In recent decades, Illinois has been a byword for corruption — not just Chicago, not just Cook County, but Illinois at large. George Ryan (a Republican) got out of prison in 2013. His successor, Rod Blagojevich (a Democrat), is still in.
Both of these men served as governor, I should mention — although you might snicker at the word “served.”
“Blago” was spectacularly corrupt. It’s one thing to be a corrupt politician, but this guy abused the privilege. His offenses are many — but his most famous is his attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. “I’ve got this thing, and it’s f***ing golden,” the governor was recorded as saying. “I’m just not giving it up for f***ing nothing.”
In the end, Blagojevich was convicted and sentenced to 14 years — but not before appearing on The Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump.
Now president, Trump has long wanted to pardon Blagojevich or commute his sentence. He was recently on the cusp of doing so until Republican lawmakers, especially those from Illinois, intervened. They said that springing Blago would send the wrong message where the public trust is concerned. That is true. It is also true that sentencing is an uneven phenomenon in America. Referring to the time Blago has already served, Trump said, “I think it’s enough, seven years.”
There is one thing that sort of endeared Blago to me, long ago. Hear me out. The man has, or had, an impressive head of hair, and he was vain about it. Apparently, an aide carried a comb at all times. Blago referred to it as “the football.”
(The football, remember, is a briefcase that contains the nuclear codes, to put it in a shorthand way. Carried by a military aide, it is with the president, or near the president, at all times when he travels.)
You will agree that a president’s power to pardon, or to commute a sentence, is a big one. It has been used for good or ill. You could even say — or a president could say — “I’ve got this thing, and it’s f***ing golden.”