President Donald Trump has pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio from his legal contempt conviction, eradicating the one authorized penalties the lawman confronted stemming from a racial-profiling go well with.
The White House announced the pardon Friday evening in a news release that recounted Arpaio’s lengthy career of “admirable service” in federal and local law enforcement and called him “a worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.”
Reached moments after the announcement, Arpaio said, “I’m very appreciative of the president issuing that pardon. It shows how he backs up law enforcement.”
Arpaio told The Arizona Republic he learned of the pardon at Friday afternoon from his lawyer, who visited him at Arpaio’s Phoenix-area home. The lawyer delivered Arpaio’s wife, Ava, a birthday gift, and “the other gift was the pardon,” said Arpaio, who said they planned to celebrate over a dinner of spaghetti with calamari and red wine at a favorite Italian restaurant.
Arpaio hints at comeback
Arpaio, who lost a 2016 re-election bid ending 24 years in office, also hinted at a political comeback, “I don’t know what I’m going to do politically. I told my wife that I was through with politics. But now I’ve decided I’m not through with politics because of what’s happening. I didn’t ask for a pardon. It has nothing to do with a pardon. I’ve been saying this for the last couple of months. I’ve got a lot to offer.”
Arpaio, 85, was convicted of criminal contempt on July 31, and was scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 5. He faced up to six months in jail.
But Trump had hinted recently that a pardon would be forthcoming, including at his Tuesday rally in Phoenix.
Trump and Arpaio have enjoyed a cozy relationship since the early days of Trump’s campaign. They share a hardline stance on immigration, and Arpaio was one of the earliest public figures to offer Trump his full-throated endorsement.
Weeks of speculation
Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt on July 31, broached the topic of a presidential pardon himself two weeks later. He wondered aloud to a conservative blog where Trump was in his time of need, and told The Arizona Republic and other media outlets that he would welcome the relief.
Many Democrats and members of local immigrant communities voiced dismay Friday at word of the pardon.
“Today’s announcement from President Trump is yet another display of disrespect to the Latino community in Arizona. During Joe Arpaio’s 24 years as the sheriff in Maricopa County, he abused his position of authority to drive a personal agenda that promoted racism,” said members of the Arizona Latino Legislative Caucus.
More: Analysis: Trump’s bold Joe Arpaio pardon breaks with presidential tradition
More: With Joe Arpaio free, 5 things to know about presidential pardons
Carlos Garcia, director of the immigrants rights group Puente, said by pardoning Arpaio Trump is showing he supports racial profiling.
Puente organized in 2007 during the height of Arpaio’s immigration crackdown on day laborers. Many of Puente’s hundreds of members were detained during his workplace raids and sent to immigration detention.
When the criminal contempt charges against Arpaio were announced they had felt “a little vindicated,” Garcia said.
Trump’s pardon is an insult to victims of Arpaio’s policing practices, he said. “Now he’s just spitting in their face, disregarding their pain and how they suffered in the hands of Arpaio.
U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said, “I am dismayed by the President’s decision to pardon Joe Arpaio. Arpaio hurt Arizonans and cost taxpayers a great amount of grief and money. He should be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
‘He’s gonna be just fine’
The pardon seemed all but inevitable after Trump’s fiery speech at the Phoenix Convention Center.
“Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” Trump asked the crowd, which was answered with a roar. “He should’ve had a jury, but you know what? I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s gonna be just fine, OK?”
Trump then said he wouldn’t do it that evening because he didn’t want to cause “controversy.”
Aug. 14 was the first time Trump spoke publicly about the issue, saying during a Fox News interview that he was “seriously considering” a get-out-of-jail-card for the former sheriff.
Many conservative Republicans voiced their approval.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., called Arpaio’s prosecution partisan and welcomed the pardon, saying in a statement that it “reflects the very reason we voted President Trump into the Oval Office, to uphold the rule of law.”
Arpaio’s conviction stems from a decade-old racial-profiling case leveled at the height of its illegal immigration crackdowns. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and others argued that Arpaio’s traffic stops and “saturation patrol” tactics were discriminatory because they singled out Latinos.
The class-action lawsuit resulted in a landmark victory for immigration-rights advocates.
But before the case went to trial, U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow in 2011 ordered the department to stop detaining people solely on suspicion they were in the country illegally. They were either to arrest individuals for a state crime or let them be on their way.
In 2013, Snow found deputies had used race as a factor in their policing, and ordered sweeping reforms of the office’s policies.
But Arpaio’s deputies continued business as usual for at least 17 more months. According to trial testimony, 171 people were illegally detained by Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies and turned over to federal immigration authorities.
Snow found Arpaio in civil-contempt for violating his order, and forwarded the case for criminal-contempt. Prosecutors from the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Unit prosecuted the case in a bench trial this summer before U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton.
Arpaio’s attorneys argued the violations were unintentional, and that Arpaio delegated the court’s order to subordinates.
Bolton flatly rejected that argument. In her ruling, she said evidence showed Arpaio’s “flagrant disregard” for Snow’s order.
Unusually early pardon
Trump’s decision to pardon his political ally Arpaio might not have a major impact among all voters but is sure to “intensify Hispanic concern about Trump,” one political expert said.
“For Donald Trump, the only law that counts is the law of loyalty to Trump,” said John J. “Jack” Pitney, Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. “This could generate greater Hispanic anger and thereby greater Hispanic turnout (at the polls). In that respect, it’s consequential.”
Trump appears to have short-circuited the normal Justice Department process for pardons, which he has the constitutional power to do, Pitney added.
“The pardon power is unchecked. The president can pardon any federal prisoner, or anybody convicted of a federal offense, for any reason and nobody can reverse it,” he said.
P.S. Ruckman, a political science professor who edits the Pardon Power blog that explores the history of presidential clemency, said the pardon is unusual this early in the president’s term and will further a misperception about the presidential power.
“What’s most notable about this, is what this isn’t about. It’s not about some policy change. It’s a stunt. It’s an idiosyncratic stunt as far as clemency is concerned,” Ruckman said. “It feeds into that perception that only rich and famous and notable people get pardons. That’s false, but a lot of people believe that. This will enhance that.”
Contributing: Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, Laura Gómez and Michael Kiefer
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