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Trump 'Assumed the Ratings Would be Far Higher' Announcing Arpaio Pardon as Hurricane Started

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WASHINGTON — President Trump today stood by his pardoning of “my partner Sheriff Joe” Arpaio and the timing of the White House announcement Friday evening as Category 4 Hurricane Harvey was making landfall in Texas.

“Actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. You know, the hurricane was just starting, and I put it out that I had pardoned, as we call — as we say, Sheriff Joe,” Trump told reporters at a joint White House press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.

Arpaio, 85, lost re-election last year as sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz. In July, he was found guilty of contempt of court with a federal judge ruling that he had not ensured deputies’ compliance with a court order to stop racial profiling and instead had been “directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed.”

“He’s done a great job for the people of Arizona. He is very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration. He is loved in Arizona. I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly when they came down with their big decision to go get him right before the election voting started, as you know. And he lost in a fairly close election. He would’ve won the election, but they just hammered him just before the election. I thought that was a very, very unfair thing to do,” Trump said. “When I mentioned him the other night, you saw the massive crowd we had. The people went crazy when I said, ‘What do you think of Sheriff Joe?’ or something to that effect. The place went absolutely crazy when I was in Arizona last week.”

Trump read through a list of pardons made by presidents Clinton and Obama, including Marc Rich and Chelsea Manning.

Asked if he considers Russia a national security threat, Trump replied, “Well, I consider many countries as a security threat, unfortunately, when you look at what’s going on in the world today.”

“I hope that we do have good relations with Russia. I say it loud and clear, I’ve been saying it for years. I think it’s a good thing if we have great relationships, or at least good relationships, with Russia. That’s very important. And I believe some day that will happen,” the president elaborated when pressed on his thoughts. “It’s a big country, it’s a nuclear country, it’s a country that we should get along with, and I think we will eventually get along with Russia. Finland is respected by Russia. Finland has been free of Russia — really, just about one of the few countries in the region that has been — for a hundred years. And Russia has a lot of respect for Finland, so that’s always good.”

The Soviets invaded Finland in 1939, the start of the Winter War. Niinistö said before the meeting with Trump that “the situation at the Baltic Sea will definitely be on the agenda” as Russia and Belarus prep for a joint military exercise there next month.

On environmental issues, Niinistö said he and Trump discussed black carbon and explained that “if we lose the Arctic, we lose the globe.”

“That is reality. So we must fight against those emissions spreading black carbon. I understood that the United States is going to put it in half. And we know that black carbon sources are, a lot of them, in Russia. They are old-fashioned energy plants producing heating,” Niinistö said. “The other problem is flaring. You know that in oil fields they flare up the extra gas, and the amount is huge.”

“One of the things we also agree on — we want crystal, clean water, and we want clean air, the cleanest ever,” Trump added. “Very important. So we have a lot of agreement.”

Asked if Mexico is still going to pay for the wall, as Trump has suggested a government shutdown next month would be preferable to Congress not allocating funds for the border barrier, the president vowed “it may be through reimbursement, but one way or the other, Mexico will pay for the wall.”

“We’re right now negotiating NAFTA. In my opinion, Mexico’s been very difficult, as they should be. Why wouldn’t they be? They had a sweetheart deal for so many years. It’s one of the great deals of all time for them, one of the worst trade deals ever signed,” he said.

“I guarantee you, Mr. President, Finland would never have signed NAFTA with Russia, or whoever you wanted to,” Trump added. “This is not a deal that you would want to sign. This is not a deal that Finland would know about.” Niinistö did not reply.

Trump is planning on visiting Texas on Tuesday. “The rebuilding will begin,” he declared. “And in the end, it will be something very special.”