President Donald Trump hinted at a possible pardon for Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff once billed as the toughest lawman in America.
Speaking at a rally in Phoenix, the commander-in-chief said he thought Arpaio’s treatment at the hands of the law wouldn’t last.
“I’ll make a prediction,” Trump said. “I think he’s going to be just fine. Okay?”
Speaking to the crowd, he continued, “But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. Is that okay? All right? But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”
Last month, Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court.
The lawman – notorious for his treatment of illegal immigrants – had refused to obey a ruling in an earlier case.
Throughout the latter years of Sheriff Joe’s career as an elected official, he was routinely accused of implementing and encouraging ‘immigration-check’ stops. Challengers of the policy suggested that traffic stops were being initiated on racial grounds, with Latinos being disproportionately – if not solely – affected by the tactic.
The ruling didn’t seem to bother President Trump, who questioned the logic underlying the case.
“So, was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” asked Trump, raising cheers and applause from the crowd. “He should have had a jury.”
Arpaio, Politico.com recounts, was given a bench trial, the consequence of which means he couldn’t be sentenced to any more than six months in jail.
Court rulings in the past have determined that juries aren’t a necessity when the maximum possible sentence is shorter than a half year.
The former sheriff’s sentencing hearing is set for October 5th.
Although Arpaio himself said he hadn’t been contacted by any member of the Trump team, he didn’t seem surprised by the prospect of receiving a pardon.
“I didn’t know if he was going to say anything, but I had a gut feeling, knowing him, that with his courage and guts that he would say something,” the ex-lawman told Politico.
The media outlet noted that, as late as Tuesday, federal officials had said no pardon would likely be presented.
“But the president still brought it up, didn’t he?” Arpaio remarked. “And he was very honest. I guess they were concerned about the demonstrators, which is important because you want to make sure the first priority is to the safety of the people that were outside and inside. And also I’m always concerned about the president’s safety.”
Some politicians speculated that the president was more interested in setting a precedent for pardons than specifically wanting to cut Arpaio slack.
“I would not be surprised if the president does this that it actually has nothing to do with Arpaio, but actually has to do with him setting the standard of pardons, so he can eventually start pardoning his family and all of the people within his campaign that helped collaborate with the Russians,” said Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona.