The pardon of Joseph Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, meshes well with what we know by now of President Donald Trump’s style.
Arpaio became an anti-immigrant cult figure long before the 2016 campaign. But after winning the state’s primary last year, Trump tweeted: “Could not have done it without you Joe!”
Granting a supporter a pardon has precedent — most glaringly when Bill Clinton got fugitive financier Marc Rich off the hook on tax fraud and illegal oil deals with Iran. Rich’s wife, Denise, was a major league donor to Democrats.
But there are other, unique ways in which this latest pardon bears the special Trump brand.
One is the president’s repeated scoffing at certain constraints on law enforcement.
On Monday, the administration announced a plan to stop curbing local law enforcement agencies from getting surplus military gear — a statement about responses to civilian protests.
When Trump visited Long Island regarding the gang scourge, his effort to seem in solidarity with cops led him to half-jokingly say they shouldn’t protect the heads of those arrested.
So it wouldn’t bother Trump that Arpaio ordered detentions based solely on suspicion of a person’s immigration status. The president also wants to deny federal funding to municipalities that refuse to help enforce federal immigration law.
Nor would you expect this president to have a particular problem with the fact that Arpaio’s misdemeanor contempt conviction stemmed from defying a federal judge’s orders.
The first-year commander-in-chief has not exactly made courts, judges, prosecutors or the system they steer the object of public esteem.
He blamed the Mexican heritage of an Indiana-born federal judge for an adverse ruling in a civil case. He belittled another for temporarily blocking enforcement of his travel ban from several majority-Muslim nations.
It turns out Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions if it would be possible to drop the federal case against Arpaio, but was told it couldn’t be dropped.
This echoes testimony that Trump blew off usual procedure and asked then FBI Director James Comey to drop a probe of Mike Flynn, the ex-national security director who was also a prominent campaign supporter.
Not everyone who calls himself conservative or thinks police endure too much legal second-guessing or that activists overreact to “profiling” or that immigration laws need to be enforced, favors Arpaio’s pardon.
“Arpaio took conservative ideas to grotesque extremes, and made the nauseating political correctness of the Obama Justice Department look good,” former Republican New York State Appeals Court Judge Robert Smith wrote in an opinion piece over the weekend in the New York Daily News.
“Courts are still courts, and when they make an order you’re supposed to do what they say. Especially if you claim to be crusading for the rule of law. . . . [Arpaio] kept right on doing what he was ordered not to do, lying about it and destroying the evidence. You can see how the judge got annoyed.”
The judge, Smith noted, has been described as a “very conservative Republican.”
Some critics guess Trump is sending a signal to ex-associates who may flip on him in the Russia probe that they can avoid cooperating with federal officials — and that he will make the trouble go away by waving his magical presidential wand.
But that remains speculative.