'He didn't have to do this': Blagojevich praises Trump from Chicago home after release

  • Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich waves to his friends Wednesday after a news conference at his Chicago home.

      Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich waves to his friends Wednesday after a news conference at his Chicago home. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 2/19/2020 4:53 PM

Former Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich gushed about Donald Trump after the Republican president commuted his sentence for political corruption, speaking Wednesday at a press event outside his Chicago home.

Blagojevich spoke in front of a large sign hanging off the landing of his home that read "Thanks Mr. President." One man in a crowd of more than 100 reporters and well-wishers wore a rubber Blagojevich mask and hoisted the former governor's 2006 campaign sign.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich makes his way through the crowd after his news conference at his Chicago home, one day after having his sentence commuted by President Donald Trump. He is surrounded by his family including his wife, Patti.
  Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich makes his way through the crowd after his news conference at his Chicago home, one day after having his sentence commuted by President Donald Trump. He is surrounded by his family including his wife, Patti. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

The governor-turned-convicted felon even added an endorsement of Trump's bid for a second term.

"I'm a Trumpocrat," said Blagojevich, flanked by his wife and two daughters. "If I had the ability to vote, I would vote for him."

During the event in Chicago, the president fired off a tweet about Blagojevich, saying Blagojevich paid "a big price" for his convictions. Trump also alluded to Blagojevich's convictions for seeking to exchange an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama for campaign contributions.

"Rod Blagojevich did not sell the Senate seat," Trump tweeted.

Prosecutors have said that they decided to arrest then-Gov. Blagojevich at his home on Dec. 9, 2008, so that they could thwart his plan to sell the seat.

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Outside the same home Wednesday, Blagojevich repeatedly praised the president, describing him as a criminal justice reformer and thanking Trump for setting him free.

"We want to express our most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Donald Trump," Blagojevich said. "He didn't have to do this. ... This is an act of kindness."

Blagojevich, 63, walked out of a federal prison in Colorado on Tuesday after serving eight years of a 14-year sentence for wide-ranging political corruption, just hours after Trump granted him a commutation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The former governor also reiterated what he said after his release Tuesday night about being wrongly prosecuted. He said he hopes to "fight to help people who have been wrongly incarcerated" and over-sentenced in what he called a "broken," "racist" and "corrupt" criminal justice system, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

"I saw what they do to families because I saw it happen to my own," Blagojevich said.

He thanked Trump "for giving my daughters their father back," telling Trump, "The kindest gift they've ever received in their lives came from you."

Blagojevich called his commutation the "beginning of the process to actually turn an injustice into a justice." He called himself "a freed political prisoner."

Blagojevich, a one-time contestant on Trump's reality TV show "Celebrity Apprentice," has been radioactive politically since his arrest as governor in 2008. It's not clear who might be willing to offer him a job or a lead role in organization or movement.

Blagojevich didn't answer direct questions at the public appearance Wednesday. He continually dabbed a handkerchief on a cut on his chin. He apologized to reporters, explaining, "It's been a long time since I shaved with a normal razor."

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich meets the media Wednesday outside his Chicago home.
  Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich meets the media Wednesday outside his Chicago home. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

His convictions included trying to shake down a children's hospital and lying to the FBI, and he was accused of soliciting campaign donations from the Maywood Park horse-racing track owner in exchange for legislation benefiting the racing industry, and trying to extort former Edward Hospital CEO Pam Davis.

Trump's Wednesday tweet echoed comments he has made before, comparing efforts to investigate his own conduct and those who took down Blagojevich. The tweet described Blagojevich's case as "Another Comey and gang deal!"

"It was a prosecution by the same people -- Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group," Trump said earlier in the week. He was referring to Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blagojevich and now represents former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired from the agency in May 2017. Comey was not at the FBI or anywhere in the Department of Justice during the investigation and indictment of Blagojevich.

A handful of Blagojevich's vocal supporters -- who had hung around the house for most of the nearly 24 hours since news of the commutation leaked -- banded ribbon around a railing to the front door and let out sporadic cheers, the Sun-Times reported. Among them was unofficial Cubs cheerleader Ronnie Woo Woo.

"He got rolled. I'm happy for him. I hope to go to a Cubs game with him," Woo Woo said.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich talks to his friends Wednesday during a news conference at his Chicago home.
  Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich talks to his friends Wednesday during a news conference at his Chicago home. - Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

The Illinois House in January 2009 voted 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich, and the state Senate voted unanimously to remove him, making him the first Illinois governor in history to be removed by lawmakers. He entered prison in March 2012.

Blagojevich's wife, Patti, went on a media blitz in 2018 to encourage Trump to step in, praising the president and likening the investigation of her husband to special prosecutor Robert Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election -- a probe Trump long characterized as a "witch hunt."

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