Old and busted: Draining the swamp. New hotness: Refilling it. ABC News reported this afternoon that Donald Trump will commute the sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to time served, freeing him from prison after seven years. A few minutes ago, Trump confirmed it in a tarmac interview:
JUST IN: Pres. Trump says he has commuted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's sentence, calling it a "tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence," and claiming "it was a prosecution by the same people, Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group." https://t.co/9oQG09bxZA pic.twitter.com/KnBmMrJsEl
— ABC News (@ABC) February 18, 2020
Scuttlebutt over a potential Blago clemency action began last year, and was amplified by Trump himself. “I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,” Trump told reporters last August. “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 sleaze bags that did it.” Of course, Blagojevich was among those who could be counted as sleazebags for attempting to extort the appointment to the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama’s win. The case was brought by the Obama-era Department of Justice, too, a demonstration of action against partisan interests.
Only after Illinois Republicans spoke out against a clemency action did Trump back down, but not permanently, apparently. Supposedly Trump claimed at that time that he’d had a change of heart about Blagojevich after hearing more about his Chicago Machine corruption, but Blago was also at least a colleague of Trump’s if not a friend. During his prosecution, Blago made ends meet by appearing on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice show, on which Trump “fired” him at one point. And today, Trump’s using the exact same case he floated last August.
This seems more about Trump than Blagojevich, however. Pardoning Blago sets the table for further pardons or sentence commutations of figures closer to him, such as Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and perhaps others caught up in the Robert Mueller special-counsel probe. He can argue now that he issues clemency actions on a bipartisan basis. Perhaps Trump will be smart enough to hold off on those clemency actions until after the election, but … I wouldn’t bet on that.
Speaking of the swamp, Trump’s also going to pardon former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik, according to NBC:
President Donald Trump is expected to grant clemency to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office in 2009 on corruption charges, and to former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, two people familiar with the president’s plans said Tuesday. …
Kerik was sentenced in 2010 to four years in prison after pleading guilty to eight felony charges, including tax fraud.
Jake Tapper offers a brief reminder about Kerik:
Kerik as NY Police Commissioner hid more than a quarter million dollars in renovations to an NYC apartment — given to him from a company seeking to do business with the city.https://t.co/QVNqB6Tv49
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 18, 2020
The third surprise recipient today also took part in official corruption, but more as an extortion target than a prime mover. The White House earlier announced a pardon for former NFL owner Eddie DeBartolo, and staged quite a media avail for it as well. Make San Francisco Great Again!
The former 49ers owner pled guilty 22 years ago of failing to report a bribe demand by former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards for a riverboat gambling license. DeBartolo paid off Edwards to the tune of $400,000 and ended up ensnared in a federal corruption probe that forced DeBartolo to relinquish control of his NFL franchise after his conviction.
In terms of injustices requiring presidential pardons, this one ranks rather low. In terms of PR, however, it’s about as good as it gets. Former NFL greats Jim Brown, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, and Charles Haley announced the pardon in a White House presser this morning:
For the record, this pardon keeps Trump at roughly the same first-term pace as his two most recent predecessors for clemency actions. Thanks to the political damage of Bill Clinton’s Marc Rich pardon and the obvious political risk of pardoning people who might re-offend, discretion is the better part of pre-reelection clemency valor:
By my count, today’s action brings Pres Trump’s clemency count to 19 pardons and 4 commutations.
Compares at same point in presidency to:
OBAMA: 22 pardons, 1 commuttions
GW BUSH: 12 pardons, 0 commutations
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) February 18, 2020
Trump’s pardons have tended to be more splashy than either Obama’s or Bush’s, and arguably a bit more self-serving too. To be fair, though, DeBartolo did get punished for his part in the corruption, and has apparently rehabilitated himself ever since. It might not have been the most pressing case of injustice requiring executive clemency, but it’s a defensible action nonetheless. It’s not a Marc Rich-fugitive situation by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s not a Marc Rich case in any sense. DeBartolo hasn’t done a lot of political sponsorship over the years, and he’s managed to spread the wealth around a bit, too.
Anyway, be sure to watch the video to at least the point where a reporter asks Jerry Rice whether this action and their participation mean about their opinion of Trump. Rice still remains elusive after all these years. “Well, it’s really just about Eddie DeBartolo,” Rice says, “that’s it. … I take my hat off to Donald Trump for what he did.”
Update: The Bernie Madoff pardon will be spectacular.
Pres Trump also granted pardon to convicted financier Michael Milken, who pleaded guilty in 1990 to multiple counts of securities and tax code violations. Was sentenced to 10 years, served 22 months. Pres Trump notes Milken's charitable work since release from prison.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) February 18, 2020