Trump Says He May Pardon Joe Arpaio: ‘a Great American Patriot’

Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio talks with media during a news conference announcing the opening of Tent City II in Phoenix in 1995.  (AP Photo/T.J. Sokol)

PHOENIX (CN) — President Donald Trump said he may pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his criminal contempt of court conviction for racially profiling Latinos in defiance of a federal judge’s order, because Arpaio is “a great American patriot” who “has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration.”

“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” Trump told Fox TV on Sunday during an interview at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”

Arpaio, a Republican, lost his bid for a seventh term as Maricopa County sheriff last November.

He was convicted of misdemeanor criminal contempt of court on July 31 this year by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, for defying another federal judge’s order to stop detaining undocumented immigrants. That order came in a racial-profiling class action filed against Arpaio and his deputies in 2007 for racially profiling Latinos during traffic stops.

Arpaio admitted to civil contempt for prolonging traffic patrols for 17 months after the court order, but claimed he did not intend to violate the order. During his criminal trial, his attorneys said Arpaio’s lawyers did not adequately explain the court order to him.

As for the pardon, “I might do it right away, maybe early this week,” Trump said in the interview, broadcast Monday. “I am seriously thinking about it.”

The comments came amid widespread criticism that Trump failed to criticize white supremacists whose violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday left a woman dead and dozens injured. Trump finally did denounce the white racists on Monday, after a weekend of withering criticism from members of his own party.

During his presidential campaign, Trump criticized the federal judge presiding over the class action fraud trial against Trump University, saying the U.S.-born judge might not be able to be fair to him because he is “Mexican.” After the election, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego approved a $25 million settlement of that case.

Arpaio, 85, is to be sentenced on Oct. 5. He faces up to six months in jail. He supported Trump during last year’s elections.

The American Civil Liberties Union vigorously denounced Trump’s suggested pardon on Monday.

“President Trump would be literally pardoning Joe Arpaio’s flagrant violation of federal court orders that prohibited the illegal detention of Latinos. He would undo a conviction secured by his own career attorneys at the Justice Department,” said ACLU deputy legal director Cecilia Wang, who represented plaintiffs in the racial profiling class action against Arpaio.

“Make no mistake: This would be an official presidential endorsement of racism,” Wang said in a statement.

Attorneys for Arpaio filed motions for a new trial and for acquittal on Monday.

They claim he was wrongfully denied a jury trial by Judge Bolton, who convicted Arpaio in a bench trial. They also claim the order to stop traffic patrols targeting Latinos was not “clear and definite,” as Bolton found.

If Trump does issue the pardon, it will be the first of his presidency.

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