Contradicting an earlier statement from his own White House, Donald Trump said he may pardon Joe Arpaio during his speech at his campaign rally in Phoenix, the controversial Arizona sheriff who stands accused of crimes against minorities.
“I think [Arpaio is] gonna be just fine,” Trump said before a cheering crowd at the rally. "I wont do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy."
Earlier Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied that Trump would be speaking about Arpaio at his rally. "There will be no discussion of that today at any point and no action will be taken on that front at any point today," Sanders told reporters on Air Force One.
Arpaio is the former sheriff of Maricopa Couny, Arizona, which is located right on the state's border with Mexico. Last month, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a 2011 court order against racial profiling. The federal court found that Arpaio had directed his department to systematically stop Latinx people in traffic stops and illegally detain them. The 85-year-old former sheriff will face his sentencing hearing on Oct. 5 and could serve up to six months in prison, unless saved by a presidential pardon.
Trump touched on numerous political topics during the rally, including his current feud with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, his allegedly forthcoming border wall, and the tenuous situation with North Korea. Perhaps most memorably, Trump revised his statements on Charlottesville for the first time — he reread his original statement from last Saturday for the crowd, but left out his comment that blamed the violence "on many sides." The incredibly controversial statement stoked liberal resistance like little in the past seven months has, and brought out thousands of protesters to Boston and Phoenix this week.
Trump's potential pardon of Arpaio would likely create similar problems to his statements on Charlottesville, which have caused critics to declare the administration openly racist. “If President Trump uses his power to pardon a discredited law enforcement official who persistently engaged in illegal racial profiling of the Latino community, it will not be a dog whistle to the so-called ‘alt right’ and white supremacists, but a bull horn,” Vanita Gupta, who previously headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement this week. “No amount of tweets or forced remarks read from a teleprompter could undo the damage.”
Trump's comments about Arpaio are particularly shocking, however, because they indicate on a larger level that little has changed within the White House in recent weeks, despite major staff shakeups. Retired General John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff about a month ago and was expected to bring a new cohesiveness and focus to the Trump administration. That largely hasn't happened, and Trump's contradiction of his own press secretary is a sign that whatever changes Kelly has implemented aren't working.