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Trump grants clemency to 11 convicts, including Rod Blagojevich and Bernard Kerik

Trump grants clemency for several high-profile felons

Washington — President Trump issued a slew of pardons and commutations on Tuesday, granting clemency to 11 people convicted of federal crimes, including former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and ex-New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Blagojevich was originally convicted on 18 counts related to corruption, including an attempt to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat when he was elected president in 2008. He began serving a 14-year federal prison sentence in 2012, and some of the charges were subsequently thrown out on appeal.

"We have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich," the president said Tuesday before boarding Air Force One for a trip out West. "He served eight years in jail, a long time ... That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence, in my opinion."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons said Tuesday night that Blagojevich has been released from custody at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Colorado. 

Kerik, who oversaw the NYPD's response to the 9/11 attacks, pleaded guilty to federal charges of tax fraud and lying to investigators in 2009 and was sentenced to four years in prison. 

"Yes, I just pardoned Bernie Kerik, a man who had many recommendations from a lot of good people," Mr. Trump said.

Trump grants clemency to Rod Blagojevich, Bernie Kerik

In addition to Kerik, Mr. Trump issued pardons to six others, including Michael Milken, a billionaire financier who pleaded guilty to insider trading and was barred from the securities industry in 1989. Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, was also granted a pardon for his conviction related to a corruption scheme in 1999.

Mr. Trump said he hasn't "given it any thought" when asked if he will pardon Roger Stone, his longtime confidant who was convicted on charges stemming from the Mueller investigation and faces sentencing this week.

Those granted pardons have records of their convictions wiped clean. Commutations override the prison sentences of current inmates, but their crimes remain on their records.

Blagojevich starred in Mr. Trump's "Apprentice" reality television show, and the president, who ran on a campaign of law and order, has hinted about a possible pardon for him in the past.

"Rod Blagojevich, the former Governor of Illinois, was sentenced to 14 years in prison. He has served 7 years. Many people have asked that I study the possibility of commuting his sentence in that it was a very severe one. White House staff is continuing the review of this matter," the president tweeted in April 2019. 

News of Blagojevich's commutation was first reported by ABC News. The prosecutors who helped convicted Blagojevich issued a stern statement in response to the commutation, noting that while the president has to the right to commute his sentence, the former governor committed serious crimes. The prosecuting team reminded the public that the former governor extorted the CEO of a children's hospital, withholding funds for sick children until he issued campaign contributions. 

"The law and extensive facts underlying Mr. Blagojevich's conviction were reviewed by independent judges on an appellate court and by the Supreme Court of the United States," said Reid J. Schar, Chris Niewoehner, Judge Carrie E. Hamilton and Patrick J. Fitzgerald in a statement. "These courts affirmed Mr. Blagojevich's conviction and sentence, and the appellate court described the evidence against him as 'overwhelming.'"

"Extortion by a public official is a very serious crime, routinely prosecuted throughout the United States whenever, as here, it can be detected and proven," they continued. "That has to be the case in America: a justice system must hold public officials accountable for corruption. It would be unfair to their victims and the public to do otherwise. While the president has the power to reduce Mr. Blagojevich's sentence, the fact remains that the former governor was convicted of very serious crimes. His prosecution serves as proof that elected officials who betray those they are elected to serve will be held to account."

House Republicans from Illinois issued a joint statement expressing disappointment with the commutation, calling Blavojevich the "face of public corruption."

"We are disappointed by the president's commutation of Rod Blagojevich's federal sentence," they said in a joint statement. "We believe he received an appropriate and fair sentence, which was the low-end of the federal sentencing guidelines for the gravity of his public corruption convictions. Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois, and not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes that undermined the trust placed in him by voters. As our state continues to grapple with political corruption, we shouldn't let those who breached the public trust off the hook. History will not judge Rod Blagojevich well."

Three others in addition to Blagojevich had their sentences commuted: Tynice Nichole Hall, Crystal Munoz and Judith Negron. Hall and Munoz were serving time on drug charges, while Negron was eight years into a 35-year sentence for fraud, according to the White House.

The White House has touted other cases of clemency, like the 2018 pardon of Alice Marie Johnson, an African-American grandmother convicted decades ago of non-violent drug offenses. But the president's clemency actions have also benefited controversial prominent figures. As of the beginning of February, a Washington Post review found that all but five of the 24 people who had received clemency from the president had a line into the White House or a reputation with the president's political base. Controversial figures who have received some form of clemency include former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, "Scooter" Libby and conservative figure Dinesh D'Souza.

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