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Donald Trump pardons convicted sheriff Joe Arpaio in first clemency

LiveMint logoLiveMint 26-08-2017 Toluse Olorunnipa

Washington: US President Donald Trump pardoned former Arizona county sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday, using his first act of presidential clemency to give reprieve to a political supporter known—and criminally convicted—for his tough crackdown on illegal immigration.

“Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now 85 years old, and after more than 50 years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon,” the White House said in a statement. Trump lauded Arpaio for his “life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration.”

Arpaio, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, was convicted of federal misdemeanour criminal contempt this year after a judge found he had defied a court order to stop targeting suspected undocumented immigrants. By pardoning Arpaio, Trump threatened to further inflame national tensions over race and immigration while also alienating some of the Republicans who have touted the importance of the rule of law.

Arpaio, who served for 24 years as the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, was defeated in last year’s election.

“I have to thank the president of the United States,” Arpaio said in a telephone interview. “I feel vindicated.”

Trump didn’t vet the pardon through the Justice Department, according to an official with knowledge of the decision who asked not to be identified. That circumvented the traditional political process for issuing pardons.

The website of the department’s pardon attorney states, “All requests for executive clemency for federal offences are directed to the pardon attorney for investigation and review.” Justice Department guidelines say pardon requests shouldn’t be made until five years have passed between a conviction or completion of a sentence.

However, the president can grant a pardon “to any individual he deems fit, irrespective of whether an application has been filed with the Office of the Pardon Attorney,’’ and at any time after the commission of an offence, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Despite Trump’s praise, critics have said Arpaio’s persecution of illegal immigration promoted racial profiling. Arpaio also pushed the baseless conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US.

Whither judicial process

The pardon earned quick condemnation from Democrats and civil liberties groups. And Arizona senator John McCain, A Republican who’s clashed with Trump, said that while Trump may have the authority to pardon Arpaio, “doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”

Arizona’s other Republican senators, Jeff Flake, was more muted.

“I would have preferred that the President honour the judicial process and let it take its course,” Flake, often a Trump critic, said on Twitter.

Trump had told Fox News that he was “seriously considering” a pardon for Arpaio.

“He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration,” Trump said in the interview. “He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”

It’s rare for a president to issue a pardon so early in his term.

Obama pardoned 212 individuals during his eight-year term, with the majority of those in his final weeks in office, according to the Justice Department. Most recent presidents have opted against pardoning elected officials.

The last president to issue a pardon the same year he was inaugurated was George H.W. Bush in 1989. Bloomberg

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