US President Donald Trump last night commuted what he called the "ridiculous" 14-year prison sentence handed out to former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich for political corruption, clearing the way for his release after more than eight years behind bars.
The Republican president said the punishment imposed on the Chicago Democrat and one-time 'Celebrity Apprentice' contestant was excessive.
"So he'll be able to go back home with his family," Mr Trump told reporters. "That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion."
Blagojevich (63), who hails from a state with a long history of pay-to-play schemes, was expected to walk out of prison later in the day. He was convicted in 2011 of crimes that included seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama's old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children's hospital.
Mr Trump had said repeatedly in recent years that he was considering taking executive action in Blagojevich's case, only to back away from the idea.
One of Blagojevich lawyers said she refused to believe it at first when word of her client's possible release began to spread, fearing that the president might not follow through.
Others in Illinois, including the governor, said setting Blagojevich free was a mistake.
Mr Trump "has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time", Governor JB Pritzker said in a written statement.
Many Republicans agreed.
The White House cited support from Illinois-based leaders, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, for the decision.