President Donald Trump commuted Blagojevich's sentence earlier this month

By Benjamin VanHoose
February 24, 2020 06:18 PM
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Anderson Cooper did not mince words during a recent interview with disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

On Friday, the CNN anchor, 52, got in a split-screen sparring match on-air with Blagojevich, whose 14-year federal prison sentence was commuted last week by President Donald Trump.

At the start of the interview, Blagojevich, 63 — who was in his eighth year of his sentence on several convictions related to abuse of political power — claimed he was a “political prisoner.” As Blagojevich continued to frame his plight as that of a victim, Cooper intervened.

“You got out. You do have an obligation to at least admit what you did wrong, and you refused to do that, and you’re creating a whole new alternate universe of facts,” Cooper said. “And that may be big in politics today, but it’s still, frankly, just b——-.”

Responded Blagojevich: “It’s not b——-; I lived it myself. It’s not b——- at all.”

Blagojevich also compared his situation to Nelson Mandela, the South African icon, which Cooper shut down as “just nuts, and, frankly, offensive.”

Among his crimes, Blagojevich infamously dangled an appointment to a vacant U.S. Senate seat in exchange for campaign money. (The vacancy was created when Barack Obama launched his 2008 presidential campaign.)

He was also found guilty of trying to extort a children’s hospital.

The president’s grant of clemency freed Blagojevich, who appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice in early 2010 after he had already been arrested and indicted and was awaiting trial. Though Blagojevich was eliminated from the season, Trump, 73, told him at the time, “You have a hell of a lot of guts.”

“He served eight years in jail, a long time,” Trump told reporters last week. “He seems like a very nice person.”

In a statement about the commutation, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said that “during his confinement, Mr. Blagojevich has demonstrated exemplary character, devoting himself to improving the lives of his fellow prisoners.”

Grisham also said that “people from across the political spectrum and from varied backgrounds have expressed support for shortening Mr. Blagojevich’s sentence.”Grisham also said that “people from across the political spectrum and from varied backgrounds have expressed support for shortening Mr. Blagojevich’s sentence.”

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President Donald Trump (left) and Rod Blagojevich
Drew Angerer/Getty ; M Spencer Green/AP/Shutterstock;

In the sharp-worded TV interview on Friday, Cooper also pointed out the irony in Blagojevich’s receiving clemency after, Cooper said, many such appeals from other prisoners went ignored during Blagojevich’s time as governor.

After contending that the Supreme Court “[doesn’t] always get it right either,” Blagojevich said he’d learned that the country has a “racist and corrupt” criminal justice system.

“What’s sad is that you hadn’t actually learned that when you mattered, when you actually were the governor,” Cooper said. “You talk about working for criminal justice reform? There’s a lot of … people in Illinois who actually, like, spit up when you say that, because when you were actually in power … you could have helped thousands of people with clemency cases, you blew it off.”

Cooper called Blagojevich’s newfound championing of criminal justice reform “a little sad and pathetic and hypocritical.”

“Look, when you’ve been put where I was, and you have all the time I was given to think and look back on some of the things you might’ve done differently, that’s certainly an area … I certainly wish I would’ve done more on,” Blagojevich said. “There’s no question about that. That’s among my biggest regrets.”