CHICAGO (CBS) — Some of those responsible for putting former Gov. Rod Blagojevich behind bars were reacting Thursday to President Donald Trump weighing the option of commuting the former governor’s sentence.
As CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reported, a team of federal investigators built the case that brought Blagojevich down, with his arrest in 2008 and ultimate conviction in 2011. Robert Grant, who led the Chicago FBI office at the time, said Blagojevich should finish his sentence.
The Blagojevich investigation became known as a sensational case that landed a governor in prison. But in the early days of the probe, Robert Grant knew it under the code name “Operation Board Games.”
“It’s not about a telephone call,” Grant said. “It’s using levers of power to take money from people for your own purposes. That’s corruption.”
On Wednesday night, President Trump said he was “looking very seriously” at commuting Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on Wednesday night, Trump confirmed he was thinking about commuting Blagojevich’s sentence, which would mean the former governor would be released from prison early.
“I am thinking very seriously about commuting his sentence so that he can go home to his family after seven years. You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people,” Trump said.
But Trump’s tone was more restrained in a Thursday night tweet.
Rod Blagojevich, the former Governor of Illinois, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He has served 7 years. Many people have asked that I study the possibility of commuting his sentence in that it was a very severe one. White House staff is continuing the review of this matter.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2019
Grant, now retired, said a team of the most dedicated investigators he has ever met immersed themselves in the case. President Donald Trump chalked it up to “the Comey gang and all the other sleazebags” of being the ones to put Blagojevich away, a reference to former FBI director James Comey, who Trump fired.
Comey was actually working in the private sector when Blagojevich was arrested, Grant was quick to point out.
“It had nothing at all to do with Jim Comey,” Grant said. “It had everything to do with agents in Chicago – prosecutors in Chicago.”
Grant said Blagojevich was treated fairly, and he pointed out that the former governor tried to appeal his sentence, but failed.
“I think Rod Blagojevich has to accept responsibility before anybody could even consider a commutation of sentence,” Grant said.
After the trial, Blagojevich did say he wanted to apologize and said he never set out to break the law. Connie Wilson was the forewoman of the jury that convicted Blagojevich following his second trial in 2011.
She said it is up to the president if he wants to commute.
“We were part of the judicial process as the jury, and with the evidence that we were presented, we did our job,” Wilson said. “And you know, I can’t really speak to the executive branch.”
Wilson said the jury spent weeks going through evidence and listening to witnesses.
“And the jury, even that in deliberation, we were very careful about making sure that when you’re dealing with somebody’s life – and that affects not just the life but the family, it affected the whole state – that we really wanted to get it right,” Wilson said.
CBS 2 asked Wilson if the former governor’s wife or children were part of her decisions in the trial. She said the family was in the back of her head.
As for whether Wilson thought it was too soon for Blagojevich to get out, she said that call was out of her hands.
Following his December 2011 conviction, Blagojevich’s attorneys used allegations of misconduct by Wilson in their attempt for another new trial.
Wilson denied claims that she improperly showed students at an Aurora high school a copy of her completed jury questionnaire, saying she only showed them a blank juror qualification questionnaire that she obtained from the court clerk’s office.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel called Blagojevich’s bid for a new trial based on Wilson showing her students a blank jury questionnaire “hare-brained.” Blagojevich did not get a new trial and reported to prison in March 2012.