President Donald Trump on Friday night granted a presidential pardon to the controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio, 85, who once led the Maricopa County sheriff's department, was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for violating the terms of a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case. He lost a re-election bid last year.
Trump earlier this week held out the possibility of a pardon for Arpaio, but at a campaign-style rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, Trump hinted that Arpaio would be “just fine,” immediately prompting speculation that a presidential pardon was imminent.
The US Constitution gives presidents wide latitude for pardons and does not require them to check with the Justice Department beforehand. “The President executed his lawful authority and we respect his decision,” the DOJ said on Friday.
Arpaio gained notoriety as a vocal critic of illegal immigration and has been accused of encouraging racial profiling of Latinos in Arizona. Arpaio has a long, checkered history as sheriff in Arizona, as noted by the Phoenix New Times on Friday.
“He should have had a jury, Trump said at his Tuesday rally. “But you know what, I'll make a prediction. I think he's going to be just fine, OK?”
“But I won't do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy,” Trump continued. “Is that OK? All right? But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”
Arpaio thanked the president after the White House announced his pardon on Friday: “I have to thank the president for standing by me and standing by law enforcement. And I'm very humbled,” Arpaio said.
The pardon was not received well among some groups, including Latino activists who worked to have Arpaio ousted. Critics called the pardon a “political move,” and questioned whether Trump recognizes the gravity of a presidential pardon. MSNBC political analyst said the Arpaio pardon “seems like a dry run – a test of his power for future use.”
Jeff Flake, the junior senator from Arizona who recently found himself in Trump's crosshairs, said “I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.” Flake's primary opponent Kelli Ward, however, commended Trump for the move.
Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts' 4th Congressional District said, “Nobody is above the law, period. Tonight, @POTUS put bigotry before justice.”
Sen. John McCain said in a statement that Trump's pardon “undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”
Read Trump's full statement on the pardon below:
“Today, President Donald J. Trump granted a Presidential pardon to Joe Arpaio, former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio’s life and career, which began at the age of 18 when he enlisted in the military after the outbreak of the Korean War, exemplify selfless public service. After serving in the Army, Arpaio became a police officer in Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas, NV and later served as a Special Agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), formerly the Bureau of Narcotics. After 25 years of admirable service, Arpaio went on to lead the DEA’s branch in Arizona.
In 1992, the problems facing his community pulled Arpaio out of retirement to return to law enforcement. He ran and won a campaign to become Sheriff of Maricopa County. Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.”
David Choi contributed to this report.