The former Illinois senator who was appointed by ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich doesn’t often agree with President Donald Trump, but he thinks Trump should follow through on commuting his sentence.
“I think he for once would be doing the right thing if he were to act on it, but I don’t put any trust in what President Trump says until the action has taken place,” former Democratic Sen. Roland W. Burris said in a telephone interview from Chicago.
“Gov. Blagojevich has served six years for what I would call ‘running his mouth’ without any type of quid pro quo taking place,” Burris told Roll Call. “In light of the McDonnell case, the Supreme Court should have heard that last appeal that he made, and either commuted the sentence or set it up for a new trial or even dismissed it.”
Following news that Trump had granted a full pardon to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted in connection with violations of federal campaign finance law and a “straw donor” scheme, Trump mentioned other names of prominent figures he was considering for leniency.
The president told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One he was considering leniency for both Blagojevich and Martha Stewart.
“Here’s another one that I’m thinking about. Rod Blagojevich. Eighteen years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say,” Trump 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. And it was foolish.”
Trump’s only connection to Blagojevich was from the former Democratic governor’s appearance on his NBC reality show “The Apprentice,” he said.
Burris, the former Illinois state attorney general who was ultimately the appointee of Blagojevich to fill the unexpired Senate term of President Barack Obama in 2009, sought to connect the Blagojevich conviction for public corruption with a lengthy prison sentence to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the corruption convictions of former Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2016, a case that narrowed the definition of “official acts.”
“McDonnell, the former governor of Virginia, actually took some items,” Burris said. “Gov. Blagojevich had no transactions of anything changing hands in him expressing the desire, as the prosecutors say, to sell the seat. There was nothing that changed hands.”
“The young man has served six years for what has come out of the trial, and I think that is punishment enough,” he said.
Burris, who has been practicing law in Chicago since retiring from his brief Senate term, said, at 81, he is now preparing to retire from his law practice.
In the interview, he encouraged Trump to go beyond a commutation and actually pardon the ex-governor.
“If he were to pardon him, that would be even better, but I don’t think that the president would take that step. I would love to see him pardon the governor, but I don’t think he’s going to do that,” Burris said, adding that a move by Trump to commute the sentence “would certainly be better than him serving out another eight years away from his family and friends.”
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