President Trump would be making a huge mistake in commuting the prison sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois.
Yesterday, Trump said, “I am thinking very seriously about commuting his sentence so that he can go home to his family after seven years…I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly.”
It is hard to see how Blagojevich was treated unfairly. Blagojevich is corrupt to the core. He is not the victim of anything except his own guile. If anything, he was underprosecuted. There were additional allegations of misconduct, some of which were uncovered by the National Legal and Policy Center, for which he was never prosecuted.
Let’s remember why Blagojevich is in prison. Among other crimes, he actually tried to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat. If he were not arrested in time, Blagojevich would have likely sold the seat to then-Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. for $1.5 million in campaign contributions.
Last year, Blagojevich wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, “I am in prison for practicing politics.” That is exactly the problem. In Illinois, corruption is endemic. Blagojevich’s Republican predecessor, George Ryan, also went to prison. A pardon of Blagojevich would seriously undercut the fight against corruption.
The McDonnell Supreme Court decision, which Blagojevich referenced, has apparently given hope to all kinds of crooks that they can get off. The Court ruled that a bribery conviction must be based on an explicit promise to take an “official act” on behalf of the person offering the bribe. There certainly was an “official act,” a gubernatorial appointment to a vacant Senate seat. The evidence against Blagojevich was his own voice, captured on FBI wiretaps.
Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner pushed for a Blagojevich pardon. It may have been Kushner who also saved the equally-corrupt Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) from going to prison. The Justice Department announced on January 31, 2018 that it would not retry Menendez after a mistrial on November 16, 2017.
Why did the Justice Department punt after pouring so many resources into the investigation, prosecution, and trial? One possible explanation is that political influence was exercised on Menendez’ behalf. Menendez’ lawyer is Abbe Lowell, who also represents Kushner. Kushner and his family are longtime donors to Democratic politicians in New Jersey, including Menendez. Someone made the decision to save Menendez’ career and possibly keep him out of prison. In an attempt to find out who, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request on August 8, 2018 to get the documents related to the decision not to retry Menendez.