Shortly after Donald Trump announced he'd pardon right-wing provocateur Dinesh D'Souza, the president signaled he may also soon free former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) from a federal prison. In fact, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that the Illinois governor's crimes -- he tried to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat -- weren't that bad and didn't warrant a 14-year prison sentence.
"I'll tell you another one ... there's another one that I'm thinking about. Rod Blagojevich," Trump said, according to a pool report. "Eighteen (sic) years in jail for being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know that many other politicians say.""And if you look at what he said, 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," Trump said. "If you read his statement, it was a foolish statement. There was a lot of bravado.... Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse. He shouldn't have been put in jail."
It wasn't exactly reassuring to see a president who's facing corruption allegations talk so candidly about his indifference toward a politician who was convicted on corruption charges.
But taking a step further, Trump's comments raised a related question: how exactly did Blagojevich get on the president's radar? It's been nearly a decade since the Illinois Democrat's downfall, so what made Trump take an interest in his case.
I initially thought it might have something to with a search for partisan balance -- after pardoning several Republican allies, maybe Trump wanted to feign interest in bipartisanship? -- or perhaps this was the latest example of the president helping the politically connected. After all, Blagojevich wasn't just a successful politician; he also appeared on Trump's reality show.
But in this case, it's likely there's a little more to it.
Blagojevich wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal this week, for example, condemning abusive federal prosecutors run amok. "The rule of law is under assault in America," the former governor wrote for the traditionally conservative op-ed page. "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's easy to imagine a scenario in which Trump nodded along in agreement as someone read the op-ed to him.
Similarly, Blagojevich's wife went on Fox News yesterday to draw a comparison between her husband and the president. "The same people that did this to my family ... these same people are trying to do the same thing that they did to my husband, just on a much larger scale," Patti Blagojevich said. "They were emboldened. They took down a governor and now they've got their sights much higher."
The Chicago Tribune added, "For weeks, Blagojevich and his team have orchestrated a calculated publicity campaign labeling his prosecution on sweeping corruption charges unjust and politically motivated. The show has been targeted to an audience of one: President Donald Trump."
It's a fascinating dynamic: a formula is taking shape that people can exploit to, in a rather literal sense, obtain a get-out-of-jail-free card from the president. It involves a combination of flattering Trump, criticizing federal law enforcement, and saying the right things in conservative media.
As of yesterday, Team Blagojevich appears to be playing the game well.