CNN host Anderson Cooper and Rod Blagojevich clashed in a heated exchange over the prosecution of the former Illinois governor whose sentence was commuted this week by President Donald Trump.
The contentious interview on “Anderson Cooper 360” Friday escalated as the former Democrat leader sparred with Cooper, who called “bulls—” over claims about the criminal case. Blagojevich experienced a dramatic homecoming this week after his 14-year sentence was commuted by Trump after he had spent eight years behind bars.
Blagojevich, who called himself a “Trumpocrat” after the president’s intervention, railed against an unjust criminal justice system, maintaining his innocence on corruption charges and telling Cooper he had been a “political prisoner.”
“You’ve shown no remorse for the crimes you were convicted by a jury of and portraying yourself as a convict of persecution by prosecutors. Just about everyone thought that’s looked at the evidence against you says that’s just false,” Cooper confronted the former governor.
“Well, I don’t think they’ve looked carefully because I am a political prisoner,” Blagojevich began to reply before Cooper cut in.
“Wait a minute. You’re a political prisoner? Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner. Political prisoners have no due process and are unjustly jailed,” Cooper said.
As Blagojevich continued to make his argument, the CNN host interjected again, calling him out for the comparison to Mandela which he said was “just nuts and, frankly, like offensive.”
“You’re the one making the comparison, not me. I didn’t bring up Nelson Mandela. You did,” Blagojevich shot back.
“You’re saying like him you were railroaded by an all-white jury for an oppressive regime,” Cooper insisted.
“You’re putting words in my mouth. I never said that either,” Blagojevich said. “I am complaining that I was sent to prison by a handful of corrupt prosecutors who are abusing their power, they’re uncontrolled…”
“Your argument doesn’t hold up,” Cooper said after reminding the former lawmaker, who was removed from office in 2009, that he was convicted by a jury in Illinois, that a circuit court upheld the decision and he was denied a hearing by the Supreme Court.
“The very argument you are making right now was looked at by the Seventh Circuit, by the Supreme Court, it was heard in the courtroom and no one bought it. The Illinois Senate unanimously voted to remove you. Everyone in the Illinois House also voted, Democrats and Republicans, to impeach you except for one person, you know who that was? Your sister-in-law. I mean, give me a break,” Cooper spouted.
They continued to wrangle over the details of his case with Cooper finally interrupting him to say “all of this sounds good on TV.”
When Blagojevich noted a need for criminal justice reform following his prison time, Cooper fired back about his track record on the issue.
“It’s a little ironic and frankly a little sad and pathetic and hypocritical you talking about getting a commutation of a sentence, which is within the president’s right, but you ignored a whole hell of a lot of other people who were hoping you might give them clemency when you actually mattered,” Cooper said.
“When you have all the time that I was given to think and look back on some of the things you might have done differently, that’s certainly an area that you talked about that I wish I had done more on,” Blagojevich replied. “There’s no question about that. That’s among my biggest regrets.”
“I didn’t know how corrupt the criminal justice system was until they did it to me,” he added.
“I do wish you the best. I’m glad for your family that you’re out,” Cooper said as he tried to wrap up the interview.
“I don’t know about that, the way you’re asking me questions,” Blagojevich quipped.
“Look, I have no problem with you getting out,” Cooper responded.
“The president can commute whoever he wants. I just think — I wish — you’re besmirching prosecutors who actually are no longer in government,” he continued. “But prosecutors are important in our system and you are going after the very basis of our justice system, which has plenty of problems but, you know, part of the thing is you got out, you do have an obligation to at least admit what you did wrong and you refuse to do that and you’re creating a whole new alternate universe of facts and that may be big in politics today but it’s still frankly just bulls—.”
“It’s not bulls—, I lived it myself, it’s not bulls— at all,” Blagojevich fired back as the time ended.
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