John McCain leads criticism of Trump's pardon for controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio

Billionaire's decision 'undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law', says veteran Arizona senator

Jon Sharman
Saturday 26 August 2017 14:05 BST
Donald Trump has pardoned a controversial Arizona sheriff
Donald Trump has pardoned a controversial Arizona sheriff (AP)

Veteran senator John McCain has led criticism of Donald Trump‘s decision to pardon the controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio, saying it “undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law”.

The long-serving Arizona senator joined a chorus of condemnation of the move, announced as Texas battened down the hatches in preparation for Hurricane Harvey.

Mr Arpaio, 85, ignored a 2011 court ruling that blocked him from racially profiling Latino residents and was convicted of contempt of court less than a month ago, leaving him facing potential time behind bars.

He had gained notoriety for backing Mr Trump’s “birther” campaign and for his massive roundups of suspected illegal immigrants. At Maricopa County jail he reinstated chain gangs and banned coffee, salt and pepper.

Mr Trump said Mr Arpaio was an “American patriot” who “kept Arizona safe!”.

But his longtime critic, Mr McCain, said: “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.”

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Cecillia Wang, a lawyer who helped press the racial profiling case against Mr Arpaio, called the pardon ”a presidential endorsement of racism”.

Mr Trump “has acted in support of illegal, failed immigration enforcement practices that target people of colour and have been struck down by the courts”, she said.

Her view was echoed by former Democratic presidential candiate Senator Bernie Sanders, who said the pardon “has again made clear [Mr Trump] will use the powers of the presidency to defend racism and discrimination”.

And Hilarie Bass, president of the American Bar Association, said: “Pardoning a law enforcement officer who has disobeyed the courts and violated the rights of people he has sworn to protect undercuts judicial authority and the public’s faith in our legal system.”

Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, said the President had given “a free pass to his buddy Joe Arpaio, the nation’s most notorious agent of racism and bigotry”. The decision to issue the pardon as a dangerous hurricane was bearing down on Texas was “not presidential”, he added.

Enrique Acevedo, a news anchor for the popular Spanish-language channel Univision, tweeted: “This is all you need to know about Trump’s promise of law and order: He fired James Comey and pardoned Joe Arpaio.”

Jeff Flake, Arizona’s other Republican senator, said on Twitter that “I would have preferred that the President honour the judicial process and let it take its course”. Mr Arpaio was due to be sentenced in October and faced up to six months in prison.

Both Mr Flake and Mr McCain have been public targets of Mr Trump’s anger; Mr Flake for his outspoken criticism of the President, and Mr McCain for his July vote against the repeal of Obamacare – a legislative win Mr Trump desperately needed.

On Twitter, the Phoenix New Times recounted a string of stories that chronicled Mr Arpaio’s 24-year reign.

It said: “By 2015, his fondness for racial profiling had cost the county more [than] $44m. On top of, you know, ruining lives.

“Oh, and one time he staged an assassination attempt against himself? That was weird.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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