Commuting Blago’s Wildly Excessive Sentence Would Be Right For Trump To Do

Another poster at the Emptywheel blog, okay, it may be Emptywheel herself, has today posted a very interesting take, and I think a good one, on the intersection of Jim Comey, Pat Fitzgerald and Rod Blagojevich.

If Trump were to commute Blago’s sentence… would be one of the few pardon power actions he has taken that would be justified.

The other was, obviously, the woman Kim Kardashian talked him into commuting.

Don’t get me started about governance by reality show/sex tape idiots like Kimye, but still that was good.

Here is the thing though. Hate on Rod Blagojevich all you want. Laugh at him all you want. Sure, all that is good and proper.

What was not, however, was his sentence. Judge James Zagel got a bug up his ass and sentenced Blago to twice as much time as was possibly appropriate for his purported offenses. There is a long history of Illinois Governors, criminal charges, and prison. But no sentence remotely like Zagel gave Blago.

Then there was Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who ended up not ever serving a day on things that were, mostly, more obvious pay to play corruption than Blago. Also, there was Don Siegelman, who arguably met potential charging elements, even if they were mostly innocuous acts, and who was only ever charged because of a Rove/Cheney effort to insure the same. Siegelman got just over six years.

Don’t get me started about Bob Menendez. The point being, even if Blago was corrupt, needed to be found guilty, and needed to be sentenced…..The sentence of 14 years Zagel gave Mr. Blagojevich was insane and ludicrous.

As big of a narcissistic and useless asshole as Trump is, he would be right to commute the insanely over sentenced punishment Zagel gave to Rod Blagojevich.

People, especially the more liberal than not among us, constantly scream for criminal justice reform. Abolish cash bail (a good thought, but one with far different and deeper implications than you think as Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice has noted), less incarceration, shorter sentences, better programs for those incarcerated. End the death penalty. Less solitary confinement. Etc. All good things.

But part and parcel of all of it is recognizing crazy stupid sentences too. Blago is pretty much a joke of a historical character. Fine. He was never Public Enemy Number One either. His sentence from Zagel was outrageous. If Trump is willing to commute it, he should, and that should be cheered.

But, because of pushback from the very same people that usually scream and squawk, and rightfully so, about criminal justice reform when it is not one of their pet pariahs, i.e. people on the left and, here, Blago, Trump will certainly chicken out from doing the right thing. Because Trump doesn’t know the facts, and he is a pussy that is too easily grabbed by Republicans and, in this case, bullshit liberals too.

Free Blago. It needs to be done.

61 replies
  1. Eureka says:

    Do you feel like elaborating on this, bmaz:

    …Abolish cash bail (a good thought, but one with far different and deeper implications than you think)…

    Also just adding “parole reform” out loud to your “etc.” list because I don’t often see it mentioned (in e.g. twitter or general convos about CJ reform). We have state electeds working on it because PA apparently has the 2nd most incarcerated lifers, IIRC. And juveniles here didn’t fare so well with their reviews, either, as I recall, after SCOTUS (Miller).

    • bmaz says:

      Not necessarily right now. Though I have discussed this in the past in various fora, though not sure how much here. Scott Greenfield and I have yammered about the issue for a long time (here is a sample the discussion he and I have had on this subject every time it comes up). Bottom line is this: While it sounds great to “abolish cash bail”, it will never work the way you think it will. It will lead to far more “no bail” rulings that likely cannot be successfully appealed.

      Judges are chickenshit, and in many places they are subject to election. Eliminating bail will force them too hold WAY more people without even the possibility of release. People who do not practice regularly in common criminal courts do not understand this..

  2. Peterr says:

    Judge James Zagel got a bug up his ass and sentenced Blago to twice as much time as was possibly appropriate for his purported offenses. There is a long history of Illinois Governors, criminal charges, and prison. But no sentence remotely like Zagel gave Blago.

    From the Chicago Tribune, back at the time:

    Before pronouncing sentence, Zagel told Blagojevich he had abused the public trust. “When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired,” the judge said.

    So let’s look at those other IL governors . . .

    Otto Kerner was convicted of mail fraud for receiving a bribe (stock options) in 1961 while governor from a racetrack operator seeking a favor in getting prime race dates for her track. It came to light in 1968 after he left the governor’s mansion for the federal bench, and he resigned his judicial seat just ahead of impeachment. He was tried and convicted in 1974, and sentenced to 3 years, later shortened because of terminal cancer.

    Dan Walker pled guilty in 1987 to charges of bank fraud for personal business activities unrelated to his service as governor, and he served a little more than a year in prison.

    George Ryan was convicted in 2006 of racketeering, bribery, and other charges, stemming from a pay-to-play scheme he ran as Secretary of State as well as accepting gifts in exchange for favors while governor. After repeatedly losing on appeal, Ryan spent 6 years in jail.

    So one of these three cases involved non-official conduct, and the other two had to do with taking bribes in exchange for contracts. While these are closer to what Blago was convicted of, in my opinion they fall short of the enormity of attempting to sell a seat in the US Senate. Was it a rough sentence? Sure. But out of line? Not when I look at these other three cases. Indeed, one might argue that the sentences of Kerner and Ryan were too leinent, rather than Blago’s was too strong. Further, one could also see Zagel’s sentence of this fourth governor in a row to face prison as an attempt to get the attention of future governors, to head off their future bad conduct, saying in essence, “Kerner got 3 years, Ryan got 6, and now this. What’s it going to take to get through to you guys?”

    What Zagel actually said at Blago’s sentencing was this: “His abuse of the office of governor is more damaging than any other office in the United States except president.” For that, 13 years seems to fit.

    • BobCon says:

      I think part of the problem is that anticorruption laws in the US are shredded and need a major rewrite, and like a lot of things, we probably need a major change in the balance in the courts to uphold any changes.

      We are at the point where it is almost impossible to get a federal conviction without a notarized statement accompanied by a videotape attesting to a quid pro quo along with a cashiers check with a notation “for illegal bribe” written on it.

      Add to that McConnell has effectively neutered the FEC for the time being by blocking the approval of a commissioner needed to reach a quorum. The FEC needs to break free from the bipartisan structure it operates under. But then Barr has shown that DOJ needs reforms itself (admittedly, problems existed well before Barr in the public corruption sphere).

      And of course Congress needs a kick in the pants. There is no reason Duncan Hunter shouldn’t have been expelled already. It’s stupid that a member is at greater jeopardy if they are not under indictment than if they are. At a minimum, he should be stripped of far more of the rights and privileges of office than just his committee assignments.

    • bmaz says:

      Peter – No, it was a seriously outrageous sentence. Zagel should be embarrassed. And he was a complete asshole to the defense in both trials. He should be ashamed. Frankly, Zagel probably evidenced enough appearance of bias that he should not have sat for the retrial. But, hey, sure Blago should serve twice as much prison time than any other similarly situated defendant, and more than most manslaughter sentences. Sure, makes total sense.

      • BobCon says:

        If the US approach to public corruption ever undergoes a serious revision, I wonder what makes sense as far as sentencing.

        I’m inclined to say that a governor who takes a $5,000 bribe to alter the location of a highway away from a country club should pay a higher price than an engineer who takes the same bribe, but I’m not sure whether that should be written into the law, or left to judges, or some mix of the two.

        • bmaz says:

          That is a great question. And that would make a great topic for discussion.

          No answers now off the top of my head, but, then again, my head hurts from a couple of days of hard labor pressure washing the homestead here for the first time in a couple of years. Probably should have drank less beer during the process…..

          • AndTheSlithyToves says:

            ” Probably should have drank less beer during the process…..”

            glioblastomal warming… ; ^ )

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    There you go, always telling the corrupt that when they get round to doing the right thing, it is happenstance or for all the wrong reasons, but that they should do it anyway.

    The right thing, though, is always good. If Donatism were the rule, we would all be heretics, unable to live in our own society.

    • Eureka says:

      Contra superstition and many (other) rules, “pure” purity and order would be the death of us all, yes. So sayeth the ghost of Mary Douglas.

  4. orionATL says:

    oh I get it. Trump is suggesting he may pardon blogajevitch as a childish slight to Patrick Fitzgerald who was the doj u.s. attorney who prosecuted blogajevitch and more recently revealed as James comey’s attorney.

    how about Trump agree to swap places with blogajevitch and finish out his sentence as a means of showing the American people of his new-found humility and contrition for his own corruption (and a means of getting started early on his own time in the pen)?

    oh my, bmaz this is just too good: “Because Trump … is a pussy that is too easily grabbed by Republicans…”

    • bmaz says:

      Sure. My point is, however, in the overall theme of things, the sentence Jim Zagel gave Blagojevich, irrespective of what one may think of Blagojevich, was indeed wildly excessive. I don’t really care whether Trump or a Dem POTUS commutes his time, it would be a fair thing to do.

      But, because a handful of Republican politicians (and that is really all I ever saw), got bent out of shape, for reasons even they could not intelligently explain, Trump will likely never commute Blago. He should.

      • BobCon says:

        It would help a lot if Trump followed a thorough review process for pardon applications. Hand in hand with that kind of process is a detailed public explanation of the issues involved, but we’d never get that with any pardons or commuted sentences he issues.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          It is Trump you’re talking about, right?

          Your point is a good one, but Trump is incapable of the intellectual process you describe, and incapable of the honesty or openness it requires.

          To protect himself, he interprets his incapacity as intentional, purposeful, and effective, and what you describe as unnecessary and weak. As you say, it’s always all about him.

          • bmaz says:

            Yeah, that’s not going to happen with Trump. Frankly, I’d love a much faster, streamlined and frequently used pardon/commutation process. Obama really was terrible in this regard. Trump just self serving and erratic, and with no formal process whatsoever.

            It is easy to envision a better way. But not with this administration.

      • orionATL says:

        your point about excessively long sentencing is an important one, bmaz, and well made here. how much time need a person like blogajevitch give to society to both compensate for his misconduct and come to understand/regret his illegal conduct – 2 yrs, 4 years? fairly or not, I always suspect the motive behind many of these injustices lies in our system of elective judges (sentencing) and elective da’s (charging).

        I understand that in Japan even a crime like murder does not necessarily draw a life sentence, maybe five years for some people (presumably not psychopaths and not habitual criminals). 14 years, 25 yrs, or a lifetime is excessive for most crimes for most people. pointedly punitive sentencing, together with the conviction of innocent citizens, are possibly the two major injustices visited on citizens by our judicial system.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          The US is exceptional in its rates of incarceration and in the length of its sentences.

          Other countries, not so reliant on prisons for exorcising their demons, find American practices cruel and unusual. Few rely on such an unrelieved Old Testament form of punishment to manage the extremes within their societies.

          I think it has much to do with America’s fundamentally racist culture. It relies on the criminal law to exorcise more than crime.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            That America is fundamentally racist is reinforced by how vehemently some people deny it, as if racism were the emotional elephant in their living room that they must deny.

            Bret Stephens is an example of those in denial. From the Olympian heights of his NYT op-ed page, he holds that racism – like climate crisis, hunger in America, and the statistics on campus rape – is “imaginary,” rather like his ability to form an argument.

            Those “views” are why Stephens should not be employed by the NYT. That it employs him at so lavish a scale suggests that the NYT has a living room full of its own elephants.


        • Frank Probst says:

          I was surprised to learn that Japan still has capital punishment via death by hanging. It’s only used in extreme cases, but it’s definitely still used:

          (There was a second “batch” of cult members that were executed at about the same time, if you’re interested in digging the story up. The whole thing is both terrifying and fascinating.)

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It is the unpopular arguments that are most critical to society’s health and most need to be made. Thanks.

  6. Vicks says:

    Maybe they would clean up their acts if the time Blagojevich was serving was the average for a corrupt politician, but since it’s not, I guess he did get an unfair sentence.
    Of course DJT has to ruin everything, earlier this month Trump was quoted as saying;
    “He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio, you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”
    I give up trying to pretend that I’m not biased.
    Everything that comes out of that things mouth reeks of someone searching out the angles for his next play.

    • orionATL says:

      very interesting quote:

      “…He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio, you would say. I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them, by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”

      uneasy rests the head that bears the crown, methinks.

      uncharacteristic fellow feeling for governor blogajevitch (“braggadacio”)? nightmares about what could happen to himself? this sudden sensitivity from our power-worshipping, freewheeling, nobody can stop me prez (well, they couldn’t stop me in new York or teeveeland!) is out of character.

      • bmaz says:

        Welp, Of course, Trump is just being ignorant with that line. And I do think the prosecution was not necessarily as clean as it should have been.

        That said though, I have no issue whatsoever with Blagojevich having been prosecuted and convicted. He earned that the old fashioned way. As it should be. But the sentence was bizarrely excessive, and that should not be.

        • Danny Dullea says:

          People in positions of trust and authority have an obligation to not be corrupt. Blago should be an example of what all such people should suffer as punishment. This should be the norm. Regular citizens serve full sentences for offenses, if anything anyone in leadership that is corrupt should be treated more harshly. That goes for tRump, his cronies and camp followers.

          • bmaz says:

            Golly, thanks. And thanks for purveying the obvious for your first ever comment here. Well done!

            So Danny, it is your considered opinion that your pet pariahs should be sentenced to twice as much as similarly situated defendants, even political ones, much less defendants that have KILLED other humans?

            Really? That is the brilliant thought you have put up as your first foray here into Emptywheel comments section? And you think we here do not understand criminal justice, criminal law and the relative cost of punishment and deterrence but, instead, need that advice? Brilliant.

            [Adding, I see you are yet another person that thinks it is oh so cute to use happy horeshit like “tRump”. Do NOT pull that stupid shit here, and make us look stupid in the process. Seriously, what is wrong with you? You think conjuring up some dumbass trite phrase on the internet for the President of the United States helps things, as opposed to just looking daff? I seriously do not get people that think this is a cute and good look. It is not. And this goes for “Drumph”, “Red Queen”, Killary” and every other dumbass appellation. Judges and their staff, people in Congress, and other key places read this blog, and the comments herein, and this dumbass shit just makes this blog look stupid. Stop.]

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              I wholeheartedly agree with you about avoiding the use of distracting nicknames for a childish president, and opposing cruel and vindictive criminal punishments.

              A majority of states still have on their books, for example, a three-strikes law. These can put people in prison for life for a third petty theft of less than $50.

              We seem to have forgotten that the biblical eye-for-an-eye is God imposing limits on excessive punishments. It is not her invitation to make half the world blind and toothless.

              Having said that, I will figuratively join you in taking two aspirin, five or six Boston Lagers, and a pound of barbecued shrimp. Happy Labor Day, my friend.

      • Vicks says:

        Such an interesting quote it was already included in the EW post just before this one, which I am now reading for the first time.
        I can’t stand the expression “my bad” but it sure works here.

      • Tracy Lynn says:

        Love this quote from Henry IV, Part II. It has applications that are relevant for today’s political world.

  7. orionATL says:

    re Orion above,

    when that phrase popped into my head I could not recall which play. of course these days I had an easy remedy and now I am informed and can share this lovely soliloquy with you:

    Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’ comes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Part II, 1597.


    And in the visitation of the winds,
    Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
    Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
    With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds,
    That, with the hurly, death itself awakes?
    Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
    To the wet sea-boy* in an hour so rude,
    And in the calmest and most stillest night,
    With all appliances and means to boot,
    Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
    Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

    you know, that guy was not a bad poet. and insight? damn!

    * a young cabin boy on a ship.


    • Tom says:

      His son, Henry V, echoes his father’s sentiments the night before the Battle of Agincourt when he remarks:

      … What infinite heart’s ease
      Must kings neglect that private men enjoy!

      Henry V Act IV Scene i

      • orionATL says:

        what a great connection to make. thanks.

        Agincourt would certainly have been the place and time to imagine a leader’s thoughts turning that way. though w.s. may not have known it, it had been raining like hell.

    • bmaz says:

      Oh yes! In fact there was one last weekend. But with football out of the preseason and the second half of F1 full on, Trash Talk will be back pretty much full time starting next weekend. By the way, the F1 race at Spa yesterday was great. Catch a replay if you can find one. And Spa is simply the most beautiful circuit on the F1 calendar. Just magnificent.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Any thoughts on the return of F1 to Zandvoort in the Netherlands next year, in lieu of the Spanish Grand Prix?

        • bmaz says:

          I welcome the return of F1 to Zandvoort. It is a circuit that has evolved a lot over the years to improve safety, so it will be interesting to see exactly how it is configured next year. It is likely to still be pretty exciting though for racing.

          By my understanding, the Spanish at Catyluna is back on the calendar for next year. There should be a Spanish GP every year, but Catyluna is far from exciting as a circuit.

  8. Gayle Washburn says:

    Hahaha…”governance by reality show/sex tape idiots…”
    That makes me laugh. That is exactly what I thought when Trump cast his hat into the ring. I predict a Kimye run in the future. This is the age of celebrity.

  9. Tom says:

    OT but watched the CBS Evening News tonight. There was coverage of hurricane Dorian, the most recent mass shooting in Texas, and the tragic boat fire off the coast of California. But neither Norah O’Donnell nor any other reporter made any reference to President Trump, at least, not that I heard. As if the world can function fully well without him.

  10. Eureka says:

    The latest on the SCUBA boat fire:

    8 Bodies Found Near Santa Cruz Island Where Dive Boat Burned; 26 Still Missing | KTLA

    Lots of info under the general #scubadiving hashtag and there’s one for the #Conception, too.

    Joel Sass: “For those curious, the sleeping bunks (2007 photo) on the #Conception. It’s frightening to imagine: zonked from lots of diving, middle of the night, and tight quarters. So so horrible. #scubadiving (photo)”

    UGH, I’ve just felt sick for these folks.

      • Eureka says:

        Yes, exactly as to the good reputation of the company and the structural aspects, that’s why I referred to the hashtags with plenty of divers with facts– many of whom had been on the Conception for past trips– plus otherwise knowledgeable content.

        It’s a rare hazard of the (overnighting-tour aspect of the) sport. While tourists pass through and others come and go, local diving communities are close knit, woven into the international diving world (where news travels fast)– and no one is incented to cut corners.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Indeed. It even persuaded the Australians to learn how to count their divers.

          A tragedy all round. With the boat moored so close to shore, many could have been saved if they could have gotten out.

          • Eureka says:

            Heh- I read that first line as dark humor, and responded accordingly.

            But muh Great Barrier Reef, tho.

            (NB: if one types “Australian divers” into a search engine, the drop-down prefills the descriptor, “left behind”.)

            (adding: and one such instance made for another harrowing ~’08 episode of Dateline NBC…)

  11. joel fisher says:

    Could be that the judge was giving Rod B. additional time to deter, future Illinois governors. Who can remember how many consecutive Ill. governors ended up in prison, not me. Still, I agree, too much time is too much time and a commutation, not a pardon, is in order. In a broader sense, however, I feel these executive type crooks would be deterred by the prospect of prison. And getting them inside makes the world a better place. Here’s a crime that should draw jail time every time: wage theft. Everyone who thinks it’s a “civil matter” needs to be ashamed. There are other white boy crimes that go unpunished. Blago’s spot in prison can easily be filled.

  12. Eureka says:

    On the devastation in the northern Bahamas; I don’t know how they dealt with the worst for days. _DAYS_ :

    Hurricane Dorian: Miami’s Bahamian community sends relief

    “So much of our city’s roots are right here,” Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell said from Christ Episcopal’s social hall. “Many original signers of the city’s incorporation documents were Bahamians. The Bahamian settlers built Miami from the ground up. People who moved here from the North did not know how to farm in this climate and soil, so they hired Bahamians and paid them with this land and suddenly we had a large black home-ownership community in Coconut Grove.”

    “If there’s any silver lining, we are trying to bring attention to the West Grove to preserve it,” Russell said, referring to the ongoing gentrification of the historic West Grove. “It’s a battle. This land has become prime real estate. A tragedy like Dorian can rally the community around the Bahamian ethos.”

    As the hurricane’s threat to Miami dissipated and reports from the Bahamas grew dire, Russell asked the city’s 14 fire stations and West Grove churches to be collection sites. He’s encouraging people to follow the #BahamaStrong Twitter hashtag he created and check the city’s BahamaStrong website for addresses and updates.

    (internal links removed)

    Lists both FL-local sites and other organizations:

    #BahamasStrong: South Floridians launch efforts to help hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

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