CHICAGO (AP) — Former Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich gushed about Donald Trump after the Republican president commuted his sentence for political corruption, speaking Wednesday at a press event outside his Chicago home that sounded like an extended campaign ad for the president.
Blagojevich spoke in front of a large sign hanging off the landing of his home that read, “Thanks Mr. President.” One man in a crowd of more than 100 reporters and well-wishers wore a rubber Blagojevich mask and hoisted the former governor’s 2006 campaign sign.
The governor-turned-convicted felon even added an endorsement of Trump’s bid for a second term.
“I’m a Trumpocrat,” said Blagojevich, flanked by his wife and two daughters. “If I had the ability to vote, I would vote for him.”
During the event in Chicago, the president fired off a tweet about Blagojevich, saying Blagojevich paid “a big price” for his convictions. Trump also alluded to Blagojevich’s convictions for seeking to exchange an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then President-elect Barack Obama for campaign contributions.
“Rod Blagojevich did not sell the Senate seat,” Trump tweeted.
Prosecutors have said that they decided to arrest then-Gov. Blagojevich at his home on Dec. 9, 2008, to thwart his plan to sell the seat.
Outside the same home Wednesday, Blagojevich repeatedly praised the president, describing him a criminal justice reformer and thanking Trump for setting him free.
“We want to express our most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump,” Blagojevich said. “He didn’t have to do this … this is an act of kindness.”
Blagojevich, 63, walked out of a federal prison in Colorado on Tuesday after serving eight years of a 14-year sentence for wide-ranging political corruption, just hours after Trump granted him a commutation.
Blagojevich, a one-time contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice,” has been radioactive politically since his arrest as governor in 2008. It’s not clear who might be willing to offer him a job or a lead role in an organization or movement.
Blagojevich didn’t answer direct questions at the public appearance Wednesday. He continually dabbed a handkerchief on a cut on his chin. He apologized to reporters, explaining, “It’s been a long time since I shaved with a normal razor.”
His convictions included trying to shake down a children’s hospital and lying to the FBI.
Trump’s Wednesday tweet echoed comments he has made before, comparing efforts to investigate his own conduct and those who took down Blagojevich.
The tweet described Blagojevich’s case as, “Another Comey and gang deal!”
“It was a prosecution by the same people — Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group,” Trump said earlier in the week. He was referring to Patrick Fitzgerald, the former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Blagojevich and now represents former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired from the agency in May 2017. Comey was not at the FBI or anywhere in the Department of Justice during the investigation and indictment of Blagojevich.
The Illinois House in January 2009 voted 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich, and the state Senate voted unanimously to remove him, making him the first Illinois governor in history to be removed by lawmakers. He entered prison in March 2012.
Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, went on a media blitz in 2018 to encourage Trump to step in, praising the president and likening the investigation of her husband to special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — a probe Trump long characterized as a “witch hunt.”
Associated Press reporter Katie Foody contributed to this report.