Trump pardon breaks with tradition
President had signaled intention to protect Arpaio
USA TODAY WASHINGTON Almost everything about President Donald Trump’s pardon Friday of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio was unusual.
Trump chose a politically polarizing anti-immigration sheriff as the recipient of his first pardon — the kind of controversial clemency recent presidents have reserved for the 11th hour rather than their first act.
Arpaio didn’t meet the Justice Department guidelines for a pardon. His conviction wasn’t five years old, he hadn’t expressed remorse and he hadn’t applied to the Office of Pardon Attorney.
The day before, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would follow a “thorough and standard process” in considering the pardon. That process usually requires seven layers of review and an FBI background check.
No matter. The constitutional authority to “grant pardons and reprieves for offenses against the United States” is arguably the most absolute power a president has.
He has to work with Congress to pass bills, appoint cabinet secretaries or negotiate treaties. But a pardon can be granted with the stroke of a pen — sometimes not even that — and can’t be overturned by the Congress or the courts. Once delivered, not even the president himself can take it back.
Despite the absolute nature of the power — or perhaps because of it — presidents are often downright shy about it.
President Harry Truman didn’t publicly disclose his pardons. President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon, on a Sunday morning without warning. President George H.W. Bush pardoned key figures in the Iran-Contra affair only after losing re-election. President Bill Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Mark Rich, two Democratic congressmen, a figure in the Whitewater scandal and his own brother — all on his last day in office.
None of them telegraphed their intentions quite like Trump. “I think he’s going to be just fine,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Phoenix Tuesday.
On Friday night, Trump tweeted one of his reasons for the pardon, saying Arpaio “kept Arizona safe.”