force One that he was "very strongly" considering issuing a commutation to Blagojevich, who was scheduled to be released from federal prison in 2024.

 

"I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly," Trump said.

Blagojevich served as governor from 2003, was reelected in 2006 despite a swirl of federal investigations, and was impeached and removed from office in 2009.

He was convicted in December 2011 and sentenced to 14 years on corruption charges. In addition to the proposed sale of Obama's Senate seat, Blagojevich also was convicted of trying to shake down executives from a children's hospital and the horse-racing industry for campaign contributions in exchange for official acts in office.

In commuting his sentence four years early, Trump added another chapter to one of the state's most notorious corruption cases, which led to the first impeachment of a governor in Illinois' scandal-tarred history.

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