Rod Blagojevich speaks after Trump commutes sentence

By Meg Wagner

Updated 4:07 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020
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2:59 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Blagojevich spent his news conference urging for criminal justice reform

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

After Rod Blagojevich — the former Illinois governor who was released from prison yesterday after his sentence on corruption charges was commuted — thanked President Trump and his family, he turned his attention to the topic of criminal justice reform.

He said that during his time in prison, he saw inmates who had been over-sentenced for their crimes.

"Unfair and cruel over-sentencing is the rule, not the exception," Blagojevich said. "Equal protection under the law does not exist"

"It is a broken criminal justice system ... and it's a racist criminal justice system," he added.

In office, Trump has supported criminal justice reform legislation. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has also been a driving force in the administration's criminal justice policies.


12:48 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Why Blagojevich kept wiping his chin

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich wiped blood off of his chin several times during his news conference today, after explaining earlier that he cut himself shaving.

"I'm bruised, and I'm battered and bloody," he said at the start of the news conference.

He wiped his chin mid-news conference after his wife and daughters gestured to it.

12:46 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

"I'm a Trump-ocrat," Blagojevich says

From CNN's Melissa Alonso 

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said President Trump is "tough and out spoken but also has a kind heart."

"We want to express our most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump" Blagojevich said with his wife and two daughters at his side. 

"He's a problem solver" and I'm a "Trump-ocrat," Blagojevich, who is a Democrat, said. 

Blagojevich was released from prison Tuesday after serving eight years of a 14-year sentence for the pay-for-play charges.


3:00 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Protesters interrupted Blagojevich's speech. His wife told him to ignore them

As Rod Blagojevich spoke, some protesters shouted at him. It's unclear what exactly they were saying.

"Just ignore them," his wife, Patti Blagojevich, told him. He continued speaking.

3:00 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

President Trump "didn't have to do this," Blagojevich says

Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who is a Democrat, said a few times that Republican President Trump "didn't have to" commute his sentence.

"If I have the ability to vote, I'm gonna vote for him," he said.

2:52 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Blagojevich: "Trump has given back the freedom that was stolen from me"

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — who was released from prison yesterday after Trump commuted his sentence — thanked the President for giving him his freedom.

"Trump has given back the freedom that was stolen from me," he said.

Speaking from Chicago, he said the commuted sentence was "an act of kindness."


12:03 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Trump said he didn't know Blagojevich. He competed on "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2010.

After Trump announced he was commuting Rod Blagojevich's prison sentence, the President mentioned he didn't know the former Illinois governor — even though he once fired him on "Celebrity Apprentice."

"He served eight years in jail, a long time. He seems like a very nice person, don't know him," Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews yesterday.

Blagojevich appeared on Trump's boardroom reality show NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2010. The taping of the show came between when he was charged with and convicted of corruption.

During the show, he even professed his innocence. He was fired after leading his team to a loss during a weekly challenge.

12:51 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Here's why Rod Blagojevich was sent to prison

Frank Polich/Getty Images
Frank Polich/Getty Images

Rod Blagojevich — pronounced Bluh-GOY-uh-vitch — had his 14-year prison sentence commuted yesterday after he served eight years.

Here's what you need to know about the former Illinois governor and his conviction:

  • He was impeached: Blagojevich was the Democratic governor of Illinois from 2003 to 2009, when he was charged with corruption and then impeached by the Legislature. He was the the first Democratic governor elected in the state in 30 years.
  • The charges against him: The public corruption charges included trying to solicit money for an appointment to former President Barack Obama's Senate seat after the Chicagoan won the presidency. He was also accused of shakedowns involving a children's hospital, a racetrack owner and a building executive.
  • Two trials: The first of which resulted in a hung jury on all counts except lying to federal investigators. Prosecutors won the second trial in 2011, securing convictions on 17 of 20 corruption charges — including the shakedowns related to Obama's Senate seat.
  • Scenes from the trial: 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.
  • Se served eight years: He began his 14-year sentence at a Colorado federal prison in 2012. Before reporting, Blagojevich called his impending prison stint a "dark and hard journey," and said he should have been more humble.
11:39 a.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Rod Blagojevich released from prison after Trump commutes his sentence

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins

President Trump announced yesterday he had commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who has served eight years of a 14-year sentence for the pay-for-play charges. Trump had been weighing the move since at least since 2018.

"He served eight years in jail, a long time. He seems like a very nice person, don't know him," Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, suggesting the television appeals of Blagojevich's wife Patti helped cement his decision.

A spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed last night that Blagojevich was released from the Colorado federal prison where he was housed. Patti Blagojevich announced on her Twitter account that the family will hold a "homecoming press conference" at noon ET today.

Trump also announced pardons for former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik, convicted of tax fraud and lying to officials; Mike Milken, an investment banker known as the "Junk Bond King" who was convicted of felony charges that included securities fraud and conspiracy; and Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers who pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to report a felony in a bribery case.

In total, Trump granted clemency to 11 convicted criminals on Tuesday.