WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump granted clemency Tuesday to a collection of prominent men convicted of an array crimes, including a former Democratic state governor who once sought to sell former President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.
Trump, who has recently cleared the names of well-known figures who have run afoul of the law, commuted the 14-year sentence of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich after he had served eight years.
As he was boarding Air Force One for a trip to Los Angeles, Trump told reporters he had seen Blagojevich's wife, Patricia, make an appeal for his freedom on television, and noted that the former governor had appeared on Trump's former reality television show "Celebrity Apprentice."
"He'll be able to go back to his family after serving eight years in jail, which was a powerful and ridiculous sentence in my opinion," Trump said.
The 62-year-old Blagojevich was not due to be released until May 2024.
Several prominent Democrats had lobbied for a shortened sentence, arguing that Blagojevich's punishment was too severe. The five Republicans in the Illinois congressional delegation, however, had urged Trump not to commute Blagojevich's sentence, saying he should take "a strong stand against pay-to-play politics."
After Obama assumed the presidency in 2009, it fell to Blagojevich to appoint his successor. An FBI wiretap caught Blagojevich talking about trying to sell Obama's vacated Senate seat, calling it a "valuable thing," and that "you don't just give it away for nothing."
Trump also granted clemency to Bernie Kerik, a former New York police commissioner who had been imprisoned on eight felony charges, including tax fraud, and Michael Milken, who was charged with insider stock trading in the 1980s.
Trump also pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers professional football team, who pleaded guilty two decades ago for failing to report a $400,000 bribe he paid to the Louisiana governor in 1998.
Kerik, sentenced to a four-year term in 2009 for tax fraud and lying to White House officials, has been a regular guest at Trump's Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.
After Trump cleared him, Kerik said, "There are no words to express my appreciation and gratitude to President Trump. With the exception of the birth of my children, today is one of the greatest days in my life - being made a full and whole American citizen again."