Trump claims TV ratings motivated his decision to announce Arpaio pardon amid Hurricane Harvey

He wasn't joking.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

During a news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on Monday, President Trump was asked to justify his pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his decision to announce it as the most serious storm to hit the United States in a decade bore down on the Gulf Coast Friday night.

Trump said the timing of his announcement wasn’t meant to shield his decision from scrutiny. On the contrary, he claimed that doing so amid Hurricane Harvey was done to maximize publicity.

“I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally,” he said.

Instead of providing a substantive defense of his decision to pardon a former sheriff whose decades of racial profiling culminated in a contempt of court conviction after he refused a judge’s order to stop, Trump played the what-about game. Ignoring that two wrongs don’t make a right, Trump tried to make a case that former Presidents Obama and Clinton also abused their powers to pardon political allies or commute sentences.

Regarding Obama’s decision to commute the sentence of former soldier Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of espionage in 2013 and served years in prison for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, Trump said, “Horrible, horrible thing to be done. Commuted the sentence. And perhaps pardoned.” But Manning was never pardoned. Trump also referred to Manning, who is a transgender woman, as “he.”

Trump characterized Arpaio as “very strong on illegal immigration.” In reality, Arpaio presided over a brutal “Tent City” jail that he described as a “concentration camp” and that confined people in inhumane, deadly conditions.

Trump described Apaio as “loved in Arizona” despite the fact that only 21 percent of state residents approved of his pardon. He claimed Arpaio “was treated very unfairly by the Obama administration” even though the case that resulted in his conviction began during the George W. Bush administration and was overseen by a Bush-appointed judge who ultimately recommended charges be filed.