With media outlets distracted by the storm of the century that hit Houston on Friday night, President Trump took the opportunity to pardon Joe Arpaio, the disgraced former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt earlier this summer for violating a court order to stop racial profiling.

Arpaio is a hero of the right for his “tough on crime” approach, and a pariah to the left for his blatant disregard for the civil rights of minorities, as well as for his mistreatment of prisoners at his Tent City Jail, in which he subjected inmates to blistering Arizona heat.

So what would warrant clemency for a lawman who described his own prison as a concentration camp? In his pardon, Trump commended Arpaio for a life and career that “exemplify selfless public service” and argued at a rally in Arizona last week that the sheriff was “convicted for doing his job.” While such pardons are usually done in consultation with the Justice Department, in this instance Trump acted unilaterally.

The New Yorker noted:

Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School, argued last week that, because “the only legally binding check on law enforcement is the authority of the judiciary to say what the law is,” a President who blocks the courts from sanctioning a sheriff who intentionally defies the law “is breaking the basic structure of the legal order. …”

“The Arpaio pardon is a perfect conflagration of all of the ways that Trump has systematically undermined these authorities over the course of his first seven months in office. It is nothing less than a multipronged attack on the executive branch’s own commitment to the rule of law.

Of course, presidential pardons are nothing new. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal, an act some described as a first step toward healing the country. George H.W. Bush pardoned people involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and national security adviser Robert  MacFarlane. Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich, a Democratic donor convicted of tax evasion, fraud and illegal dealings with Iran. But no pardons in modern times have been granted for those who systematically violate the rights of fellow citizens.

In addition, according to Justice Department guidelines, clemency is usually granted roughly five years after conviction, taking into consideration “the extent to which a petitioner has accepted responsibility for his or her criminal conduct and made restitution,” something Arpaio has not done. In another break with custom, Trump’s pardon was issued before sentencing, which was scheduled for Oct. 5. The former sheriff was expected to serve a maximum of six months in prison.

Trump is known to value loyalty, and Arpaio, a fellow “birther” who questioned Barack Obama’s country of origin, was an early supporter of the president. But some speculate Trump’s pardon may have been motivated by revenge against Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a critic of the president who might face Arpaio in the 2018 midterms, according to The Washington Examiner.

“I’m sure getting a lot of people around the state asking me” to challenge Flake, said Arpaio, who served 24 years as sheriff before losing re-election in 2016. “All I’m saying is the door is open and we’ll see what happens. I’ve got support. I know what support I have.”

Arpaio said that when he left office in January he swore off running again for a public post, but “with what I’ve seen happening in recent months, especially what’s happening with our president, I said, ‘Hey, why not?’ ”

While some may see breaking from tradition as normal for this president, others, like California Rep. Adam Schiff, see something more nefarious at work.

According to Politico:

The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee wrote on Twitter that Trump-aligned witnesses might be inclined to not cooperate with investigators, since the president has show his willingness to pardon allies. “Arpaio action was appalling & political. It also sends a message to the witnesses in the Russia investigation to keep quiet, stay loyal & get pardon,” Schiff tweeted on Saturday afternoon.

Schiff voiced his concerns on Twitter just after the White House announced Arpaio’s pardon Friday night. “@POTUS just pardoned Arpaio, convicted of contempt for discriminatory police practices. That’s not ‘public service,’ or any service at all,” he posted.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told Business Insider that Trump’s request to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to drop the charges against Arpaio last spring could provide context to a similar request regarding disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“[Trump’s] defense would be that he thought it was appropriate to end the Flynn investigation because it was meritless and that there was nothing wrong with him, as president, making that determination,” Mariotti told Business Insider.

But the president’s conversation with Sessions and his decision to pardon Arpaio demonstrates that “this has become a pattern of activity where he tries to end investigations of his friends,” he said. “Everything he said, did, and was told as to Arpaio is relevant to help us understand what he was thinking when he tried to end the Flynn investigation.”

Moreover, despite statements from Trump’s allies and administration officials who painted Trump’s comments to former FBI Director James Comey regarding the investigation into Russian attempts to influence the election as musings and not as a direct order, Arpaio’s pardon suggests “that he was serious about ending investigations as to his friends” and that it wasn’t “just idle talk.”


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