Donald Trump was within his constitutional authority to pardon Joe Arpaio, so let’s not belabor that point.
The problem with Trump isn’t so much with the actionable legal transgressions he commits (although Special Counsel Bob Mueller might soon have something to say about that), but with his steamrolling of the norms and protocols that presidents from 1 to 44 have painstakingly developed and honored throughout our history.
The Arpaio pardon is no different. Even though Trump had the power to pardon Arpaio, in doing so, he laid ruin to decades of meticulously crafted standards.
Over the years, the White House and the Department of Justice have worked together to formulate standards for granting a presidential pardon — standards that, when applied in good faith, would at least manifest some attempt to administer justice in an objective and even-handed way. Here are those standards:
Very briefly, here are some gross abnormalities involved in the Arpaio pardon:
- These standards, although they technically do not require that an applicant for clemency (a pardon) serve all or part of a sentence, clearly contemplate that the applicant would have been punished before being considered for a pardon. Arpaio had not even been sentenced yet.
- Arpaio’s offense, if we’re talking about civics and the public trust, could not have been more serious: contempt of court means disdain for the rule of law. The standards provide that “a suitable length of time should have elapsed in order to avoid denigrating the seriousness of the offense or undermining the deterrent effect of the conviction. In the case of a prominent individual or notorious crime, the likely effect of a pardon on law enforcement interests or upon the general public should be taken into account.” Arpaio, a prominent individual who committed a notorious crime, has been pardoned (to repeat) before he was even sentenced. Has enough time elapsed that the seriousness of the offense should have set in and other racist, out-of-control law-enforcement officers should have been deterred?
- Acceptance of responsibility and remorse? Here you go:
- Arpaio didn’t need relief for humanitarian or employment reasons; he could have written a book while in jail and sold millions of copies to racists and rubes when he was finished.
- “Official recommendations and reports”? The judge who found Arpaio guilty of contempt had ordered the compilation of a presentence report:
But since there was no sentencing, the report was never produced.
Other than all THAT, Trump’s pardon was perfectly in keeping with well accepted norms and protocols.
So much for the rue of law.