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EDITORIAL: Trump’s pardon is an insult. Is it also a harbinger?
If there were any lingering doubts that President Donald Trump wouldn’t wield the pardon card when it comes to potential charges against himself, his aides or his family, they were swept aside over the weekend.
With the nation’s attention turned to Hurricane Harvey’s landfall along the Texas coast, Trump Friday night quietly issued his first act of clemency to former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The controversial former lawman had been convicted but not yet sentenced for criminal contempt for ignoring court orders to stop detaining people based on their ethnicity.
Trump had hinted he would take this ill-informed step days earlier, during a raucous campaign rally in Phoenix, the Maricopa County seat.
"So was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?" the president asked the crowd, using a folksy nickname that belied Arpaio’s “I’m the law” approach.
To answer the president’s question, no, Arpaio wasn’t convicted for doing his job; he was convicted, following a Justice Department investigation, for racially profiling Latinos.
And while we’re answering presidential questions, here’s another one:
“Is there anyone in local law enforcement who has done more to crack down on illegal immigration than Sheriff Joe?” Trump said, asked during an interview with Fox News.
Plenty of folks, and, unlike Arpaio, they didn’t resort to illegal actions of their own.
In his nearly 25 years as sheriff, Arpaio was no stranger to criticism and controversy.
As the Atlantic pointed out: “Arpaio’s harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants and criminal suspects brought him … multiple civil-rights lawsuits. … And he shared Trump’s disdain for the federal judiciary, frequently castigating the judges who oversaw lawsuits against him. His extreme treatment of prisoners and detainees drew widespread condemnation and allegations of racial bias.”
Indeed, Arpaio’s legacy of racial, unlawful and downright evil mistreatment of suspects and prisoners, especially minorities and women, is well known and documented. He has cost Arizona tens of millions of dollars in unnecessary defense costs and settlements.
Of course, none of this mattered to the president.
Not only are they ideological soulmates — Arpaio still has not abandoned the fiction that former President Barack Obama was not born in this country — but the erstwhile sheriff is an unabashed Trump supporter. And Trump rewards nothing so much as loyalty.
That reinforced message will surely not be lost on former Trump colleagues like blink-and-you-missed-him National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort as they navigate the ongoing probe into Russian influence in the 2016 elections.
Trump is not the first president to issue a controversial pardon. Bill Clinton was much derided for pardoning fugitive financier Marc Rich on his way out of the Oval Office in 2001. But that was a last act. In pardoning Arpaio — who was found guilty of depriving U.S. citizens of the constitutional rights — just eight months into his administration, Trump has signaled he’ll adhere to neither tradition nor merit in handing out future get-out-of-jail-free cards.
That’s especially troubling, given that Trump, his family members and other close advisors are under increasing scrutiny as special prosecutor Robert Mueller continues to investigate Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.
It makes a mockery of our justice system when guilty parties like Arpaio are not held accountable. It would make a mockery of American democracy should anyone found guilty of even more serious offenses, such as colluding with a foreign power to influence a presidential election, should likewise skirt justice.
Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio is an insult to the victimized Latinos of Maricopa County; the investigators, prosecutors and judges who sought to instill justice; and all right-thinking Americans who believe lawbreakers should be held accountable.
But here’s what’s worse: Even greater such insults may be yet to come.