UPDATED 02/19/20 12:27 a.m.
DENVER (CBS) — As he prepared to get on a flight back to Chicago Tuesday night, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich expressed gratitude to President Donald Trump for commuting his 14-year prison sentence.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: Full List Of Mass Vaccination Sites With More To Open Thursday; 2,104 New Coronavirus Cases, 44 More Deaths
— Dana Kozlov (@DanaCBS2) February 19, 2020
Blagojevich was released from FCI Englewood prison in Colorado late Tuesday, hours after President Donald Trump announced that he was commuting the former governor’s sentence. CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov caught up to Blagojevich at Denver International Airport.
“It’s been a long journey, but I think the appropriate thing to say is that I speak for Patti; for my daughters Amy and Annie, and for me when I ask for our most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump for doing what he did,” Blagojevich said. “He didn’t have to do this. He’s a Republican president. I was a Democratic governor, and my fellow Democrats didn’t treat him very good. So all I can say is I think this is the ending of the first act of a two-act play. And tomorrow begins a second act.”
Blagojevich also maintained that he was never guilty of any crimes and that he was “persecuted and railroaded.”
“I didn’t let (the people) down, and I never gave into the false accusations and the railroading that was done to me and my family, because if I did that, I would have violated my oath of office and my commitment to them,” he said.
Without naming anyone, Blagojevich slammed the prosecutors who pursued the corruption charges against him.
“Fighting back was a way to not only stand up for my own reputation, and for my children, and for my wife, and for my late parents who raised me the right way, but it was a way to fight for the people of Illinois against corrupt prosecutors who have too much power, who are accountable to no one, and who break the law to do their jobs because it enhances their careers,” he said.
As to what his second act would be, Blagojevich said: “I’m going to fight against the corrupt criminal justice system that all too often persecutes and prosecutes people who did nothing wrong, who over-sentence people, show no mercy, and who are in positions that have no accountability. They can do and say whatever they want.”
Blagojevich said while in prison, he did not indulge in thoughts of what life would be like if he were released. But he said he always had an idea of one thing he would enjoy once he got home to his family and took a couple of days to settle back in.
“I’d like to have a banana split, and I’d like to have three scoops of ice cream – vanilla and chocolate and strawberry – with chocolate syrup on it, and cherry syrup, and pineapple syrup, with a whole bunch of whipped cream, but no peanuts, because my younger daughter Annie is allergic to peanuts – so I want to be able to kiss her, so no peanuts, because I can’t kiss her when I eat peanuts – and I want extra cherries on top,” he said.
Blagojevich said he was not told in advance that his sentence was being commuted, and he actually found out about it on the news.
“Other inmates came and told me they saw it being reported on the news,” he said.
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— Dana Kozlov (@DanaCBS2) February 19, 2020
Upon arriving back at O’Hare, Blagojevich was followed to a waiting car as a group of reporters shouted questions – but he did not speak at length. He signed a few autographs before getting into the white Hyundai Palisade sport-utility vehicle.
He signed pictures and baseballs with a big blue Sharpie and said, “I feel great,” CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported.
Blagojevich arrived at his Ravenswood Manor home at 12:25 a.m. He said his first order of business was to go home and be with his wife and daughter, and went inside.
Blagojevich is planning a news conference at his house at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
President Trump announced Tuesday afternoon he was commuting Blagojevich’s sentence, which freed the former governor from prison without clearing his criminal record.
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.
He was secretly recorded by federal agents.
Famously, Blagojevich was heard saying, “I’ve got this thing and it’s f***ing golden and I’m just not giving it up for f***ing nothing.”
After two trials, Blagojevich was convicted of more than a dozen corruption counts and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He has been behind bars since March 2012.
As CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar reported, Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, has been a frequent guest on Fox News, calling on President Trump to release her husband.
“If they can bring down my husband, who is the governor of the fifth largest state, for asking for campaign contributions, absolutely no one is safe,” Patti Blagojevich said in 2018.
President Trump apparently listened.
“I watched his wife on television,” he said. “I like her.”
The White House said Blagojevich was a model inmate who tutors and teaches GED classes and mentors prisoners.
“He served eight years in jail, has a long time to go. Many people disagree with the sentence,” Trump said before boarding Air Force One to head to California on Tuesday. “He’ll be able to go home with his family after serving eight years in jail. That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion, and in the opinion of many others.”MORE NEWS: Family Praying For Recovery Of 11-Year-Old Ny-Andra Dyer, Shot In The Face At West Pullman Gas Station; 'I Just Need A Miracle'
Trump had repeatedly hinted at showing leniency to Blagojevich since taking office, but did not act until Tuesday.