Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, freed from prison Tuesday, heaped "profound and everlasting gratitude" on President Donald Trump for commuting his sentence.
"President Trump is the one who did this, and I'm ... profoundly grateful," Blagojevich, who was a Democrat, told reporters Tuesday night at Denver International Airport.
"He's got obviously a big fan in me," said Blagojevich, who has gone totally gray since entering prison. "And if you’re asking me what my party affiliation is, I’m a Trump-ocrat."
"He didn't have to do this. He’s a Republican president; I was a Democratic governor," Blagojevich said. "My fellow Democrats have not been very kind to him. ... In fact, they’ve been very unkind to him."
Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in 2009 on corruption charges and was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in federal prison. He had served eight years.
The corruption charges were related to his solicitation of bribes in an attempt to "sell" the Senate seat Barack Obama left open after he was elected president.
Blagojevich had been at the low-security Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado. He was a contestant on Trump's reality TV show "The Celebrity Apprentice" in 2010.
The president had said in August that he was "very strongly" considering giving Blagojevich a reprieve.
In addition to commuting Blagojevich’s sentence Tuesday, Trump also pardoned former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., and Michael Milken.
Blagojevich, who said he was planning a news conference Wednesday, said he was looking forward to returning home to his family.
He said he had no warning or advance notice or inkling that his sentence would be commuted Tuesday, and that other inmates saw it on the news and told him.
"I've learned a lot" in prison, he said, calling the criminal justice system "broken" and "unfair."
"It’s also racist, and I saw how it affects people of color," Blagojevich said, citing what he said were cases of non-violent first-time drug offenders made to do decades in prison for mistakes that they made.
Blagojevich, who maintains his innocence, said he plans to fight against a system "that all too often persecutes and prosecutes people who did nothing wrong, who over-sentence people, who show no mercy."
"They can put you into prison for things that aren't crimes," he said.
Blagojevich was arrested in late 2008 on allegations that he had tried to profit from selling off Obama's open Senate seat, and he was impeached in January 2009 after he refused to resign.
He was convicted in federal court in Chicago later that year on one of 24 felony counts — lying to the FBI about the extent of his involvement in campaign fundraising. Jurors deadlocked on the other counts.
At his 2011 retrial, he was convicted of three shakedown attempts — one involving a children's hospital, one involving a racetrack and one involving the Senate seat.
Between his trials, he tried to rehabilitate his image and signed up as a contestant on "The Celebrity Apprentice." He was "fired" after four episodes after bungling a Harry Potter presentation.