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Blago is Back – Trump commutes sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich

Blago is Back – Trump commutes sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich

Blago brings back so many memories here at Legal Insurrection. Blago was our earliest obsession.

Blago. What’s in a name?

Today, Trump commuted the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich:

Blagojevich, a Democrat, entered federal prison in 2012 to serve a 14-year sentence after being convicted on federal charges of using his powers as governor to extract campaign money and other political favors in exchange for naming a successor to fill the Illinois Senate seat left open when Barack Obama became president.

“He served eight years in jail – a long time,” Trump said at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. “Many people disagree with the sentence.”

Blago brings back so many memories here at Legal Insurrection. Blago was our earliest obsession.

Obsession may be an understatement — before we had Scott Brown v. Martha Coakley, Elizabeth Warren, the Zimmerman trial, the Ithaca Third Grade anti-Israel incident, the Rasmea Odeh case, the Gibson’s Bakery case, before we had any of those things and more, we had Blago.

There not a lot more I can say than when, in September 2017, I traced the history of our coverage of Blago, reprinted below, Revisiting Rod Blagojevich: “your personality may not be entirely suitable for public service”:

My first post about Blago was on December 9, 2008, two months after Legal Insurrection was founded, Blagojevich For Infrastructure Czar:

Illinois Governor Rudy Blagojevich has been indicted [correction 12/14/2008 – charged in a criminal complaint] for many offenses. While the press has focused on the attempt to sell Barack Obama’s open Senate seat, there is a more important aspect of the indictment as relates to Obama’s infrastructure plan.

Paragraphs 36-37 of the Criminal Complaint detail Blagojevich’s extortion of campaign contributions through his control of the Chicago Planning Board, which issued Certificates of Need for medical facility construction. Blagojevich’s unofficial “spokesman” for Planning Board matters was none other than Tony Rezko, whose wife worked a deal to help the Obamas purchase their house and who was a long-time Obama fundraiser.

That was to be the first of almost 100 posts about Blago. The deeper I got into the case, the less convinced I was that he did anything other than Chicago and Illinois politics as usual. Patrick Fitzgerald, of Scooter Libby fame, was out to get Blago, and what Patrick Fitzgerald wanted, Patrick Fitzgerald seemed to get.

Initially we covered the Illinois state shenanigans and maneuvering as to replacing Obama and attempts to remove Blago from office, ending in an Illinois Supreme Court victory for Blago, Illinois Supreme Court Rejects AG Madigan’s Motion To Remove Blagojevich

As we predicted repeatedly (here, and here, and here, and here), the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected the unprecedented request of Attorney General Lisa Madigan to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office, or alternatively, strip Blagojevich of his executive powers. The motion was ill-advised, legally weak, and based on assertions of a state emergency that were suspect at best. Though issued without explanation, the simultaneous ruling that AG Madigan is not even permitted to file a Complaint seeking Blagojevich’s ouster is a stinging rebuke to AG Madigan.

Throughout it all, I learned about how Blago was Blago, and no one could stop him from being Blago, Blagojevich’s Allusion To Churchill Was Not His Finest Hour:

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went on television yesterday and gave a speech to remember. What people will remember about the speech are the catchy phrases: “I will fight, I will fight, I will fight until I take my last breath” has received perhaps the most notoriety.

As others have noted, Blagojevich’s “fight” words were an allusion to Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech. Churchill’s speech is one of my all-time favorites, and commonly is viewed as representing the ability of a people to overcome overwhelming adversity through a willingness to fight to the end alone. Blagojevich clearly has this understanding as witnessed by his statement that “I know there are some powerful forces arrayed against me. It’s kind of lonely right now.” …

I do not know what will be the outcome of the Blagojevich trials and tribulations, although I look forward to tracking them carefully. But I have a deep sense that history will say that the speech Blagojevich gave on Friday, December 19, 2008, was not his finest hour.

Late 2008 through 2010 were the glory days of the conservative blogosphere, with many small blogs interacting and creating an ecosystem. (Twitter, in my view, pretty much destroyed that ecosystem, since it provides easier access to an audience with lower time and financial commitment than blogs.) So it was with Blago, as documented in my post The Official Guide To Blagojevich Blogs:

Welcome to Legal Insurrection’s Official Guide to Blagojevich Blogs. What makes this “official”? The same thing that makes people think the Franklin Mint is related to the U.S. Mint, even though the commercial says it’s not.

These blogs have frequent posts or links specifically about Blago. This list is a work in progress and will be updated frequently. Please post suggested blogs as Comments, or e-mail me at contact/at/legalinsurrection/dot/com (if you can’t figure out what to change in the address, I’m not sure I want your input).

What a time to be a blog. (We now call ourselves a “website,” btw.)

Who remembers Roland Burris? I do, Blagojevich Plays The Race Card On Fellow Democrats:

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris has put the Democratic party in a box. By appointing an African-American to the empty Senate seat, Blagojevich has forced his political opponents to risk being called racists. In supporting the appointment, Congressman Bobby Rush called opposition to Burris an attempted lynching. Whether this analogy is justified is questionable, but it is the same tactic that has been used against conservatives for decades, most recently by the Obama campaign. Democrats are getting a dose of their own medicine, and I hope it goes down like a bitter pill.

Burris was seated as Senator, after another Illinois Supreme Court ruling, but only after Blago’s appointment of him created much consternation among Democrats:

According to news reports, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is prepared to have armed guards bar Roland Burris from the Senate floor, despite the fact that Burris has been legally appointed to Barack Obama’s open Senate seat by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. At the same time, Reid is praising the unlawful refusal of the Illinois Secretary of State to certify the Burris appointment, in order to create a pretext for Reid not to seat Burris.

By January 2009, having witnessed national Democrats embarrass themselves over Blago and Burris, I finally figured out the essence of Blago, Blagojevich Is Good At Making Others Look Bad:

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Illinois politics. I’ve been following the Rod Blagojevich saga as an outsider looking in, from a legal perspective. One things seems clear to me, as we approach the impeachment trial: Rod Blagojevich is very good at making others look bad.

Remember Blago’s impeachment trial? I do, The Unjust and Unconstitutional Trial of Rod Blagojevich:

On Monday, January 26, 2009, the impeachment trial of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich begins. Nominally, the trial will be held by the Illinois Senate with the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court presiding. In reality, this case is, and always has been, under the control of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald….

The impeachment trial that is about to begin is an injustice. Not because Rod Blagojevich is innocent of the charges, or should remain in office. Rather, the injustice is a result of a prosecutor who saw it as his charge to use his bully pulpit to remove a Governor, and a legislature which willingly served this function for its own political purposes. Rod Blagojevich may not deserve sympathy, but he does deserve a fair and constitutional process, neither of which will be available at the Senate trial.

This *may* surprise you, but I took Blago’s side on impeachment, Just Say No To The Flawed Impeachment Of Rod Blagojevich:

I won’t repeat all of what I’ve said in over 50 posts over the past seven weeks, so here is the short version of why Illinois Senators should say no to this impeachment:

  1. The process is unconstitutional. The Senate delegated trial decision-making authority to Fitzgerald, in violation of the Illinois Constitution, which vests such authority exclusively in the Presiding Chief Justice and Senators. Fitzgerald started this process with his press conference, has made public only such evidence as supported his goal of removing Blagojevich from office, and has insulated that evidence from challenge. This fundamental flaw in the process has tainted the trial beyond remedy.
  2. The process is fundamentally unfair, in that it restricted Blagojevich’s ability to challenge the evidence against him as to the criminal complaint affidavit upon which the Senate relies almost exclusively for the allegations of criminal conduct. While we can debate to what extent Blagojevich is entitled to “due process,” we all should want removal of an elected Governor to require a fundamentally fair process and trial, which has been absent here.
  3. The non-criminal offenses do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses. While the Illinois Constitution does not define what is an impeachable offense, any reasonable understanding requires that the conduct be so extreme as to be the functional equivalent of a high crime or misdemeanor. The non-criminal offenses charged boil down to a political battle between the executive branch and the legislature as to the proper balance of powers. Such separation of powers contests properly are left to the courts to sort out. Impeachment on such matters merely becomes a tool for the legislature to assert its primacy in the political power game; but the players in a game should not also be the referees, which is what is happening in this impeachment proceeding.

I loved, loved, loved Blago’s “closing statement” in his Illinois Senate trial, Blago’s Masterful Closing Argument – First Take:

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich just finished his closing argument in the Senate impeachment trial. In an impassioned argument, Blagojevich invoked images of his immigrant parents, the people he tried to help by providing health care benefits, and working families….

Great closing statement aside, Blago was convicted in the impeachment trial:

Despite an impassioned last minute closing argument, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was found guilty by the Illinois Senate on the Article of Impeachment. The vote was 59-0 to convict Blagojevich of the single Article of Impeachment for abusing power. Elements of the Article included alleged criminal conduct and administrative breaches of separation of power. The Senators also voted 59-0 to disqualify Blagojevich from further public office in Illinois.

Illinois Lt. Governor Patrick J. Quinn was to be sworn in momentarily to take office as Governor. Blagojevich, who left shortly after his closing argument several hours earlier, was not in attendance.

By the time of the federal criminal trial, I was exhausted by the Blago saga, and didn’t cover the trial proceedings very carefully. There was a trial and a retrial. I did have a verdict watch, however, Blago Verdict Watch // Update – Guilty on 17 Counts.

Blago was sentenced to 14 years in prison. A statement by the judge at sentencing seemed to sum up Blago’s political career, Saga Blago diagnosis in one sentence:

“your personality may not be entirely suitable for public service.”

Blago bid farewell to freedom with a campaign-style rally:

In the Chicago magazine profile, Blago talks about his long prison sentence:

Still, the long sentence has weighed heavily on him. “It’s a terrifying prospect,” he says. “I can’t lie.” He won’t be eligible for early release until he serves a little more than 12 years. The reality hit home after a couple of days at FCI Englewood, during a meeting with his case manager: “She’s going over my file with me, and she says, ‘Well, your exit day is in May of 2024.’ This is March of 2012 when she says this. It was like Joe Frazier hitting Muhammad Ali with one of those left hooks to his body, right? And then she says, ‘But I’ve got some good news for you.’ And I was able to get out, ‘What would that be?’ And she says, ‘I’m recommending six months in a halfway house.’ So I’m calculating in my mind, OK, I can be home by Christmas 2023—maybe not home, but to the halfway house.” He chuckles at the thought. He will be 68 then.

Blago brings back a lot of memories.

Good luck in the future, Governor.


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notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital | February 18, 2020 at 8:32 pm

Wonder how many of Obama’s bodies that Rod could unearth if he wanted……

Anyone that touches obama becomes engulfed in absolute evil in their life

Not that Blago was innocent, but his was the usual Chicago politics,

Anyone remember the Daly’s?

Prof Jacobson et al, I’ve seen a number of comments that the Feds nabbed Blago before any crime was really committed in order to keep Obama from stepping over a line he was preparing to cross. Did you see anything that would support that theory?

This is a strange pardon. For the life of me, I cannot come up with a reason. It could be that he might offer Trump some Chicago gossip that may come in handy during the election cycle. Maybe something on the black Jesus.

    How about just because it felt like the right thing to do. The sentence was excessive, and he was a victim of Fitzgerald’s ambition. Fitzgerald was bent on building himself a reputation, by destroying other people whether they deserved it or not. Much like Giuliani and Bharara.

    tom_swift in reply to inspectorudy. | February 19, 2020 at 1:03 am

    Oh, I imagine that DJT is more sensitive than most of us to errant charges of “abuse of office” by a hostile legislature.

    Cervisia in reply to inspectorudy. | February 19, 2020 at 3:09 am

    The reason is that Blago’s impeachment used the same shoddy process as Trump’s (one-sided evidence, Blago was not allowed to try to defend himself properly, etc.), so if Trump says that his own impeachment was a sham, he has to apply the same standard to Blago’s.

    The difference between Trump’s and Blago’s impeachments is that in the latter one, there were enough votes to remove Blago from office, and that it looks as if he actually did the criminal offense (although the trial did not properly prove it).

    He wasn’t given a Pardon, the President commuted his sentence to time served. Blago is still a convicted felon.

    Shot across the bow aimed at the ‘dirty cops’ and swamp-ites…

legacyrepublican | February 18, 2020 at 9:45 pm

I am glad that he freed Blago. Although I don’t agree with his politics, I always felt this was a cheap and dirty trick to play on him.

I can imagine myself saying similar things if I had the chance to choose a successor to an elected seat vacated by someone. Saying this is gold versus turing it into gold are two different things entirely.

In fact, I kinda think it was the Deep state flexing their power and testing what they could do.

buckeyeminuteman | February 18, 2020 at 10:05 pm

Selling a Senate seat is in fact criminal and does breach the public trust. We as a nation must be above that kind of politics. Blago received exactly what he deserved. Makes me scratch my head as to why Trump would let him out early. Blago is the very definition of the Swamp that we want drained.

    Blago was a puppet who decided that he wanted some of the stuff the puppetmasters were getting and tried to take it from them.
    So the puppetmasters had him taken out.
    Was he corrupt? Yes by in an incompetent way.
    Was he the most corrupt? Not by a long shot.
    Is he annoying? Yes.
    The best thing for him and for us is thatg he stay out of the limelight.

    I wasn’t and still am not convinced that it is in fact criminal.

      persecutor in reply to Milhouse. | February 19, 2020 at 7:27 am

      The only difference between Blago and some other American political figure is that he was recorded–things don’t happen in politics without there being some mutual benefit accruing to the horse traders.

        Milhouse in reply to persecutor. | February 19, 2020 at 10:26 am

        No, the difference was that rather than trade for political favors, he asked for cold hard cash. That’s clearly wrong, and in many contexts it is illegal, but I’m not convinced it’s actually illegal in this context.

      Tom Servo in reply to Milhouse. | February 19, 2020 at 10:25 am

      It was certainly a non violent crime, and punishment, if warranted, should not have been for more than year, plus loss of office.

      G. de La Hoya in reply to Milhouse. | February 19, 2020 at 12:06 pm

      Never was a Blago fan or ever voted for him but I have always asked people, “What did he do?”. I know what he wanted to do 😉

The thing that did Blago in was his honesty. Anyone who thinks that Senate seat wasn’t a bargaining chip simply doesn’t understand politics, particularly Chicago politics. Blago just wasn’t dishonest enough to pretend to be unmoved by the opportunity.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama got elected by having somebody else unseal his opponent’s sealed divorce records.

    Remember the people who got Jack Ryan’s divorce records unsealed was, I believe, the Chicago Sun Times. The editor was David Axelrod, who later became Obama’s chief of staff. Coincidence, don’t think so.

      herm2416 in reply to Romey. | February 19, 2020 at 6:33 am

      Axelrod wrote for the Trib, not the S-T.
      Yes, he had Blair Hull’s and Jack Ryan’s divorce papers unsealed, by the Trib.
      Dirty filthy, and makes no qualms about it. He was also the one who tried to take down Ben Carson, and he did take down Herman Cain, all innuendo.

I would have let him rot.

Another connected Democrat getting a break that normal people would never receive. Two-tiered justice system.

Worse – Obama was implicated in the scam to sell the Senate seat, along with a variety of other top Democrats. Blago refused to cooperate with investigators – did not give evidence against his fellow conspirators. This alone warrants serving out the full sentence.

His name sounds like it could be Russian. Can’t wait for CNN to have a field day with this one.

“your personality may not be entirely suitable for public service.”

We have these things called “voters” to decide such questions.

Or so I thought.

Hmm, the descriptions of Blago’s impeachment trial seem eerily familiar. It’s almost as if Pelosi used it as a model, only that would be giving her too much credit.

Why would Trump want to set a precedent for commuting sentences that are excessive?

I can’t imagine he is setting something up.

Good luck in the future, Governor.

Ty Professor Jacobson, this spoke volumes.

I believe he was busted because he didn’t sell the seat to the preferred candidate. He chose his own and didn’t ask Obama so down he went.

I have a hilarious Blago story from when I was in my mid-20’s and living in Chicago. I lived with a couple friends in the Lincoln Square neighborhood and Blago’s house was maybe 10 blocks or so west of where we lived (he was Governor at the time, but generally spent his time in the Chicago area, as opposed to Springfield.) It was well known that Blago liked to jog through the neighborhood, although I had never actually seen it. One day I’m driving on Western Ave with one of my friends in the passenger seat and we were stopped at a red light and first in line. My friend is looking out the passenger side window and gets all excited and says something to the effect of “look who’s coming, its Blago!” He didn’t have security with him or anything like that and when he gets directly in front of our car my buddy reaches over and slams the horn hard. Blago jumped about ten feet in the air and looked at us like a deer in the headlights, but then just kept on running. My buddy and I laughed about it for the next year. I’ll definitely never forget Blago.

For what it’s worth I think this action is a honest insight into Trump as a person. I believe that he sincerely thinks the sentence was excessive and that the manner in which Gov Blagojevich was prosecuted was unfair. To me, we should applaud that he extended such courtesy to a Democrat. Trump knows not a single Democrat would offer the same compassion to a Republican yet he’s comfortable in his own skin to do so. That said, I do think there are ulterior motives and I’m good with that as well!

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to WillS68. | February 19, 2020 at 6:50 pm

    Same here!

    thetaqjr in reply to WillS68. | February 21, 2020 at 1:15 am

    Just how many American citizens undergo unfair prosecutions each year and are sent to prison, prisons where folks names will never come before any overturning tribunal, much less be considered for review by the President?

    That’s an arbitrary form of justice to the extent I understand it. Arbitrary rulings violate the Rule of Law in every instance.

    Blagojevich’s situation was front and center And publicly considered for commutation for no reason beyond his previous position as governor.

    Trump is a pimp. He’s better suited to emceeing The Price Is Right.

Trump doesn’t play chess. It’s closer to political Jiu Jitsu.

You know your opponent has a choke on you when you wake up and wonder what the eff just happened. That has been his presidency.

On the surface, I’m not a fan of this. BUT I’ve seen Trump play this game now and as always- I’ll take a wait and see approach to what his end game is.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to Andy. | February 19, 2020 at 6:49 pm

    We are in WW III, and the Traitors until now have been winning for the past 6 decades…….

Whatever Blago had on Obama was “sealed” up by Chicago corrupt-o-crats 11 years ago… Maybe Oblabla is a wee bit more nervous today?

(naaaah… well, we can hope…)

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to LisaGinNZ. | February 19, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    Well there are always “slip ups.”

    Oops, just unsealed all Obama’s records and accidentally distributed them to everyone around the world…..

    Can you say “Samantha Powers?”

ahad haamoratsim | February 22, 2020 at 3:41 pm

Does this mean will have to put up with a reboot of The Good Wife? I’m not sure I could take that.