Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich

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Trump Mulls Commuting Rod Blagojevich's Term, Pardoning Martha Stewart

May 31, 2018 - 12:38 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) -- President Donald Trump says he is considering commuting the sentence of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoning Martha Stewart.

The comments came aboard Air Force One on Thursday after he announced on Twitter that he planned to pardon conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance fraud.

As he left Washington to fly to Texas, Trump tweeted: "Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D'Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!" D'Souza, an outspoken critic of former President Barack Obama, had claimed that his prosecution by the Obama Justice Department was politically motivated, but the presiding federal judge said D'Souza had failed to prove it.

Trump later shared with reporters aboard Air Force One his thoughts on Blagojevich and Stewart.

Blagojevich is nearly half way through a 14-year federal prison term for convictions on bribery and corruption charges. After two trials in 2010 and 2011, Blagojevich was convicted of 18 corruption counts, including charges he tried to sell an appointment to former President Barack Obama’s Senate seat.

The President called Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence “really unfair." He said Blagojevich had said something “stupid,” but it was similar to what other politicians have said.

“Plenty of other politicians could have said a lot worse,” Trump said.

Blagojevich and the President have a past relationship. The former governor appeared on the show "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2010 – after he was arrested by the FBI at his house and impeached, but before he was convicted and sentenced to prison.

Trump suggested he was more interested in reducing Blagojevich’s sentence than granting him a full pardon. A pardon would mean Blagojevich would get out of jail immediately, and his conviction effectively would be wiped out. Commuting his sentence would simply reduce the amount of time he must spend in prison.

Speaking to WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace Thursday afternoon, Politico White House Reporter Matt Nussbaum noted that Blagojevich was prosecuted by former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald – “who happens to be a close friend and colleague of James Comey – and we know how President Trump feels about James Comey.”

Blagojevich began serving his sentence in 2012. His scheduled release date is 2024.

Patti Blagojevich, the former governor’s wife, released a statement following the news reading, “Amy, Annie and I are very encouraged by the President’s comments today. He’s given us something that has been hard to come by recently…hope.

“From the beginning, we’ve eagerly awaited the day when Rod could come back home where he belongs, and we continue to pray our family will be made whole again soon.”

Robert Blagojevich said if Trump were to commute his brother’s sentence, he would be doing the right thing.

“I would say that I’m cautiously optimistic,” Robert Blagojevich said.

Sam Adam Jr. defended Blagojevich served as Blagojevich’s defense attorney at his first trial – which ended in a mistrial on all but one count in 2010.

“It would be a godsend. It would be something that, for his family, that there could be nothing else as big and as important as this as having him home to be their father,” he said.

In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal this week, Blagojevich wrote that he is “in prison for practicing politics,” Andy Dahn of WBBM Newsradio in Chicago reported.

Trump also said he is considering a pardon for Martha Stewart, who was convicted in 2004 of obstructing justice and lying to the government about why she unloaded stock just before the price plummeted. She served five months in prison.

Trump said she "used to be one of my biggest fans." She was also a star on Trump's "The Apprentice" franchise.

Stewart was prosecuted personally by Comey when Comey was a U.S. attorney in New York, Nussbaum noted.

Trump also told reporters accompanying him to Texas that no one asked him to pardon D'Souza, whose case had become a cause in conservative circles.

Trump said he only knew D'Souza from TV and reading his works. He said he telephoned D'Souza on Wednesday night.

The filmmaker, author and speaker was sentenced in September 2014 in federal court in New York to five years of probation after he admitted making illegal contributions to a U.S. Senate candidate in New York. Eight months of the first year was to be served in a community confinement center.

D'Souza was also sentenced to an eight-hour day of community service every week of the five-year term, weekly counseling, and was ordered to pay a $30,000 fine along with a $100 special assessment.

White House spokesman Raj Shah echoed D'Souza's claim of selective prosecution.

"Dinesh D'Souza is an individual who, you know, has made restitution and accepted responsibility for his actions. But these are infractions and crimes that are rarely prosecuted, and many believe that he was the subject of some selective prosecution from the previous administration," Shah said on Fox News Channel.

"Nonetheless, he's accepted responsibility and the president thinks it's appropriate that he receive a pardon after community service, paying a fine and doing other things that the judge has required," Shah said.

D'Souza acknowledged that he had two close associates each contribute $10,000 to the Senate campaign of Republican Wendy Long with the understanding that he would reimburse them. Individual contributions to any one candidate were limited to $5,000 at the time. Long lost to Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

D'Souza, who made the documentary "2016: Obama's America," entered the plea a week after the federal judge overseeing the case rejected his claim that he was selectively prosecuted. The judge said D'Souza had shown the court no evidence that he was targeted.

The government said in court papers that D'Souza faced overwhelming evidence of guilt and "now seizes upon the fact that he is an outspoken critic of the Obama administration as an excuse to avoid the consequences of his actions."

D'Souza is a former policy analyst under President Ronald Reagan and a prolific author well-known for works critical of Obama.

He retweeted Trump's tweet about the forthcoming pardon but did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment sent to his media company, D'Souza Media.

In February, D'Souza apologized for sending a tweet that made fun of students from a high school in Parkland, Florida, who were upset after the Florida House voted down a proposed ban on a type of semi-automatic rifles known as assault weapons. The students had lost 17 classmates and teachers in a shooting that month.

D'Souza said in one of the tweets that it was the "worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs." In another tweet, he wrote "Adults 1, kids 0."

His tweets about the Parkland students have been sharply criticized by some Florida Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott. Despite the backlash, D'Souza is scheduled to speak at a two-day event being put on next month by the Republican Party of Florida. Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, has not yet decided whether he will attend.

As to Trump’s motives for the discussions of pardons and commuted sentences, Nussbaum said it is hard to know for sure. He said it could be “some sort of personal vendetta against Comey” or it could be “an effort to pardon people who are relatively prominent and well-known in the news media.”

“It is worth noting, you know, all these people are celebrities, and this is one power that the president has that’s absolute. All he has to do is sign his pen and the pardon is granted, and we know he likes that kind of immediate results,” Nussbaum said. “It’s also worth noting that this could be seen – could be seen – as sending a signal to some people under investigation as part of the Russia probe of the president’s willingness to pardon folks for corruption, campaign finance, and lying to investigators, which is what D’Souza, Blagojevich, and Stewart were all involved in.”

As WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, the pardon plans are raising concerns in some legal circles.

Former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers is concerned. She noted that while the president certainly has the legal right to pardon whomever he wants, a string of several pardons is likely to raise eyebrows.

"Politically, I think people should take issue with him pardoning a whole string of people to send the message that people should not cooperate with law enforcement," he said.

Rodgers also said those indicted in the Russia probe might be taking note.

She said they could be thinking: "I could cooperate and that would really help me in my case. But I'm not going to bother, because I know even if I'm convicted the president will pardon me than that does hurt law enforcement."

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)