By Associated Press
Chicago Tribune via AP
CHICAGO — Rod Blagojevich walked out of prison Tuesday after President Donald Trump cut short the 14-year prison sentence handed to the former Illinois governor for political corruption.
The Republican president said the punishment imposed on the Chicago Democrat and one-time contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice” was excessive.
“So he’ll be able to go back home with his family,” Trump told reporters in Washington. “That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others.”
The Chicago Tribune on Tuesday night posted a photo of the gray-haired Blagojevich at Denver International Airport.
Promising he will more to say in a Wednesday news conference, Blagojevich told WGN-TV he appreciated the president’s action.
“He didn’t have to do this, he’s a Republican president and I was a Democratic governor,” he said.
Blagojevich wouldn’t say what plans he had for the future, however he did talk a bit about his time in prison.
``I’ve learned a lot about the criminal justice system, how unfair it can be, how unjust it is to people of color,” he said. “I’ve drawn closer to God. There is divine intervention in all of this.”
Blagojevich hails from a state with a long history of pay-to-play schemes. The 63-year-old was convicted in 2011 of crimes that included seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital.
Trump had said repeatedly in recent years that he was considering taking executive action in Blagojevich’s case, only to back away from the idea.
One of Blagojevich lawyers said she refused to believe it at first when word of her client’s possible release began to spread, fearing that the president might not follow through.
“When it became obvious it was real, I got tears in my eyes,” said Lauren Kaesberg. “It was overwhelming.”
Others in Illinois, including the governor, said setting Blagojevich free was a mistake.
Trump “has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a written statement.
Many Republicans agreed.
“In a state where corrupt, machine-style politics is still all too common, it’s important that those found guilty serve their prison sentence in its entirety,” said the the chairman of the Illinois GOP, Tim Schneider.
The White House cited support from several Illinois-based leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, as supporting Blagojevich’s early release. More than 100 of his fellow inmates also sent in letters of support.