Trump sought to quash case against Ar­paio

Pres­i­dent paved way for par­don­ing friend, part­ner in ‘birtherism’ long be­fore con­vic­tion

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - POLITICS - By Philip Rucker and Ellen Nakashima

As Joseph Ar­paio’s fed­eral case headed to­ward trial this past spring, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wanted to act to help the former Ari­zona county sher­iff who had be­come a cam­paign-trail com­pan­ion and a part­ner in their cru­sade against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

The pres­i­dent asked At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions whether it would be pos­si­ble for the govern­ment to drop the crim­i­nal case against Ar­paio, but was ad­vised that would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate, ac­cord­ing to three peo­ple with knowl­edge of the con­ver­sa­tion.

Af­ter talk­ing with Ses­sions, Trump de­cided to let the case go to trial, and if Ar­paio was con­victed, he could grant clemency.

So the pres­i­dent waited, all the while plan­ning to is­sue a par­don if Ar­paio was found in con­tempt of court for de­fy­ing a fed­eral judge’s or­der to stop de­tain­ing peo­ple merely be­cause he sus­pected them of be­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.Trump was, in the words of one as­so­ci­ate, “gung-ho about it.”

“We knew the pres­i­dent wanted to do this for some time now and had worked to pre­pare for when­ever the mo­ment may come,” said one White House of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the ac­tion.

Re­spond­ing to ques­tions about Trump’s con­ver­sa­tion with Ses­sions, White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said, “It’s only nat­u­ral the pres­i­dent would have a dis­cus­sion with ad­min­is­tra­tion lawyers about le­gal mat­ters. This case would be no dif­fer­ent .”

The Jus­tice De­part­ment de­clined to com­ment.

By­passes tra­di­tional re­view

Trump’s de­ci­sion to is­sue his first par­don Fri­day evening for Ar­paio was the cul­mi­na­tion of a five-year po­lit­i­cal friend­ship with roots in the “birther” move­ment to un­der­mine Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

In an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­er­cise of pres­i­den­tial power, Trump by­passed the tra­di­tional re­view process to en­sure that Ar­paio, who was con­victed of con­tempt of court, would face no time in pri­son.

Trump’s par­don, is­sued with­out con­sult­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment, raised a storm of protest over the weekend, in­clud­ing from some fel­low Repub­li­cans, and threat­ens to be­come a stain on this pres­i­dent’s legacy. His ef­fort to see if the case could be dropped showed a trou­bling dis­re­gard for the tra­di­tional wall be­tween the White House and the Jus­tice De­part­ment, and taken to­gether with sim­i­lar ac­tions could un­der­mine re­spect for the rule of law, ex­perts said.

Ar­paio faced up to six months in pri­son and was due to be sen­tenced in Oc­to­ber. Dur­ing his 23 years as Mari­copa County sher­iff, Ar­paio was a light­en­ing rod, in part be­cause of his ag­gres­sive crack­down on il­le­gal im­mi­grants. He also was ac­cused of racial pro­fil­ing, fail­ure to in­ves­ti­gate sex crimes, poor treat­ment of pris­on­ers and other in­stances of po­lice mis­con­duct. A hero to Trump

To Trump, how­ever, Ar­paio is an Amer­i­can hero — a man who en­listed in the mil­i­tary at age 18 af­ter the out­break of the Korean War, worked as a beat cop in Wash­ing­ton and Las Ve­gas and as a spe­cial agent in­ves­ti­gat­ing drug crimes around the world, and then got elected sher­iff in the epi­cen­ter of the na­tion’s roil­ing im­mi­gra­tion de­bate.

Ar­paio’s age weighed on Trump, some of his con­fi­dants said. The 71-year-old pres­i­dent could not stom­ach see­ing an 85-year-old he ad­mired as a lawand-or­der icon wast­ing away in a jail cell.

Trump’s par­don of Ar­paio “was his back­hand way of do­ing what he wanted to do at the front end,” said Robert Bauer, a former White House coun­sel in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “He just wanted to kill the pros­e­cu­tion off. He couldn’t do it the one way, so he ended up do­ing it the other way. This is just an­other vivid demon­stra­tion of how far re­moved from an ap­pro­pri­ate ex­er­cise of the par­don power this was.”

Pres­i­dents can set law en­force­ment pri­or­i­ties, but they are ex­pected to steer clear of in­volve­ment in spe­cific cases to avoid the per­cep­tion of politi­ciz­ing the im­par­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice.

Trump and Ar­paio be­came brothers in arms five years ago. As they saw it, the two provo­ca­teurs were pur­su­ing jus­tice in the form of sup­posed ev­i­dence that Obama’s birth cer­tifi­cate was fraud­u­lent.

As care­tak­ers of the false “birther” con­spir­acy, Trump and Ar­paio re­lent­lessly probed Obama’s birth in Hawaii and nur­tureda lie to dam­age the le­git­i­macy of the na­tion’ s first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent.

“There was no col­lu­sion ,” Ar pa io said in an in­ter­view Satur­day. “I started my birth cer­tifi­cate in­ves­ti­ga­tion around the same time he did his.”

The Man­hat­tan mogul sent Ar­paio a fan let­ter and flat­tered him on so­cial me­dia. “Con­grat­u­la­tions to @RealSher­if­fJoe on his suc­cess­ful Cold Case Posse in­ves­ti­ga­tion which claims Barack­Obama’s ‘birth cer­tifi­cate’ is fake,” Trump tweeted in 2012.

Three years later, in July of 2015, when Trump swooped into Ar­paio’s home­town of Phoenix for the first mega-rally of his up­start pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the sher­iff re­turned the fa­vor by tes­ti­fy­ing on stage to “the silent ma­jor­ity” that Trump had be­gun to awaken.

Back­stage at that rally, Ar­paio re­called, the two men talked about their shared birth­day — June 14, which is Flag Day. Their friend­ship blos­somed and Ar­paio be­came a fan fa­vorite at Trump ral­lies.

While Trump went on to win last Novem­ber, Ar­paio lost his re­elec­tion—and that was the least of his trou­bles. Process set in mo­tion

Fed­eral prose­cu­tors filed crim­i­nal charges against Ar pa io last Oc­to­ber. Trump was pay­ing at­ten­tion to the case and he called Ar­paio to check in on him around Thanks­giv­ing, ac­cord­ing to the former sher­iff. That’s when Ar­paio told the pres­i­dent-elect that his wife, Ava, had cancer.

On July 31, Ar­paio was con­victed by a judge, as op­posed to a jury. Ar­paio and his lawyer, Mark Gold man, said they did not con­tact Trump dur­ing this pe­riod, nor ask any­one in the ad­min­is­tra­tion for a par­don.

In­side the West Wing, the par­don process was set in mo­tion. Se­nior­pol­icy ad­viser Stephen Miller, who had got­ten to know Ar­paio through their work on im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy dur­ing the cam­paign, ad­vo­cated in­ter­nally for the par­don, as did then-chief strate­gist Stephen Ban­non, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the de­lib­er­a­tions.

The White House Coun­sel’s Of­fice had qui­etly be­gun pre­par­ing the pa­per­work and com­mu­ni­ca­tions staffers had started drawing up talk­ing points when Trump fore­shad­owed his in­ten­tions on Aug. 15 by retweet­ing a Fox News story re­port­ing that the pres­i­dent was “se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing” par­don­ing Ar­paio.

Around the same time, Ar­paio re­ceived a call from the White House Coun­sel’s Of­fice ask­ing whether he would ac­cept a par­don if one were is­sued. He told the pres­i­den­tial lawyer that he would, ac­cord­ing to Gold­man.

As of Satur­day, Ar­paio had not heard from Trump per­son­ally but said if the pres­i­dent were to call he would ad­vise him to take a les­son from his Ari­zona ad­ven­tures.

“If they can do it to me, they can do it to any­body, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent of the United States,” Ar­paio said. Al­lud­ing to the Rus­sia probe, he said, “He’s been un­der a lot of fire right now, him and his fam­ily, and I’ve been through the fire quite a while.”

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