Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Friday declared himself a “political prisoner” in a contentious interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper over the substantial evidence prosecutors used to convict him on a host of public corruption charges.
Blagojevich’s sentence was commuted earlier this week by President Donald Trump after the Democrat and former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant had served eight years of a 14-year sentence for pay-for-play crimes.
Blagojevich on Friday defiantly rebuked critics of his commutation, who have pointed to the considerable charges that landed him in prison.
“I don’t think they’ve looked carefully because I am a political prisoner,” he said.
Cooper challenged Blagojevich’s label, noting that Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa who had earlier been imprisoned for 27 years for fighting apartheid, was a political prisoner.
That prompted Blagojevich to claim: “If you were to ask Nelson Mandela whether he thought the process was fair back in the early ’60s in South Africa, he would say what I’m saying today.”
At one point, Blagojevich blamed “a handful of corrupt prosecutors” for his prison sentence.
“They’re uncontrolled and they’re the ones Chief Justice Breyer talked about when he said our country is in trouble because of these uncontrolled prosecutors who can do just about anything they want to do and are using their power to go after government officials for what are – what he called routine practices, and that’s what I went to prison for.”
During his tenure as governor, Blagojevich was charged with corruption and impeached by the state Legislature in 2009. His charges included trying to solicit money for an appointment to former President Barack Obama’s US Senate seat after he won the presidency. He was also accused of shakedowns involving a children’s hospital, a racetrack owner and a building executive.
After the first jury in his trial was hung at 11 to 1 for conviction on key corruption counts, prosecutors tried again – securing convictions on 17 of 20 corruption charges.
Friday’s interview turned contentious when Blagojevich claimed his conviction was the result of prosecutors who “lied to jury” about his actions.
“You’re the one who has actually been convicted of lying to the FBI, though, by that very same jury,” Cooper noted. “The very argument you are making right now … it was heard in the courtroom and no one bought it.”
Cooper concluded Friday’s interview by assessing that Blagojevich had created “a whole new alternate universe of facts, and that may be big in politics today, but it’s still, frankly, just bullshit. We got to leave it there.”
“Well, no, it’s not bullshit. I lived it myself,” Blagojevich shot back. “It’s not bullshit at all.”
CNN’s Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.