WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump created his own storm of reaction Friday night while at Camp David, pardoning convicted ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio, banning transgender people from joining the military and forcing out White House adviser Sebastian Gorka.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers criticized his pardon of Arpaio as showing disrespect for the rule of law and endorsing the targeting of Latinos, and complained that his military order endorsed discrimination against the transgender men and women.
Trump revealed his controversial orders after he left Washington and as the nation’s attention was drawn to Hurricane Harvey as it bore down on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a tweet.
“The only reason to do these right now is to use the cover of Hurricane Harvey to avoid scrutiny,” Schumer tweeted Friday night.
Trump carried out the Arpaio pardon, over which he dropped hints during his campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, when he said he wouldn’t issue a pardon then because it was too controversial but assured his supporters the former sheriff “would be just fine.”
Arpaio tweeted he was “humbled and incredibly grateful,” then directed his followers on how to make donations to his legal defense fund.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said Arpaio should be given credit for his crime-fighting efforts and be allowed to “move on.”
But both of Arizona’s Republican senators lamented the pardon. Sen. John McCain said that with his pardon, Trump “undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, a target of Trump’s ire, tweeted, “I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.”
Arpaio was convicted on July 31 of misdemeanor criminal contempt, following prolonged patrols that profiled Latinos based on their perceived immigration status for 17 months after a judge ordered them to be stopped.
Trump also issued a formal policy document formalizing his July 26 tweets, in which he surprised the Pentagon by saying he would reverse former President Barack Obama’s order allowing transgender people to serve openly in the military.
In response to the transgender ban, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, tweeted, “To all trans men and women serving bravely in the military: I plan to introduce legislation to fight back. We’ll keep raising our voices.”
Gorka’s departure as an adviser had been rumored since populist and economic nationalist Stephen Bannon left his post as chief strategist. Gorka’s departure also was clouded by questions of whether he resigned or was fired.
Gorka said he resigned. A White House official said, “Sebastian Gorka did not resign, but I can confirm he no longer works at the White House.”
Gorka said in his resignation letter to Trump that he left because the Afghanistan policy that Trump announced this week did not include “any mention of Radical Islam,” an omission that “proves that a critical element of your presidential campaign has been lost.”
Breitbart, which Bannon now runs, said it is in negotiations with Gorka regarding his support for the website and for collaboration on a national-security joint venture.
Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, which includes nearly all civil rights groups, said Trump’s pardon of Arpaio was a “hateful shout.” Gupta also said Gorka’s departure was “long overdue and welcome” and charged that Gorka “supports white supremacy and neo-Nazi ideas.”