Joe Arpaio is Trump’s kind of lawman: cruel to the point of sadism, racist, makes his own law, and self righteous to a fault. Unfortunately, I am not embellishing the truth. After decades of effort by civil rights organizations and many citizens of Maricopa County and beyond. Arpaio had been ordered by the court (in 2011) to stop racially profiling people assumed to be Latino, stopping them, and turning them over to immigration authorities (ICE). Many of those stopped were citizens or legal residents, and many were not Hispanic; however, all that was required was that a patrolman, or a deputized citizen (and there were lots of those) believe you were Hispanic. Arpaio flagrantly ignored this order and continued his practice of harassment and illegal detention. So he was brought back to federal court and U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton found him in criminal contempt of court.
In an interview with Fox News two months later, Arpaio said he was going to continue arresting immigrants in the country illegally: “I’m not going to give it up. I’m going to continue to enforce state laws and federal laws.” (LA Times, July 31, 2017)
The penalty hearing was set for October 5th. Trump pardoned him. Choosing to do so while hundreds of thousands people and dozens of cities and towns faced a category 4 hurricane followed by feet of rain. It is no secret that Trump is a narcissist, and I had wondered of he could take being upstaged by a natural disaster. He couldn’t. Now we know why he won’t acknowledge global warming – it might take the county’s attention away from him.
Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio sends a swarm of messages with a megaphone. He could have easily waited until Hurricane Harvey was passed and Arpaio was sentenced on October 5th. There are some that say that Trump is flexing his presidential muscle as he may be considering using his power to pardon as those around him potentially fall to the investigation of Russia, the Trump team, and the 2016 election. The pardon sends a message to Trump’s base, apparently a core of which shares his white nationalist ideology. (So much for him being a “transactional” rather than ideological president).
His perspective on “law and order” clearly applies to some groups rather than others, and his idea of a police force looks more like brown shirts than peace officers. This was clear in his speech to the ICE officers in Suffolk County July 28, 2017. Much was made of his encouraging ICE (and police) to be “rough” with suspects. This was bad enough that ICE leadership, as well as police department leadership across the country, sent out communications that they should conduct themselves to the highest standards and within the bounds of the law. While Trump’s prepared remarks are here, they are not quite what he delivered. I made my own transcript of parts I thought important. Below is the video of his speech followed by pertinent tidbits with time stamps in parentheses at the end of the quote.
- ICE Director, Tom Homan. He looks very nasty. He looks very mean. That’s exactly what I was looking for. (4:51:27)
- One by one we are liberating our American towns. Hear what I’m saying? We are liberating our towns like I would see in a movie. They’re liberating the town like in the old wild West. Right? We’re liberating our towns. I never thought I’d be standing up here talking about liberating the towns on Long Island – where I grew up – but that’s what you’re doing. I can tell you I saw some photos where Tom’s (Homan) guys – rough guys – they’re rough. I don’t want a be, don’t want a be, because they’ll say that’s not politically correct. You’re not allowed to have rough people doing this kind of work. (13:18)
- We’re doing really well. We took off all those restrictions we were statutorily stuck with for a little while, but eventually that statute comes up and we’re going to be able to cut a lot more. But we’ve sort of liberated the world of creating jobs like you’re liberating us and the people that live in areas. But I have to say, one by one we are indeed freeing up these great American towns, and cities, that are under siege from gang violence. (15:00)
- The laws are so horrendously stacked against us because for years they’ve been made to protect the criminal. Totally made to protect the criminal. Not the officers. You do something wrong you’re in more jeopardy than they are. These laws are stacked against you. We’re changing those laws, but in the mean time we need judges for the simplest things – things that you should be able to do without a judge. But we have to have those judges quickly.But in the mean time we are trying to change the laws. (23:53)
- We’re also working with chairman Bob Goodlatte on a series of enforcement measures and he’s a terrific guy. To keep our country safe from crime and terrorism, and in particular radical Islamic terrorism. A term never uttered by past administration. Never uttered. Did anyone ever hear that term? I don’t think so. But you heard it from me. That includes cracking down on sanctuary cities that defy federal law; shield these visa over-stays, and that release dangerous criminals back into United States communities. That’s what’s happening. They’re releasing them. So many deaths where they release somebody back into the community. And they know its going to end that way. That’s what’s sad. They know it’s going to end that way. We’re ending those procedures. (25:26)
- The laws are tough. The laws are stacked against us, but we’re ending it. (26:51)
- We will defend our country; protect our communities, and put the safety of the (sic white) American people first. And I’m doing that with law enforcement, and we’re doing that with trade, and we’re doing that with so much else. It’s called America First, it’s called an expression I’m sure you’ve never heard of “Make America Great Again.” Has anyone ever heard that expression? (18:30)
The pardoning of Arpaio is part of a pattern of Trump’s disregard for the law; his perception of himself as a sole sovereign ruler free of the fetters of Constitutional and customary controls; able to act with impunity; engaging in favoritism and cronyism; selling and paying people via the power of his office.
Deepening the evidence of Trump’s disrespect for law and the judicial branch, he reportedly asked his Attorney General Jeff Sessions months ago if he could drop the criminal case against Arpaio. Just Trump’s intervention at this level is not only highly irregular, it is unethical. The President cannot task the DoJ with criminal investigations (i.e. sic the Department on someone), nor can he tell (or ask) the DoJ to drop an investigation. In other words, he was way out of his lane. More recently he asked about pardoning Arpaio. This is generally a long process that happens after sentencing (and often when someone is already in jail), and the individual (or other for him or her) petition the president for a pardon. This is a process of years, and there are many pardon request in the pipeline. What Trump did is not only irregular, he jumped his supporter to the head of the line, not waiting for sentencing or even a request from Arpaio.
Jeff Sessions is the PEOPLE’S top lawyer – not Trump’s. He is not supposed to be doing favors for the President, nor offering him legal advice of this nature. Apparently neither Trump, nor his Press Secretary are aware of the distinction. When questioned about Trump’s discussion with Sessions on the Arpaio matter, according to the Washington Post, Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied:
“It’s only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different.”
Sorry Sarah, but Jeff Sessions is NOT an administration attorney. He is the Attorney General of the United States. He is the head of the Department of Justice. President Trump has a White House Counsel by the name of Don McGhan who is responsible for counseling Trump on issues within the presidential role. Trump also has a stable of private attorneys to counsel him on his situation vis a vis Russian intervention in the presidential election. The head of that stable is Ty Cobb.
The pardoning of Joe Arpaio, one of the most recognizable racists in the country sends a clear message to the base. However, Michael Gerson made an interesting observation in a Meet The Press discussion Sunday, 8/28/17. He stated (I’m paraphrasing) that Joe Arpaio had made a career out of dehumanization, and that coincided with Trump operates in the realm of the politics of dehumanization. In pardoning Arpaio, Trump was metaphorically pardoning himself. While I think that this is an outstanding observation, the pardon is almost certainly more complex than that, and it for sure demonstrates Trump’s disdain for the law, and his perception of his own powers as president in the framework of solely his own needs and interests.