It’s not often that I praise Donald Trump, but recent circumstances force me to do just that, so . . .
Bravo, Mr. President—your release of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich from federal prison is one of the most spectacularly brazen acts of shameless chutzpah I’ve ever seen.
And I’ve seen lots of shamelessness, having covered Chicago politicians for almost 40 years.
Not that Blago deserved to spend more time in prison. He’d already served eight years on a 14-year sentence—enough’s enough already.
But don’t kid yourself into thinking Trump released Blago out of compassion for the Blagojevich family. C’mon, people, you’re too smart for that. As we all know, compassion is not a Trump thing.
No, let’s run down a few of the real reasons Trump commuted Blago’s sentence.
One: Trump wanted to send a big fuck you to the federal prosecutors who are going after Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and other miscreants in the presidential universe. These prosecutors are not literally one in the same, of course—but they’re cut from the same cloth: Dudley Do-Rights who, after a stint with the feds, go to work for corporate firms, where they get rich defending the same sorts of scoundrels they once prosecuted.
Speaking of shameless cynicism.
Two: it sets a precedent for the liberation of Stone and Flynn, et al. Sort of like a trial balloon—free Blago and see how it plays. And so far, it’s playing very well with the Trump base. As for those Republicans who might be enraged? They’re too chicken to raise a fuss—but I’ll get to the Tribsters in a bit.
Three: Trump wants to legalize extortion—at least the extortion he apparently commits all the time.
Clearly, Trump doesn’t view what Blago did as a crime. Blago was found guilty of trying to strong-arm people into donating to his campaign.
It’s all very transactional—and Trump loves transactions. Blago had something of value—in one case, Obama’s senate vacancy—and he wanted to swap it for something of equal value. What, Trump may ask, is wrong with that?
Trump was up to the same thing when he got busted for trying to swap about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine for an announcement that Ukraine was investigating Joe Biden on corruption charges.
Four: Trump plans to put Blago to use in his reelection campaign. And here I’d like to pause from my list-making to voice my appreciation at the seamlessness with which Blago burst forth from prison.
I mean, the guy’s as fit as a fiddle. You’d have thought he spent the last eight years at a Canyon Ranch as opposed to federal prison. He reminds me of Steve McQueen’s character in The Great Escape—no matter how many times the Nazis throw him into the cooler, he comes out looking fresh as a daisy. Doesn’t even have to shave.
More to the point, from the moment Trump let him loose, Blago’s been a one-man Trump commercial, praising the president for leading the charge for “criminal justice.”
You can expect to hear Blago singing this song until November. Anything to convince voters—especially Black voters—that a vote for Trump is somehow a vote for justice.
At the same time, Trump and his justice department are resisting efforts by Mayor Lightfoot to set standards for police interaction with the public, especially young Black men.
Moreover, Trump and his local acolytes are waging war against Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx, who they think is soft on crime.
So, Trump will try to pick up a few Black votes (he only needs a few) for “reforming” criminal justice, while satisfying his white base with endless talk about Jussie Smollett and Kim Foxx and throwing more Black people in jail.
Doesn’t get more cynical than that.
Well, all is not lost. At least I can watch Trump emasculate the Republican establishment in Illinois—the editorial writers at the Chicago Tribune included.
For years, Blago has been their poster child for all that’s corrupt with Democratic politics. And now Trump releases Blago from prison.
It’s funny to watch them struggle with this. They foam with rage at Blago. But they barely mention the man who sprung him.
To read a Tribune editorial or a John Kass column on this subject, you’d think Trump played no role in releasing Blago. As though Blago sprung himself from prison.
A similar thing happened in the 2018 governor’s race, when the Tribune ran front-page stories about the tapes in which Blago chatted with J.B. Pritzker.
Governor Bruce Rauner and his allies were set to endlessly use those tapes to link one with the other—like putting Blago’s head on Pritzker’s body.
But then, Trump sort of turned Blago into a folk hero with the MAGA-hat crowd by talking about commuting his sentence. And just like that, the Blago-Pritzker tapes were virtually worthless.
It’s like all the other crimes of Trump—from intimidating witnesses to allegations of rape. The Republican establishment has to pretend they don’t exist. If they complain, the president will turn the base against them with one presidential tweet.
Hey, Mr. President, if you’re looking for other ways to intimidate Illinois Republicans, why stop with Blago? Chicago has no shortage of big-time Democrats either indicted or under investigation by the same sorts of federal prosecutors you despise.
That would include Alderman Ed Burke, your former property tax lawyer, and House speaker Michael Madigan.
Make corruption officially legal, Mr. President—pardon them all!
Can you imagine Blago, Burke and, maybe even Speaker Madigan, in MAGA hats on stage at a Trump rally?
Man, I’d love to see the Tribsters try to write their way around that. v