Sometimes it’s all right to change your mind in politics, especially when you may have been out of your mind in the first instance. Last week, Donald Trump all but announced a commutation for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence for corruption, calling investigators “sleaze bags.” The White House immediately attempted to soften that position, and CNN reports today that Trump may drop the whole thing, thanks to an intervention from Illinois Republicans:
Several Republican lawmakers called acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the sources told CNN, and the Republican members of Illinois congressional delegation issued a joint statement opposing the move.
At least two of them, Reps. Darin LaHood and Mike Bost, made their case directly to the President on Thursday night, urging him not to go forward. They laid out the litany of crimes Blagojevich committed while in office and argued it would send the wrong message to voters about corruption by public officials. …
That same evening, LaHood — a former federal and state prosecutor — called Trump as well and laid out in detail the brazen charges against Blagojevich, including allegations he threatened to cancel millions in state dollars for a children’s hospital if its CEO did not write him a $25,000 campaign check. Among the charges was that Blagojevich attempted to sell former President Barack Obama’s Senate seat that he resigned in order to become president.
Reportedly, Trump told LaHood and Bost that “I wish I had the perspective before.” It’s tough to understand why he wouldn’t have had that perspective. Trump had Blagojevich on his show The Apprentice during some of the period in which the impeachment and investigation took place. Clemency actions are supposed to require a thorough review of all the pertinent facts. As this shows, Trump even had the option of contacting fellow Republicans who worked on the issue apart from “sleaze bags” such as James Comey and Patrick Fitzgerald.
This seems like a case of willful ignorance, or perhaps too much trust in son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has pushed a Blagojevich clemency as an olive branch to Democrats. That’s a strange idea in itself; Democrats would likely prefer to forget about Blagojevich, or at least have voters forget he was one of them. Trump clearly wanted to get even with Comey and the Obama-era Department of Justice by embarrassing them over Blagojevich, which is hardly a good reason for a clemency action.
In this case, it also cuts directly against Trump’s stated mission — draining the swamp. Blagojevich is Swamp Thing himself, as LaHood had to belatedly explain. What’s the point of draining the swamp and then releasing all the alligators back into it? Trump wants to position himself as the outsider working on behalf of the little guy, which makes his impulse to release the Chicago Machine insider just to spite some of his political enemies counterproductive, at the very least, if not outright hypocritical.
Blagojevich earned his prison sentence, and Trump has better issues and people to worry about. Hopefully LaHood and Bost have supplied Trump with a better “perspective” than the advisers who brought him this idea in the first place.