By Steve Holland
(Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he had commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois convicted of corruption for trying to sell former President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich, who appeared on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” reality television show in 2010 while awaiting trial, had been serving a 14-year sentence after being convicted of wire fraud, extortion and soliciting bribes while governor.
“That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence,” said Trump, a real estate developer who produced the show before running for the Republican presidential nomination. He spoke to reporters at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington before departing on a campaign trip to the West Coast.
Blagojevich, 63, was removed from office in 2009 after prosecutors said he had tried to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat that Obama vacated after winning the 2008 presidential election.
The Supreme Court in 2018 rejected a bid by Blagojevich to get his sentence reduced. It had been scheduled to run until 2026 – six years from now.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, has tried to cast himself as a victim of an overzealous and politically motivated prosecution by federal law enforcement, an accusation sure to resonate with Trump and his supporters.
“Some in the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are abusing their power to criminalize the routine practices of politics and government,” Blagojevich wrote in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal in May 2018.
“I learned the hard way what happens when an investigation comes up empty after the government has invested time, resources and manpower. When they can’t prove a crime, they create one,” Blagojevich added.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Howard Goller)