Republicans and Democrats split sharply along party lines in response to President Donald Trump’s pardon Friday night of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been convicted of defying a court order to focusing on Latinos in patrols .
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, called the pardon “desperate, shameful (and) unjust” on Twitter, while state Sen. John Cooke, a Republican and former Weld County sheriff, told Colorado Politics he thought Trump’s action was “great” and “over-due.”
“I am pleased to inform you that I have just granted a full Pardon to 85 year old American patriot Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He kept Arizona safe!,” Trump tweeted Friday just as Hurricane Harvey bore down on the Texas coast.
“Arpaio unrepentantly targeted Latinos, violated their civil rights & ignored court’s order to stop,” Bennet said in a tweet Friday night. “Pardon is desperate, shameful & unjust.”
Some national Republicans criticized Trump for granting clemency to Arpaio, arguing that the pardon “undermines (Trump’s) claim for the respect of rule of law,” as Arizona Sen. John McCain said in a statement, and threatens to diminish law enforcement officials’ responsibility to “respect the rights of everyone in the United States,” as a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan said. But Colorado Republicans were either silent or said they supported the president’s use of his pardon power for the first time.
Cooke said Saturday he thought Trump’s pardon was the right response to a criminal contempt charge brought against Arpaio for “doing his job.”
“I think the judiciary oversteps their bounds,” Cooke told Colorado Politics. “That’s what they did on Arpaio’s case. Sheriff Arpaio was doing his job. The courts are trying to legislate from the bench, and when he didn’t go along with it, they charged him with contempt. The president has that power to pardon, and Trump did it. Certainly, Obama pardoned a lot of people who probably shouldn’t have been, but I think Arpaio, it was more than appropriate.”
“It was great. It was wonderful,” former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a longtime Arpaio ally, said Saturday. “I think it was totally political from the start, the prosecution was, so the resolution of it should be.” (Arpaio headlined a 2010 fundraiser for Tancredo when he mounted a run for governor on a third-party ticket.)
Tancredo told Colorado Politics he believes former President Bill Clinton had already sullied presidential pardons to such an extent that Trump’s critics can’t complain.
“Look at what Clinton did, for God’s sake,” Tancredo said, referring to Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose ex-wife was a big donor to the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign and the Clinton Library. “Talk about there being a personal agenda — not even a political agenda, but a personal agenda. Bill Clinton lowered the bar on so many things, to the floor, that there’s hardly anything anybody can do after he has been there to say, ‘You can’t do that, it’s unprecedented.’”
Prosecutor Michael Dougherty, a Democratic candidate for attorney general, said the Arpaio pardon was “an outrageous act” with a number of aspects that made it “completely unacceptable.”
Dougherty, the deputy district attorney for Jefferson and Gilpin counties and a former supervisor of the Colorado attorney general’s Criminal Justice Section, said he regularly evaluates pardon requests and submits recommendations to the governor, and he believes the steps that led to Arpaio’s pardon were “very unusual.”
“First, the sheriff had not been sentenced, and he was convicted of a crime — contempt of court — that speaks to a defiance of law and order that’s the opposite of what President Trump says he supports. How he ends up being pardoned while openly defying his own oath is incredible,” Dougherty said, pointing out that Arpaio hasn’t accepted responsibility for violating the law.
“Nor has he apologized,” Dougherty added, noting that pardon applicants fully accept responsibility for their actions and express remorse.
The pardon comes at a particularly brought time, when members of the community don’t trust law enforcement amid heightened racial tension, Dougherty said. “Racial profiling and the belief racial profiling exists is absolutely unacceptable, and the president’s pardon drives a further wedge between community members and members of law enforcement.”
Referring to a White House statement describing the 85-year-old Arpaio’s years of service in the military and law enforcement, Dougherty said Trump’s stated rationale “sends the wrong message about law enforcement and the standards we hold them to. The fact someone might have had a long, successful career should never to be used to absolve someone from the criminal justice process. Every good cop is held to the same standards as ordinary citizens. This was President Trump saying this guy, in President Trump’s opinion, had a good career and, as a result, should be resolved of any responsibility of his actions even though he openly defied the court’s order.”
“There have been court orders law enforcement has disagreed with — there have been court orders I’ve disagreed with, but we’ve obeyed them,” Dougherty continued. “That’s part of the oath we take — to follow the law.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report