President Donald Trump, who in his three years in office has already racked up a list of tainted, indefensible pardons, is pondering another one, this time for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Among Blagojevich’s crimes was trying to personally profit from his appointment power over President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat, and attempting to shake down a children’s hospital for campaign donations.
Trump — who once hosted Blagojevich on his reality show, “The Celebrity Apprentice” — is shrugging off those crimes as “a lot of bravado,” demonstrating once again that he doesn’t understand the law and the concept of honest service from politicians.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, is halfway through a 14-year federal prison sentence for corruption during his 2003-2009 tenure as governor. His federal trial showed the nation a Chicago pol who saw his elected office not as public service, but self service.
The former governor is most infamous for declaring (in a wiretapped conversation) that he wanted something of value in exchange for naming someone to fill Obama’s vacant Senate seat. “I’ve got this thing, and it’s (expletive) golden,” Blagojevich said, “I’m just not giving it up for (expletive) nothing.” What a moving tribute to the ideals of democracy.
Less publicized but fundamentally more shocking was Blagojevich’s attempt to cut state funding to a children’s hospital because its CEO wouldn’t yield to his demands for political contributions. Targeting sick kids is beyond the pale, even in Chicago.
Yet Trump recently told reporters he’s considering commutation. “He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens,” Trump reasoned. Blagojevich “shouldn’t have said what he said,” but Trump dismissed it as “braggadocio.”
To be clear: Conspiring to commit crimes is illegal, even if the planned crimes don’t work out. That isn’t debatable from a legal standpoint, though it’s not surprising that Trump doesn’t get it. This is the man, after all, who seems to believe that his top campaign officials meeting with a Russian operative offering dirt on his opponent was okay because said dirt didn’t ultimately materialize.
After some outcry about his comments, Trump appeared to walk them back, saying the matter is just under review. Still, what is it with this president? He displays his empathy deficit at every turn, separating migrant babies from their parents, trying to cut safety-net programs for the poor, using his unrivaled power as president to punch down at any and all critics — then he pardons people like sadistic Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing troll Dinesh D’Souza, billionaire fraudster Conrad Black and now, potentially, a governor who tried to leverage sick children and a Senate seat.
Mercy is a virtue. But wouldn’t it be nice, just once, to see Trump extend it to someone who deserves it, instead of to this growing cast of his fellow bullies?