WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday defiantly defended his pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio by attacking controversial acts of clemency by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
“I stand by my pardon of ‘Sheriff Joe,’” Trump declared at a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö at the White House.
The president said he had done some research into past controversies over presidential clemencies “because I assumed that somebody would ask me the question.”
Pulling a white piece of paper from his suit pocket, Trump said he “wanted to look at some of the other people that were pardoned over the years,” then read a list of controversies over clemency.
He cited Marc Rich, one of the 140 pardons Bill Clinton issued on his way out the door in January 2001. The fugitive financier decamped to Switzerland after being charged with evading $48 million in taxes and trading oil with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
Trump said Rich “was charged with crimes going back decades including buying oil from Iran while it held 53 American hostages” and “he was pardoned after his wife donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Clintons.” Rich’s former wife, Denise Rich, was a top contributor to the Democratic Party, and also gave money to Hillary Clinton’s Senate race in New York.
Trump accused Clinton of pardoning “dangerous criminals,” citing Susan Rosenberg, a member of the Weather Underground terrorist group. She was tied to a 1981 armored car robbery that claimed the lives of two police officers and a guard. The president also pointed to Clinton’s decision to commute the sentence of convicted drug trafficker Carlos Vignali.
Trump hit Obama for commuting the sentence of “criminal leaker” Chelsea Manning, calling that a “horrible, horrible thing that he did,” as well as the sentence of Oscar López Rivera, a member of the radical Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) Puerto Rico independence group behind a deadly bombing campaign in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Sheriff Joe is a patriot, Sheriff Joe loves our country, Sheriff Joe protected our borders, and sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration,” Trump said. He did not say Arpaio was innocent of the charges against him.
The president’s decision to pardon Arpaio, announced Friday night as Hurricane Harvey began its devastating march into Texas, drew angry responses from elected officials, civil rights advocates and Latino-Americans. Arpaio, an early and fervent supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign, had been convicted of criminal contempt last month for failing to obey a federal judge’s order to stop targeting Latinos on the basis of their suspected immigration status. It was just the latest tangle with the law for the self-styled “America’s toughest sheriff,” whose tactics met time and time again with court rebukes and cost taxpayers millions in settlement fees.
The news followed the late-Friday disclosure of Trump’s plans to bar transgender individuals from serving in the military — an information pileup that stoked suspicions of a “Friday news dump,” a term that refers to the time-honored practice of minimizing the attention an announcement gets by making it late on Friday.
Trump rejected the notion on Monday.
“In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally,” the president said.
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