PHOENIX (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump hinted on Tuesday that he would issue a pardon for Joe Arpaio, a controversial former sheriff convicted last month of criminal contempt in a racial profiling case.
Trump, who had already held out the possibility of a pardon for Arpaio, decided against announcing it at a major rally in Arizona on Tuesday night but suggested that he would step in at some point.
“I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s going to be just fine, okay? But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe can feel good,” he said.
Arpaio, an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, was the sheriff of Maricopa County in Phoenix before he lost a re-election bid in 2016.
Last month a judge found him guilty of contempt for intentionally defying a 2011 court order that barred his officers from stopping and detaining Latino motorists solely on suspicion that they were in the United States illegally.
The judge in the underlying lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and others in 2007, held that such traffic stops were a violation of the motorists’ constitutional rights.
Arpaio, who was in office for 24 years, gained national prominence for his treatment of jail inmates and crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
Arpaio’s situation resonated with the crowd of Trump supporters.
“Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?” Trump asked, sparking loud applause and a chant of “Pardon Joe!”
“Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” Trump said.
His mention of Arpaio seemed to contradict comments by White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, who told reporters earlier in the day that the subject would not come up.
“There will be no discussion of that today at any point and no action will be taken on that front at any point today,” she told reporters traveling on Air Force One.
Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland, Editing by Sandra Maler and Michael Perry