Illinois’ Republican congressional delegation signed a letter Monday asking President Donald Trump to leave Democrat Rod Blagojevich’s prison sentence intact, saying any clemency for the imprisoned former governor would “set a detrimental precedent” and damage efforts to combat public corruption.
The letter recounted Illinois’ “difficult period of public corruption” and said Blagojevich’s crimes were the “pinnacle.” It pointed out that Blagojevich’s removal from office had overwhelming bipartisan support in the state legislature and his 14-year prison sentence has been upheld in multiple legal appeals.
“The evidence against Rod Blagojevich was gathered through the diligent efforts of law enforcement professionals in the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the letter said. “To now excuse him would be demoralizing to those committed agents and officials who work hard every day in Illinois to fight public corruption and defend the rule of law.”
The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood of Peoria, John Shimkus of Collinsville, Peter Roskam of Wheaton, Randy Hultgren of Plano, Adam Kinzinger of Channahon, Rodney Davis of Taylorville and Mike Bost of Murphysboro.
It marks a notable difference between the state’s GOP lawmakers and Trump and comes at a time when Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois Republican Party work to tie Blagojevich to Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker.
Trump last month told reporters on Air Force One that he was considering lessening the 61-year-old Blagojevich’s prison sentence, describing it as overly harsh. Blagojevich is not due for release until May 2024. Trump also said he was considering a pardon for Martha Stewart.
“I’ll tell you another one … there’s another one that I’m thinking about. Rod Blagojevich,” Trump said, according to a pool report. “Eighteen (sic) years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know that many other politicians say.”
“And if you look at what he said, he said something to the effect like, ‘What do I get?’ … Stupid thing to say. But he’s sort of saying … he’s gonna make a U.S. senator, which is a very big deal,” Trump said. “If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado. … Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. He shouldn’t have been put in jail.”
Trump also referred to Blagojevich’s stint on his reality show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” but downplayed any relationship between them, saying, “I don’t know him other than that he was on (the show) for a short period of time.”
Trump recently commuted the life sentence of a convicted drug dealer from Memphis after reality-TV star Kim Kardashian visited the White House on her behalf. Meanwhile, Blagojevich filed paperwork earlier this month formally asking Trump to commute his sentence.
Still, Illinois’ GOP congressional delegation told Trump that Blagojevich’s impeachment and conviction arose from “a series of actions” that showed his “consistent pattern of public corruption.” Blagojevich withheld millions from Children’s Memorial Hospital to get a $50,000 campaign contribution and didn’t sign a law “beneficial to race tracks until one of the [track owners] agreed to a $100,000 campaign contribution,” the letter said.
He also tried to sell President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat, with those negotiations only ending “when the former governor learned of federal wiretaps on his phone” days before his arrest, according to the letter. The letter notes that his sentence wasn’t at the maximum end of sentencing guidelines and if he’s freed now, Blagojevich would “serve less than the low end of the applicable guideline range.”
“As you well know, the integrity of our democracy and the core of American values depend on our elected officials being honest in upholding the trust given to them by the American people,” the letter said. “Granting clemency to Rod Blagojevich would go against this trust.”
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