Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich got a new lifeline on Thursday when President Donald Trump said he would consider pardoning or commuting his sentence on his federal corruption conviction.
The opening of the door is a change in fortune for the disgraced former governor, who has been serving time in a federal prison in Colorado since March 2012 on a 14-year sentence for a host of public corruption charges, including trying to solicit money for an appointment to former President Barack Obama’s Senate seat after the Chicagoan won the presidency.
Blagojevich (pronounced Bluh-GOY-uh-vitch) was the Democratic governor of Illinois from 2003 to 2009, when he was charged with corruption and then impeached by the Legislature.
Over the course of two trials, the first of which resulted in a hung jury on all counts except lying to federal investigators, Blagojevich’s famous personality was on full display, both through his testimony and the FBI recordings that were played at his trial.
Blagojevich also showed his flair for showmanship – and initially got to know Trump – in a four-episode stint on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010, before his first trial. He was fired after leading his team to losing that week’s challenge, as recounted at the time by Chicago magazine.
The gregarious Blagojevich was known for his carefully coiffed hair, love of Elvis and penchant for jogging, as well as being the first Democratic governor elected in the state in 30 years.
After the first jury was hung at 11 to 1 for conviction on key corruption counts, prosecutors tried again – winning the second trial and securing convictions on 17 of 20 corruption charges, including the shakedowns related to Obama’s Senate seat. Blagojevich was also convicted of shakedowns involving a children’s hospital, racetrack owner and a building executive.
The trial provided for some dramatic moments, including the playing of secret recordings made of Blagojevich during the shakedowns.
In perhaps the most famous tape, Blagojevich refers to the Senate seat as “f***ing golden.”
“I’ve got this thing and it’s f***ing golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for f***ing nothing,” jurors heard Blagojevich saying, as preserved by The Chicago Tribune.
At the trial, former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. – who later pleaded guilty to charges related to misusing campaign funds – also memorably testified that Blagojevich punished him for not donating him $25,000 to Blagojevich’s campaign, testifying dramatically that at a later meeting, Blagojevich snapped his fingers like Elvis and told Jackson he should have given Blagojevich “that $25,000.” Blagojevich later said he did not recall that happening.
Blagojevich did show off his memory during the trial, though, giving long autobiographic testimony that included his childhood sports aspirations and a summer construction job that earned him free shampoo that, he recalled, smelled like strawberries.
The prosecutor in the case was US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who helped lead the investigation that resulted in the conviction of Scooter Libby, who Trump has already pardoned. Fitzgerald is also now a member of fired FBI Director and Trump critic James Comey’s legal team.
Blagojevich’s wife since 1990, Patti, is the daughter of powerful former Chicago Alderman Dick Mell, and the couple has two daughters. Patti Blagojevich appeared on Fox News, a network Trump is known to watch, earlier this month to make the case that Blagojevich was the victim of a rigged system and highlighted the Comey-Fitzgerald connections to his case. Blagojevich wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this week complaining his conviction was unfair.
The Supreme Court and federal appellate courts have declined to take up Blagojevich’s case, though an appellate court did throw out five of the counts he was convicted on. The judge in his case nevertheless resentenced him to the same 14-year term.
A recent profile of Blagojevich featured a photo of him taken by the governor himself behind bars, dramatically revealing his famous coif had gone entirely white without hair dye.
Blagojevich replaced former Gov. George Ryan, who was also convicted of federal charges related to taking payoffs in exchange for state business. Blagojevich and Ryan are two of four former Illinois governors since the 1960s.