Pardon row: Trump asked A-G about dropping case against ally

Mr Donald Trump with former sheriff Joe Arpaio during a campaign rally in January last year. Arpaio endorsed Mr Trump's candidacy and the two men found common ground on illegal immigration.
Mr Donald Trump with former sheriff Joe Arpaio during a campaign rally in January last year. Arpaio endorsed Mr Trump's candidacy and the two men found common ground on illegal immigration.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump asked Attorney-General Jeff Sessions about dropping a criminal case against controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio, a close ally of Mr Trump who has since received a pardon, The Washington Post has reported.

Mr Trump was advised that closing the criminal contempt case against Arpaio, who was convicted for ignoring a court order to stop detaining illegal migrants, would be inappropriate, said the Post on Saturday, citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of the conversation.

The President decided to let the case go ahead, but said he would pardon Arpaio if necessary - one source said Mr Trump was "gung-ho" about the idea, the Post said.

Members of Mr Trump's own party have pushed back on the pardon - most recently the highest-ranking Republican in Congress, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

"The Speaker does not agree with this decision," Mr Ryan's spokesman Doug Andres said in a statement late on Saturday.

"Law enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon."

Mr Trump's reported chat with Mr Sessions over Arpaio stands as evidence of his inability - or unwillingness - to maintain the traditional distance between the White House and the Justice Department on specific cases.

It also bears similarities to two situations that have dogged Mr Trump for months. One is his alleged bid to influence a federal inquiry into his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and his bid to persuade high-level officials to downplay the possibility of collusion between his campaign team and Russia, which is still under investigation.

Both Mr Trump and Arpaio pushed the "birther" conspiracy theory that former president Barack Obama was not born in the US. They also found common ground on illegal immigration.

The 85-year-old Arpaio, a divisive figure who was once dubbed "America's toughest sheriff", was granted a presidential pardon last Friday - the first since Mr Trump took office, and one that seemingly did not follow regular protocols.

"He kept Arizona safe!" Mr Trump tweeted, calling the former sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County a "patriot". Arpaio had been due for sentencing in October. The move ensured he would serve no time in prison.

The move, however, earned scorn from Democrats, some Republicans and rights groups, who said Mr Trump skirted the normal procedures by not consulting the Justice Department.

White House spokesman Sarah Sanders told the Post: "It's only natural the President would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Pardon row: Trump asked A-G about dropping case against ally'. Print Edition | Subscribe