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GOP, Democrats Slam Trump For Commuting Blagojevich Sentence

federal prison entrance
David Zalubowski
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AP
This is the front entrance of the federal prison in which former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is held Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in Englewood, Colo.

The head of the McLean County Republican party said she was disappointed to see President Donald Trump commute former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 14-year prison sentence on Tuesday.

Connie Beard
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT
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WGLT
McLean County Republican Party Chair Connie Beard said this was one of the few times she disagreed with President Trump.

“It is one of the few times I find myself on an opposing side of our president,” McLean County GOP Chair Connie Beard said. “I don’t think it was a wise choice.”

Beard said she hopes Blagojevich will consider getting out of prison early "a gift" and will try to make amends.

“If that does prove to be the case, the decision probably ended up being a good one. I just am skeptical at this point that lessons were learned and that the message we are sending is the one that is needed,” Beard said.

Beard added the 14-year sentence for trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat was “tough,” but she said Illinois hasn't done enough to root out corruption.

“I believe we need to take a strong action, especially in our state of Illinois that is so plagued with corruption,” Beard said.

Beard was hardly alone in speaking out against the former governor being let out of prison four years ahead of schedule.

Erik Rankin
Credit Ryan Denham / WGLT
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WGLT
McLean County Democratic Party Chair Erik Rankin called President Trump's commutation of Rod Blagojevich's sentence an abuse of executive power.

McLean County Democratic Party Chair Erik Rankin called the sentence commutation “one more excuse” for Trump to abuse executive power.

“This should make the average citizen in the state of Illinois’ hair catch on fire,” Rankin declared. “This is a guy who tried to sell a Senate seat and really violated the trust of the people of Illinois.”

Rankin said he’s troubled by the authority Trump and other presidents have used to grant clemency, but added the commutation of Blagojevich comes at a unique time during Trump’s presidency.

“Many presidents tend to do it as they are leaving office. Trump I think has been emboldened by what happened in the Senate with his impeachment trial,” Rankin said. “I think this feeds into this narrative that we continue to see from this administration: ‘I can do whatever I want, whenever I want and however I want and the reasons for doing so are irrelevant.”

Washington Reacts

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Blagojevich “betrayed the people of Illinois and engaged in a pattern of corrupt behavior.”

He called for tougher ethics reforms at the state and federal levels.

“At a time when corruption by elected officials is still in the headlines, Illinois and Washington should move quickly to establish stricter ethics requirements, including the full detailed disclosure of income, net worth and income tax returns by all elected officials.”

The Illinois House Republican delegation consisting of Rodney Davis, Darin LaHood, Adam Kinzinger, John Shimkus and Mike Bost issued a joint statement that it’s disappointed in the commutation, calling the 14-year sentence “appropriate and fair.”

“Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois, and not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes that undermined the trust placed in him by voters,” the statement said. “As our state continues to grapple with political corruption, we shouldn’t let those who breached the public trust off the hook. History will not judge Rod Blagojevich well."

Commutation Comparisons

A political scientist at Illinois State University said Trump's move to commute Blagojevich's sentence is just the latest example of Trump intervening in cases to minimize the consequences of white-collar crime.

Professor Lane Crothers said Trump seems to be downplaying the severity of the crimes Blagojevich committed.

“The package of rules which go along the lines of ‘they were just doing what they had to do to do business, then whatever If they get convicted of some violation of the law, then it was a stupid law to being with,’” Crothers said.

Crothers said Trump giving clemency to Wall Street financier Michael Milken and former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik are similar examples.

Crothers said Trump behaved in much the same way when he called for former aide Roger Stone to get a new trial.

ISU political science professor Tom McClure said the sentence Blagojevich received was harsh in comparison to other political corruption sentences. 

McClure noted ex-Gov. George Ryan received 6 1/2 years after he was convicted of 18 counts in the same court as Blagojevich, former U.S. Rep. Chris Collins was sentenced to two years for federal crimes, ex-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Aaron Schock both entered into plea agreements with the same prosecuting office that charged Baglojevich. 

Jackson was sentenced to 30 months and the U.S. Attorney dismissed all charges against Schock. 

"Even with President Trump’s commutation of Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence to eight years of time served, the penalty is still harsh when compared to sentences imposed in similar circumstances," McClure said. 

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