Donald Trump issued the first pardon of his presidency Friday night, absolving the 85-year-old former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio of a conviction of criminal contempt of court.
A federal judge ruled in July that Arpaio had defied a court order to stop profiling Latinos for detention based solely on suspicions about their immigration status.
The White House announced the news in a statement titled “President Trump Pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio,” emailed to reporters a minute past 8 p.m. ET on Friday:
Today, President Donald J. Trump granted a Presidential pardon to Joe Arpaio, former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. 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. After serving in the Army, Arpaio became a police officer in Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas, NV and later served as a Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), formerly the Bureau of Narcotics. After 25 years of admirable service, Arpaio went on to lead the DEA’s branch in Arizona.
In 1992, the problems facing his community pulled Arpaio out of retirement to return to law enforcement. He ran and won a campaign to become Sheriff of Maricopa County. 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.
Trump followed up in a tweet congratulating Arpaio, who served as Maricopa County sheriff for 24 years until his reelection bid was defeated in November. Arpaio thanked Trump, and then published a link to a fundraising page that he called a “Legal fund.” A note on the page said donations would go “directly to paying off legal fees from this fight.”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2017
Maricopa County separately paid tens of millions of dollars in legal fees for Arpaio, who faced a potential of six months in jail before Trump’s pardon.
Arpaio, an early and enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s who officially endorsed him on January 2011, was known for his detention centers’ extremely harsh conditions.
He infamously jailed hundreds of inmates in an open air facility dubbed “Tent City,” under the intense Arizona sun. In 2008, the Phoenix New Times noted on Friday, documentary filmmakers recorded Arpaio calling it a “concentration camp.” The list of abuses at Arpaio’s facilities, including those deemed as such by a federal judge, and others laid out in detail in a 2011 Department of Justice report, runs long.
Both of Arizona’s senators, both Republicans, released statements Friday night criticizing the pardon:
“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-AZ) said in part. “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.”
“Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) wrote on Twitter.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said of the pardon that “Sheriff Joe deserves credit for helping to reduce crime in Maricopa County over his long career in law enforcement and public office” and said Arpaio and his family could now “move on.”
Democrats were incensed.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who represents Phoenix as part of Arizona’s Seventh District, wrote: “By pardoning Joe Arpaio, Donald Trump has blessed Arpaio’s racist and unconstitutional police practices” and “Trump’s pardon of Arpaio is unconscionable and unworthy of the White House.”
In a separate statement, according to the New York Times, Gallego called Trump a “coward” for the pardon and said that the move “shows that the legal system cannot deliver justice. We’ll now seek justice through elections, and Republicans in open districts in Arizona should be on edge.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) asked on Twitter: “If @realDonaldTrump can pardon a man who so blatantly violated the Constitution, what is left to protect us?” adding that “no one can pardon the racist, anti-immigrant stain on his presidency.”
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said in a lengthy statement that the pardon was “a slap in the face to the people of Maricopa County.”
In a news release, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said the pardon “is an endorsement of racism from the highest office in the land—signaling to Americans that discriminatory behavior and a blatant disregard for the judicial process is acceptable.”
And the ACLU’s deputy legal director, Cecillia Wang, wrote that “[o]nce again, the president has acted in support of illegal, failed immigration enforcement practices that target people of color and have been struck down by the courts.”
“His pardon of Arpaio is a presidential endorsement of racism,” she concluded.
Trump played coy with the pardon at first. At a Tuesday campaign rally in Phoenix, he implied that he would likely pardon Arpaio, but that he didn’t want to do it at the rally. “You know what, I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine, okay?” Trump said to wild applause. “But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe should feel good.”
At a press briefing Thursday, asked if Trump was seeking a recommendation about Arpaio’s pardon from Justice Department leadership, or if he had requested a background check of the former sheriff, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “I would imagine they go through the thorough and standard process, and when we have an announcement on what that decision is after that’s completed, we’ll let you know.”
On Wednesday, Arpaio thanked the popular conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for bringing the case to Trump’s attention. Jones’ YouTube channel, InfoWars, had published a video two days after Arpaio’s conviction called “Pres. Trump, Pardon Sheriff Joe: ‘Guilty’ Of Defying Sanctuary Judge.”
“I don’t blame the President, he’s got a lot on his plate, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t know about this,” Arpaio told Jones Wednesday.
Trump called into Jones’ show in December 2015, telling the host “Your reputation is amazing. I won’t let you down,” and Jones claims to have spoken with Trump since the November election.
Arpaio told Jones multiple times Wednesday that he would continue to talk about his case after a possible pardon, implying that he thought it was the result of an abuse of power by former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department. The former sheriff is a prominent proponent of the “birther” theory, which asserts that Obama was not born in the United States.
“Why is Barack Obama is still running the Trump Justice Department?” Arpaio asked Jones’ network in an Aug. 10 interview.
“He’ll know more as time goes on what the real story is on this situation,” Arpaio vowed Wednesday, referring to Trump. “I’m not going to keep quiet.
This post has been updated.