WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump on Monday defended his controversial pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, saying the former Maricopa County sheriff has been treated “unbelievably unfairly.”
“He’s done a great job for the people of Arizona,” Trump said at a press conference on Monday. “He’s very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration, he is loved in Arizona.”
Speaking at a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Trump defended the pardon by bringing up other controversial people Democratic presidents pardoned, including Marc Rich, whom President Bill Clinton pardoned after Rich was indicted on tax evasion charges. Trump also mentioned Chelsea Manning, who leaked sensitive diplomatic documents to Wikileaks and whose sentence President Barack Obama commuted in January.
“Sherriff Joe is a patriot, Sherriff Joe loves our country, Sherriff Joe protected our borders, and Sherriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration,” Trump said Monday.
Trump pardoned Arpaio on Friday evening, citing his “more than fifty years of admirable service to our nation.” Arpaio was convicted in July of misdemeanor contempt of court after a federal court found he ignored a court order to stop rounding up people he suspected of immigration violations.
Arpaio lost his re-election bid shortly after being charged with criminal contempt, which he blamed on “a political witch hunt by holdovers in the Obama Justice Department” in a tweet after the pardon.
Trump’s decision drew widespread criticism on Friday, including from both of Arizona’s Republican senators, as the litany of misconduct and civil rights allegations against Arpaio resurfaced in the wake of the pardon.
Many criticized Trump for announcing the pardon on Friday night as Hurricane Harvey bore down in the gulf coast of Texas. But Trump said he announced the pardon then knowing that many people would be watching television coverage of the storm.
“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,” Trump said. “You know, the hurricane was just starting.”