Rod Blagojevich’s claim to have been a political prisoner persecuted by “uncontrolled prosecutors” is “just bullshit”, CNN host Anderson Cooper said in a fiery interview with the former Illinois governor whose sentence was commuted by Donald Trump.
Blagojevich, a Democrat, was charged with corruption and impeached by his state legislature. Convicted of attempting to sell Barack Obama’s US Senate seat and other corrupt acts, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
In 2010, while waiting to be sentenced, he appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice. Trump fired him then but repeatedly commented on his case after winning the White House and this week, after Blagojevich had served eight years behind bars, the president brought him relief.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday night, Blagojevich described his “most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump”.
“He’s a Republican president,” he said, “I was a Democratic governor. My fellow Democrats have not been very kind to him – in fact, they’ve been very unkind to him. If you’re asking me what my party affiliation is, I’m a Trumpocrat.”
Trump’s decision in Blagojevich’s case and pardons for other high-profile white-collar criminals – and his claim to be the “chief law enforcement officer” of the US – attracted widespread criticism.
Many expect Trump to pardon Roger Stone, a longtime adviser who was this week sentenced to more than three years in prison for lying to Congress, obstructing the Russia investigation and threatening a witness.
Trump’s fury over prosecutors’ initial recommendation of a seven- to nine-year sentence for Stone has roiled the entire US justice system.
Appearing on CNN on Friday, Blagojevich insisted that critics of Trump’s action in his case had not “looked carefully because I am a political prisoner”.
Cooper countered that Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who spent 27 years in brutal prison conditions before emerging to become president of a multiracial South Africa, was most people’s idea of a political prisoner.
“If you were to ask Nelson Mandela whether he thought the process was fair back in the early 60s in South Africa,” Blagojevich said, “he would say what I’m saying today.”
Sounding a distinctly Trumpian note, given the president’s conspiracy theory-laced complaints about the prosecution of allies including Stone, Blagojevich blamed his conviction on “uncontrolled prosecutors who can do just about anything they want to do and are using their power to go after government officials”.
He also said prosecutors “lied to [the] jury” about his actions.
“You’re the one who has actually been convicted of lying to the FBI, though, by that very same jury,” Cooper said. “The very argument you are making right now … it was heard in the courtroom and no one bought it.”
Cooper then alluded to another infamous Trumpian tactic, made famous by the White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway. Blagojevich, he said, had created “a whole new alternate universe of facts, and that may be big in politics today but it’s still, frankly, just bullshit”.
“Well no,” Blagojevich insisted. “It’s not bullshit. I lived it myself. It’s not bullshit at all.”