Durbin says he’d support shorter prison sentence for Blago

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday he would support shortening imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s federal prison sentence.

Durbin’s comments came days after President Donald Trump said he’s considering a commutation of Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence. Durbin said he thought Blagojevich’s sentence was “way too long” and “didn’t make sense.”

“I thought the sentence was outrageous, and if there is a way to reduce that sentence for him and his family, I would support it,” Durbin said at an unrelated news conference about legislation aimed at protecting children’s online data.

In December 2008, federal agents arrested then-Gov. Blagojevich on public corruption charges, including an attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. He was later impeached and removed from office.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, was convicted in 2011 on 17 counts related to the attempted Senate seat sale and the fundraising shakedowns of a hospital executive and a racetrack owner. Less than a year earlier, an initial trial had ended with a jury deadlocked on all but one count of lying to the FBI, forcing the retrial.

Trump told reporters Thursday on Air Force One that he thought the former governor’s prison sentence was overly harsh for what he described as “a foolish statement.” The president made the comments about Blagojevich while discussing his plans to pardon conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza.

“I’ll tell you another one … there’s another one that I’m thinking about. Rod Blagojevich,” Trump said, according to a pool report. “Eighteen (sic) years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know that many other politicians say.”

“And if you look at what he said, he said something to the effect like, ‘What do I get?’ … Stupid thing to say. But he’s sort of saying … he’s gonna make a U.S. senator, which is a very big deal,” Trump said. “If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado. … Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. He shouldn’t have been put in jail.”

Trump also referred to Blagojevich’s stint on his reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice,” but downplayed any relationship between them, saying, “I don’t know him other than that he was on (the show) for a short period of time.”

Blagojevich, 61, is not due for release from the minimum-security facility outside Denver until May 2024.

Before President Barack Obama left office in January 2017, Durbin said he thought Blagojevich’s sentence was excessive.

Durbin, a Democrat, also unsuccessfully sought leniency for former Republican Gov. George Ryan, who was convicted in 2006 on fraud, racketeering and other corruption charges and sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison. In December 2008, before President George W. Bush left office, Durbin asked him to commute Ryan’s sentence to time served. Ryan, who was governor from 1999 to 2003, had served just more than a year in prison at the time.

When asked whether he thought at this point it would be OK for Trump to commute Blagojevich’s sentence, Durbin deferred to the president.

“I’ll let President Trump make that decision, but I certainly think 14 years was entirely too long,” Durbin said.

gpratt@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @royalpratt

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