Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Speaks Out After Prison Sentence Shortened

Feb 19, 2020
Originally published on February 19, 2020 7:18 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is out of prison, back at home and speaking out. This morning, the former governor joined his wife and two daughters outside their Chicago home to talk to the press eight years since he went to prison on corruption-related crimes, including trying to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Claudia Morrell has more.

CLAUDIA MORRELL, BYLINE: To call it a media circus would be an understatement. Dozens of cameras, reporters, fans and just curious neighbors blocked the sidewalk at the Blagojevich house. Some had been there since yesterday, when President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of the infamous governor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH: Hey, man. How are you?

MORRELL: As Blagojevich descended down the steps of his home, if you didn't know any better, you'd think it was a campaign announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PATTI BLAGOJEVICH: All right. All right.

R BLAGOJEVICH: Thank you.

P BLAGOJEVICH: All right. Dab your face.

MORRELL: Blood is literally dripping from Blagojevich's chin from a bad shave.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

R BLAGOJEVICH: Been a long, long journey. I'm bruised, and I'm battered. And I'm bloody. It's been a long time since I've shaved with a normal razor. And it takes a little practice.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Dab again.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Keep dabbing.

R BLAGOJEVICH: Sorry about that. I got to keep dabbing the blood.

MORRELL: Then his wife Patti, who lobbied on Fox News for her husband's clemency, interjects.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

P BLAGOJEVICH: So I have to apologize for his tardiness. He couldn't find where I put his socks this morning.

MORRELL: Blagojevich talked about his daughters - how young they were when he went to jail, about everything they accomplished while he was away. He didn't talk about any of the crimes he was convicted of - a shakedown of a children's hospital, trying to extort a labor union and a racetrack owner. But the former Democratic governor of one of America's bluest states gushed about President Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

R BLAGOJEVICH: We want to express our most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump. How do you properly thank someone who has given you back the freedom that was stolen from you? He didn't have to do this. He's a Republican president. I was a Democratic governor. And doing this does nothing to help his politics. President Trump is a man who is tough and outspoken, but he also has a kind heart.

MORRELL: At times, Blagojevich talked to the cameras like he was updating an old friend about what life was like living eight years behind bars. At one point, he called himself a freed political prisoner, compared himself to Martin Luther King Jr. and warned about the unchecked power of a criminal prosecutor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

R BLAGOJEVICH: I've learned the hard way just how dangerous that is. From beginning to end, this was persecution masquerading as prosecution.

MORRELL: In fact, Blagojevich was convicted by a jury, and the U.S. Supreme Court let his conviction stand. The governor took no questions and walked back into his home, ignoring shouts from reporters who asked what's next.

For NPR News, I'm Claudia Morrell in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.