Blago’s lawyer reflects on commutation


Courtesy of Len Goodman Law Office

Len Goodman, adjunct law professor and attorney for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

When former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich came back home to Chicago after eight years in prison, DePaul College of Law adjunct Len Goodman, joined the family at their Ravenswood home, which 12 years prior was the very place FBI agents raided and arrested then-Governor Blagojevich, for the congressman-turned twice elected governor’s arrival. 

“It was exciting for me to see him back in that house,” Goodman said.

Hours earlier, Blagojevich boarded a plane and flew from the federal penitentiary in Colorado that he’d lived in for the last eight years. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison after being found guilty of federal corruption, including attempting to profit from filling the senate seat left vacant by then-Senator Barack Obama after he was elected president. He’d speculated that if he gave the appointment to Obama’s friend, Valerie Jarrett, Obama might give him a position in the White House. Other charges were brought for withholding state funding for a children’s hospital until its executive contributed to his campaign. Jarrett became a top advisor to Obama, Blagojevich became a pariah. He was, and remains, the only Illinois governor to be impeached.

The FBI wiretapped Blagojevich’s phone for months and collected over 300 hours of his conversations with aides and family, fueling his eventual indictment and imprisonment. Then last month, President Donald Trump commuted Blagojevich’s sentence four years early, sending the history buff and Elvis-lover back to Chicago.

Goodman joined Blagojevich’s legal team during the appeals process. With Goodman’s help, the charges surrounding the efforts to make a deal for the senate seat were eventually dropped, but his original sentence remained intact. Goodman attests Blagojevich never did anything illegal. He cites a 1991 Supreme Court case that determined asking for campaign funds in exchange for something is a necessary part of the job of a politician. To Goodman, the bar to convict was set unjustly low for Blagojevich.

“He never denied that he tried to do a political deal with Barack Obama. If I was on that jury I would have convicted him too, because under that standard he was guilty. But it was the wrong standard,” Goodman said. “The most common thing that I would hear from people is that that sentence is ridiculous.”

DePaul Journalist in Residence Christopher Bury covered the impeachment and the federal court trial for ABC’s Midwest Bureau. He says there’s no question Blagojevich was corrupt.

“He got caught. He was correctly sentenced to prison. The idea that somehow the law was changed on him is absolute garbage.”

In the time leading to his release, Blagojevich’s wife Patti was a frequent guest on Fox Network programs, pleading the case for her husband’s mistreatment. She openly stated that her tactic was to appeal directly to President Trump, who is known to often consume Fox News shows, by comparing the case against Blagojevich’s to the Russia probe looking into Trump’s own campaign. It worked, and the newly-free Blagojevich now calls himself a “Trumpocrat.”

Goodman, himself a staunch liberal, thinks it would be a mistake for Blagojevich to campaign on the president’s behalf during the upcoming election, something he’s said directly to Blagojevich.

“Rod’s values are different from Trump’s values. I understand why he’s appreciative because no one else would listen to him. Trump was the only one that seemed to understand the unfairness of the case against him,” Goodman said. “Rod is very pro-union. I don’t think Trump is. Rod cares about health care. I don’t think Trump really cares much about that.”

It was these issues, and others, that Goodman says drove Blagojevich to try and trade the senate seat for a position for himself in Obama’s cabinet. Goodman says Blagojevich wanted to further his legislative agenda from the highest office possible.

“It wasn’t about personal benefit. It wasn’t the same as getting money for his kids’ college fund. This was a public job that he was trying to get” Goodman said. “He’s trying to get his agenda through so he’s gonna wheel and deal to get his agenda through.”

To Bury, the idea that Blagojevich was trying to make a deal to give himself a platform to advance issues, doesn’t hold up. 

“Blagojevich, like Trump, usually does what is in the best interest of Blagojevich” Bury said. “I heard him talking about those positions on the FBI wiretaps because it fulfilled his ambition of doing something more than being Governor of Illinois. Not once did I hear those boasts mentioned in terms of what he could do for the people of Illinois.”

Goodman says Blagojevich’s experience has led him to be an advocate for criminal justice reform. He says Blagojevich spent a good amount of his time in prison teaching history classes and using his professional experience to help his fellow prisoners.

“A lot of these people had never had regular jobs. He would walk the track with them and do mock interviews to help prepare them for the real world.”

Now that he’s out, Goodman has been trying to assist Blagojevich in his aspirations to right, what Blagojevich sees as, the wrongs of the criminal justice system, saying “He could actually make a difference because he really does want to.”

Bury is expecting to see Blagojevich, who once was a contestant on President Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” and is now selling videos of himself to users of a website that pedals in celebrities filming messages, attempt to stay in the public light, “He loves publicity. I assume he’s going to try to make a living off of his notoriety.”

The commutation doesn’t expunge Blagojevich’s record, meaning he can’t run for public office. Goodman though, would advise his client to eventually seek a pardon to have his record cleared.

For now though, we can expect to hear more vocals than anything else from Blagojevich, Blagojevich, who started a rock group while in prison, is slated to perform with Goodman’s band in June, something Blagojevich promised Goodman he’d do if he ever got out.

“He’ll probably just sing ‘Jailhouse Rock’,” Goodman said.