On Monday, Donald Trump was dragged kicking and screaming in front of news camera to reluctantly denounce racism in the United States. However, a new report claims that just one day before his painfully lukewarm statement that “racism is evil,” the president was privately musing about pardoning one of the country’s most infamous bigots: Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” Trump told Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett. “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, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, was found guilty of criminal contempt by a federal judge after he refused to comply with an earlier order that he stop racially profiling people he arrested.
He has long been part of the nebulous cloud of ultra-nationalist bigots which surrounds Trump. As recently as this past December, Arpaio accused Barack Obama of having been born outside the United States, echoing one of Trump’s earliest (and entirely imaginary) headline-making attacks on the then-president. He has also spoken publicly in support of Trump’s proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico.
“Is there anyone in local law enforcement who has done more to crack down on illegal immigration than Sheriff Joe?” Trump asked Jarrett. “He has protected people from crimes and saved lives. He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.”
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Using his first presidential pardon on a man convicted, essentially, of overt racism would certainly be in keeping with President Trump, who has increasingly leaned in to his cratering approval ratings by governing exclusively toward his base of ultra-nationalist and bigots.
When reached by Fox for comment on the possibility of a presidential pardon, Arpaio was reportedly surprised by the possibility, but expressed optimism, telling the network that, “I am happy he understands the case. I would accept the pardon because I am 100 percent not guilty.”
Regardless of the fact that, yes, a judge did in fact declare him 100% guilty, Arpaio also tempered his enthusiasm.
“I would never ask him for a pardon,” he continued. “Especially if it causes heat. I don’t want to do anything that would hurt the president.”
According to Trump, who has not yet made up his mind, any potential pardon for Arpaio could come “right away, maybe early this week.”