Donald Trump has defended his decision to pardon the controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, and signalled he made the announcement as Hurricane Harvey struck America because “ratings would be far higher”.
The US President linking the disaster to his own impact on TV is likely to draw criticism, and comes as thousands of people awaited rescue on Monday as heavy rains poured into the area surrounding the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Over 30 inches of rain have fallen in some parts of southeast Texas since Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday evening, leaving at least 300,000 people without power, and causing damage that authorities predict will take years to fix. The death toll rose on Monday to eight people, Texas officials reported to The Washington Post.
Trump’s first pardon drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, and renewed allegations that he has little respect for an independent judiciary.
Arpaio shot to national fame by aggressively targeting immigrants living in the US illegally using tactics that Latino and immigrants’ rights advocates likened to racial profiling. He faced a possible jail sentence on a federal conviction stemming from his refusal to halt certain immigration patrols.
Asked about his controversial pardon during a joint press conference with the president of Finland on Monday, Trump insisted that “a lot of people” believe he made the right call.
“In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. You know, the hurricane was just starting.”
Trump went on:
“He’s done a great job for the people of Arizona, he’s very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration. I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly when they came down with their big decision to go get him right before the election voting started.”
Arpaio willfully violated a federal judge’s order by unlawfully detaining individuals his officers claimed might be in the country illegally.
Arpaio, who had previously proclaimed himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” was convicted of criminal contempt last month for violating a 2011 order that barred him and his office from detaining individuals solely based on suspicions about their legal status.
Arpaio, 85, was scheduled to be sentenced in October.
The media-savvy former sheriff, known for parading inmates around in pink underwear, supported the former reality TV star’s presidential campaign and spoke at the Republican National Convention last summer.
Both men were prominent promoters of the racist conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
Arpaio, who served as sheriff from 1993 through 2016, had long been accused of discriminatory practices against Latinos.
A 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division concluded there was reasonable cause to believe that Arpaio and his office engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful policing and racial profiling. Arpaio’s officers called Latinos “wetbacks,” “Mexican bitches,” “fucking Mexicans” and “stupid Mexicans,” the Justice Department found, and Latino drivers were four to nine times as likely to be stopped by his officers as non-Latino drivers were.
A lawsuit filed by the Justice Department was settled in 2015. Trump said today:
“He’s done a great job for the people of Arizona. He is very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration. He is loved in Arizona.”