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President Trump pardons DeBartolo, commutes Blagojevich sentence

U.S. President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump

Former NYPD commissioner and Michael Milken also given clemency.

Posted: Feb 18, 2020 3:43 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has gone on a clemency blitz, commuting the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoning former NYPD commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long list of others.

Trump also told reporters that he has pardoned financier Michael Milken, who pleaded guilty for violating U.S. securities laws and served two years in prison in the early 1990s. Trump also pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal who built one of the most successful NFL teams in the game’s history.

Blagojevich, who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice," was convicted of political corruption, including seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama's old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children's hospital. But Trump said he had been subjected to a “ridiculous sentence" that didn't fit his crimes.

Kerik served just over three years for tax fraud and lying to the White House while being interviewed to be Homeland Security secretary.

“We have Bernie Kerik, we have Mike Milken, who's gone around and done an incredible job,” Trump said, adding that Milken had “paid a big price.”

Earlier, the White House announced that Trump had pardoned DeBartolo Jr., who was involved in one of the biggest owners’ scandals in the sport’s history. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony when he paid $400,000 to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in exchange for a riverboat gambling license.

He also pardoned Ariel Friedler, a technology entrepreneur, who pleaded guilty to accessing a computer without authorization; Paul Pogue a construction company owner who underpaid his taxes; David Safavian, who was convicted of obstructing an investigation into a trip he took while he was a senior government official; and Angela Stanton, an author who served a six-month home sentence for her role in a stolen vehicle ring.

Blagojevich, a Democrat who hails from a state with a long history of pay-to-play schemes, exhausted his last appellate option in 2018 and had seemed destined to remain behind bars until his projected 2024 release date. His wife, Patti, went on a media blitz in 2018 to encourage Trump to step in, praising the president and likening the investigation of her husband to special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — a probe Trump long characterized as a “witchhunt.”

Blagojevich’s conviction was notable, even in a state where four of the last 10 governors have gone to prison for corruption. Judge James Zagel — who in 2011 sentenced Blagojevich to the longest prison term yet for an Illinois politician — said when a governor “goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured."

Blagojevich became the brunt of jokes for foul-mouthed rants on wiretaps released after his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest while still governor. On the most notorious recording, he gushes about profiting by naming someone to the seat Obama vacated to become president: "I've got this thing and it's f------ golden. And I'm just not giving it up for f------ nothing."

When Trump publicly broached the idea in May 2018 of intervening to free Blagojevich, he downplayed the former governor’s crimes. He said Blagojevich was convicted for "being stupid, saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say." He said Blagojevich’s sentence was too harsh.

Prosecutors have balked at the notion long fostered by Blagojevich that he engaged in common political horse-trading and was a victim of an overzealous U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald said after Blagojevich's arrest that the governor had gone on "a political corruption crime spree" that would make Abraham Lincoln turn over in his grave.

Mueller — a subject of Trump's derision — was FBI director during the investigation into Blagojevich. Fitzgerald is now a private attorney for another former FBI director, James Comey, whom Trump dismissed from the agency in May 2017.

Trump also expressed some sympathy for Blagojevich when he appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice" in 2010 before his first corruption trial started. As Trump "fired" Blagojevich as a contestant, he praised him for how he was fighting his criminal case, telling him: "You have a hell of a lot of guts."

He later poll-tested the matter, asking for a show of hands of those who supported clemency at an October, 2019 fundraiser at his Chicago hotel. Most of the 200 to 300 attendees raised their hands, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing several people at the event.

Blagojevich testified at his 2011 retrial, describing himself as a flawed dreamer grounded in his parents' working-class values. He sought to humanize himself to counteract the blunt, profane, seemingly greedy Blagojevich heard on wiretap recordings played in court by prosecutors over several weeks. He said the hours of FBI recordings were the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

But jurors accepted evidence that Blagojevich demanded a $50,000 donation from the head of a children's hospital in return for increased state support, and 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 originally convicted on 18 counts, including lying to the FBI, wire fraud for trying to trade an appointment to the Obama seat for contributions, and for the attempted extortion of a children's hospital executive. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in 2015 tossed five of 18 convictions, including ones in which he offered to appoint someone to a high-paying job in the Senate.

The appeals court ordered the trial judge to resentence Blagojevich, but suggested it would be appropriate to hand him the same sentence, given the gravity of the crimes. Blagojevich appeared via live video from prison during the 2016 resentencing and asked for leniency. The judge gave him the same 14-year term, saying it was below federal guidelines when he imposed it the first time.

Blagojevich had once aspired to run for president himself but entered the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in suburban Denver in 2012, disgraced and broke. Court documents filed by his lawyers in 2016 portrayed Blagojevich — known as brash in his days as governor — as humble and self-effacing, as well as an insightful life coach and lecturer on everything from the Civil War to Richard Nixon. Blagojevich, an Elvis Presley fan, also formed a prison band called "The Jailhouse Rockers."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 276500

Reported Deaths: 3321
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin590031089
Ramsey24988472
Anoka19724213
Dakota19215176
Washington12538106
Stearns1226689
Scott753854
St. Louis740897
Wright663436
Olmsted610130
Sherburne512539
Clay445155
Carver409712
Blue Earth373511
Rice361431
Kandiyohi348215
Crow Wing316130
Nobles296028
Chisago28398
Otter Tail266615
Benton261940
Winona246128
Mower236722
Polk228621
Douglas219829
Morrison211621
Lyon193711
McLeod18879
Beltrami184615
Goodhue177626
Becker17559
Itasca168924
Steele16756
Todd165312
Isanti165015
Carlton153610
Nicollet146523
Freeborn13935
Mille Lacs132830
Le Sueur13219
Waseca129710
Cass12018
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Meeker10797
Roseau9923
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Wadena7006
Aitkin68923
Pipestone67018
Rock6439
Houston6152
Fillmore6050
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Pennington5356
Kanabec52911
Murray5283
Swift4976
Pope4820
Faribault4750
Stevens4442
Clearwater4356
Marshall4277
Jackson4091
Lake3584
Unassigned34356
Koochiching3325
Wilkin3275
Lac qui Parle3203
Lincoln3141
Norman3096
Big Stone2771
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Grant2346
Red Lake1903
Kittson1856
Traverse1330
Lake of the Woods871
Cook580

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 213603

Reported Deaths: 2193
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk31707324
Linn13442161
Scott1040375
Black Hawk10393127
Woodbury9932114
Johnson911635
Dubuque879290
Story647619
Dallas602856
Pottawattamie585166
Sioux351925
Webster335930
Marshall332942
Cerro Gordo326541
Clinton307737
Buena Vista291114
Muscatine270366
Des Moines270116
Plymouth259537
Warren258510
Wapello242871
Jones222212
Jasper206639
Marion194418
Carroll190920
Lee190315
Bremer182612
Henry17087
Crawford170615
Benton160315
Tama146340
Jackson13758
Delaware136221
Washington131313
Boone128811
Dickinson127510
Mahaska121327
Wright11625
Buchanan11009
Page10834
Hardin107510
Clay10624
Clayton10234
Harrison102328
Hamilton10157
Cedar101413
Calhoun10047
Mills9886
Fayette9768
Floyd96914
Lyon9668
Kossuth9464
Poweshiek93712
Butler9134
Winneshiek90310
Iowa88011
Winnebago87523
Louisa81316
Hancock8067
Grundy79710
Chickasaw7893
Sac7817
Cherokee7624
Cass75419
Appanoose7426
Shelby7265
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Emmet70623
Franklin68419
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Jefferson6351
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