Trump reportedly asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions about dropping the criminal case against Joe Arpaio

President Donald Trump reportedly asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether it would be possible to drop the federal criminal case against Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who last month was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a court order to stop racially profiling Latinos.

Sessions told Trump that such a move would be inappropriate but a pardon could be granted upon Arpaio's conviction, The Washington Post reported on Saturday, citing three people familiar with Sessions and Trump's conversation.

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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) joins President Donald Trump (L) for an opioid and drug abuse listening session at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions speaks next to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally at Madison City Schools Stadium in Madison, Alabama February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Jeff Sessions (L) as U.S. Attorney General while his wife Mary Sessions holds the Bible in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 28: Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., left, endorses Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee for president during a campaign rally at Madison City Schools Stadium in Madison, Ala., February 28, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates Jeff Sessions after he was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General as his wife Mary Sessions looks on during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a swearing-in ceremony for new Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Under a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson, U.S. President Donald Trump (L) congratulates Jeff Sessions after he was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump reaches out toward Attorney General Jeff Sessions as they attend the National Peace Officers Memorial Service on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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MOBILE, AL - DECEMBER 17: President-elect Donald Trump greets Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump's picks for attorney general, during a thank you rally in Ladd-Peebles Stadium on December 17, 2016 in Mobile, Alabama. President-elect Trump has been visiting several states that he won, to thank people for their support during the U.S. election. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump watches as Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Jeff Sessions (L) as U.S. Attorney General while his wife Mary Sessions holds the Bible in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
MOBILE, AL- AUGUST 21: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump introduces Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R) Mobile during his rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on August 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. The Donald Trump campaign moved tonight's rally to a larger stadium to accommodate demand. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates Jeff Sessions after he was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General as his wife Mary Sessions looks on during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
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After agreeing to the plan to grant Arpaio clemency, Trump was "gung-ho about it," one associate told The Post.

"We knew the president wanted to do this for some time now and had worked to prepare for whenever the moment may come," a White House official told the newspaper.

Trump ultimately granted the pardon on Friday evening, sparking a fierce backlash among liberals and some conservatives. Arpaio had cultivated a notorious reputation over the 23 years he spent as sheriff of Maricopa County — during that time, the sheriff's department was accused of racial profiling, illegally detaining Latinos, and keeping inmates in inhumane conditions in his "tent city" jail, which he once called a "concentration camp."

Arpaio was a vocal and early supporter of Trump's presidential campaign, and the two men shared a zest for cracking down on illegal immigration and ramping up deportation. They had also bonded over the "birther" conspiracy theory that questioned the legitimacy of Barack Obama's presidency.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told The Post that "it's only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different."

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Sen. John McCain of Arizona: Trump "undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law" with the Arpaio pardon.

Sen. John McCain said in a statement on Friday:

"No one is above the law and the individuals entrusted with the privilege of being sworn law officers should always seek to be beyond reproach in their commitment to fairly enforcing the laws they swore to uphold. Mr. Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their perceived immigration status in violation of a judge’s orders. The President has the authority to make this pardon, but 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."

In this photo: Sen. John McCain on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: A "mockery of rule of law."

Jeff Flake, the junior Arizona senator, said Trump should have let "the judicial process ... take its course."

Jeff Flake's primary challenger Kelli Ward applauded Trump and called Arpaio's actions as sheriff "heroic."
Arizona 7th Congressional District Rep. Ruben Gallego: Trump "blessed Arpaio's racist and unconstitutional police practices."

Gallego said: "By pardoning Joe Arpaio, Donald Trump has blessed Arpaio's racist and unconstitutional police practices. Trump's pardon of Arpaio is unconscionable and unworthy of the White House. This is Trump's first pardon of a crony. Will it be his last?"

Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates: Trump just revealed "his own contempt for our Constitution."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump "used the cover of the storm," referring to Hurricane Harvey, to pardon Arpaio.

Schumer said: "As millions of people in TX and LA are prepping for the hurricane, the President is using the cover of the storm to pardon a man who violated a court's order to stop discriminating against Latinos and nan courageous transgender men and women from serving our nation's Armed Forces. So sad, so weak."

"Instead of seeking to unify the country as promised, POTUS has doubled down on encouraging white supremacists post-Charlottesville. Joe Arpaio ignored the courts and the rule of law in order to systematically target Latinos in AZ. The definition of racism and bigotry."

Vanita Gupta, head of the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights: Trump has "yet again damaged himself."

Read Gupta's full statement below:

WASHINGTON – Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released the following statement after President Donald Trump issued a pardon for Sheriff Joe Arpaio:

“Instead of a dog whistle, President Trump picked up a bull horn and let out a hateful shout tonight when he pardoned someone who personifies the same bigotry and intolerance we witnessed in Charlottesville. For more than two decades, Sheriff Arpaio terrorized and profiled Arizona’s Latino citizens, was finally voted out of office, and was convicted for failing to follow a court order to cease his unlawful, racist policing.

The white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and others the president excused heard his endorsement of racist and illegal policing policies loud and clear yet again. Trump has, yet again, damaged himself, the rule of law, and our country tonight. This pardon sends a dangerous message that a law enforcement officer who abused his position of power and defied a court order can simply be excused by a president who himself clearly does not respect the law.”

In this photo, Vanita Gupta is seen in the Washington D.C., on December 16, 2016. Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut: This is a "middle finger to America."
Republican strategist and conservative commentator Ana Navarro: "It's another slap in the face to the Latino community."

Navarro torched the pardon on Friday night:

"This is a slap in the face to the Latino community, to most of us in the Latino community — perhaps not the guy who hates taco trucks — but a lot of other Latinos see Joe Arpaio as a symbol of racism of discrimination, of racial profiling, of abuses of civil rights, and the president of the United States has seen fit to pardon him today in a very extraordinary move, and I think he didn't do it in Arizona earlier in the week because he knew all hell would break loose.

Because he knew there would be thousands of impromptu protesters that would have shown up outside that rally to protest that act and what it would have meant. That's why the mayor of Phoenix warned him not to go to Arizona, because he was afraid that he was going to pardon Joe Arpaio. and what that would mean in that community — turning it into another Charlottesville.

So we have a president of the United States, a so-called president of the United States — I call him president of the divided states — that in the last two weeks, has stood with racists, with white supremacists, with neo-Nazis, and now with this man who is a symbol for civil rights abuses and racial profiling. He is the President of 34 percent of Americans, that's about it."

In this photol, Ana Navarro (L) appears in New York City on October 27, 2016. Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for New York Times

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse:

"Arpaio systemically discriminated against AZ Latinos in defiance of our Constitution and ignored our courts," Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said on Friday. "He does not deserve a pardon."

"Now is a time to bind the wounds left by white nationalists’ repugnant attacks in Charlottesville. Instead, President Trump has again doubled down on the side of ignorance, bigotry, intolerance, and hate."

The American Civil Liberties Union said the pardon is a "presidential endorsement of racism."

Read the ACLU's full statement below:

"President Trump has pardoned former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, who was found guilty of criminal contempt for deliberately violating a federal court order that prohibited illegal detentions based only on suspicions about immigration status.

The ruling stems from an initial lawsuit brought by Latino residents of Maricopa who successfully challenged Arpaio’s policies of racial profiling and illegal detentions. The plaintiff class was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and partner organizations. Arpaio repeatedly flouted court orders in that civil rights case, leading to both civil and criminal contempt rulings against him.

ACLU Deputy Legal Director Cecillia Wang said:

'With his pardon of Arpaio, Trump has chosen lawlessness over justice, division over unity, hurt over healing. Once again, the president has acted in support of illegal, failed immigration enforcement practices that target people of color and have been struck down by the courts. His pardon of Arpaio is a presidential endorsement of racism.'"

Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone: "Eat it, liberals!"
Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts: "Nobody is above the law. Period."
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla: "Another attack on American values."

Read Padilla's full statement on the Arpaio pardon below:

SACRAMENTO California Secretary of State Alex Padilla released the following statement in response to President Trump's pardon of former Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio:

"As if his abhorrent behavior wasn't enough regarding Charlottesville, today Trump doubled down on his endorsement of racism in America.

Mr. Trump's pardoning of Joe Arpaio is another attack on American values and makes a mockery of our justice system. Joe Arpaio is a convicted felon who openly promoted racial profiling and discrimination against American citizens who are Latina and Latino. 

This pardon further divides our nation, fuels bigotry and undermines the rule of law. How long will our legislative leaders in Washington stand by and do nothing?"

In this photo, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla speaks appears on July 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

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Legal experts, however, disagreed. Trump's inquiry into dropping the case against Arpaio went "beyond the pale," Chiraag Bains, a former senior counsel in the Justice Department's Civil Right Division, told The Post.

"[Trump] has a sense that the chief executive controls everything in the executive branch, including the exercise of criminal power. And that is just not the way the system is set up."

Speculation that Trump would pardon Arpaio took off immediately after his conviction on July 31. According to The Post, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and former chief strategist Steve Bannon were both in favor of the move.

Arpaio told The Post he never asked for Trump to pardon him.

"He wanted to do it because I think he understood what I was going through."

Trump himself hinted multiple times at the possibility of a pardon, most notably at a Phoenix, Arizona, rally on Tuesday, when he said "I won't do it tonight, because I don't want to cause any controversy … But Sheriff Joe can feel good."

Arpaio's team reportedly began to panic the night after the rally, when rumors surfaced that Trump would potentially wait until Arpaio's sentencing before granting a pardon. Arpaio's lawyer Mark Goldman reportedly then letter sent to White House Counsel Don McGahn, cautioning him that delaying the pardon would mean Arpaio could be "sentenced, handcuffed, given a 'perp walk' and incarcerated."

"Hopefully this is more fake news," Golman wrote, adding that the delay "would place Sheriff Arpaio in an untenable and unprecedented position."

The same day the letter was sent, a lawyer in McGahn's office reportedly phoned Goldman's team to confirm that Arpaio would accept a pardon. According to The Post, a White House email with an attachment titled "Executive Grant of Clemency" arrived just minutes later, signed by Trump.

 

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