President Donald Trump on Friday pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio – a move that keeps one of his staunchest political allies out of jail, and will likely cheer his conservative base, which supports both men’s hard-line views on illegal immigration.
The unusual pardon – coming less than a month after Arpaio was convicted, and before his planned October sentencing – will further anger the president’s critics and is likely to worsen the president’s already tense relationship with the judicial branch, which he has repeatedly criticized.
A pardon is perhaps the only way to make Arpaio – a longtime county sheriff who gained national fame and notoriety for his aggressive pursuit of undocumented immigrants – a more polarizing figure than he already is.
The decision on Arpaio is the latest chapter in a line of historically controversial pardons granted by presidents – rare but not unprecedented uses of a power that draw fire for being politically or personally motivated. Legal experts have compared an Arpaio pardon to the one President George H.W. Bush granted to former defense secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1992 over the Iran Contra affair, or the one President Bill Clinton granted to fugitive financier Marc Rich in 2001.
But Arpaio’s pardon – the first of the Trump presidency – is a rarity among rarities. In recent decades, presidents have tended to issue controversial pardons at the end of their terms, not the beginning. The move raises questions about how often the president might pardon other political figures – and for what types of offenses.
In a statement announcing the pardon, Trump made no mention of Arpaio’s offense – criminal contempt of court – but praised his past military service.
“Arpaio’s life and career, which began at the age of 18 when he enlisted in the military after the outbreak of the Korean War, exemplify selfless public service,” Trump said. “Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.
“Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon,” the statement continued.
Arpaio’s lawyer, Jack Wilenchik, said simply: “Justice has been done.”
In a tweet, Arpaio thanked the president “for seeing my conviction for what it is: a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department!”
Arpaio told the Associated Press that he appreciates the president’s action and will always stand by him. He said he will speak more about the matter next week.
Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, has long been an advocate for Trump and spoke in support of him at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. The men seem to have the same views on illegal immigrants and using harsh tactics against criminals or suspected criminals. Arpaio is well known in part for forcing his inmates to wear pink underwear and sleep outdoors in his Tent City Jail.
The legal saga surrounding Arpaio dates back years. In 2011, as part of a lawsuit, the then-sheriff was enjoined by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow from detaining people he thought to be illegal immigrants, when they were not charged with any other crimes. Prosecutors alleged that Arpaio continued to do so, and last year, the Justice Department decided to pursue a criminal contempt-of-court case against him.
Normally, pardon applications are submitted to the Justice Department, where they are scrutinized over a period of months before recommendations are made to the White House. Some applicants wait years to find out whether they will receive pardons or clemency.
Arpaio’s pardon came much faster, and it was not subject to a Justice Department review, according to officials.
Arpaio’s sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 5, and he had faced up to six months in prison.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Devlin Barrett, Abby Phillip