Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) are among many high profile Republicans criticizing President Trump’s decision to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an Arizona lawman who routinely violated the rights of citizens and ignored federal court orders.
The July 31 conviction arose from Arpaio’s flagrant defiance of another judge’s orders in a long-running case over the former Maricopa County sheriff’s targeting of residents that violated constitutional rights with his racial-profiling practices.
“The speaker does not agree with this decision,” said Ryan spokesperson Doug Andres. “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.”
Trump spared Arpaio from the serving jail time by granting the first presidential pardon of his turbulent tenure, wiping away a federal conviction stemming from illegal arrests of innocent people on suspicion of questionable immigration status.
“No one is above the law and the individuals entrusted with the privilege of being sworn law officers should always seek to be beyond reproach in their commitment to fairly enforcing the laws they swore to uphold,” said McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee. “Mr. Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their perceived immigration status in violation of a judge’s orders.”
“The President has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions,” said McCain.
Trump’s pardon of the former sheriff has been widely denounced as evident disdain for the American system of government and undercutting the public’s faith in the judicial system. Trump has often belittled federal judges on his social media channels and sought to undermine their legitimacy in the public eye.
“The crime that Arpaio was convicted of committing — criminal contempt of court for ignoring a judge’s order — showed a blatant disregard for the authority of the judiciary,” said American Bar Association President Hilarie Bass. “Granting Arpaio an expedited pardon sends the wrong message to the public.”
Trump’s disdain for the judiciary, efforts to discredit Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the officials investigating Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election are also seen as affronts to the nation’s legal process. Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, he criticized then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and he special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether anyone in the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.
Frank Bowman, a law professor at the University of Missouri–Columbia, said that while many matters remain under investigation, “by pardoning former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday, Trump committed his first verifiable impeachable offense.”
“The pardon of Arpaio plainly falls within this core conception of properly impeachable offenses,” said Bowman.
“It is an impeachable offense precisely because it involves the exercise of a constitutionally created presidential power,” Bowman explains. “The use of the pardon power in this case is a direct assault on core constitutional rights, statutory civil rights laws of the United States, and the authority of courts to enforce those laws. It therefore threatens constitutional civil liberties generally, as well as the viability of congressionally authorized statutory law, and it is a direct attack on the constitutional powers of the judiciary as a coordinate branch of government. Accordingly, this pardon threatens to undercut one of the indispensable, foundational norms of American constitutional order: the rule of law.”
McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also criticized Trump’s decision to persecute transgender Americans in the military.
“It would be a step in the wrong direction to force currently serving transgender individuals to leave the military solely on the basis of their gender identity rather than medical and readiness standards that should always be at the heart of Department of Defense personnel policy,” said McCain. “The Pentagon’s ongoing study on this issue should be completed before any decisions are made with regard to accession. The Senate Armed Services Committee will continue to conduct oversight on this important issue.”
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