2-year lobbying effort pays off in freedom for Blagojevich

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Patti Blagojevich smiles as her husband, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich touches her chin during a news conference outside his home Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020, in Chicago, the morning after President Donald Trump on Tuesday, commuted Blagojevich's 14-year prison sentence for political corruption. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO, Ill. – When Patti Blagojevich made repeated public pleas for her husband's release from federal prison, there was no mistaking her intended audience: President Donald Trump.

For nearly two years, the wife of disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich made Trump's own travails, including special counsel Robert Mueller's long Russia investigation and Trump's impeachment, the centerpiece of the strategy to free her husband.

Appearing on Fox News — the one network she knew Trump watched religiously — she was careful to say not only that her husband was being mistreated, but that he was being mistreated in the same way Trump complained about being treated, and by the same cast of characters.

Those lobbying efforts that began in 2018 came to fruition Tuesday, when Trump commuted her husband's 14-year prison sentence, allowing him to return home after serving eight years behind bars.

“I see these same people who did this to my family, these same people that secretly taped us and twisted the facts and perverted the law that ended with my husband in jail. These same people are trying to do the same thing ... just on a much larger scale,” she said during a May 2018 Fox News broadcast. “They were emboldened. They took down a governor and now they've got their sights much higher.”

Patti Blagojevich's campaign began soon after her husband lost a string of legal appeals that seemed to doom him to remain behind bars until his projected 2024 release date. His wife, who comes from an influential family of Chicago Democrats, soon went on a media blitz to encourage Trump to step in. She flattered and heaped praise on the president and likened the case against her husband to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — a probe Trump long characterized as a “witch hunt.”

Using many of the same words that Trump tweeted and said, she threw out names, including former FBI Director James Comey and former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who oversaw Blagojevich's prosecution. She also mentioned Mueller, the former FBI director who was appointed to investigate the president, and described the investigation into her husband as an attempt to to “undo an election by the people.”

Comey was not FBI director when Blagojevich was prosecuted. Mueller was. And Fitzgerald was not involved in the Trump probe. But as Fox viewers were reminded, Fitzgerald and Comey are close.