Trump defends pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio

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President Donald Trump defended his pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio on Monday, telling reporters that the sheriff was treated “unbelievably unfairly.”

Speaking at a joint news conference with the president of Finland, Trump made his first comments on Arpaio since his decision to pardon the Arizona lawman Friday — defending both the timing of the pardon late Friday evening, as Hurricane Harvey made landfall, and the decision itself.

“He’s done a great job for the people of Arizona, he’s very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration, he is loved in Arizona,” Trump said. “I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly when they came down with their big decision to go get him, right before the election voting started.”

He added: “I thought that was very, very unfair thing to do.”

Addressing the specific timing of his pardon — which seemed to embody a classic “news dump,” coming as the nation focused on the impending storm — the president said he actually imagined the controversial pardon would have attracted even more media attention, because of the Harvey coverage.

“Actually 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,” he said.

Arpaio — the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who earned a reputation for his rough treatment of criminals, especially Hispanics — was found guilty by a federal judge of criminal contempt, for ignoring a court order to stop detaining people simply because he believed they were illegal immigrants.