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After Hinting At It During Phoenix Rally, Trump Issues Pardon For Arpaio


Now other news - President Trump - excuse me. President Trump has pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Joe Arpaio was the sheriff of Maricopa County, the Phoenix metro area, and he was a very strong supporter of Donald Trump, who was found guilty of federal criminal contempt for racial profiling while in office. Arpaio was to be sentenced in October. And joining us now to talk about him from Phoenix is reporter Jimmy Jenkins of member station KJZZ. And Jimmy, first remind us of the details of the case and the conviction of Joe Arpaio.

JIMMY JENKINS, BYLINE: Well, last year, the former sheriff was found guilty of civil contempt. And this has to do with how Arpaio ran the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. At one time, they had federal authority to enforce immigration law, but that was revoked. However, Arpaio doubled down on his immigration enforcement. A federal judge ordered him to stop, and prosecutors showed he ignored that order for a year and a half. So that was the civil contempt.

The case was referred for criminal contempt. And again, Sheriff Arpaio was found guilty this year. Prosecutors had to show this time that the former sheriff knowingly or willingly violated the order. And they argued that he actually did so for political gain. So Arpaio was facing up to six months in jail for that conviction.

SIEGEL: President Trump went to Phoenix this week and hinted that he might pardon Arpaio. Then he said it was a campaign visit, so he wouldn't do it in those terms. How have Arpaio's lawyers responded to all this?

JENKINS: That's right. The president joked that he thought Sheriff Joe was going to be just fine. So his lawyers were on alert for a pardon. They've always said they would accept one. They've been very active fighting this case. They've tried all kinds of appeals and challenges. They especially think that their client should have been tried in front of a jury, not just a bench trial. So they've been open to a pardon from the start.

SIEGEL: A lot of immigration rights groups opposed Arpaio while he was in office. And in fact they unseated him in last fall's election. What's their response to the pardon so far, if you've had time to get one?

JENKINS: There were rumors before President Trump visited us here in Phoenix on Tuesday that he was coming to announce this pardon. And immigrants - immigrant rights groups at that point - they really saw this as a slap in the face. Our mayor warned that this could inflame tensions or create violence. So of course Trump said he would wait. He didn't want to create controversy, he said. But activists and community organizers here tell me they're used to these setbacks, you know? They've been fighting for their rights for years, and they know they're going to have to continue.

SIEGEL: Have you heard anything from the federal prosecutors who worked to get this conviction of Joe Arpaio?

JENKINS: Well, this was years of work put in by Trump's own DOJ. And those of us at the trial saw all of the, you know, work and hours and time from many different legal parties that had gone into securing this conviction, so - must be disappointed. This trial and this verdict were a long time coming for them. But Cecillia Wang from the ACLU told me it won't affect the message behind this ruling and by the judiciary and that even a pardon can't erase this, you know, stain from Sheriff Arpaio's legacy.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Jimmy Jenkins of member station KJZZ in Phoenix on President Trump's pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Thanks.

JENKINS: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jimmy Jenkins