President Donald Trump pardoned former Sheriff Joseph Arpaio on Aug. 25 for his conviction of criminal contempt of court, adding to Trump’s laundry list of controversies. Trump’s protection of one of his earliest supporters has dominated the news cycle and served to reinforce political divisions within the United States.
The Arpaio pardon, however, should not be viewed as a political topic with room for disagreement. Arpaio’s crimes stretch back years,and are far more varied than the racial profiling with which he was charged. His pardon questions the moral center of the current administration.
Arpaio was found to have engaged in racial profiling in 2011 and he was ordered to cease by a federal court. Another federal court ruled that Arpaio had continued the practice and was therefore in contempt of court in 2016. It is for this crime that Trump pardoned Arpaio.
Yet Arpaio was a household name long before his most recent clashes with the law. Arpaio has been notorious for decades: both for his campaign against illegal immigration and the brutality he used to accomplish his goals, according to The New York Times Arpaio has referred to his prisons as “concentration camps” and developed a reputation for not investigating sex crimes. He created juvenile chain gangs. He used police resources to investigate the Obama “birther” theory. Lawsuits against his department have cost taxpayers more than $40 million, representing a waste of money on an unprecedented scale.
Arpaio’s misdeeds transcend the partisanship that characterized his criminal case. One of the most prominent examples of his misconduct was the staging of an assassination plot against himself. Eighteen-year-old James Savile was arrested in 1999 with the components of a bomb outside of a restaurant at which Arpaio was dining. During the trial, it became known that individuals working on behalf of the sheriff’s department had created the whole plot and entrapped Savile into committing the crime.
In other words, Arpaio cares more about reelection than he does about his constituents. Arpaio had cameras stationed outside the restaurant to film the arrest, according to Phoenix New Times. Savile was imprisoned for four years for this publicity stunt before he was freed, and Savile was only freed because his lawyer was able to prove that entrapment occurred. Arpaio was fully prepared to ruin an innocent person’s life in exchange for TV time.
Unfortunately, Arpaio is not the only controversial figure who has been pardoned in U.S. history. The previous face of poor presidential pardons was a man named Marc Rich, who was pardoned by former president Bill Clinton when Clinton was in office. Rich was wanted for trading with U.S. enemies, earning him a spot on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list. Clinton pardoned Rich on the last day of his presidency on the back of nearly a $1.5 million donation to Clinton affiliated organizations. Even though pardons are not unprecedented in U.S. history, the presence of other immoral politicians in U.S. history makes it no less reprehensible.
In many ways, Trump and Arpaio are cut from the same cloth. They both have been in the public eye for decades, creating chaos and controversy. Both have made abundant use of the legal system, with thousands of lawsuits being brought against them. Ironically, the most toxic element of the Arpaio pardon is that Trump is normalizing behavior that he may conduct in the future.
Trump’s pardon of Arpaio was important, as it represented the end of the last chance to hold a genuinely criminal person responsible for his wrongdoings. While this action was within his legal rights as president, it highlights the failures of the legal system and demonstrates the moral deficit of this administration.
If Trump’s character is anything to go by, this will not be the last time that justice takes a backseat to politics.