(CNN) — Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday thanked President Donald Trump for commuting his sentence, saying he is “tough and outspoken but also has a kind heart.”
“We want to express our most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump. How do you properly thank someone who has given you back the freedom that was stolen from you, he doesn’t have to do this,” Blagojevich said in a press conference outside his Chicago home with his wife and two daughters at his side. “He’s a Republican president, I was Democratic governor and doing this does nothing to help his politics.”
He called Trump a “problem-solver” and referred to himself as a “Trump-ocrat.”
Blagojevich was released from federal prison Tuesday after serving eight years of a 14-year sentence for pay-for-play charges after attempting to sell a US Senate seat. Trump had been weighing the move since at least since 2018.
Shortly after Blagojevich spoke on Wednesday, the President defended the former “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant on Twitter, writing that he “did not sell the Senate seat” and “paid a big price.”
In explaining his decision on Tuesday, Trump said the eight years Blagojevich served in prison was “a long time” and suggested the television appeals of Blagojevich’s wife Patti helped cement his decision. Trump also linked Blagojevich’s prosecution to a longtime foe, former FBI Director James Comey, a close friend of former US attorney in Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the prosecution against Blagojevich.
“It was a prosecution by the same people — Comey, Fitzpatrick — the same group,” Trump said, misstating the Illinois US attorney’s surname.
In total, Trump granted clemency to 11 convicted criminals on Tuesday.
During his term as governor, Blagojevich was charged with corruption and impeached by the state legislature in 2009. His charges included trying to solicit money for an appointment to former President Barack Obama’s Senate seat after he won the presidency. He was also accused of shakedowns involving a children’s hospital, a racetrack owner and a building executive.
In 2010, he announced his innocence on “Celebrity Apprentice,” from which he was eventually fired. He began his 14-year sentence in 2012.
The commutation of his sentence has drawn bipartisan criticism, including from Illinois Republican Reps. Adam Kinzinger, Mike Bost, Darin LaHood, John Shimkus and Rodney Davis, who said they were “disappointed” by the move.
“Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois, and not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes that undermined the trust placed in him by voters,” the congressmen said in a statement Tuesday. “As our state continues to grapple with political corruption, we shouldn’t let those who breached the public trust off the hook. History will not judge Rod Blagojevich well.”
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a statement Blagojevich “betrayed the people of Illinois.”