O’HARE AIRPORT — On Tuesday morning, Rod Blagojevich and his family got the news they’ve been waiting on for years: His 14-year prison sentence for corruption is over, officially halted by President Donald Trump.
By late Tuesday night, he was back in Chicago, headed for home. The disgraced former Illinois governor landed at O’Hare Airport about 11:40 p.m. and walked through the terminal from gate C30. He was greeted by throngs of reporters.
Dressed in a dark shirt and blazer, Blagojevich’s dark signature hairstyle was white, a stark change from eight years ago when he left to serve his prison sentence.
Blagojevich walked through the media scrum and did not stop to talk, although he signed a couple autographs before getting into a white SUV just after midnight.
Asked how it felt to be back in Chicago, he said: “There’s no place like home.”
He also signaled what’s to come in his future public comments, saying: ‘I didn’t do the things they said I did. And they lied on me.”
Asked where his family was, he said: “At home and I can’t wait to see them.”
“I feel great,” he said. The first thing he planned to do when he arrived to his Ravenswood Manor home was to “kiss my wife and daughters.”
The media frenzy began to gather steam in Colorado, just after Blagojevich was released from federal prison. Multiple Chicago reporters met him in the Denver Airport, and tweets of him on his departing flight were posted.
WGN’s Julie Unruh found the former governor walking to a flight at Denver International Airport. He said he planned to talk to the media Wednesday. His wife, Patti Blagojevich, said a press conference would be held at 11 a.m. at their Ravenswood Manor home.
But Blagojevich did take time to thank Trump.
“It’s been a long time,” he told WGN. “I’m profoundly grateful to President Trump. And it’s a profound and everlasting gratitude. He didn’t have to do this. He’s a Republican president. I was a Democrat governor. And I’ll have a lot more to say tomorrow. … I’ll spend some time with you tomorrow.”
Blagojevich, long known for his willingness to keep talking to reporters even after his aides tried to stop him, did address his trademark shock of dyed-brown hair, which turned gray in prison.
“Misfortune has silvered my hair,” he told WGN’s Unruh.
And he showed some of the charisma he was known for on the campaign trail and during his time as governor, saying how he was concerned for WGN’s cameraman walking backward through the airport.
“Ted, how you been these last eight years? I missed ya,” Blagojevich said, according to WGN’s video.
To another reporter, he said: “”He’s [President Trump] got obviously a big fan in me. If you’re asking what my party affiliation is … I’m a Trumpocrat.”
By the time he got on the plane, he was sitting next to ABC Chicago’s Chuck Goudie. And CBS Chicago’s Dana Kozlov was on the same flight.
The former governor’s official “Homecoming Press Conference” at 11 a.m. Wednesday will help fill in some of the details of Tuesday’s bombshell development in his long-running legal drama.
Blagojevich has been in federal prison in Colorado since 2012, after being convicted on multiple corruption charges, including trying to sell off the U.S. Senate seat of Barack Obama, who was vacating it after being elected president in 2008.
After two trials, Blagojevich was convicted and sentenced. During his media blitz trying to win public support before his conviction, he ended up as Trump’s guest on “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“Rod, you’re fired,” the future president told the former governor.
Ever since Blagojevich exhausted his legal appeals and settled into his sentence in Colorado, Patti Blagojevich has publicly lobbied for his early release, banking on Trump’s public disdain for some federal prosecutors and his personal connection with Blagojevich to bring a pardon or the commutation Trump delivered Tuesday.
In discussing the commutation, which releases Blagojevich from prison but doesn’t erase his conviction.
“Yes, we have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich,” Trump told reporters. “He served eight years in jail. That’s a long time. And I watched his wife on television. I don’t know him very well, met him a couple of times. He was on, for a short while, on the ‘Apprentice’ years ago. He seemed like a very nice person, don’t know him.
“But he served eight years in jail. There’s a long time to go. Many people disagreed with the sentence. He’s a Democrat, he’s not a Republican. It was a prosecution by the same people, Comey, Fitzpatrick. The same group. Very far from his children. They’re growing older. They are going to high school now. They rarely get to see their father outside of an orange uniform. I saw that and did commute his sentence.
“So he’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail. That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion — and in the opinion of others.”
In a statement, White House officials said “people from across the political spectrum” have supported reducing Blagojevich’s sentence and applauded the work he’s done while incarcerated.
“… More than a hundred of Mr. Blagojevich’s fellow inmates have written letters in support of reducing his sentence,” the statement reads. “He tutors and teaches GED classes, mentors prisoners regarding personal and professional development, and speaks to them about their civic duties. … Mr. Blagojevich also counsels inmates to believe in the justice system and to use their time in prison for self-improvement. His message has been to ‘keep faith, overcome fear, and never give up.’”
In Ravenswood Manor, reporters began to assemble outside of Rod and Patti Blagojevich’s white brick home.
Former Ald. Deb Mell, Patti Blagojevich’s sister, told reporters the family received the news around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“It’s amazing,” Mell said. “I’m just so thrilled for my nieces.”
FBI wiretaps caught the governor talking about the seat on the phone in a now-notorious conversation about cashing in on the vacancy.
“I’ve got this thing, and it’s f**king golden. I’m just not giving it up for f**king nothing,” he said.
Then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald called the breadth of corruption charges against Blagojevich “staggering.”
“They allege that Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism,” Fitzgerald said.
Aside from the senate seat sale, Blagojevich was also convicted for extorting the CEO of a children’s hospital, extorting the owners of a racetrack and lying to the FBI.