‘We, as Republicans, sometimes are perceived as being cold on these issues…’
(Liberty Headlines) On a recent visit to Chicago, President Donald Trump has again broached the idea of freeing former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich from a Colorado federal prison, where he is in his seventh year of a 14-year prison term for political corruption.
The Democrat, a one-time contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” was indicted in a pay-to-play operation to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama’s presidential election.
Among those ensnared by the scandal was former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., son of the prominent black activist and Chicago mainstay.
Trump asked for a show of hands at a fundraiser at Chicago’s Trump International Hotel of those who supported clemency for the 62-year-old Democrat.
Most of the 200 to 300 attendees raised their hands, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing several people at Monday’s event.
On the same day, Trump told Chicago’s WLS-TV that—despite bringing up the possibility of freeing Blagojevich in August and then appearing to back away from the idea—Blagojevich shouldn’t abandon hope of an early release.
“No, he should not at all give up hope, at all,” Trump said. “We are looking at it.”
The White House Thursday declined comment.
Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, has lobbied the Republican president hard on her husband’s behalf. But despite Trump’s impromptu survey this week, there has never been a groundswell of support in Illinois for the ex-governor’s early release.
Trump first publicly mentioned the idea in May 2018, saying Blagojevich was convicted for “being stupid, saying things … many other politicians say.” After Trump told reporters again three months ago he was thinking about a commutation, all five of Illinois’ Republican congressmen wrote a letter in opposition, saying it was important to “stand against pay-to-play politics.”
Trump has consistently understated the severity of Blagojevich’s crimes. In addition to the conviction over the pay-to-play Senate seat, jurors also convicted him for trying to extort a Chicago children’s hospital for campaign cash.
But the idea of freeing the Democratic governor is likely to create even greater tensions with Republicans who already laid their foot down on concerns over Trump’s withdrawal from Syria and a proposal to have the next G7 world leader summit at his own Miami hotel.
The president, despite his solid base and fundraising prowess, will need all the goodwill he can muster from Senate Republicans as his Democratic adversaries seek to impeach him over his own “quid pro quo” solicitation of Ukraine.
Many Trump supporters have maintained that he did nothing wrong in asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to revisit an investigation into the allegation of corrupt business dealings involving then-Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Trump said at Monday’s fundraiser he believed Blagojevich’s sentence was too harsh, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Rep. Mike Bost, an Illinois Republican who was there at the event, said he indicated to Trump he shouldn’t free Blagojevich. A trio of GOP congressmen in attendance also opposed the idea.
Trump reacted by saying “we, as Republicans, sometimes are perceived as being cold on these issues,” Bost said.
Federal felons must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, meaning Blagojevich would be eligible for parole after serving 12 years. As things stand now, that would put his release date in 2024.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press