Feb 19, 2020
Transcript: Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich Speaks After Granted Clemency by Trump
Former governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich spoke with reporters in a news conference after being granted clemency by President Donald Trump. Read the full transcript of the press conference right here on Rev.com.
Rod Blagojevich: (00:28)
God bless you. Thank you, man.
Speaker 1: (00:55)
[Inaudible]. Hey, he need you all to step back just a little bit. Just a little bit. Just a little two steps right there. Right there, right there. Just two steps.
Rod Blagojevich: (01:07)
Am I going here? Mr. Chang, how are you? It’s good to see you. Hi how are you? Okay. I’m good. I’m a little… [crosstalk 00:01:38].
Speaker 1: (01:18)
Stand right her. I got you.
Rod Blagojevich: (01:44)
Thank you. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (01:48)
Step back, Step back a little bit. Step back, guys. Lets stay right here. Give him some room guys. Give him some room speed. Let the Senator Speak. Senator, speak Senator.
Rod Blagojevich: (02:02)
Well, it’s been a long, long journey.
Speaker 1: (02:05)
Rod Blagojevich: (02:06)
I’m bruised and I’m battered. I’m bloody. It’s been a long time since I’ve shaved with a normal razor and it takes a little practice. I’m sorry about that. I got to keep dabbing this blood.
I have to apologize for his tardiness. He couldn’t find where I put his socks this morning.
Rod Blagojevich: (02:26)
Lots changed in the nearly eight years that I’ve been here. Let me just say a couple of things. First of all, the obvious I want to say, and I know I speak for Patti and Amy and Annie and obviously for me, we want to express our most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump. How do you properly thank someone who’s given you back the freedom that was stolen from you? He didn’t have to do this. He’s a Republican President. I was a Democratic governor and doing this does nothing to help his politics. President Trump is a man who is tough and outspoken, but he also has a kind heart and this is an act of kindness and I also believe it’s the beginning of the process to actually turn it injustice into a justice.
Rod Blagojevich: (03:13)
Sorry about this blood. All these years away. I never stopped reminding myself of the words from a poem. It’s called The Gate of the Year. “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God that shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
Rod Blagojevich: (03:36)
It’s been a long time since I’ve been home. Nearly eight years, nearly 3000 days. I suppose a better way to measure how long it’s been is to our daughters, Amy and Annie. When I left home, it was so long ago. Amy, our older daughter was a sophomore in high school and it’ll be two years this spring since she’s graduated from college and now just recently, Amy earned a master’s degree and we’re very proud of you, sweetheart. And Annie, our younger daughter, was eight years old when I left. She was about this high. Now she’s 16, and now she has her driver’s license, and she’s doing good in school, and she plays the piano and we’re very proud of her too. Look at you sweetheart. Look at you. My baby’s growing up so fast.
Rod Blagojevich: (04:27)
Again. On behalf of my family, we want to express our profound, his gratitude to President Trump. It’s been a long, unhappy journey. These have been hard years for our children. They’ve been hard years for Patti and for me. I spent my first 32 months in prison, nearly three years behind what the inmates called the razor wire, the barbed wire fence. You can’t go near that fence. If you do there are prison guards. They’re armed with machine guns who have the discretion to shoot you. I didn’t go near that fence.
Rod Blagojevich: (05:01)
The buildings behind that fence where the inmates live and sleep are squalid places. They’re cold and dark like tombs. They were about 900 inmates there. Drug dealers, cartel members, gang bangers, bank robbers. There were men, there were committed murder, con artists, a lot of sex offenders, about 2% of the population were in the so called white collar category. For most of my time there my home was a six foot by eight foot prison cell with four cement walls, a big heavy iron door that can shut you in, a small window with bars on it, and a bunk bed. I slept on the top bunk. Often late at night I would look through that window and past those bars out into the night sky and I’d think of home. I’d think of my children. I’d think a Patti. [inaudible 00:05:56] Sometimes I could almost feel her near me.
Rod Blagojevich: (06:03)
Just ignore him. I would say to myself, one day, one day I’ll make it back to you and hold your hand sweetheart.
Speaker 1: (06:13)
Woman of substance.
And I will remember what a gracious thing it’s been to walk through life with you. Thank you for waiting.
Speaker 1: (06:20)
You’re bleeding again.
Rod Blagojevich: (06:21)
She’s something else. What’s that?
Speaker 1: (06:23)
That’s your soldier there.
Rod Blagojevich: (06:24)
She sure is something, isn’t she.
Speaker 1: (06:25)
Rod Blagojevich: (06:26)
Yep. Anyway, so on. Again, on behalf of Patti and Amy and Annie and me, we want to again express our, our deepest gratitude to President Trump. Like I said, as a Republican President and a Democratic governor, he didn’t have to do this, but President Trump is not a typical politician.
Speaker 1: (06:43)
Rod Blagojevich: (06:44)
He’s tough. He’s outspoken, he gets things done. He’s a problem solver in a business where too many politicians don’t want to solve problems. All they want to do is play politics, and get nothing done for the people.
Speaker 4: (06:56)
You going to vote for him Governor?
Rod Blagojevich: (06:58)
He’s got a…I’m a Trumpocrat.
Speaker 1: (06:59)
A Trumpocrat. That’s right.
Rod Blagojevich: (06:59)
If I have the ability to vote, I’m going to vote for him.
Speaker 4: (07:05)
Rod Blagojevich: (07:06)
Well, I don’t know that they’ll allow me to vote, but I’ll get into that in a minute. But let me just say that-
Speaker 1: (07:11)
Make Chicago great again.
Rod Blagojevich: (07:14)
…Our President is a, he’s tough and outspoken and he has the courage to challenge the old way.
Speaker 1: (07:20)
Rod Blagojevich: (07:20)
He’s the one who’s actually fighting to bring real change. That’s why he gets so much pushback. But not withstanding being tough, he’s also a man with a kind heart.
Speaker 1: (07:28)
Rod Blagojevich: (07:29)
He sees wrong and he tries to right it, just like he did in the case of Alice Marie Johnson, you know who she is, the grandmother from Alabama who served 21 years in prison on a life sentence as a first time nonviolent drug offender. A life sentence as a first time nonviolent drug offender.
Speaker 1: (07:47)
The first step in letting a lot of them go home.
Rod Blagojevich: (07:48)
Alice Marie Johnson’s case is probably one of the better illustrations that shows how the federal criminal justice system disproportionately discriminates against African American-
Speaker 1: (07:58)
Without a doubt.
Rod Blagojevich: (07:58)
…and people of color. And how the 1994 crime bill has led to the over sentencing and to the creation of what the author Michelle Alexander has called the New Jim Crow in America.
Speaker 1: (08:09)
Rod Blagojevich: (08:10)
They’ll know what I’m talking about.
Speaker 1: (08:11)
That’s right. Dump [inaudible 00:08:12] the Clintons.
Rod Blagojevich: (08:13)
1994 crime bill passed by my fellow Democrats before I got to Congress. Fortunately, as soon as President Trump learned of the injustice against Alice Marie, he immediately put a stop to it, and he sent her home to her family. And fortunately because this is a President who gets things done through his leadership and with the help of organizations like Cut 50, President Trump was able to build the necessary bipartisan support to pass the historic First Step Act, a new law that begins the process of reforming a broken criminal justice system, and putting an end to the racist injustice caused by that racist 1994 crime bill.
Rod Blagojevich: (08:51)
Now as for me, obviously I’ve got 10,000 reasons to be thankful to President Trump. I’m obviously thankful to be home, to have my freedom back, to just be able to hold my wife’s hand, but most of all I’m thankful to you, Mr. President, for giving my daughters their father back. My daughters are growing up and the day is not too far off when they will go out into the world on their own. Now, I wish I could slow down time, but no matter where their [life’s 00:09:19] journey may lead, they will always take with them the realization that the kindest gift they’ve ever received in their lives came from you. Thank you Mr. President for what you’ve done for me, but better far, far better, thank you for what you’ve done for them.
Rod Blagojevich: (09:35)
I’d like to thank a few people real quick. I’d like to thank my old friend, the Reverend Jesse Jackson for his voice, and for his help, and for his support. I want to thank my friend and former colleague in the Congress, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. For his friendship and his support. I want to thank Patti’s dad. For Alderman Mell, Richard Mell for his love and support to our daughters and to his daughter, Patti.
Rod Blagojevich: (09:59)
I want to thank this mystery man, a young man who brought all this about. I just met him yesterday and this is Mark Vargas. He’s a quite a guy and he’s the kind of guy who can get you out of prison if you find yourself stuck there and I’m really grateful to his efforts and what he’s done on my behalf.
Rod Blagojevich: (10:20)
Huh? Oh, sorry.
I’ll just hit you like this every time you have to do it.
Rod Blagojevich: (10:25)
Sorry about this.
Speaker 4: (10:26)
Rod [inaudible 00:00:10:27].
Rod Blagojevich: (10:28)
Hang on one second, my friend. The scriptures teach us and history shows that in the long run, right defeated will in the end overcome…history. The scriptures teaches that history shows that in the long run, “Right to defeated will in the end overcome wrong triumphant.” And as Dr. Martin Luther King used to say, “Truth crushed to earth will one day rise again because no lie can live forever.”
Rod Blagojevich: (10:53)
I’m returning home today from a long exile, a freed political prisoner. I want to say again to the people of Illinois who twice elected me governor, I didn’t let you down. I would’ve let you down if I gave into this, but resistance to tyrants is obedience to God. Not long ago, United States Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer warned about this. He warned about federal prosecutors bringing criminal charges against government officials for what he described as routine practices.
Rod Blagojevich: (11:24)
Justice Breyer went on to point out, and I’m quoting him, “To give that kind of power to a criminal prosecutor who is virtually uncontrollable is dangerous to our separation of powers,” end quote. I’ve learned the hard way, just how dangerous that is. From beginning to end this was persecution masquerading his prosecution. I got into politics to help people. I didn’t get into politics to make money. I didn’t get into politics to enrich my family or my friends. I got politics because I was fortunate to live in the greatest country that’s ever existed. My immigrant father fought the Nazis. He spent four years in a prisoner of war camp. After that war, he spent three years in a refugee camp waiting for the day that one day the Congress that one day his youngest son would become a member of, would pass a law called the Displaced Persons Act to allow him and millions of others like him, immigrants from all around the world with long and hard to pronounce last names, to be able to come to America to pursue freedom and opportunity.
Rod Blagojevich: (12:22)
My dad basically did about seven years in prison. I got him beat. I’ve done almost eight. But my dad believed in America. He took the gift of freedom not for granted because he knew what it was like to live under oppression. He didn’t go back to his country, Yugoslavia, because it was a communist country where freedom wasn’t allowed. So he came here and he got a job working in a factory. And for most of his life, all of his life in the United States, my dad was a working man, a factory worker. And my mother was a working mother who worked for the Chicago transit authority, passing out the transfers at the subway stations. They never had a chance to live the American dream and own the home of their own, but they worked hard and sacrificed so that their kids can have opportunities they didn’t have. This is the American story. And my mother and father lived that.
Rod Blagojevich: (13:10)
And so I’d like to think that as governor, what I did was to try to draw on my own life experience and try to take those experiences and turn them into something real to help people. That’s why we provided healthcare to all the kids in Illinois through the All Kids Program. Because I saw as a young child, a cousin who passed away from leukemia at the age of 12 and didn’t have insurance, and his mother and father lost what little they had. We provided free transportation to every one of our senior citizens or to the disabled, because I remember my father as a senior citizen, being proud of a senior citizen discount card he had, where he could take the bus for half the price and we were able to take that and apply that to everybody in the state of Illinois.
Rod Blagojevich: (13:51)
I wouldn’t allow that swamp in Springfield and my fellow Democrats down there who just wanted to raise taxes on the working people to raise their taxes. And so it was always a struggle, a constant battle to try to remember who I was supposed to fight for. And so I hope now looking to the future that I can draw from my life experience, particularly those over the last eight years in prison and 11 years since this all came to us, and do something to try to fight to help people who’ve been wrongfully incarcerated or those, and this is probably the rule and not the exception, those who have been over sentenced. Nonviolent offenders who made a mistake, did wrong, but had been sentenced to years in prison that not only destroy their lives and steal from them their futures, but they hurt their children and their family.
Rod Blagojevich: (14:39)
I saw what they do to families because I saw it happen in my own. And every time I’d go into the visiting room to visit with my family, I’d look around that room and I’d see mothers with their children. And you can tell it was a mother because you can see it in the sadness of her face. I would see fathers with their young children and you can see the discomfort that the family feels.
Rod Blagojevich: (15:03)
So I hope that as I move forward, I can take some of that experience that I’ve had and try to do what I can to try to improve what is a broken. And I believe in many cases, a corrupt criminal justice system when it comes to crime and punishment. In America, the United States incarcerates six to 10 times more people than any other industrialized nation in the world. We put more people in jail than China and Russia. Federal prosecutors like to boast about their 97% conviction rate, but doesn’t that boast show just how rigged the system is? Unless you’re the undefeated boxing champion, Floyd Money Mayweather. Who else ever wins 97% of the time at anything?
He’s not even undefeated anymore.
Speaker 1: (15:43)
More time than a Nazi war criminal.
Rod Blagojevich: (15:45)
No, he hasn’t lost.
Rod Blagojevich: (15:47)
No, Floyd Money Mayweather has not been defeated. Don’t say that, Patti. You’ll probably get a phone call from him.
Rod Blagojevich: (15:55)
Everyday people who find themselves caught up in the system have no chance, and many of them recognize the futility in fighting for their rights. So they just give in and under duress because they’re being threatened with long sentences. They agree to plead guilty to things they didn’t do. Unfair, unfair and cruel over-sentencing is the rule. It’s not the exception. Equal protection under the law doesn’t exist. Wildly, unfair disparities in sentencing for the same or similar offenses are not uncommon and defy common sense. And in way too many cases, way too many nonviolent offenders are given way longer prison sentences than violent offenders and sex offenders who actually caused great physical and emotional harm to their victims.
Rod Blagojevich: (16:38)
It is a broken criminal justice system and it has been for a long time. And it’s a racist criminal justice system, but there’s hope. And one of the great ironies of history is that so far up till now in the history of our country, no one has done more, or is currently working to do more to fix this broken and racist criminal justice system than President Trump and Jared Kushner.
Speaker 1: (17:00)
Rod Blagojevich: (17:02)
One last thing…I’m going to dab this blood again. Am I good?
Just keep doing it.
Just keep doing it.
Rod Blagojevich: (17:08)
I just feel them on me.
Rod Blagojevich: (17:11)
I’d like to say something about adversity, and I’d like to direct my remarks to all of my fellow underdogs out there who find themselves up against powerful forces and long odds. To anyone facing hard circumstances who’ve suffered loss, are hurting, or who, like me, have hit rock bottom. You may be down. All your hope may seem to have disappeared. The road you have to travel is a long one, and home, that’s where you want to be, is so far away you can’t even see the flicker of a light at the end of the tunnel, but don’t give up. Don’t give up. Think of the people you love.
Rod Blagojevich: (17:58)
I’ll get it out. Hang on. Think of the people you love. That’s where you’ll find your purpose. My love for my family and my faith in God is what sustained me during this long and seemingly never-ending trial. It gave me purpose to stay strong and along with Patti to try to set the right example for our daughters. To show them that when adversity enters your life, even when your calamity comes on like a whirlwind and just about everything has been taken away from you and your heart’s broken, don’t quit. Fight, fight, keep fighting and persevere in storms and through the dark passages. And when you find yourself alone, all alone in the lonely wilderness because it is there in that lonely wilderness where we are tried and tested, that we must rise to our circumstances. We must rise above our circumstances and dare to dream.
Rod Blagojevich: (18:57)
It is not an ending, but a beginning where out of weakness we are made strong. Every mile I ran, every pushup I did, every book I read, every word I wrote was my way of fighting back. My way of using the time in the wilderness to prepare for a better day, waiting in the shadows, waiting for justice, waiting and hoping.
Rod Blagojevich: (19:20)
So live in faith, hope and love. Vivi con fe esperanza y amor. And if you have to, take a stand. And don’t be afraid, you’re not alone, you never go alone. It is so often the case that in the sadness of life, we look for God. My faith in him turned despair into hope and made me strong, trusting that one day through the grace of God, He would turn darkness into light and lead me home. Thank you.
Speaker 4: (19:53)
Nothing but the Grace.
Speaker 1: (20:01)
Make Chicago great again.
Rod Blagojevich: (20:01)
Speaker 4: (20:08)
What did you do last night?
Speaker 4: (20:09)
Speaker 4: (20:13)
Hey, Patti. Let’s hear from you.
Speaker 4: (20:14)
Come on, take just one question from us.
Speaker 4: (20:18)
Can you step back to the microphones please?
Speaker 4: (20:24)
Come back to the microphones, please.
Speaker 1: (20:26)
Governor, they want to ask you some questions.
Speaker 4: (20:33)
Speaker 1: (20:34)
Can you sign my sign?
Speaker 4: (20:48)
Speaker 4: (20:48)
Patti, can we talked to you Patti?.
Speaker 4: (20:49)
Governor Blagojevich. Governor Blagojevich. Governor?
Speaker 4: (20:49)
Speaker 4: (20:49)
He’ll be glad to see you. So I got my neighbor to bring me down. Anything you need let me know.
Speaker 4: (20:57)
Amy, you have a question for the governor?
Rod Blagojevich: (20:59)
Thank you so much. Yes sir.
Speaker 4: (21:00)
Speaker 4: (21:01)
Rod Blagojevich: (21:01)
How about those Cubs, huh?
Speaker 4: (21:04)
Governor, governor. Will you sign these signs? Any wants to ask you one question.
Speaker 4: (21:09)
I don’t want to tough nothing. No. I’ll get back-