President Donald Trump has got this thing and it’s golden. He has the power to commute the sentence of U.S. Bureau of Prisons inmate 40892-424. Never mind that Rod Blagojevich tried to sell a U.S. Senate seat that belonged to the 12 million-plus people of Illinois. Never mind that honest people and companies got cheated out of government careers and state contracts because, under Blagojevich, the fix was in. Never mind that a commutation would reassure other crooked pols that if they fuss long enough and whine loudly enough, they’ll win the Get Out of Jail Free card they think they deserve.
Presidents do have broad constitutional authority to commute sentences for federal crimes, and Blagojevich committed a lot of them. Trump’s off-the-cuff commentary Thursday about a possible commutation had the math wrong — “18 years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know that many other politicians say.” The accurate numbers: Blagojevich has served six years of a 14-year sentence and is likely to be released after another six, in 2024. But remember, even after federal appellate judges vacated on technicalities five of his 18 felony convictions, the defrocked governor remained eligible for a sentence of 30 years to life. As a prosecutor noted of Blagojevich’s six-year crime spree, “He was corrupt when he took the oath of office. He was corrupt until the day he was arrested.”
Trump enjoys operating by emotion and ego, so who knows whether he’ll free the inmate who appeared on his television show. Maybe that’s as far as his logic goes. The darker calculation would be that Trump wants to signal allies now under federal investigation that he’s got them covered. Or maybe Trump likes the idea of pardoning a felon taken down by former U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald, a close friend of James Comey. Heck, Trump’s decisions could be purely personal.
The president certainly is vulnerable to the last thing he saw or read, be it the lobbying of Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, on Fox News or the prisoner’s nonsensical Wall Street Journal Op-Ed claiming he was prosecuted for aggressive campaign fundraising, a claim Trump seems to accept.
But in Illinois, where law-abiding citizens have seen four of their last 10 governors frog-marched to federal prison, the next crooked pols surely are thrilled to hear Trump bloviate. They’d love to go back to the long era of gentlemen’s sentences for the unfortunates who get caught wallowing in the Illinois culture of political sleaze.
We’ve never found joy in watching Blagojevich’s family — the people he victimized most — plead for mercy. We have, though, concluded that the sentence he earned not only is fair. It’s fair warning to other criminal pols here in Illinois, the State of Corruption.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE