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National Editorial & Columnists

EDITORIALS ELSEWHERE: No commutation for Blagojevich

President Trump doesn't understand the depth of pay-to-play politics in Illinois

President Donald Trump recently suggested, as he has in the past, that he’s considering commuting former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence on multiple corruption convictions.

Judging from Trump’s statements, it’s apparent that he’s much more influenced by the constant pleas for her husband’s release by Patti Blagojevich than he is by the facts of Blagojevich’s years-long crime spree.

Suffice it to say, Blagojevich is not only not deserving of a commutation of his sentence, he’s not even close. While Judge James Zagel’s sentence was lengthy, our unrepentant former governor should be grateful it wasn’t longer.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly; he was given close to 18 years in prison,” Trump told reporters.

Trump is off by 4 years in his understanding of the sentence. He also is mistaken when he asserts that Blagojevich’s sole crime was making questionable, unfulfilled promises during a telephone call.

It’s indisputable that Blagojevich and an assortment of equally corrupt associates turned state government into a criminal enterprise – trading a variety of favors (state contracts and appointments) for campaign contributions or cash.

There wasn’t much in the state that wasn’t for sale during his tenure.

There’s also another regrettable aspect to Trump’s thought process – his resentment of former FBI Director James Comey.

To Trump’s way of thinking, anything associated with Comey – directly or indirectly – is suspect.

So because Comey is, reportedly, a friend of former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office prosecuted Blagojevich, the Blagojevich convictions are somehow tainted.

Trump, obviously, doesn’t understand Illinois politics and its pervasive rot.

Following his appointment as U.S. attorney in Chicago, Fitzgerald heroically pursued corruption, going after thieving insiders in both parties.

His office won convictions of former Gov. George Ryan and a slew of Ryan associates, and convictions of Blagojevich and a small army of his associates. It went after criminal misconduct in Chicago city government and targeted top organized crime bosses.

In other words, he went, on a nonpartisan basis, after criminal behavior that was both deeply rooted and mostly ignored by prior federal prosecutors.

Here’s another thing Trump might want to consider before commuting Blagojevich’s sentence.

Fitzgerald, a member of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, is no longer the U.S. attorney. Current U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr., a Trump appointee, is.

What is Lausch doing? He, too, is leading multiple public corruption investigations, just as Fitzgerald did. Why? Because this state remains thoroughly corrupt.

Trump should heed the words of four U.S. House Republicans from Illinois.

“It’s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois, where four of our last eight governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption,” Reps. Rodney Davis, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Mike Bost and Darin LaHood said in a joint statement.

Trump should heed the advice of current Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said “Gov. Blagojevich should remain in prison.”

Forgiveness and mercy have their place – when deserved. But so does punishment.

Blagojevich earned his sentence through his flagrant violations of the law, something the president would understand if he familiarized himself with the tawdry facts of the imprisoned former governor’s vast criminal activities.

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