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Trump defends Arpaio pardon, assumed ‘ratings would be far higher’ by announcing during hurricane

At a news conference Aug. 28, President Trump defended his decision to pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County. (Video: Reuters)

President Trump defended his controversial pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio on Monday,  saying his decision to announce it during Hurricane Harvey likely earned it “far higher” ratings.

Speaking at a joint news conference with the president of Finland, Trump made his first comments on Arpaio since his decision to pardon the Arizona lawman Friday — defending both the timing of the pardon late Friday evening, as Harvey made landfall, and the decision itself.

“He’s done a great job for the people of Arizona, he’s very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration, he is loved in Arizona,” Trump said. “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.”

He added: “I thought that was very, very unfair thing to do.”

How ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio wound up facing jail time before Trump pardoned him

Addressing the specific timing of his pardon — which seemed to embody a classic “news dump,” coming as the nation focused on the impending storm — the president said he actually imagined the controversial pardon would have attracted even more media attention, because of the Harvey coverage.

“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,” he said.

Arpaio — the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., who earned a reputation for his rough treatment of criminals, especially Hispanics — was found guilty by a federal judge of criminal contempt, for ignoring a court order to stop detaining people simply because he believed they were illegal immigrants.

Trump seemed prepared to defend his pardon of Arpaio, a decision that drew pointed rebukes, including by some members of his own party. At the news conference, when asked about Arpaio, he began reading from a sheet of paper, rattling off other controversial pardons under former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

After reading the list — which included Marc Rich, a fugitive businessman whose wife had donated to both the Clinton Library foundation and the Democratic Party — the president concluded that Arpaio, whom Trump described as “a great veteran of the military” and a “great law enforcement person,” still had his support.

“So I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe and I think the people of Arizona who really know him best would agree with me,” he said.