President Donald Trump defended his pardoning of Joe Arpaio by comparing it to other controversial acts of clemency carried out by former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Trump argued at a press conference on Monday that Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County whom he pardoned Friday, was treated “unbelievably unfairly” by the Obama administration, before pulling out a piece of paper from his suit jacket and listing a litany of previous presidential pardons and commutations.
“Sheriff Joe is a great veteran of the military, great law-enforcement person, somebody who’s won many, many elections in the state of Arizona,” Trump said. “But I want to look at some of the other people who were pardoned over the years.”
Trump singled out a handful of people granted clemency in recent years. First on his list was Marc Rich, a businessman indicted in 1983 for tax evasion and trading with Iran during the US oil embargo. Clinton pardoned Rich in 2001 on his last day in office, a move that stirred controversy because Rich’s wife had donated $US450,000 to the Clinton Library and $US1 million to the Democratic Party.
Trump also cited Chelsea Manning, the former US Army soldier who in 2010 disclosed thousands of military files and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning served seven years in prison before Obama commuted almost all of her 35-year sentence three days before he left office.
Trump incorrectly suggested that Obama had “perhaps” pardoned Manning. A commutation simply reduces the length of a prisoner’s sentence, whereas a pardon expresses to the recipient the president’s forgiveness.
Other recipients of presidential clemency that Trump mentioned were:
- Carlos Vignali, who served six years of a 15-year sentence for cocaine trafficking before having his sentence commuted by Clinton in 2001;
- Susan Rosenberg, a member of militant left-wing terrorist organisation Weather Underground whose 58-year prison sentence Clinton commuted in 2001;
- Oscar Lopez Rivera, a former leader of a Puerto Rican nationalist group. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy and spent 35 years in prison before Obama commuted his sentence in January.
Clinton and Obama are both Democrats. Trump did not cite any acts of clemency carried out by President George W. Bush or other recent Republican presidents.
Arpaio was convicted last month for ignoring a court order to stop using racial profiling to detain Latinos on suspicion they were in the country illegally. Over his five-decade career in law enforcement, he gained notoriety for keeping prisoners in a “tent city” jail he compared to a concentration camp and for parading Latino prisoners in chains through the streets.
Trump spent most of his defence reading from the prepared remarks stored in his jacket.
“I actually did this just before the meeting because I assumed that somebody would ask me the question,” Trump said.
Trump has received bipartisan criticism for the pardon, which some have argued was a political favour to Arpaio, one of Trump’s earliest supporters. Others have criticised the timing of Trump’s announcement, which coincided with Hurricane Harvey making landfall in Texas.
Trump said that because of the impending natural disaster, he “figured the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.”
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