Celebrity apprentice: Pardons for past cast members?

Donald Trump says he's thinking of pardoning Martha Stewart and commuting former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's sentence

Published May 31, 2018 5:59PM (EDT)

Rod Blagojevich; Donald Trump; Martha Stewart (Getty/Frank Polich/Alex Wong/AP/Evan Agostini)
Rod Blagojevich; Donald Trump; Martha Stewart (Getty/Frank Polich/Alex Wong/AP/Evan Agostini)

If you want a presidential pardon from President Donald Trump, it helps to be a celebrity. That's the message he is sending with his list of pardons so far: former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, late boxing legend Jack Johnson, right-wing troll Dinesh D’Souza, former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby. And now, he told reporters Thursday that he's thinking of pardoning Martha Stewart and commuting former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's sentence.

Trump's latest picks for possible leniency, aside from being well-known, were also cast members on his TV show "The Apprentice." Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence for corruption charges, was a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice 3" in 2009. He didn't make it far on the reality show, but earned Trump's admiration.

"You have a hell of a lot of guts, I have to tell you," Trump told Blagojevich on the show. "I have a lot of friends where things happen to them, they crawl into a corner, they die. You’re out there punching. So I respect that."

Last Month, Blagojevich's wife, Patricia told Fox News that she was asking Trump to pardon her husband, as he did for Libby. They were both prosecuted by the same person, Patrick Fitzgerald. And just days ago, Blagojevich argued in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, that he is in prison for simply "practicing politics."

"Let me be clear: I never accepted gifts, vacations, clothes, jewelry or flights on fancy jets in exchange for my political influence," he wrote. "Yet here I am in my sixth year of a 14-year prison sentence for the routine practice of attempting to raise campaign funds while governor."

Blagojevich also seemed to appeal directly to Trump, without naming him, but alluding to his feud with the Department of Justice and the FBI concerning the ongoing Russia investigation. "The rule of law is under assault in America," he wrote. "It is being perverted and abused by the people sworn to enforce and uphold it. Some in the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation are abusing their power to criminalize the routine practices of politics and government."

"It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum you come from," Blagojevich, a Democrat, added. "Every officeholder who raises money is potentially at risk. Those who value freedom and love our country had better wake up."

"What he did does not justify 18 years in a jail," Trump told reporters Thursday, incorrectly stating the sentence. "If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado" in talking about selling Barack Obama's Senate seat, but "plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. And it doesn’t — he shouldn’t have been put in jail."

"I don’t know him other than that he was on 'The Apprentice' for a short period of time," Trump added, but a commutation would free Blagojevich from prison without reversing his conviction. Blagojevich has served six years.

In the case of Stewart, who had a spinoff of "The Apprentice" which lasted for one season, she was prosecuted by former FBI director and Trump nemesis, James Comey. Pardoning her is seen by some conservatives as a way to further stick it to Comey, whom Trump fired.

"I think to a certain extent Martha Stewart was harshly and unfairly treated. And she used to be my biggest fan in the world," Trump said, "before I became a politician. But that’s O.K., I don’t view it that way."

Concerning pardons, Trump appears to be dialed in on what he perceives as celebrities being unfairly treated in the justice system — perhaps as a way to amplify his own grievances with the Russia investigation, which he re-labeled a "witch hunt."

In this vein, there is little hope that he will extend the same compassion to 63-year-old Alice Johnson, serving a life sentence for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, even if the push for leniency is coming from Kim Kardashian West.

By Rachel Leah

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