President Donald Trump’s decision Friday to pardon controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio triggered a meltdown among Democrats and Republicans alike, who rejected Arpaio’s strict immigration-enforcement practices.
Arpaio, a loyal supporter of Trump’s throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, served as Maricopa County sheriff from 1993 until 2016. The former sheriff fielded several civil rights lawsuits accusing him of racially profiling Latinos in his quest to enforce U.S. immigration laws and was found in contempt of court in July 2017.
“I am pleased to inform you that I have just granted a full Pardon to 85 year old American patriot Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He kept Arizona safe!” Trump tweeted late Friday night.
Arpaio thanked Trump on Twitter, writing, “Thank you @realdonaldtrump for seeing my conviction for what it is: a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama justice department!”
After the president pardoned Arpaio, outraged reactions poured forth from both sides of the political aisle, while others came to both Trump’s and Arpaio’s defense.
“[Trump’s] contempt for the U.S. Constitution and willingness to divide this nation knows no bounds,” former Vice President Joe Biden wrote Sunday in an op-ed in The Atlantic. “Now he’s pardoned a law-enforcement official who terrorized the Latino community, violated its constitutional rights, defied a federal court order to stop, and ran a prison system so rife with torture and abuse he himself called it a ‘concentration camp.'”
“@POTUS pardon of fellow birther Arpaio makes mockery of rule of law, & says communities of color can be targeted & abused w/ total impunity,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted Friday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused the president of using Tropical Storm Harvey as an excuse to cover for his controversial pardon while knocking Trump for his responses to the August 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“As millions of people in TX and LA are prepping for the hurricane, the President is using the cover of the storm to pardon a man who violated a court’s order to stop discriminating against Latinos … So sad, so weak,” Schumer tweeted Friday. “Instead of seeking to unify the country as promised, POTUS has doubled down on encouraging white supremacists post-Charlottesville. Joe Arpaio ignored the courts and the rule of law in order to systematically target Latinos in AZ. The definition of racism and bigotry.”
On Saturday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) accused the president of using the Arpaio pardon as a precedent to reassure his campaign officials and administration officials that a pardon would be waiting for them if the ongoing probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion gets them into trouble.
“Arapio action was appalling & political. It also sends a message to the witnesses in the Russia investigation to keep quiet, stay loyal & get pardon,” Schiff tweeted.
Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, whom Trump fired early on in his administration after she defied his travel-ban executive order, tweeted Friday, “With his pardon pen, POTUS reveals his own contempt for our Constitution, our courts, and our founding principles of equality and justice.”
“By pardoning Joe Arpaio, Donald Trump has blessed Arpaio’s racist and unconstitutional police practices. Trump’s pardon of Arpaio is unconscionable and unworthy of the White House. This is Trump’s first pardon of a crony. Will it be his last?” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) tweeted Friday.
GOP members also voiced their opposition to Trump’s pardon, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
“The Speaker does not agree with this decision,” Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said in a statement. “Law enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), a former 2016 primary challenger of Trump’s, criticized the way in which Trump issued the pardon during an interview Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
“It … absolutely should be out of bounds for somebody to use that as some sort of a political wedge,” Kasich said. “It appears as though that’s what it was … It’s not the way I operate here with the power to be able to give people second chance, but the president has that power.”
Arizona’s two GOP senators and frequent Trump critics, John McCain and Jeff Flake, also bashed Trump for his decision to pardon the former Maricopa County sheriff.
“Mr. Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their perceived immigration status in violation of a judge’s orders,” McCain said in a statement Friday. “The President has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”
Flake tweeted, “Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.”
But others came to Trump’s and Arpaio’s defense as Republicans and Democrats alike continued to lambaste the president for his pardon.
Dr. Kelli Ward, who is challenging Flake for his Senate seat in 2018, supported Trump’s pardon of Arpaio, saying Friday, “We applaud the President for exercising his pardon authority to counter the assault on Sheriff Arpaio’s heroic efforts to enforce the nation’s immigration laws,” Business Insider reported.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told Fox News in a statement that Arpaio is a “patriot” and that Trump was right to issue an pardon. Franks also noted that former President Barack Obama also made some controversial pardons in his own right.
“In his last days, [President] Obama commuted the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning — a treasonous intelligence analyst who shared a trove of intelligence with the infamous WikiLeaks,” Franks said. “While no one can dispute Manning acted to undermine our country’s national security, Joe Arpaio has spent a lifetime trying to maintain it. … It is easy to discern that Arpaio is a patriot, while Manning is a traitor.”
White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week” that Trump’s “pretty straightforward” pardon unjustly experienced “some disproportionate coverage,” noting that “every modern president ends up with some controversial pardons.”
“But I think the president has been pretty clear on it. And I certainly don’t think it’s fair to characterize him as not caring about the rule of law,” he said in response to the GOP Congress members’ criticisms in particular.
“I’m pretty certain … that this is not something that is going to threaten our constitutional order,” Bossert said. “I think there’s a clemency argument that can be made for the long history of service both in the United States military and in law enforcement for the sheriff.”
“The president’s been pretty clear,” he added. “It’s pretty straightforward that he believes that that long history of service merits this clemency, and he’s acted accordingly.”
(photo credit, homepage and article images: Gage Skidmore)