The Illinois House Republican leader blasted President Trump on Tuesday for granting clemency to former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of trying to sell Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat after he was elected president.
"It's very disappointing," Jim Durkin told reporters in the state capitol in Springfield. “We have a massive federal investigation into corruption in the state of Illinois and this action distracts and dilutes what I think is the proper role of the Department of Justice — to root out corruption,”
He said Blagojevich was "rouge on steroids" during his tenure as governor.
The former governor and 2010 contestant on the “The Celebrity Apprentice" has served half of a 14-year sentence on federal corruption charges that included taking bribes for political appointments and attempting to extort a children's hospital for campaign contributions.
Blagojevich began his sentence in 2012.
“He didn’t care about the state of Illinois, he cared about his own ambition,” Durkin said. “He abused the office, and the legislature did the appropriate thing, the federal courts did the right thing. Not only at the district court level but through the appellate court and also the U.S. Supreme Court, which said his sentence was appropriate.”
Several GOP congressmen who represent districts in the state also criticized Trump's actions, saying Blagojevich received an "appropriate and fair sentence."
"We are disappointed by the President's commutation," read a joint statement from Reps. John Shimkus, Mike Bost, Rodney Davis, Adam Kinzinger and Darin LaHood. "Blagojevich is the face of public corruption in Illinois, and not once has he shown any remorse for his clear and documented record of egregious crimes that undermined the trust placed in him by voters."
Durkin, who was the ranking Republican member of the state House impeachment committee during the governor's removal from office in 2009, noted that Blagojevich received special treatment from Trump because of his celebrity.
“It’s just the celebrity of Rod Blagojevich, which he’s getting this type of relief,” he said. “And I think it’s wrong and it sends a bad message to people in this country that, you know what, you don’t exactly have to pay your debt to society.”
He added that Trump needs to make a "plausible explanation as to why this is appropriate."
"He needs to explain to the people of Illinois who saw a governor destroy the integrity of this office but also did some very very terrible things to the finances of this state," he said.
Trump told reporters on Tuesday that many disagreed with Blagojevich's sentence. He had been considering commuting the former governor since the summer.
"That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion," he said.
Blagojevich, who hails from a state with a long history of pay-to-play schemes, was one of four out of seven consecutive Illinois governors to be sent to prison. His immediate predecessor, George Ryan, was convicted of racketeering for his actions a governor and secretary of state.
Trump also confirmed he pardoned former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who was convicted of failing to report a bribe to the former governor of Louisiana when he pleaded guilty in 1998.
Fox News' Tyler Olson and John Roberts contributed to this report.