President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he was "very strongly" considering commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
It's not the first time Trump has floated the idea of freeing Blagojevich from prison. So why did he bring it up again? Per Trump's remarks, it appears as though the strategy of the ex-governor's wife might just be paying off.
"But we’re going to be doing something very, I think — very impactful. A man who is a Democrat, not a Republican — who I don’t know very well, but he was on 'The Apprentice' for a couple of weeks – meaning, a couple of, you know, seasons; a couple of, what would you say? Episodes. I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way back to Washington, D.C., after visits to El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in the wake of two mass shootings in the cities.
"He was given close to 18 years in prison," Trump continued, according to a transcript of the remarks released by the White House, incorrectly detailing the disgraced governor's sentence.
Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison in December 2011, following his conviction on 18 counts of corruption in two trials earlier in the year and the year before. Prosecutors said Blagojevich attempted to use his public office for personal gain, including, among other allegations, an attempt to sell an open U.S. Senate seat - vacated by newly-elected President Barack Obama - to the highest bidder.
"And a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things," Trump continued Wednesday, "And it was the same gang — the Comey gang and the — all these sleazebags — that did it. And his name is Rod Blagojevich."
The Comey that Trump was referring to is former FBI Director James Comey, who the president abruptly fired in 2017 as Comey oversaw an investigation into contact between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
Comey is close friends with former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who put Blagojevich behind bars. Comey and Fitzgerald's relationship dates back to the 1980s when they worked together as prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. Comey also hired Fitzgerald for his own legal team around the time he was fired in 2017, according to multiple reports.
Also involved in both investigations into Trump and Blagojevich was Robert Mueller, who was appointed special counsel overseeing the investigation into the Trump campaign following Comey's dismissal, and has previously served as director of the FBI throughout the federal investigation into and conviction of Blagojevich.
"He’s been in jail for seven years, over a phone call where nothing happens," Trump said Wednesday night, reiterating, "But over a phone — where nothing happened."
Trump was referring to Blagojevich's now-infamous 2008 call, secretly recorded on FBI wiretap and played during his trial, in which Blagojevich called Obama's old Senate seat "[expletive] golden," saying he was "not just giving it up for [expletive] nothing."
"Over a phone call where — which, you know, he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio, you would say," Trump said of that call Wednesday night. "I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way (inaudible) — but that have said a lot worse over telephones."
Trump previously brought up the idea of commuting Blagojevich's sentence in May 2018, telling reporters that Blagojevich said something "stupid" but his sentence (again incorrectly saying it was 18 years) was "really unfair."
At the time, Trump also said he was considering a pardon for Martha Stewart, prosecuted by James Comey and convicted in 2004 of obstructing justice and lying to the government.
Blagojevich's wife Patti has appeared on FOX News - a television network Trump has openly said he's likely to watch - several times in the last year to make her case as to why her husband should be released from prison.
Her chief appeal has been to make the claim that Trump and Rod Blagojevich have been subjected to the same treatment by federal investigators, which Trump has himself called on Twitter "presidential harassment."
"I see that the same people that did this to my family, the same people that secretly taped us and twisted the facts and perverted the law that ended up my husband in jail, these same people are trying to do the same thing they did to my husband, just on a much larger scale," Patti Blagojevich said in an appearance on FOX immediately following the president's comments about her husband last May. "You know they were emboldened - they took down a governor and now they’re got their sights much higher."
Trump tweeted in December that another FOX appearance by Patti Blagojevich was "required television watching," and on Wednesday, it appeared as though her message had reached its intended audience.
"I watched his wife, on television, saying that the young girl’s father has been in jail for now seven years, and they’ve never seen him outside of an orange uniform. You know, the whole thing. His wife, I think, is fantastic. And I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly. I think he was — I think it’s enough: seven years," Trump said.
Trump added that Rod Blagojevich was "not a friend" of his, saying, "He’s a Democrat, not a Republican. It’s Illinois. I think he was treated very, very unfairly, just as others were. Just as others were."
"So Rod Blagojevich — I am thinking very seriously about commuting his sentence so that he can go home to his family after seven years. You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people. They put him in jail for 18 years, and he has many years left. And I think it’s very unfair," Trump added.
"I’m very impressed with his family," he continued. "I’m very impressed with his wife. I mean, she has lived for this. She has — she’s one hell of a woman. She has lived — she goes on and she makes her case. And it’s — it’s really very sad."
Of Trump's comments on Wednesday, the former first lady of Illinois tweeted, "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."
The New York Times reported Wednesday night that two sources said Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had suggested to the president that Rod Blagojevich be pardoned, saying it would appeal to Democrats, though other aides advised against it because of the nature of Blagojevich's conviction, resulting in a compromise that the sentence could be commuted.