Rod Blagojevich Tells Anderson Cooper He's a 'Political Prisoner,' Compares Himself to Nelson Mandela

Disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, free from prison after being controversially granted clemency by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, said he had been a "political prisoner" while comparing himself to Nelson Mandela in a CNN interview Friday.

Blagojevich made the remarks during a fiery appearance on the network's Anderson Cooper 360° that eventually saw the host deem statements by his guest "bullshit." The interview became immediately heated when host Cooper objected to Blagojevich showing "no remorse" for his crimes after being released from prison, while portraying himself as a victim of unscrupulous prosecutors despite "overwhelming" evidence that he was guilty of multiple corruption charges.

"I am a political prisoner," said Blagojevich. "I was put into prison for practicing politics."

"Wait a minute, you're a political prisoner?" Cooper responded. "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. You're hardly a political prisoner."

Blagojevich objected to Cooper's statement, countering that the iconic future president of South Africa had been tried in court. Cooper pointed out that Mandela had been the victim of the country's racist apartheid government rather than being tried by an impartial jury of his peers.

"Well, first of all, Nelson Mandela went before a court, he was convicted in a court of law," said Blagojevich. "I bet you if you were to ask Nelson Mandela whether he thought the process was fair back in the early 60s in South Africa, he would say what I'm saying today."

"I've just got to stop you," interjected Cooper. "I'm sorry, 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, like, offensive."

Blagojevich argued he wasn't comparing himself to Mandela because Cooper had originally broached the subject. He insisted that he had been falsely accused of the crimes that landed him in jail, which included attempting to sell the vacant senate seat of former President Barack Obama.

Rod Blagojevich
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich speaks to reporters on February 19, 2020 after serving eight years on multiple corruption charges before being released early due to President Donald Trump commuting his sentence. Scott Olson/Getty

Although multiple courts have disagreed with Blagojevich's assertion of innocence, he offered an assortment of justifications for his claim, including that there had been no "quid pro quo" when he attempted to solicit bribes and extort people, which he called "campaign contributions."

Trump commuted the sentence of Blagojevich after he had served eight years of his 14-year sentence. The former Democratic governor expressed his gratitude to the president upon his release, declaring himself a "Trumpocrat."

After being impeached and removed from office, but before his criminal convictions, Blagojevich appeared on Trump's Celebrity Apprentice reality show.

Despite his assertion that he was a political prisoner who had done no wrong, Blagojevich said that his time behind bars had helped him turn over a new leaf, painting himself as a champion for criminal justice reform.

"I've learned something in these eight years, and that is that we have a racist and corrupt criminal justice system in many areas," Blagojevich said. "And this is why I hope one day maybe you'll join me in the fight to reform our criminal justice system."

Cooper then became visibly upset and called Blagojevich "sad and pathetic" and "ironic" for praising clemency from Trump and promoting himself as a criminal justice reform advocate due to past behavior when he "actually mattered."

"There's a lot of people in Illinois who actually... spit up when you say that," said Cooper. "Because when you were actually in power, and when you were actually governor, you could have helped thousands of people with clemency cases [but] you blew it off."

Cooper ended the interview by again admonishing Blagojevich for accusing prosecutors of treating him unfairly and failing to own up to his crimes.

"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," Cooper said. "And that might be big in politics today, but it's still frankly just bullshit."