EXCLUSIVE: President Trump may soon issue a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the colorful former Arizona sheriff who was found guilty two weeks ago of criminal contempt for defying a state judge’s order to stop traffic patrols targeting suspected undocumented immigrants. In his final years as Maricopa County sheriff, Arpaio had emerged as a leading opponent of illegal immigration.
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“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” the president said Sunday, during a conversation with Fox News at his club in Bedminster, N.J. “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”
Trump said the pardon could happen in the next few days, should he decide to do so.
Arpaio, 85, was convicted by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton of misdemeanor contempt of court for willfully disregarding an Arizona judge’s order in 2011 to stop the anti-immigrant traffic patrols. Arpaio had maintained the law enforcement patrols for 17 months thereafter.
The man who built a controversial national reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff” admitted he prolonged his patrols, but insisted he did not intend to break the law because one of his former attorneys did not explain to him the full measure of restrictions contained in the court order.
He is expected to be sentenced on Oct. 5 and could face up to six months in jail. However, since he is 85 years old and has no prior convictions, some attorneys doubt he will receive any jail time.
'Is there anyone in local law enforcement who has done more to crack down on illegal immigration than Sheriff Joe?'
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Citing his long service as “an outstanding sheriff,” the president said Arpaio is admired by many Arizona citizens who respected his tough-on-crime approach.
Arpaio’s widely publicized tactics included forcing inmates to wear pink underwear and housing them in desert tent camps where temperatures often climbed well past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. He also controversially brought back chain gains, including a voluntary chain gang for women prisoners.
Civil liberties and prisoner advocates as well as supporters of immigrants’ rights have criticized Arpaio for years, culminating in his prosecution. He lost his bid for reelection last year.
“Is there anyone in local law enforcement who has done more to crack down on illegal immigration than Sheriff Joe?” asked Trump. “He has protected people from crimes and saved lives. He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.”
Stopping the flow of undocumented immigrants across the southern U.S. border was a central theme of the president’s campaign. Arpaio endorsed Trump in January 2016.
Trump indicated he may move quickly should he decide to issue a presidential pardon. “I might do it right away, maybe early this week. I am seriously thinking about it.”
Trump could decide to await the outcome of an appeal by Arpaio’s lawyers who contend their client’s case should have been decided by a jury, not a judge.
In a statement after the verdict, his attorneys stated, “The judge’s verdict is contrary to what every single witness testified in the case. Arpaio believes that a jury would have found in his favor, and that it will.”
Reached Monday for reaction to the possible pardon, Arpaio expressed surprise that Trump was aware of his legal predicament.
“I am happy he understands the case,” he told Fox News. “I would accept the pardon because I am 100 percent not guilty.”
The former sheriff said he will continue to be a strong supporter of the president regardless of whether he receives a pardon. But he also voiced concern that a pardon might cause problems for Trump, saying, “I would never ask him for a pardon, especially if it causes heat. I don’t want to do anything that would hurt the president.”
Trump has not granted any pardons so far in his presidency.