Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was seen moments before catching a flight back home to Illinois from Colorado — where he spent nearly eight years in prison prior to President Donald Trump's announcement to commute his sentence Tuesday morning — and he broke his silence.
"I want to express my most profound and everlasting gratitude to President Trump, he didn’t have to do this," he told NBC 5 at the airport Tuesday evening.
"He’s a Republican president, I was a Democratic governor, my fellow Democrats have not been very kind to him but in fact they’ve been very unkind to him and what he did was I think something that deserves a great amount of appreciation on my part, personally…I can’t wait to get home, I miss my daughters, I miss my wife, I miss home," he said.
Blagojevich, 63, served more than seven years of a 14-year prison sentence after he was convicted of trying to sell the Senate seat of then-President-Elect Barack Obama. The former governor has gone through numerous potential appeals and his wife Patti has appealed directly to the president in interviews on Fox News.
Patti Blagojevich tweeted that a "homecoming" press conference has been planned for 11 a.m. on Wednesday in Chicago.
At the Denver Airport, Blagojevich reiterated that he would speak more on Wednesday but wanted to point out that inside his jail cell, he took note of the "broken and unfair criminal justice system" with "too many people who have too much power who don’t have any accountability."
"I saw how it affects people of color…they’re made to do decades of prison time for things, for mistakes that they made or wrongs they committed that any fair-minded society would not allow," he said.
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Blagojevich landed at Chicago’s O’Hare airport early Wednesday a free man, promising judicial and criminal justice reform while maintaining his innocence.
As he exited the airport, Blagojevich was surrounded by media and crowds, shaking hands and even signing autographs before leaving. Once at his Ravenswood home, he was ushered through a crowd of cameras and supporters, only saying he was happy to be home with his wife and children.
After months of speculation, Trump finally made the commutation announcement as he prepared to board Air Force One Tuesday morning.
"Yes, we commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich," Trump said. "He served eight years in jail, a long time. He seems like a very nice person — don’t know him."
Blagojevich appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice" with Trump as host in 2010.
Trump cited Blagojevich's family as part of the reason for his decision.
"[His daughters are] getting into high school and they rarely get to see their father outside of an orange uniform," Trump said. "I saw that and I did commute the sentence so he’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail."
Blagojevich said despite the different party affiliations, "he’s got obviously a big fan in me and if you’re asking me what my party affiliation is, I’m a 'Trump-ocrat,'" he added.
"I never gave into the false accusations and the railroading that was done to me and my family because if I did that, I would’ve violated my oath of office and my commitment to them," Blagojevich said. "You know, I wasn’t just some business man who may have done some things that maybe you make a decision because it’s practical, a business decision…I was an elected governor twice by the people of Illinois, they trusted me and I didn’t let them down and so fighting back was a way to not only stand up for my own reputation, and for my children, my wife, of my late parents who raised me the right way, but it was a way to fight for the people of Illinois."
Among getting to hug and kiss his family soon, he said after a few days of settling in, one thing he is most looking forward to — the idea of eating a banana split.
"I'd like to have three scoops of ice cream, vanilla, and chocolate and strawberry with chocolate syrup on it and cherry syrup, and pineapple syrup, with a whole bunch of whip cream but no peanuts cause my youngest daughter Andy is allergic," Blagojevich said.
Trump also pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal, and Bernard Kerik, the former NYPD commissioner who later went to federal prison for tax fraud and lying to the government.