On Friday, less than two weeks after refusing to unequivocally condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Donald Trump granted former Arizona Sheriff Joseph Arpaio a rare presidential pardon, calling the notorious racist an “American patriot.” The pardon is noteworthy for many reasons.
First, it demonstrates Trump’s utter disdain for the rule of law. US District Judge Susan Bolton convicted Arpaio of criminal contempt for showing “flagrant disregard” of a 2011 court order that he cease racial profiling. Nevertheless, for 18 months, Arpaio, who called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” continued his racist practice of detaining Latinos without reasonable suspicion. “The fact that Arpaio is quite literally convicted of being in criminal contempt of the courts is a big selling point for a president who has evinced nothing but contempt for the judicial branch since before he took office,” Dahlia Lithwick wrote at Salon.
Second, the pardon sends a clear message to Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and anyone else whom special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenas to testify in his Russia investigation. Trump could pardon them, too, if they refuse to cooperate and are held in contempt of court. No need to make a deal and testify against the president or his family members in order to receive lenient treatment.
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Third, the pardon telegraphs to Trump’s right-wing base that he’s still pursuing their racist, anti-immigrant agenda even though presidential advisors Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, both widely associated with white nationalism, have left the White House