Donald Trump, Rod Blagojevich and cost of corruption
When President Donald Trump blurted out that he was thinking of springing thoroughly corrupt former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich from federal prison, the reaction was predictably tribal.
The pro-Trumpers spun it all by saying his Blagogevich move was a shot across the bow of his enemies in the “Deep State.” And the anti-Trump camp wrung their hands and said it was an “I’ve-got-your-back” message to potential witnesses against him who’ve been caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation.
But left out of all this are the people who bear the true cost of political corruption.
They don’t have spinners, or spouses like Patti Blagojevich who can show up on Fox News, on Trump’s favorite programs, and appeal directly to the president.
Political corruption and the excusing of it through presidential pardon (Trump) or through intrigue, as in a 40-minute private meeting on an airport tarmac (Clinton), has a cost.
It’s not about money. It’s about infection.
Trump dangling pardons as he himself is under investigation in the Mueller Russia collusion probe is full of theatrical drama. It’s fascinating in the way political intrigue among the powerful is always fascinating, like a game of thrones. It is the true pastime of Washington.
And Washington is our modern Versailles, just as sick as the palace of the French royals but without the rouge and powdered wigs and countertenors.
The powerful don’t bear the cost of corruption. They know the game. They understand it. They’re good at it. They write the rules. They know how to bend them. They’re the masters of our universe.
But you are not a master of the universe. You are a taxpayer.
And you think about wanting to follow the rules until you see some politician, Democrat or Republican, getting away with things you’d go to jail for doing.
The infection grows. Resentment builds and it turns to poison. It’s dangerous. Ask the French.
A thoughtful man might think this out, but Trump is not a thoughtful man. He’s about the art of the deal, about instinct and bluff and leverage.
And Blagojevich, a pathetic third-rate crook and grafter, offers Trump leverage, and a story the president can make his own.
Blagojevich is the kind of politician Trump knows only too well. During his campaign for president, Trump told us as much, said he knew how to buy them and sell them.
Blago was for sale. People’s lives were ruined. A life was ended, Chris Kelly, Blagojevich’s fundraiser, killing himself in a dirty shack south of Chicago.
Blagojevich is no victim. He shook down a hospital. He tried to sell a U.S. Senate seat. He quotes Kipling, but he’s never accepted responsibility for his crimes.
And in the political mud of Illinois, with Blagojevich in the governor’s office, the political bottom feeders satisfied themselves, top Republicans and Democrats, including former President Barack Obama’s real estate fairy, Tony Rezko.
If the president had a thoughtful side, he might consider that the bipartisan Illinois Combine is the same as the Washington/Versailles establishment. It’s made up of the same people who feed from the public trough. And they view Trump voters with predatory contempt.
In Blagojevich, Trump also sees Patrick Fitzgerald, the former federal prosecutor who indicted the former Gov. Dead Meat.
Fitzgerald is a friend of former FBI director and Trump enemy James Comey. Fitzgerald is now on Comey’s legal team. Comey loathes the president, and the president loathes him back.
So on Air Force One last week, Trump floated Blagojevich like a meat balloon.
A presidential pardon offers political utility. Former President Bill Clinton pardoned financier Marc Rich and many convicted Puerto Rican terrorists before leaving office, winning points for his wife Hillary Clinton, about to carpetbag her way to a New York Senate seat.
And former President Barack Obama commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, traitor and the leaker of a massive amount of secret government intelligence that put the lives of Americans overseas at risk. Obama also ordered the release of the violent and unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera, once based in Chicago and a darling of the left.Trump is playing his own political game. In a discussion with reporters about pardoning pro-Trump conservative Dinesh D’Souza for violating federal campaign laws — laws that D’Souza long ago admitted that he broke — the president mentioned Blagojevich.
“I’ll tell you another one … there’s another one that I’m thinking about. Rod Blagojevich,” said Trump. “Eighteen years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politicians, you know that many other politicians say.”
He was wrong. It was 14, not 18 years. Blagojevich has served less than half of that.
“He said something to the effect like, ‘What do I get?’ … stupid thing to say. But he’s sort of saying … he’s gonna make a U.S. senator, which is a very big deal. If you read his statement,” Trump said. “There was a lot of bravado. … Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. He shouldn’t have been put in jail.”
Really, Mr. President?
Because you saw Patti Blagojevich wheedling to Martha MacCallum on Fox TV, drawing cheap parallels between Trump/Mueller and Blago/Fitzgerald?
Or because you think releasing Blagojevich now wins you sympathy points with the public?
The cost of political corruption in America — and corruption’s epicenter is in dysfunctional Illinois — isn’t about what corrupt politicians get for themselves.
It’s about what they take from the people.
And it’s much more valuable than money.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His Twitter handle is @john_kass.