Trump divides GOP in pardoning convicted sheriff Arpaio

Justin Sink
Bloomberg News

President Donald Trump defended his pardon of former Phoenix-area sheriff Joe Arpaio in the face of criticism from lawmakers of both parties, calling him a patriot who was unfairly treated by the Obama administration.

“A lot of people think it was the right thing to do,” Trump said Monday at a press conference at the White House with President Sauli Niinist of Finland. “I stand by my pardon of sheriff Joe.”

Trump said Arpaio was more worthy of a pardon than some people granted clemency by his two Democratic predecessors, former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He specifically cited the controversial pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was convicted of illegally trading with Iran and pardoned on Clinton’s last day in office. He also mentioned Obama’s decision to commute the sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former Army soldier convicted by court martial for disclosing classified and sensitive government documents to WikiLeaks.

The reprieve of Arpaio, who was convicted of federal misdemeanor criminal contempt this year after a judge found he had defied a court order to stop targeting Latinos with sweeps of suspected undocumented immigrants, has drawn fresh criticism of the president’s handling of racially-charged issues.

The Arpaio pardon, announced late on a Friday night while the nation focused on Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas, stirred broad criticism, including objections from Republican lawmakers such as House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Trump said he didn’t try to bury the news of the pardon on a Friday night because “ratings would be higher” for news programs thanks to coverage of the hurricane. During 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arpaio, 85, segregated prisoners by race and forced them to live in outdoor tents in the sun, wear pink underwear, and work on chain gangs.

While supporters argued the tactics were a successful deterrent to criminal behavior in the county, which includes the city of Phoenix, detractors said the practices were racist and pointed to multiple instances of mistreatment that led to the death or injury of prisoners. Arpaio also drew attention for his support of Trump’s effort to falsely accuse Obama of not being born in the U.S.

An aide to Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said the pardon undermined respect for the rule of law.

“Law enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States,” Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said in an email. “We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.”

In an Associated Press interview, Arpaio struck a defiant tone in insisting he “didn’t do anything wrong” and questioning whether his judge was fair.

Arpaio called U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton biased and questioned the growing number of critics across the United States who denounced his pardon as a political reward for having been an early supporter of Trump’s campaign.

“Why are they speaking out right now? I’ve been sheriff for 24 years. Are they coming out against me because of a biased judge?” said Arpaio, who was voted out of office last year. He declined to explain how he believes the judge acted unfairly.

Trump Tower plan nixed for Moscow

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer acknowledged Monday that the president’s company pursued a Trump Tower in Moscow during the Republican primary, but that the plan was abandoned “for a variety of business reasons.” He said that at one point he reached out to the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin about approvals from the Russian government.

The attorney, Michael Cohen, said in a statement to the House intelligence committee that he worked on the real estate proposal with Felix Sater, a Russia-born associate who he said claimed to have deep connections in Moscow. The panel is one of several on Capitol Hill investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The discussions occurred in the fall of 2015, months after Trump had declared his candidacy, and ended early last year when Cohen determined that the project was not feasible, according to the statement from Cohen.