Trump Releases Blagojevich From Prison, Pardons Financier Milken

(CN) – In a flurry of pardons and clemencies issued Tuesday, President Donald Trump commuted the 14-year prison sentence of disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and granted pardons to a former NFL team owner, New York police commissioner and financial fraudster Michael Milken.

Blagojevich, who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice,” was convicted of acts of corruption, including attempting to sell an appointment to former President Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital.

In 2011, Blagojevich received the longest prison sentence ever for an Illinois politician – what Trump on Tuesday called a “ridiculous sentence.” Blagojevich was set to be released in 2024.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich exercises outside the Federal Correctional Institution-Englewood near Littleton, Colo., on Aug. 11, 2019. President Donald Trump commuted the 14-year prison sentence of Blagojevich on Tuesday. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP)

The president pardoned Milken, dubbed the “Junk Bond King,” who pleaded guilty to violating U.S. securities laws. Originally sentenced to 10 years in prison, Milken’s sentence was reduced to two years after he cooperated with federal investigators. He was fined $600 million.

In announcing the pardon, Trump said Milken, 73, had done an “incredible job” supporting cancer research after he pleaded guilty in 1990 to racketeering and securities fraud charges.

Trump also granted a pardon to former New York Police Department commissioner Bernie Kerik, who served over three years in prison for tax fraud and lying to the White House during an interview for the position of Homeland Security secretary with the George W. Bush administration.

Kerik, a former business partner of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, worked as a strategist and investigator to help Navy SEAL Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher in a court-martial proceeding last year. Trump restored Gallagher’s rank after the Navy SEAL was convicted of posing for pictures with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter.

National Football League Hall of Famers on Tuesday also praised Trump for pardoning Edward DeBartolo Jr., who led the San Francisco 49ers to five Super Bowl wins during his two-decade stint as owner from 1977 to 1997. DeBartolo pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony when he paid $400,000 to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in exchange for a riverboat gambling license.

Trump’s surprise decision was announced to reporters at the White House on Tuesday with NFL greats Jerry Rice, Jim Brown, Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley in attendance.

Rice, an NFL Hall of Famer who played on three of DeBartolo’s Super Bowl-winning teams, applauded Trump’s use of the pardon power to wipe out his former boss’s criminal conviction.

“He’s the main reason why we won so many Super Bowls,” Rice said. “So today is a great day for him. I’m glad to be here and be a part of that. It’s just something I will never forget. This man, he has done so much in the community, has done so much in NFL football.”

Haley, a defensive end who played on two of DeBartolo’s Super Bowl winning teams, said the former 49ers owner is deserving of a second chance.

“You know what, we all make mistakes and today the president cleared that mistake from him,” Haley said.

DeBartolo avoided prison, instead serving two years of probation and paying a $1 million fine. He was suspended for a year by the NFL, but the episode effectively ended his career in professional football.

After the suspension, DeBartolo gave control of the 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York. The team is now run by DeBartolo’s nephew, Jed York.

In total, Trump granted pardons and clemency for 11 people Tuesday.

He also pardoned Ariel Friedler, a technology entrepreneur, who pleaded guilty to accessing a computer without authorization; Paul Pogue, a construction company owner who underpaid his taxes; David Safavian, who was convicted of obstructing an investigation into a trip he took while he was a senior government official; and Angela Stanton, an author who served a six-month home sentence for her role in a stolen vehicle ring.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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