The White House has prepared paperwork for U.S. President Donald Trump to pardon Joe Arpaio, a controversial former Arizona sheriff convicted last month of criminal contempt in a racial profiling case, CNN reported on Wednesday.
White House officials declined to comment but an administration official told CNN that talking points to be used after Arpaio is pardoned also were prepared.
During an appearance on Tuesday in Phoenix, Trump hinted he would issue a pardon for Arpaio, who was the sheriff of Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, for 24 years before losing a re-election bid last year.
“I’ll make a prediction,” Trump said at a rally in Phoenix. “I think he’s going to be just fine, OK? But I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy. But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”
Arpaio, who styled himself as “America’s toughest sheriff” for his no-nonsense treatment of jail inmates and crackdown on undocumented immigrants, faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine when sentenced on the federal misdemeanor offense on Oct. 5.
Arpaio, 85, could not immediately be reached for comment but he said on the Fox Business Network on Wednesday he would continue to support Trump, whether or not he received a pardon.
“I’m with him ’til the end,” he said. “As long as he’s the president, I will support him.”
Arpaio was an early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign and led an investigation in 2011 of claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Trump also had promoted that false “birther” position before abandoning it last year.
Last month, a judge found Arpaio guilty of contempt for intentionally defying a 2011 court order that barred his officers from stopping 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.
CNN reported the talking points to be used after a pardon is issued included Arpaio’s 50 years of service in the military, the Drug Enforcement Administration and as sheriff, and that it is inappropriate to imprison him for “enforcing the law” and “working to keep people safe.”
ACLU deputy legal director Cecillia Wang said in an email that a pardon would be “a presidential endorsement of racism.”
“Arpaio was convicted by a federal court because he deliberately violated a federal court order that was simple and clear in prohibiting illegal detentions of Latinos,” she said.
(Additional reporting by James Oliphant in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Bill Trott)