Thomas Gallatin / Feb. 19, 2020

Trump’s Clemency for Blagojevich Raises Questions

For Trump, this decision was a long time coming, but is it a setup for more controversial pardons?

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump issued pardons and clemencies to 11 individuals — including disgraced former Democrat Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was serving a 14-year sentence for several corruption-related crimes, the most notable being his attempted selling of Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Defending his controversial decision to commute the remainder of Blagojevich’s sentence, Trump argued, “He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio, you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”

Trump’s decision didn’t sit well with five GOP representatives from Illinois. They expressed their “disappointment” in a joint statement in which they noted that Blagojevich’s sentencing was “appropriate and fair” and represented “the low-end of the federal sentencing guidelines for the gravity of his public corruption convictions.” They further asserted, “Blegojevich 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. … We shouldn’t let those who breach the public trust off the hook.”

None of the other individuals Trump pardoned yesterday raised nearly the eyebrows or controversy as Blagojevich, which has most everyone wondering what was behind this decision. One thing’s for certain — this was a long-calculated move that Trump had been publicly mulling since 2018. Was it a setup by Trump to justify an eventual move to pardon those caught up in the Russia-collusion hoax — individuals like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Roger Stone? Possibly. It would certainly take some of the wind out of the sails of those who would claim he was acting on purely partisan instincts given that Blagojevich is a Democrat. And if that is indeed part of Trump’s thinking, would he wait until after the election to act?

Furthermore, Trump can use this to call attention to his efforts on criminal-justice reform, a policy agenda that Democrats have long touted as their own and have used effectively against Republicans, especially with minority voters. Trump has seized that political ground.

Still, that Blagojevich used his power as governor to pursue personal gain is exactly the type of corrupt swamp creature Trump campaigned on cleaning up. It’s easy to see why critics blast Trump’s decision as a clear contradiction of that commitment.

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