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Trump's Move To Cut Blago's Sentence Draws Bipartisan Backlash

Brian Mackey, Sam Dunklau
NPR Illinois 91.9 FM
House GOP Leader Jim Durkin and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot both condemned President Donald Trump's decision to forgive the rest of Rod Blagojevich's sentence at separate events in Springfield on Tuesday

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is forgiving the remaining prison sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. That move has received bipartisan criticism.

Blagojevich was removed from office in 2009 on corruption charges, and a subsequent criminal trial sent him to federal prison for 14 years. His wife Patti pleaded for years with the Trump White House to consider releasing her husband, who had appeared on the former reality star's TV show, “The Celebrity Apprentice,” in 2010.

Blagojevich has served half of his prison sentence. Before the commutation, he was set to be released in 2024.

Illinois House GOP leader Jim Durkin sat on a legislative committee that investigated the former governor. He told reporters he was disappointed in the decision.

“There’s more deserving people who are in the Federal Bureau of Prisons who could use relief from this President other than Rod Blagojevich," he said.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the move undercuts the decision reached by lawmakers and a federal court more than a decade ago.

“No one is above the law," Lightfoot said, referring to Trump, "and undermining the rule of law as he has repeatedly done and unfortunately I fear he will continue throughout his term sends exactly the wrong message.”

Scores of statehouse Democrats also disapprove of Trump’s move to commute Blagojevich's sentence. Among them is state Sen. Dave Koehler (D, Peoria), who is one of the lawmakers that voted to convict Blagojevich at his 2009 impeachment trial. Chief among his criticism is that the former chief executive hasn’t shown any remorse.

“Had he apologized to the people of Illinois for this behavior, I might have more sympathy for him,” he said in a statement. “But he has for a decade exhibited nothing but defiant arrogance and a total unwillingness to own up to what recorded evidence plainly proves he did.”

State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch (D, Hillside) took a more conciliatory approach to Trump's move.

“He [Blagojevich] should have been punished for what he did, but I think 14 years is a long time,” Welch said. “Good for him that he gets to go home and be with his family.”

In a statement, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin condemned the commutation, saying state and federal officials should “move quickly” to enact stricter ethics rules for lawmakers. He and others believe requiring a more thorough disclosure of things like financial holdings and conflicts of interest could prevent anyone else from abusing a public office.

Though Blagojevich may be leaving prison soon, the General Assembly banned him from ever holding any public office of the State of Illinois again.

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.
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