Donald Trump has commuted the prison sentence of a former Democratic state governor who tried to sell Barack Obama’s vacant seat in the Senate.
Rod Blagojevich, who appeared on Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice show in 2010 while awaiting trial, had been serving a 14-year sentence, scheduled to run until 2026.
As Mr Trump fired Blagojevich as a contestant on the reality show, he praised the way he was fighting his criminal case, telling him: “You have a hell of a lot of guts.”
Blagojevich was later convicted of “being stupid, saying things that many other politicians say”, the president has said, adding that his sentence was “powerful” and “ridiculous”.
The former Illinois governor, 63, was removed from office in 2009 after prosecutors said he had tried to sell or trade the Senate seat Obama vacated after winning the presidential election in 2008.
He was heard in a wire tap boasting about naming someone for the position, saying: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f****** golden. And I’m just not giving it up for f****** nothing.”
Jurors accepted evidence that he demanded a $50,000 donation from the head of a children’s hospital in return for increased support.
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They also decided he had extorted $100,000 in donations from two horse racing tracks and a racing executive in exchange for quick approval of legislation the tracks wanted.
He was convicted of wire fraud, extortion and soliciting bribes.
In 2018, the Supreme Court rejected a bid by Blagojevich to get his sentence reduced.
Blagojevich has tried to depict himself as the victim of an overzealous and politically motivated prosecution.
“Some in the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are abusing their power to criminalise the routine practices of politics and government,” he wrote in an article for the Wall Street Journal in May 2018.
He added: “I learned the hard way what happens when an investigation comes up empty after the government has invested time, resources and manpower. When they can’t prove a crime, they create one.”
President Trump has also pardoned several people, including former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik, who has served just over three years for tax fraud and lying to the White House, and financier Michael Milken, who pleaded guilty to violating US securities laws.
Former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, Eddie DeBartolo Jr, was also pardoned. He pleaded guilty in 1998 to failing to report a felony regarding payment demanded for a riverboat casino license in a bribery scheme.