People walk outside CNN Center, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Atlanta. CNN is now screening all people who enter after a suspicious package was delivered to CNN in New York. NYPD’s chief of counterterrorism says the explosive device sent to CNN’s headquarters in New York appeared to be sent by the same person who mailed pipe bombs to George Soros, Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Ron Harris)
CNN’s Anderson Cooper could have used a shot or two of the Jägermeister he’d been drinking on the network’s New Year’s Eve show by the time his acrimonious interview with former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) had ended.
Throughout the segment, Cooper tried to elicit an apology from the colorful former governor who had been released from prison just two days earlier, after President Trump commuted his sentence.
Blagojevich refused to give Cooper that pleasure and in his frustration, Cooper became vicious, vindictive and condescending. If only Anderson Cooper would hammer guests like Hillary Clinton or James Comey as hard as he did the former governor.
In December 2008, then-Governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff John Harris were charged with corruption by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. As a result, Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois General Assembly and removed from office by the Illinois Senate in January 2009.
The federal investigation continued after his removal from office, and he was indicted on corruption charges in April of that year.
The jury found Blagojevich guilty of one charge of making false statements with a mistrial being declared on the other 23 counts due to a hung jury after 14 days of jury deliberation.
On June 27, 2011, after a retrial, Blagojevich was found guilty of 17 charges (including wire fraud, attempted extortion, and conspiracy to solicit bribes), not guilty on one charge and the jury deadlocked after 10 days of deliberation on the two remaining charges. On December 7, 2011, Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Ironically, the jury was deadlocked on the first charge that comes to mind whenever Blagojevich is mentioned – his attempt to sell the Senate seat that had been vacated by Obama after he won the presidency.
Here are some of the highlights from the interview (scroll down for the video):
Cooper said, “Since you’ve been out, and the statements you’ve made, you’ve shown no remorse for the crimes you were convicted by a jury of, and you’re portraying yourself as a victim of persecution by prosecutors. Just about everyone who has actually looked at the evidence against you has said that is just false.”
“Well I don’t think they’ve looked carefully, as I am a political prisoner,” replied Blagojevich. “I was put in prison for practicing politics.”
Cooper was not happy with this response. “Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner. Political prisoners have no due process and are unjustly jailed. You had a jury convict you. You had appeals courts look at your sentencing, and you even appealed to the Supreme Court twice and they refused to hear you. So you are hardly a political prisoner.”
“I bet if you were to ask Nelson Mandela whether he thought it was fair in the early ‘60s in South Africa he would say what I’m saying today,” Blagojevich shot back.
Cooper interrupted, “I’ve just got to stop you. As someone who worked in South Africa and saw apartheid, the idea that you are comparing yourself to somebody who has actually been railroaded by an apartheid system is just nuts and, frankly offensive.”
It had been Cooper who brought up Mandela in the first place.
“What I’m saying is, I was thrown in prison and spent nearly eight years in prison for practicing politics, for seeking campaign contributions without a quid pro quo. No express quid pro quo, and I was given the same standards Senator Menendez was given. I could very well have been in the U.S. Senate instead of where I was.”
(Note: Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. corruption case was thrown out by a Newark federal judge in 2018. The U.S. Justice Department ultimately decided against retrying the Menendez case.)
Cooper said Blagojevich was not only convicted by a jury of Illinoians but had his case upheld by a circuit court and denied a hearing by the Supreme Court.
“Your argument doesn’t hold up,” he said.
Regarding Blagojevitch’s lack of concern for clemency petitions during his governorship, Cooper said, “It’s a little ironic, and, frankly, a little sad and pathetic and hypocritical. You ignored a whole hell of a lot of people who were hoping you would give them clemency when you actually mattered.”
Blagojevitch said, “That’s among my biggest regrets. I didn’t know how corrupt the criminal justice system was until they did it to me.” He told Cooper that he planned to become an advocate for criminal justice reform.
“You got out. You do have an obligation to at least admit what you did wrong. And you refused to do that, and you’re creating a whole new alternate universe of facts…That may be big in politics today but it’s still frankly just bulls***,” Cooper said.
“It’s not bulls***, I lived it myself, it’s not bulls*** at all,” Blagojevich shot back.
Would Cooper dare tell Hillary Clinton or James Comey that they’ve created an alternate universe of facts? That what they were telling him was bulls***? If only.
At the time of Blagojevitch’s sentencing, the consensus was that it was longer than necessary. The President has seen fit to commute that sentence. Blagojevich has served eight years behind bars and has paid his debt to society. He doesn’t need to bare his soul on Anderson Cooper’s talk show. In a word, Cooper’s behavior was unprofessional. He needn’t worry though. That’s what people have come to expect from CNN.