« Bold effort by reform advocates to get federal Fair Chance Act enacted via defense bill | Main | "Prisons are packed because prosecutors are coercing plea deals. And, yes, it's totally legal." »

August 9, 2019

You be the Prez: would you grant a commutation to former Gov Blago?

Prez Trump has a distinctive and sometimes disturbing way of keeping policy and political stories interesting, and his use of the clemency power is no exception.  The latest developments on this front, which prompt the question in the title of this post, concern imprisoned former Illinios Gov Rod Blagojevich. Prez Trump has been talking up a possible commutation for some time, and this Politico article, headlined "Illinois Republicans urge Trump to keep Blagojevich in prison," has me suspecting that the Prez may not be prepared to "walk the walk" after talking the clemency talk.  Here are excerpts:  

Illinois’ delegation of House Republicans on Thursday urged President Donald Trump not to commute the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the state’s former governor, after the president told reporters he was considering doing so. In a statement, Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost said that commuting Blagojevich’s sentence “sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials.”

“It’s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois where four of our last eight Governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption,” the congressmen wrote.

The state’s Republican delegation previously wrote to Trump in June 2018, also to oppose a presidential commutation of Blagojevich’s sentence. The Thursday statement renewed the call after Trump told reporters a day earlier that he felt Blagojevich’s seven years in prison had been enough.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,” Trump said Wednesday. “He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens.”

Blagojevich, a Democrat who served in the House before he was elected governor, was impeached and removed from office in 2009, and was later convicted on multiple charges of corruption, including trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. During his trial, a recorded phone conversation revealed him saying: “I've got this thing, and it’s fucking golden. I’m just not giving it up for fucking nothing.” He was sentenced to 14 years in prison in a case that became a media frenzy. His family has tried multiple times to appeal the sentence.

Trump dismissed the phone call as “braggadocio” and nothing outside the norm of what has been said privately by several other elected officials.

On Thursday night, he tweeted that “many people” had asked him about commuting the sentence on account of its severity and that White House staff were looking into the matter. Prosecutors at the time of his trial argued that Blagojevich qualified for 30 years to life, but they recommended less time out of concern for his family.

As president, Obama declined to commute the sentence, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case on more than one occasion. Trump, however, has raised the possibility of commutation in the past. In their 2018 letter opposing such a move, the Illinois Republicans — then including Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren — said commuting the sentence would compromise trust in American democracy.

Notably, former Gov Blago has already served the equivalent of more than eight years of a federal prison sentence, which is considerably longer than the prior Gov George Ryan served for seemingly more extensive official misdeeds.  And I have a hard time seeing just how public safety (or "American democracy") is really served by his service of another half decade in federal prison. But, as the question in this post is meant to prompt, I am eager to hear others' thoughts on this matter.

August 9, 2019 at 05:01 AM | Permalink


Do I think there is any point in more prison time for this guy? No. Do I think he should get a commutation from this president who embraces corruption? No. It normalizes his behavior and we cannot survive that as a country. So, I think a commutation should wait. Plenty of more deserving folks should get them first.

Posted by: defendergirl | Aug 9, 2019 9:37:46 AM

Yes, I never thought he was guilty to begin with.


"No. It normalizes his behavior and we cannot survive that as a country. So, I think a commutation should wait."

The problem is that if Trump doesn't do it, who will? I mean Obama didn't do it and it is difficult to see how any Democrat would do so least they be charged with partisan politics. So as a practical matter he would be looking at at least another six years in prison and maybe longer. So your solution is no solution at all. And I do not believe in sacrificing someone for the greater good, not like this anyway.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 9, 2019 5:42:35 PM

Probably not. As a general matter, I tend to think that non-violent criminals get too much time, and violent ones not enough. However, a corrupt Governor tends to make things worse for everyone, and may indirectly cause a lot of violent crime. For one thing, he obviously isn't going to be working to clean up corruption elsewhere.

Furthermore, the Governor of Illinois has no need to be corrupt. Blago's salary was $177k. His pension would have been similar. So he would have been set for life. That ought to have been enough for anyone.

Additionally, a Governor has a real choice. It's not like some corrupt precinct captain who would be mercilessly stomped on if he chose to come clean.

Lastly, a high-profile sentence like Blago's has high deterrence value.

To me, all of this outweighs my general opinion about nonviolent criminals.

Posted by: William C Jockusch | Aug 11, 2019 10:24:23 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB