Anderson Cooper and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich got into a heated exchange on Friday night, with the latter referring to himself as a “political prisoner,” a claim that Cooper refused to let stand, The Wrap reports.
Blagojevich, who was convicted in 2011 of multiple charges, including criminal corruption, related to his attempts to sell Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, had his sentence commuted by President Trump last week. On Friday night, he sat down with Anderson Cooper to discuss his imprisonment, commutation, and related matters.
Things got testy when the former Illinois Governor began to portray himself as a victim. Specifically, Blagojevich has consistently maintained that the punishment he was given was out of proportion to his crimes. He claims he was a casualty of a tainted jury pool and that evidence that would have cleared him was never allowed to be presented.
But when he called himself a “political prisoner,” Cooper responded with the expletive “bullsh*t.”
“Political prisoners have no due process and are unjustly jailed,” Cooper said, reminding Blagojevich that he was convicted by a jury of his peers, and had his case thoroughly reviewed, even going as far as the Supreme Court, which declined to hear his appeals.
“You’re hardly a political prisoner,” Cooper said.
Cooper also contrasted Blagojevich’s situation to that of an actual political prisoner, Nelson Mandela.
“The idea that you are comparing yourself to somebody who has actually been railroaded by an apartheid system is just nuts, and frankly offensive,” he said.
The two men continued to trade barbs.
Blagojevich, having had his claim of being a political prisoner shut down, still continued to insist that he is a victim, even comparing his plight to the mass incarceration of black and Latino men.
“What I’m saying is that I was thrown in prison and spent nearly eight years in prison for practicing politics, for seeking campaign contributions, for no quid pro quo,” he said, using a term that has come up in conversations related to Donald Trump’s political activities of late.
Cooper wouldn’t allow that statement to stand, either, reminding Blagojevich that, as Governor, he was in a position to make a difference in Illinois’ own criminal justice system. However, Cooper alleged that Blagojevich “blew off” thousands of clemency cases that crossed his desk.
Blagojevich, for his part, expressed regret at not being more proactive about criminal justice reform during his administration.
“I didn’t know how corrupt the criminal justice system was until it did it to me,” he said.