CHICAGO (CBS) — Hours after President Donald Trump said he is seriously considering clemency for Rod Blagojevich, the imprisoned former governor’s wife, Patti, said she is “very hopeful that our almost 11 year nightmare might soon be over.”
For more than a year, Patti Blagojevich has been personally appealing to the president to commute her husband’s sentence, frequently appearing on Trump’s favorite network, Fox News, to make her case.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One on the way back to Washington from El Paso, Texas, the president said he was “looking very seriously” at commuting Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence on corruption charges.
Thursday morning, Patti Blagojevich tweeted that she and her family are “very grateful” for the president’s words.
CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov spoke with Blagojevich family representative Mark Vargas. He said they’ve been in touch with the White House but have not heard anything new from the bureau of prisons on a possible commutation.
For now, Patti Blagojevich is staying home in Chicago, Vargas said that could change. They don’t know what the process is or whether a date would be set for any further action.
According to Vargas, if he is released, Blagojevich does not plan to hold a news conference at the prison in Colorado but does plan one in Chicago upon his return. Anything information before then would likely be on social media.
“Our President’s comments on Air Force One last night make us very hopeful that our almost 11 year nightmare might soon be over. We are very grateful,” she wrote.
Our President's comments on Air Force One last night make us very hopeful that our almost 11 year nightmare might soon be over. We are very grateful.
For press inquires please contact Mark Vargas -202-878-1715, @markavargas .
— Patti Blagojevich (@pblagojevich) August 8, 2019
Rod Blagojevich was arrested at his home in December 2008, on charges accusing him of seeking to personally benefit from his position as governor; including trying to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat once held by Barack Obama before he was elected president in 2008. After two trials, he was convicted of more than a dozen corruption counts and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He has been behind bars since March 2012.
After his appeals through the courts were exhausted last year, Patti Blagojevich began focusing on appealing to President Trump for clemency, and used his favorite news network to do it. As Patti Blagojevich put it before turning to Fox News, “We have a different audience now. It’s an audience of one.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court denied her husband’s last-ditch appeal last spring, Patti Blagojevich went on Fox News, the only network Trump likes, to ask him for leniency by drawing a clear comparison of her husband’s case to the federal investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Patti Blagojevich painted her husband as the victim of an unfair prosecution, and a justice system that failed him — themes the president himself has repeatedly turned to regarding the now-closed investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
“If they can bring down my husband, who was the governor of the fifth largest state, for asking for campaign contributions, absolutely no one is safe in this country,” she said in her Fox News interview.
She appeared on Fox News again in January, after former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to 6 years and 9 months in prison for second-degree murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, less than half of the sentence her husband received on corruption charges.
“The Van Dyke sentence just highlights the corruption in my husband’s trial. My husband’s serving 14 years … for conversations with his staff about fundraising, and the penalty for second-degree murder, a murder conviction, is just six years?” she said. “The prosecutors even asked the judge to sentence my husband to 20 years, and why would they do that? Because they wanted to bury my husband and the truth about what they did to our family so deep it would never come out.”
Patti Blagojevich also has railed against three of President Trump’s favorite foils – former president Barack Obama; former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired amid an investigation of his campaign; and former special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over that investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
“The Obama Justice Department locked [Rod Blagojevich] up and threw away the key; and Mueller and Comey and [former Chicago U.S. Attorney] Fitzgerald destroyed my family by creating fake stories and fake crimes with unprecedented raids and sensational news conferences,” Patti Blagojevich told Fox News in January.
The concerns clearly resonated with Trump as he, too, was under federal investigation for more than two years, and frequently watches Fox News.
Trump repeatedly called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt,” and has railed against former FBI director James Comey, who he fired amid an FBI investigation of the president’s campaign, before it was turned over to the special counsel’s office.
In his latest comments about possibly commuting Blagojevich’s sentence, the president even suggested Comey was somehow behind the former governor’s prosecution, even though Comey did not become director of the FBI until two years after Blagojevich was convicted, and was working as a private practice attorney at the time of the Blagojevich investigation.
“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly. He was given close to 18 years in prison, and a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things. And it was the same gang — the Comey gang and all these sleazebags — that did it,” Trump said.
Comey’s only tie to the Blagojevich case is that his good friend, Patrick Fitzgerald, was the U.S. Attorney in Chicago whose office led the investigation and prosecution of Blagojevich.
The Blagojeviches’ appeals to Trump seemed to gain some traction with the president last year, when he said he was “seriously considering” leniency for the former governor, saying “plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. And it doesn’t, he shouldn’t have been put in jail.”
While Blagojevich’s attorneys formally filed a petition for clemency more than a year ago, Trump has yet to act, so it’s unclear if or when he’ll follow through on his hints at leniency.