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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Well-connected wife of corrupt ex-governor played Trump like a fiddle on TV

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his wife,

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patti Mell, outside their Chicago home on Wednesday. Credit: Getty Images/Scott Olson

By all appearances, Patti Mell, the daughter of a Chicago machine politician, knew just how to get a huge break for her jailed spouse, the corrupt former Democratic governor of Illinois.

She went on TV, specifically Fox, and talked about how she could relate to the terrible things President Donald Trump and his family were going through.

That's one reason Trump had been expected to commute the 14-year sentence of the imprisoned Rod Blagojevich, according to the Chicago Tribune and other news outlets.

Blagojevich was sprung last week, with a little more than six years left to his prison term.

Over a decade ago, Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in a textbook case of political corruption. He solicited bribes for political appointments, including Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat after Obama was elected president.

Mell's fame spread beyond Illinois with the case — particularly with one bit from an electronic wiretap that captured her potty-mouthed barking in the background of a phone call.

Slinging profanities, she audibly goaded her husband to keep the Chicago Tribune's parent company from selling the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field unless the newspaper fired editorial writers pushing for her husband's impeachment.

That's the law-and-order world. Three years into his term, however, Trump — not exactly a selfless crusading reformer — still pays outsized attention to the television world.

Everyone knows by now that time after time, he praises and rewards people for their telegenic performances, ratings and flattery.

So during her Fox appearances, Mell expressed gratitude to Trump and recalled how "kind" he was to her family back when the ex-governor appeared on his show "The Celebrity Apprentice."

More aggressively, she criticized former FBI Director James Comey and former special counsel Robert Mueller for their roles in both the Russian election-meddling probe and her husband’s conviction, the Tribune recounted.

Actually, it was U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey — long close to Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani — who chose to tap Blagojevich's phones.

But never let the facts bog down a good pitch.

Mell tweeted opinion pieces, including one written by Blagojevich behind bars, opposing Trump’s impeachment and accusing the Justice Department of political prosecutions.

With his buttons pushed, Trump responded.

"We have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich," he announced. "He served 8 years in jail. That's a long time. And I watched his wife on television. I don't know him very well. I've met him a couple of times."

Prison put him "very far from his children," Trump said. "They rarely get to see their father outside of an orange uniform. I saw that and I did commute his sentence."

A touching tale of bipartisan mercy? Fellow Republicans back in Illinois weren't buying.

The five GOP congressmen from the state — Reps. Darin LaHood, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis and Mike Bost — condemned the move in a letter, calling Blagojevich the "face of public corruption in Illinois" whose sentence was "appropriate" and "fair."

At least that earned some bipartisan agreement. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Trump has abused his power to forgive crimes "in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption."

Pritzker said the Blagojevich clemency "sends the wrong message at the wrong time."

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