Donald Trump's Pardon of Joe Arpaio Was Politically and Morally Wrong, as Well as Unnecessary

President Donald J. Trump gestures after disembarking Marine One walking on the South Lawn towards the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. March 5, 2017 (Rex Features via AP Images)

While the pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, by President Donald Trump is being applauded by many in his base, it is receiving criticism from conservatives and some notable Republican officials.

There was speculation that Trump announced the Arpaio pardon late on Friday and while Hurricane Harvey was approaching Texas because he hoped it would get as little attention as possible. Trump now says it was just the opposite -- he did it because it would generate the highest ratings. Whatever the case, the pardon certainly has received a lot of attention in news outlets, including conservative ones.

On Fox News Sunday, Republican strategist Karl Rove said the power to pardon was “ill-exercised,” because Arpaio had been found guilty of  violating a federal court order to stop racially profiling when making arrests. Rove also correctly noted that the pardon did not go through the proper channels in the Justice Department, and that Trump had stepped in only to save a “political ally” from going to jail.

In an editorial, National Review explained:

[T]he facts are that Sheriff Arpaio repeatedly flouted court orders and detained aliens on suspicion of being in the United States illegally, which is not a crime under federal law (it’s a civil offense).

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Trump’s issuance of a full pardon effectively endorses Arpaio’s misconduct.

The editors concluded:

Arpaio is a hero to the populist Right, but his theatrical, inhumane imprisonment policies, ham-fisted immigration enforcement, and all-around witless showmanship had become so toxic that he got soundly thrashed in his latest reelection bid in a Trump-friendly county.

The Washington Examiner ran an editorial titled “Trump, Once the Law and Order Candidate, Embraces Lawless Disorder with Arpaio Pardon.” For Trump, “law and order” seems to mean “busting heads.” The editorial continues:

Arpaio's defiance of a judge's order to stop detaining people simply based on the suspicion that they were illegal immigrants was worthy of punishment. His career as a veteran and a long-time public servant does not change that. As sheriff, Arpaio's office would routinely detain Latinos solely on the suspicion they had broken immigration law, without any evidence whatsoever that a crime had been committed. It was government overreach that was backed up by Arpaio's authority, all while it was supposed to be Arpaio's job to protect the people of Maricopa County from injustice.

Joining them in opposition to the president’s pardon was the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, which stated:

President Trump’s pardon late Friday of deposed Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio undermines that promise [by Trump, during the campaign, to abide by the law] and further politicizes the law.

Arpaio’s long public service, they added, “hardly justifies the sheriff’s defiance of the law he swore to uphold." A sentence of criminal contempt, the editorial explained, “is the only way to hold government officials personally responsible for violating court orders.” They continue:

Mr. Trump’s power to pardon is undeniable, but pardoning Mr. Arpaio sends a message that law enforcers can ignore court orders and get away with it. All you need is a political ally in the White House or Governor’s mansion. Down that road lies anarchy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions understands this, which is why he reportedly urged the President to let the judicial process play out. Mr. Trump short-circuited the courts by pardoning Mr. Arpaio before he was sentenced or granted an appeal.

Finally, also writing in National Review, Andy McCarthy explains why Trump’s pardon was “unnecessary,” “unmerited,” “impulsive,” and “rash.”

Some on the Breitbart/Trumpist right have argued that the pardon does not even compare to the awful pardons granted by Bill Clinton to Marc Rich and members of the Weather Underground, or by Barack Obama to Puerto Rican Marxist-Leninist terrorists. I have attacked these pardons as unconscionable.

But, as the Journal editors write: “[S]ince when does liberal hypocrisy justify conservative disdain for the law?”

Then there is the dismal record of abuses by Sheriff Arpaio. His record has been disclosed by many, and it is not a pretty one. As one of his former prisoners wrote in the Washington Post, he held prisoners in tent cities where they suffered extreme heat in the summer which climbed to between 120 and 145 degrees, and extreme cold in the winter. By his own words, Arpaio was running a “concentration camp,” not a prison. He encouraged and let his deputies engage in violent and brutal acts against prisoners and arrested the owners of the Phoenix New Times, which had run a series of exposes of his practices, for which he had eventually to pay them nearly $4 million in a settlement fee. And as numerous commentators have known, he was so involved in abuse of Latino prisoners in particular that he let cases of rape and child abuse go uninvestigated and unprosecuted. (To read links to the paper’s stories over the year, go here.) No wonder the citizens of Maricopa County finally got tired of him, voting him out of office in an election contest which he lost by 13 points.

Why, at any time, would any conservative (or anyone for that matter) want to support such an abominable human being as Arpaio, simply because he said all he did was only meant to stop illegal immigration to the United States? By any standard, especially that of his obvious hatred of Latinos, Arpaio is a racist.

One must ask why our president feels that it is the right thing to champion Sheriff Joe and then pardon him. Some have argued that Trump himself has exhibited racist attitudes, which is one reason he has an affinity for Arpaio. After all, Trump and Arpaio first bonded over the birther lie about Barack Obama; Arpaio even used taxpayer funds to send a deputy to Hawaii to find the proof that Obama was not born there.

The Arpaio pardon seems to be part of Trump’s strategy to appeal to both sides of the fractured Republican Party. He plays to the base one day with red meat like pardoning Arpaio and revving up his most ardent supporters at campaign rallies, and the next day he appeals to more moderate, traditional Republicans by giving thoughtful speeches on Afghanistan read from a teleprompter, and dismissing nationalists like Bannon and Gorka from their White House positions. Now he is in Texas acting as one would hope a president would act in the face of such a national emergency, but afterwards he is scheduled to hold another campaign rally in Missouri.

Who knows what he might do to undermine the previous impression of responsibility he had displayed in Texas? Trump’s flip-flops result in whiplash and lead eventually to more distrust and lack of confidence in his judgment. There is more than a good chance that his balancing act will not be sustainable.

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