Washington (AFP) – Donald Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions about dropping a criminal case against controversial ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, a close ally of the Republican president who has since received a pardon, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
Trump was advised that closing the criminal contempt case against Arpaio, who was convicted for ignoring a court order to stop detaining illegal migrants, would be inappropriate, said the Post, citing three unnamed sources with knowledge of the conversation.
The Republican leader decided to let the case go ahead, but said he would pardon Arpaio if necessary — one source said Trump was “gung-ho” about the idea, the Post said.
The reported chat stands as evidence of the inability — or unwillingness — of the 71-year-old billionaire leader to maintain the traditional distance between the White House and the Justice Department on specific cases.
It also bears similarities to two situations that have dogged Trump for months.
One is his alleged bid to influence a federal inquiry into his onetime national security advisor Michael Flynn, and his bid to persuade high-level officials to downplay the possibility of collusion between his campaign team and Russia, which is still under investigation.
The 85-year-old Arpaio, a divisive figure who once had a reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff,” was granted a presidential pardon on Friday — the first since Trump took office, and one that seemingly did not follow regular protocols.
“He kept Arizona safe!” Trump tweeted, calling Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, a “patriot.”
Arpaio had been due for sentencing in October. The move ensured he would serve no time in prison.
Both Trump and Arpaio pushed the “birther” conspiracy theory that former president Barack Obama was not born in the United States. They also found common ground on the campaign trail on illegal immigration.
The move however earned immediate scorn from Democrats, some Republicans and rights groups, who said Trump skirted the normal procedures by not consulting the Justice Department before granting clemency.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told the Post: “It’s only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different.”