Ryan will take his bid for freedom to Obama

  • George Ryan

    George Ryan

Published: 1/22/2009 1:14 PM | Updated: 1/22/2009 4:32 PM

Former Gov. George Ryan's attorneys hope President Barack Obama, who campaigned as an ethics champion, will spring the disgraced politician from prison early after Ryan failed to win mercy from outgoing President George Bush.

"President Obama knows George Ryan," said Ryan's lead attorney, former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, on Thursday. "My hope is that if it weren't for these unfortunate circumstances, he has an otherwise positive view of the governor."

Obama, a Chicago Democrat, was in the state Senate when Ryan, a Kankakee Republican, was running the state from 1999 to 2003.

Obama and his staff have refused to comment on whether or not Ryan deserves to get out of prison early.

Ryan has served nearly 15 months of a 6½-year federal sentence for trading state business for personal gain during his years in statewide office both as governor and secretary of state.

Thompson has argued that Ryan, 74, should be released because his wife, Lura Lynn, is in ill health.

Many state officials, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, oppose an early release for Ryan.

So did Bush, who granted relatively few clemency petitions while in office.

Thompson said Ryan's wife and children were "devastated" Bush didn't grant his plea for freedom.

"They had their hopes very high," Thompson said. "It has been a very tough thing for them."

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was one of the top officials to ask for Ryan's freedom. He has blamed Bush's refusal to grant a commutation on the recent arrest of Gov. Rod Blagojevich on sweeping corruption charges.

Thompson said Thursday that Blagojevich's arrest "certainly didn't help matters."

Ironically, Blagojevich won his two terms as governor largely by vilifying Ryan and tying his Republican opponents to him.

Thompson says he plans to officially file a new petition for clemency this spring, which would come after Blagojevich's possible ouster through a state Senate impeachment trial set to start Monday.