President Trump entered into the presidency with plans “to drain the swamp.” The revolving door of political insiders becoming high-paid consultants would turn into a thing of the past, he promised. Government offices would operate with transparency and efficiency. This promise resonated with Americans who were tired of seeing those too rich, too connected, and too powerful for consequences skirt the law.
How successful Mission Drain the Swamp has been is up for debate. Recently, Trump told reporters that he was considering commuting the sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. That action places his promises — at least in spirit — in jeopardy.
“Eighteen (sic) years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know that many other politicians say,” remarked Trump.
For those unfamiliar with Illinois politics, Blagojevich was found guilty of 17 corruption-related charges in 2011 and sentenced by a Reagan appointee to 14 (not 18) years in federal prison. The sentence was later affirmed on appeal. He likely will be released in May of 2024.
The charge against the former governor range from threatening the Chicago Tribune to offering state money to a hospital in exchange for campaign donations. The most notorious charge was his plot to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by former president Barack Obama after his election with hopes of leveraging it for money, a cushy spot on a nonprofit board, or an ambassadorship to Serbia.
Blagojevich knew what he had was worth something. Federal wiretaps picked up these gems:
“I’ve got this thing, and it’s f–king golden. I’m just not giving it up for f–king nothing.”
And: “It’s a f–king valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”
Not to mention: “If I don’t get what I want … I’ll just take the Senate seat myself.”
Those quotes were not only perfect for a “f–king golden” headline but also enough evidence to warrant arrest, trial, and conviction. Blagojevich joined the infamous roster of corrupt Illinois governors, becoming the seventh arrested since 1971.
Before the dust had settled on his trial, Blagojevich and his family started lobbying for relief. They even asked President Obama at the end of his term to commute the governor’s sentence. (Remember, it was Obama’s seat Blagojevich sought to sell.)
Now, the Blagojevichs have shifted their focus to President Trump. Blagojevich wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal less than a week ago, claiming he had been convicted for “practicing politics.” His wife, Patti, appeared on Fox News and not so subtly connected the dots from Blagojevich’s prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to James Comey. (The two are friends.) Shortly thereafter, and shortly after he had pardoned Dinesh D’Souza, the president let reporters know that he was considering the Blagojevich family’s pleas.
Maybe Trump sympathizes with the former governor because Blagojevich was on “The Apprentice.” Or perhaps Trump sees Blagojevich’s illegal actions as someone trying to master the “Art of the Deal.” Still yet, Trump might want to stick it to Comey. Regardless, if the president wants to drain the swamp and corner political corruption, he should not commute Blagojevich’s sentence.
Blagojevich is Exhibit A for Illinois’s broken and corrupt politics. If he spends his allotted time imprisoned, it will be longer than that of the three previously arrested governors combined. Blagojevich received the weighty sentence that his racketeering, political favors, and extortion deserved, and, in his sentencing, Illinois residents got the first real taste of justice they had in a while. All of Blagojevich’s sleaziness and posturing did not and should not protect him from the law.
If Washington DC is a swamp of corruption, then Springfield is a festering landfill. Don’t rip this win from Illinois taxpayers. It would be a slap in their faces, as well as encouragement to the corrupt Illinois political class that Tribune columnist John Kass has dubbed “the Combine.”
Much of the reason that political corruption has flourished in Illinois is because nothing happened if one got caught. Sure, former Chicago mayor Richard Daley gave out sweet gigs and contracts to his family and friends. Allies of longtime speaker of the House Mike Madigan set high property taxes, while Madigan’s law firm collects lucrative fees appealing those levees. Everyone knows it, but no one is called into account.
Commuting Blagojevich’s sentence would send the wrong signal to the Combine and further entrench the state in its maw. If Blagojevich can avoid the law, the president must be sympathetic to this kind of swampy behavior. There are plenty at the federal level who would love to see Blagojevich’s shoddy practices become the norm. They are waiting and hoping in the shadows for their actions to be welcome in the light again.
Blagojevich was too rich, too connected, and too powerful for too long. If his actions are truly things that all politicians do, as Trump alleged, or he was prosecuted for political reasons when others got away with their crimes, then more politicians should face Blagojevich’s fate instead of him getting away with it too.
The literal swamp that the city of DC sits on was drained centuries ago. Any city planner will say that it’s not enough simply to drain a swamp once. The whole city must be vigilant to stop the muck from flowing back in. Dams must be strengthened, and levees reinforced. Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence was one such wall. It’s been built already. Let him serve, so it can stand.