Presidents do have broad constitutional authority to commute sentences for federal crimes, and Blagojevich committed a lot of them. Trump's off-the-cuff commentary Thursday about a possible commutation had the math wrong _ "18 years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know that many other politicians say." The accurate numbers: Blagojevich has served six years of a 14-year sentence and is likely to be released after another six, in 2024. But remember, even after federal appellate judges vacated on technicalities five of his 18 felony convictions, the defrocked governor remained eligible for a sentence of 30 years to life. As a prosecutor noted of Blagojevich's six-year crime spree, "He was corrupt when he took the oath of office. He was corrupt until the day he was arrested."
Trump enjoys operating by emotion and ego, so who knows whether he'll free the inmate who appeared on his television show. Maybe that's as far as his logic goes. The darker calculation would be that Trump wants to signal allies now under federal investigation that he's got them covered. Or maybe Trump likes the idea of pardoning a felon taken down by former U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald, a close friend of James Comey. Heck, Trump's decisions could be purely personal. Maybe he pardoned the late African-American fighter Jack Johnson because President Barack Obama didn't.
The president certainly is vulnerable to the last thing he saw or read, be it the lobbying of Blagojevich's wife, Patti, on Fox News, or the prisoner's nonsensical Wall Street Journal op-ed claiming he was prosecuted for aggressive campaign fundraising, a claim Trump seems to accept. "Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse," Trump told reporters on Air Force One. "And it doesn't, he shouldn't have been put in jail." Come to think of it, maybe Trump, more than a year into the Robert Mueller investigation, feels sorry for a fellow blowhard.
But in Illinois, where law-abiding citizens have seen four of their last 10 governors frog-marched to federal prison, the next crooked pols surely are thrilled to hear Trump bloviate. They'd love to go back to the long era of gentlemen's sentences for the unfortunates who get caught wallowing in the Illinois culture of political sleaze.
We've never found joy in watching Blagojevich's family _ the people he victimized most _ plead for mercy. We have, though, concluded that the sentence he earned not only is fair. It's fair warning to other criminal pols here in Illinois, the State of Corruption.