President Donald Trump says he may grant a pardon to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio following his recent conviction in federal court, prompting outrage among critics who say the move would amount to an endorsement of racism.
Trump told Fox News during an interview Sunday that he was seriously considering issuing a pardon within the next few days. That was welcome news for the former Phoenix-area sheriff, who lost a re-election bid in November and who was convicted of misdemeanor contempt of court on July 31.
But it angered immigrant rights activists and others who say it amounts to support for racism on the same day that Trump disavowed white nationalists whose rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent this weekend, leaving one woman dead.
A federal judge ruled in 2013 that Arpaio’s officers racially profiled Latinos. But the sheriff refused to stop his immigration patrols, eventually leading to the criminal contempt of court case that he’s embroiled in. It also contributed to his failed re-election bid last year.
Arpaio said Monday that he learned of the president’s comments in the morning and was glad he stood by him.
“I didn’t ask for it, but if he’s going to offer, I will accept, because I’m not guilty. So appreciate his interest in my matter here in Phoenix,” Arpaio said.
Attorneys for the ex-sheriff filed two motions late Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Phoenix for a judgment of acquittal and to vacate the verdict for a new trial. The motions are not appeals.
“We’re filing these motions because there was absolutely no evidence in support of the judge’s verdict, the verdict was contrary to the evidence provided in court, and the verdict is a gross miscarriage of justice,” said Mark Goldman, a lawyer for Arpaio.
Trump on Sunday told Fox that Arpaio is “a great American patriot” and said he hates to see what has happened to him, according to the news report. He cited his long service in law enforcement and said many Arizona citizens respected his approach to crime.
The two have been allies for the past couple of years. Arpaio campaigned for Trump at rallies in Iowa, Nevada and Arizona, and he gave a speech at the Republican National Convention in which he said Trump would prevent immigrants from coming into the country illegally. Trump has also invoked the former sheriff in his calls for tougher immigration enforcement and has used advocated for tactics that made Arpaio a national figure.
“I’ve been with him from day one,” Arpaio said.
On Monday, the president condemned hate groups and said racism is evil in a statement that was much more forceful than he’d made earlier after the weekend clashes in Virginia that left one woman dead after a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters who opposed a rally by white nationalists. The white nationalists were protesting a plan to remove a statute of Confederate Gen Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park.
“Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America,” he said.
Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director for the ACLU, criticized the idea that Trump could pardon Arpaio, saying the former sheriff had violated court orders that prohibited illegal detention of Latinos.
“Make no mistake: This would be an official presidential endorsement of racism,” Wang said.
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, or the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in statement that Trump’s comments to Fox were hypocritical and demonstrate “how inextricably conflicted he is about condemning racism and the targeting of racial minorities”
“That the White House chose to praise such unconstitutional, discriminatory behavior in defiance of a federal judge on the same day that it refused to condemn the actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville compounds the damage of Trump’s appalling moral relativism,” Saenz said. “In politics, there is hypocrisy on many sides, but the White House’s praise of Arpaio as it tries to extricate itself from equivocal statements about the clear domestic hate-based terrorism in Charlottesville will forever stand out as record-breaking, political disingenuousness.”