Arpaio: Why Trump pardoned ‘Sheriff Joe’
Even in “the most shocking and awful” presidency in modern U.S. history, said Jay Michaelson in TheDailyBeast.com, Donald Trump’s pardon of Sheriff Joe Arpaio last week may be the “most dangerous and most terrifying of all his antics.” Arpaio, 85, is the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, where he gained national infamy over 24 years by brutalizing and humiliating prison inmates, harassing the county’s Hispanic population in a perpetual “crackdown” on illegal immigrants, and once dispatching a “Cold Case Posse” to Hawaii to hunt for evidence that President Obama’s birth certificate was forged. In July, Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court, after he defied a judge’s order to stop pulling over Hispanic motorists without cause. But thanks to his fellow birther Trump—whose campaign Arpaio heartily endorsed—he will now escape all punishment. We’re witnessing the “normalization and entrenchment of bigotry in public life,” said Michael Gerson in WashingtonPost.com. In pardoning the unrepentant Arpaio, Trump insisted that “Sheriff Joe” was just “doing his job.” In other words, the powerless people Arpaio so gleefully abused were “less than human” and had no rights. Coming just weeks after Trump insisted there were “very fine people” marching with white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., the Arpaio pardon is “the most forthright racist incitement of the Trump era.”
Arpaio deserved a pardon, said Cheryl Chumley in WashingtonTimes.com, because his prosecution was a “political hit job” from the outset. The Obama Justice Department filed charges against Arpaio just two weeks before he was up for re-election, and the judge in his case—a Clinton appointee—refused his request for a jury trial. Why? Because Arpaio is loved in Maricopa County, and “a trial by his peers likely would have seen him cleared of all charges.” All Trump has done is bring “a political end to a political case,” said Paul Mirengoff in PowerLineBlog.com. The left-wing Obama administration prosecuted Arpaio to discourage vigorous enforcement of our immigration laws. By pardoning Arpaio, Trump is signaling that he’s committed to the “tough-asnails immigration policy” that got him elected.
Arpaio wasn’t “tough” as a sheriff, said Paul Krugman in NYTimes.com; he was a monster who engaged in “fascism, American-style.” The inmates in his care were fed starvation rations of spoiled food, shackled in old-timey chain gangs in striped uniforms, and forced to live in a “Tent City” Arpaio set up in the desert—“a con cen tra tion camp,” he proudly called it—where temperatures could reach 145 degrees. At least 160 prisoners died in his care, and taxpayers shelled out $140 million to litigate and settle lawsuits prompted by his barbaric abuses. Trump’s motives for pardoning this authoritarian thug “are easy to understand.” Not only did the president solidify his bond with his white nationalist base, he sent a signal to associates tempted to cut a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller: “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.”
Pardoning his own aides and family members would set Trump on a “perilous path,” said Philip Lacovara in WashingtonPost.com. Yes, the president enjoys absolute power to pardon whomever he wants, but using presidential power to block a criminal investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia would be obstruction of justice—an impeachable offense. The Republicans controlling Congress are not yet of a mind to impeach Trump, but if he blatantly uses pardons to halt the Russia investigation, it will be an admission of guilt that even his own party may not be able to ignore. Then Trump’s pardon power could “blow up in his face.” ■