Arizona lawmakers praise, condemn Trump’s pardon of Arpaio

Then-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio shakes hands with then-candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign rally in Fountain Hills. Arpaio was an early supporter of President Trump, who issued a pardon Friday of Arpaio’s federal contempt of court conviction. (Photo by Miguel Otárola/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – In Washington, reaction to President Donald Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was swift and strong.

All four Arizona Democrats, as well as the Arizona Democratic Party, issued statements within an hour of the pardon that accused the president of violating the rule of law, endorsing racism and bigotry and abusing his office and the power to pardon.

In an emailed statement, Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, a former police officer, said Arpaio betrayed the public trust and should be held accountable.

“In pardoning Joe Arpaio, President Trump undermines the judicial process while handing out political favors to a campaign supporter,” O’Halleran’s statement said.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, reacted in a series of Tweets that she was “dismayed by the president’s decision… Arpaio hurt Arizonans & cost taxpayers a great amount of grief & money. He should be held accountable. No one is above the law.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said in a statement that Trump’s pardon is “an abuse of the presidential pardon and a full-throated endorsement of selected racial persecution and bigotry.”

That was echoed by Rep. Gallego, D-Phoenix, who said in an interview with MSNBC that, “At the end of the day, it doesn’t surprise me… Donald Trump is a racist, and he’s pardoning a racist.”

Gallego, noting that the news was released as a hurricane was bearing down on Texas, accused Trump of pardoning Arpaio “under the cover of a humanitarian crisis.”

On the Republican side, the reaction from Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake – who spars often with Trump – was more measured than most. He tweeted Friday that he “would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course” on Arpaio, who has yet to be sentenced and still can appeal.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, another Trump critic, was more blunt, saying in a tweet that Arpaio “illegally profiled Latinos” and saying the president’s action undermines “the respect of the rule of law.”

But other Arizona Republicans were aggressive in their defense of the president’s action.

Flake’s likely 2018 primary opponent, Kelli Ward, thanked Trump for pardoning “a patriot who did the job the Feds refused to do.”

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, praised the Arpaio pardon, comparing it to former President Barack Obama’s decision to commute the sentence of former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, who was convicted after leaking documents to WikiLeaks. Franks said in an emailed statement that “Obama commuted the prison sentence of … a treasonous intelligence analyst.”

“While no one can dispute Manning acted to undermine our country’s national security, Joe Arpaio has spent a lifetime trying to maintain it,” Franks said in his statement. “Comparing the two, it is easy to discern that Arpaio is a patriot, while Manning is a traitor.”

While critics said Trump’s decision on Arpaio was politically motivated, Franks said Obama’s decision on Manning was made “to appease left-wing social activists,” and that doing so “put American national security at grave risk.”

-Cronkite News video by Fraser Allan Best

Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund, an immigration reform advocacy group, said Trump’s pardon was oddly timed given the many national and international issues the White House is juggling. She urged Trump to focus on “what is important.”

“Here’s a shock: The North Koreans are lobbing missiles; (Special Counsel Robert) Mueller is ramping up the Russia investigation; and Hurricane Harvey is devastating the Texas coast,” Tramonte said in a statement. Faced with that, she said, Trump handed “a get-out-of-jail-free card to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a worthy member of the white nationalist, anti-immigrant, law-breaking crowd that is working hard to make America crater again.”

“Giving amnesty to Arpaio after all that he has done is a serious affront to American values,” Tramonte said.

The pardon – along with White House announcements on the firing of special adviser Sebastian Gorka and formalization of Trump’s ban on transgender soldiers – was announced late Friday with Hurricane Harvey looming. That would normally bury the bad news quickly, but that might not be the case with the Arpaio pardon, said Andrew Gilman, president of CommCore Consulting Group.

“Make good announcements when the news is relatively quiet, and try to keep making bad announcements to times when there are other things dominating the news,” said Gilman, whose company does crisis management consulting.

“In a traditional news cycle the hurricane would be the top story, but we’re in such a mixed news climate right now that people go to the sources that support their views,” he said. “On the left, Arpaio will lead because of the outrage and on the right Arpaio will lead because of support.”

– Cronkite News reporters Adrienne St. Clair, Isaac Windes, Andrew Nicla and Fraser Allan Best contributed to this report.