President Trump told Fox News he is “seriously considering” issuing a pardon for former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted last month of criminal contempt for ignoring a judge’s order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants.
Trump told the news outlet during a conversation in Bedminster, N.J., that the pardon could come quickly, perhaps in a matter of days. The news outlet reported the conversation on its website Monday.
“I might do it right away, maybe early this week. I am seriously thinking about it,” Trump said, according to Fox News. He said Arpaio was a “great American patriot” who had “done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration.”
“Is there anyone in local law enforcement who has done more to crack down on illegal immigration than Sheriff Joe?” Trump said, according to Fox News. “He has protected people from crimes and saved lives. He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way.”
Arpaio, whose extreme stance and tactics on illegal immigration made him a household name, was convicted of criminal contempt last month by a federal judge in Arizona. He faces up to six months in prison at his sentencing, which is scheduled for Oct. 5. Jack Wilenchik, Arpaio’s attorney, said after Arpaio was convicted that the former sheriff would appeal to get a jury trial, and that the judge’s conclusion was “contrary to what every single witness testified in the case.”
“Joe Arpaio is in this for the long haul, and he will continue his fight to vindicate himself, to prove his innocence, and to protect the public,” Wilenchik said.
Wilenchik did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment Monday. A White House spokeswoman did not immediately answer an email seeking comment. A Justice Department spokeswoman said she was not aware of the president’s remarks but would wait until action was taken before commenting.
Arpaio told Fox News, “I would accept the pardon because I am 100 percent not guilty.”
Arpaio, 85, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., has long been an advocate for Trump and spoke in support of him at the Republican National Convention in July. The men seem to share the same worldview when it comes to illegal immigrants and using harsh tactics against criminals or suspected criminals. Arpaio is well known in part for forcing his inmates to wear pink underwear and sleep outdoors in his Tent City Jail.
Reacting to the prospect that Trump might pardon Arpaio, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Cecillia Wang said, “President Trump would be literally pardoning Joe Arpaio’s flagrant violation of federal court orders that prohibited the illegal detention of Latinos. He would undo a conviction secured by his own career attorneys at the Justice Department. Make no mistake: This would be an official presidential endorsement of racism.”
The legal saga surrounding Arpaio dates back years. In 2011, as part of a lawsuit, the then-sheriff was enjoined by U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow from detaining people he thought to be illegal immigrants, when they were not charged with any other crimes. Prosecutors alleged that he continued to do so, and last year, the Justice Department decided to pursue a criminal contempt-of-court case against him.
Critics said his policy of detaining people on mere suspicion was racist and illegal, and his refusal to honor a court’s order to stop was brazen. Wilenchik has said that the judge’s order enjoining Arpaio was “not clear,” and suggested that Arpaio was merely doing what others do routinely: turning over those in the country illegally to the U.S. Border Patrol.