Ex-Gov. Blagojevich returns to Chicago, maintains innocence

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this March 14, 2012, file photo, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich speaks to the media outside his home in Chicago as his wife, Patti, wipes away tears a day before reporting to prison after his conviction on corruption charges. President Donald Trump is expected to commute the 14-year prison sentence of Blagojevich. The 63-year-old Democrat is expected to walk out of prison later Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

CHICAGO, Ill. – Rod Blagojevich returned home to Chicago early Wednesday, shaking hands and signing autographs after President Donald Trump cut short the 14-year prison sentence handed to the former Illinois governor for political corruption.

Blagojevich landed at O’Hare airport hours after walking out of a Colorado prison where he served eight years, promising to work for judicial and criminal justice reform while maintaining his innocence.

“I didn’t do the things they said I did and they lied on me,” Blagojevich, a one-time contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice,” told WGN-TV as he walked through the airport greeting travelers who welcomed him home.

Blagojevich, 63, hails from a state with a long history of pay-to-play schemes. He was convicted in 2011 of crimes that included seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital.

Trump, who announced clemency for 11 people on Tuesday, called Blagojevich’s punishment excessive.

“That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others,” Trump told reporters in Washington.

Blagojevich told WGN-TV he learned of his commutation when other inmates told him they saw it on the news, insisting he “had no inkling it was coming.’’

Trump had said repeatedly in recent years that he was considering taking executive action in Blagojevich’s case, only to back away from the idea.