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Trump commutes Blagojevich's sentence and grants clemency to 10 others

President Donald Trump announced he's commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who had been convicted in a campaign corruption scheme. Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews that Blagojevich "served eight years in jail. It's a long time to go."

Posted: Feb 18, 2020 4:30 PM
Updated: Feb 18, 2020 4:30 PM

President Donald Trump wielded his powers of clemency Tuesday for convicted white-collar criminals and the former Illinois governor accused of attempting to sell a US senate seat.

The wave of pardons and commutations, some of which Trump has been considering for years, came amid a post-impeachment flurry of presidential prerogative, from ridding his team of aides he deemed disloyal to flagrantly inserting himself into Justice Department matters.

Trump announced midday he had commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who has served eight years of a 14-year sentence for the pay-for-play charges. Trump had been weighing the move since at least since 2018.

"He served eight years in jail, a long time. He seems like a very nice person, don't know him," Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews, suggesting the television appeals of Blagojevich's wife Patti helped cement his decision.

Trump also announced pardons for former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik, convicted of tax fraud and lying to officials; Mike Milken, an investment banker known as the "Junk Bond King" who was convicted of felony charges that included securities fraud and conspiracy; and Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers who pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to report a felony in a bribery case.

In total, Trump granted clemency to 11 convicted criminals on Tuesday.

The moves furthered the impression of a President unbound after the Senate acquitted him following impeachment charges he abused his power. Aides had worked to convince Trump against reducing Blagojevich's sentence, believing it would play poorly. And Republican members of Congress lobbied Trump to drop the idea.

But aides say Trump feels newly emboldened after the Senate acquittal, and the steps he announced on Tuesday were long in the works.

Trump publicly hinted he would use his clemency powers for Blagojevich, a Democrat, in August. But he faced sharp blowback from some conservative members of Congress, including from Illinois, as well as from some White House advisers who said it would undercut a message of draining Washington's swamp.

On Tuesday, Trump linked Blagojevich's prosecution to a longtime foe, former FBI Director James Comey, a close friend of former US attorney in Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the prosecution against Blagojevich.

"It was a prosecution by the same people -- Comey, Fitzpatrick -- the same group," Trump said, misstating the Illinois US attorney's surname.

Trump has raged over the past week at what he says are prosecutors run amok, including in the case involving his friend Roger Stone, who is due to be sentenced this week.

After Trump bemoaned a sentencing recommendation for Stone on Twitter, the Justice Department revised its suggestion, leading to accusations Trump was interfering in the department's business. Even Attorney General Bill Barr said in an interview Trump should avoid tweeting about his agency's investigations.

Trump on Tuesday called Barr "a man with incredible integrity." But he nonetheless insisted he had a right to involve himself in Justice Department matters.

"I'm allowed to be totally involved," Trump said. "I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I've chosen not to be involved."

And though Trump granted clemency to a total of 11 convicted criminals on Tuesday, he said he wasn't thinking about doing the same for Stone.

"I haven't given it any thought," Trump said, though sources have said Trump is weighing taking such a step.

Internally, the effort to pardon or commute Blagojevich's sentence was championed by Jared Kushner, who has led the administration's criminal justice reform efforts. Blagojevich appeared on Trump's boardroom reality show NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2010 but was fired by the future president before the final round.

Trump said Tuesday he wanted Blagojevich to be able to see his family again after serving eight years in prison, calling the 14-year sentence for charges related to selling former President Barack Obama's Senate seat "ridiculous."

When Trump seemed close to announcing a commutation over the summer, several Republican lawmakers aired their concerns in phone calls to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone. Two Republicans, Reps. Darin LaHood and Mike Bost, directly appealed to Trump not to use his clemency powers for Blagojevich.

By August, the White House had already been working for several months on vetting Blagojevich's case. The President first raised it in 2018.

Trump has suggested in his public comments about the case that he believes Blagojevich was simply doing what all politicians do.

"I would think that there have been many politicians -- I'm not one of them, by the way -- that have said a lot worse over the telephone," he said last year.

Kerik, who once served three years in federal prison for charges including tax fraud and lying to officials, was nominated as homeland security secretary by President George W. Bush but withdrew from consideration due to potential tax violations.

Kerik, a former business partner of Trump ally and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, helped with the case of Navy SEAL chief Edward "Eddie" Gallagher, who was convicted of bringing discredit to the armed services after posing next to a dead ISIS fighter's body, which is against regulations. He was then demoted in rank -- a decision Trump reversed in a move that angered military officials.

Milken rose to prominence on Wall Street in the 1980s as the head of the high-yield bond department, also known as junk bonds, at the now defunct firm Drexel Burnham Lambert.

But Milken got tied up in an insider trading scheme and eventually pleaded guilty to several counts of securities violations tied to a scandal with former stock trader Ivan Boesky.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 256827

Reported Deaths: 5638
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17257180
Hinds16331322
Harrison13567194
Rankin10804212
Jackson10453184
Lee8864141
Madison8314164
Jones6434112
Forrest6009120
Lauderdale5902186
Lowndes5405116
Lafayette499193
Lamar488565
Washington4803124
Bolivar3997109
Oktibbeha395381
Panola372379
Pontotoc367853
Monroe3558105
Warren354898
Union345960
Marshall344066
Neshoba3396152
Pearl River3301100
Leflore3041107
Lincoln298085
Sunflower286671
Hancock274459
Tate273162
Alcorn265453
Itawamba263759
Pike263778
Scott248046
Yazoo247056
Prentiss246552
Tippah243050
Copiah242749
Coahoma241054
Simpson236467
Leake231765
Grenada219471
Covington214672
Marion213073
Adams207070
Wayne202932
Winston201666
George199839
Attala194259
Newton193444
Tishomingo189361
Chickasaw185044
Jasper172736
Holmes168767
Clay159833
Stone144721
Tallahatchie141934
Clarke139862
Calhoun136521
Smith121424
Yalobusha117834
Walthall112336
Noxubee110822
Greene110429
Montgomery109834
Carroll104821
Lawrence102917
Perry102631
Amite98426
Webster92824
Tunica87321
Claiborne86625
Jefferson Davis85326
Humphreys83124
Benton82023
Kemper77620
Quitman6968
Franklin66715
Choctaw60913
Wilkinson58725
Jefferson54919
Sharkey43117
Issaquena1596
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 426543

Reported Deaths: 6126
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson62752920
Mobile30551554
Madison27303186
Tuscaloosa20835267
Montgomery19192305
Shelby18693114
Baldwin16513183
Lee12603101
Morgan12321113
Etowah11805168
Calhoun11206200
Marshall10236107
Houston8681148
Cullman8094105
Limestone807474
Elmore7923101
DeKalb771597
Lauderdale763183
St. Clair7599120
Talladega6224108
Walker5930174
Jackson583741
Colbert535473
Blount532083
Autauga522755
Coffee446256
Dale399781
Franklin368148
Chilton337865
Russell335910
Covington330168
Escambia321342
Dallas305196
Chambers288669
Clarke283133
Tallapoosa2630107
Pike251329
Marion247350
Lawrence245247
Winston229035
Bibb217047
Geneva203335
Marengo200829
Pickens196931
Hale177442
Barbour173836
Fayette171226
Butler170758
Cherokee160930
Henry155021
Monroe147317
Randolph141535
Washington138326
Clay127045
Crenshaw120244
Cleburne118423
Lamar118419
Macon116835
Lowndes111535
Wilcox103621
Bullock99728
Perry98219
Conecuh95120
Sumter89526
Greene76223
Coosa60515
Choctaw51524
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