President Trump thought his pardon of Joe Arpaio would boost his ratings — on TV.
Trump on Monday defended his Friday night announcement about the pardon — which came as the deadly Hurricane Harvey began battering Houston — because he said he expected the storm would bring his pardon announcement more television viewers.
“In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally,” Trump told reporters during a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.
“You know, the hurricane was just starting.”
Trump backed Arpaio, a former sheriff who was convicted of criminal contempt, as a “patriot” who “defended our borders” and was treated “unfairly” by the law as he faced reelection last year in Maricopa County.
Trump also read out a list of controversial pardons and commutations from two Democratic predecessors — Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — as an apparent justification for his decision.
In nearly all of the cases he mentioned, though, the pardoned convicts had served years in confinement before a President granted clemency. Trump, on the other hand, issued Arpaio’s pardon before the former sheriff had even been sentenced.
When Trump mentioned Chelsea Manning, a military leaker whose sentence was commuted by Obama, he falsely stated Obama had “perhaps pardoned” her. He also misgendered Manning, who is transgender, as a “he.”
Trump faced resounding criticism for Democrats and Republicans for his pardoning of Arpaio, who discriminated against Latin citizens and subjected his inmates to violence and humiliation.
Many of the complaints centered on Trump breaking the news on a Friday night filled with news about Hurricane Harvey — minimizing its chances for extended coverage. The same night, Trump deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka was also forced out of his job.
The hurricane, which has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, has brought all-time high levels of rainfall to Houston, destroying thousands of homes and leaving citizens struggling for survival in biblical floods.
Trump is planning to make his first visit to the area Tuesday. He has yet to make a personal statement about the eight people who have been confirmed dead from the storm.
Trump hinted at the impending Arpaio pardon last Tuesday at a Phoenix rally, where his mention of ex-lawman drew roaring approval from supporters. Trump on Monday said this showed he made the right choice.
“The people went crazy when I said, ‘What do you think of Sheriff Joe,’ or something to that effect,” Trump said.
“The place went absolutely crazy when I was in Arizona last week.”
Arpaio said Sunday he would “do anything” for Trump and would accept a position in his administration if an offer came. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not aware of any discussions about hiring Arpaio.