President Donald Trump defended his pardon of the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Finnish Prime Minister Sauli Niinisto on Monday, President Trump called Arpaio a “patriot” and said he’d been treated unfairly by the press.
While discussing the commutation, its consequences and its controversy, the commander-in-chief began reading off a list of pardons previous presidents have been criticized for making. Among the mentions were former President Barack Obama’s handling of whistleblower Chelsea Manning and Puerto Rican former militant Oscar Lopez Rivera.
Once billed as the “toughest sheriff in America,” Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court after he blatantly ignored a verdict delivered in another hearing.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, under Arpaio’s leadership, engaged in a campaign of racial profiling and discrimination in their effort to combat illegal immigration.
Rather than accepting that perhaps Arpaio’s policies as sheriff cost him the last election in Maricopa County, Trump insinuated that the Obama administration had intentionally tried to sink him by bringing the charges forward.
“He lost a fairly close election,” Trump said. “He would’ve won the election. They hammered him just before the election.
“I thought that was a very, very unfair thing to do,” Trump said, a year after he had – somewhat comically – bullied Jeb Bush and his Republican contenders out of the presidential race.
Trump also referred to Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, who fled the United States after being charged with tax evasion.
Arpaio was due for sentencing in another month.
At a rally in Yuma, AZ, last week, the president suggested that a pardon was likely in store for the former sheriff. While refusing to give any date for clemency, Trump said that Arpaio shouldn’t worry too much about having to face any legal consequence over his contempt conviction.
In addition to making waves over his approach to illegal immigration, Arpaio was also infamous for his treatment of inmates at the Maricopa County Jail.
One of the detention facilities was located in the Arizona desert, wherein inmates were made to toil under temperatures which frequently exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Arpaio defended the initiative by saying that, if soldiers in Iraq can deal with the same conditions daily, inmates and prisoners should be able to do the same.
Arpaio also required his inmates to wear pink underwear as a form of humiliation.
On top of pardoning a fairly controversial figure, Donald Trump garnered criticism for announcing it late Friday night, as Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coast, dropping feet of rain on Houston and other communities.
Instead of figuring the timing might be inappropriate, Trump explained he’d made his decision due to the fact more people were likely to be watching cable news at that hour.
“I assumed the ratings would be far higher than normal with the hurricane just starting,” said the president.