"He seems like a very nice person," the president told reporters

By Adam Carlson
February 18, 2020 02:41 PM
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President Donald Trump on Tuesday confirmed he had commuted the sentence of disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, something he had been considering publicly for nearly two years.

Blagojevich, 63, was in his eighth year of a 14-year federal prison sentence on several convictions related to abuse of his political power — including infamously dangling 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 will free 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 on Tuesday. “He seems like a very nice person.”

President Donald Trump (left) and Rod Blagojevich
Drew Angerer/Getty ; M Spencer Green/AP/Shutterstock;
Rod Blagojevich on the set of the live final episode of Celebrity Apprentice in 2010
Bill Tompkins/Getty

In a statement, 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.”

Last August, after President Trump again mentioned he might intervene in Blagojevich’s case, the Illinois Republican Party chairman spoke out against freeing Blagojevich, according to the Associated Press. The state’s conservative lawmakers also disagreed with commutation.

Blagojevich’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to reports, Blagojevich had joined a prison band while behind bars and his hair — once conspicuously coiffed and deep black — had gone white from lack of hair dye.

“I caused it all,” he said at his 2011 sentencing. “I’m not blaming anyone. I was the governor, and I should have known better. I am just so incredibly sorry.”

Still, he continued to fight for his freedom and he seemed to shrug off the taint of his crimes. In a 2017 cover story in Chicago magazine, he said he hoped for a “second act.”

“It is a hard and unhappy experience [in prison],” he said then. “My life has been brought to ruin. I live in exile.”