CHICAGO – Defiant and unapologetic, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted in 2011 of trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat, called himself a "freed political prisoner" at a news conference following his release from prison.
Blagojevich walked out of federal prison late Tuesday evening after President Donald Trump commuted his 14-year sentence earlier in the day. The 63-year-old stood outside his Chicago home with his wife and two daughters Wednesday, recounting his time in prison and thanking Trump.
Blagojevich, a one-time contestant on "The Celebrity Apprentice," was convicted in 2011 of federal charges of using his powers as governor to extract campaign money and other political favors in exchange for naming a successor to fill the Illinois Senate seat left open when Obama became president.
Standing next to a stoop draped with a banner saying "Thanks, Mr. President," Blagojevich called himself a "freed political prisoner" and slammed "persecution masquerading as prosecution" in his case and the "racist criminal justice system." He repeatedly quoted scripture and spoke about his renewed faith in God.
"It’s been a long, long journey. I’m bruised and I'm battered and I'm bloody," he said while occasionally dabbing his bloody chin with a cloth, noting that it had been a "long time" since he used a regular razor to shave.
Blagojevich expressed his "profound and everlasting gratitude" to Trump, declaring himself "a Trumpocrat."
"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," Blagojevich said.
Blagojevich said he'd vote to reelect the president.
"If I had the ability to vote, I’d vote for him," he said. "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."
After speaking for about 20 minutes, Blagojevich took no questions from the news media and then hugged, fist-bumped, and shook hands with supporters. He also signed a giant Blagojevich head a supporter had brought to the news conference.
Blagojevich doesn’t take any questions from press, gives a lot of love to supporters, thanks Trump pic.twitter.com/2PVIW0qRwb— Grace Hauck (@grace_hauck) February 19, 2020
Trump commuted Blagojevich's sentence after expressing concerns about its length.
"He served eight years in jail – a long time," Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Tuesday. "Many people disagree with the sentence."
Shortly after Blagojevich finished his remarks Wednesday, Trump tweeted in support of him and denounced the conviction as a "Comey and gang deal," referring to former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump fired.
"Rod Blagojevich did not sell the Senate seat," Trump wrote on Twitter. "He served 8 years in prison, with many remaining."
Rod Blagojevich did not sell the Senate seat. He served 8 years in prison, with many remaining. He paid a big price. Another Comey and gang deal! Thank you to @LisaMarieBoothe who really “gets” what’s going on! @FoxNews— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2020
"I didn’t do the things they said I did," the former governor told WGN-TV as he arrived in Chicago's O'Hare Airport on Tuesday.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a Twitter post that Trump "abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption," and his predecessor's pardon sent "the wrong message at the wrong time."
Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, and Mike Bost, the five Republicans who represent Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives, said they were "disappointed" by Trump's commutation of the sentence.
"As our state continues to grapple with political corruption, we shouldn’t let those who breached the public trust off the hook. History will not judge Rod Blagojevich well," they wrote.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Blagojevich: 'freed political prisoner' after Trump commutes sentence