President Trump fired back Monday at critics of his decision to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, claiming the clemency decisions made by his two most recent Democratic predecessors were far more problematic.
“I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe,” Trump said at a White House press conference.
Clearly anticipating a question about the pardon, Trump read from prepared notes as he countered the bipartisan criticism by rattling off the controversial commutations and pardons issued by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
“President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked countless sensitive and classified documents,” Trump said, calling Manning a “criminal leaker.”
He also criticized Obama for commuting the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who had been serving a 55-year federal prison sentence for being a leader of the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN.
Trump also reached back to the Clinton administration, invoking the infamous pardon of the late financier Marc Rich, “who was charged with crimes going back decades,” and Clinton’s clemency for Susan Rosenberg, a far-left radical and member of the Weather Underground.
He sought to draw a distinction between their histories and Arpaio’s.
“Sheriff Joe is a patriot. Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders,” Trump said, alleging the Obama administration treated him “unbelievably unfairly” and the case cost him an election in Maricopa County, Ariz.
Arpaio had been found guilty of criminal contempt for defying a judge’s order to stop his controversial immigration patrols. Arpaio has long been accused of profiling and using inhumane tactics, and the decision to pardon him drew bipartisan criticism, including from Arizona’s two Republican senators.
“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,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement. “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.”
Trump addressed the pardon controversy during a joint press conference with the visiting president of Finland. Asked about the backlash by Fox News’ John Roberts, Trump also seemed to defend the timing of the announcement – and push back on claims that he was trying to bury the news late Friday during coverage of Hurricane Harvey.
To the contrary, Trump said, “in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.”