The Pardon of Sheriff Joe in the Context of of Obama, Clinton Pardons

August 29, 2017 Updated: August 29, 2017

President Donald Trump defended his pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio during a press conference on Aug. 28, stating the Obama administration charge against the sheriff was unjust, and pointing to those pardoned by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Trump granted him a full and unconditional pardon, and Trump explained his decision at the press conference, stating, “I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly when they came down with their big decision to come get him, right before the election voting started.”

The charge against Arpaio came when he was running for re-election in 2016 for sheriff of Maricopa County—a race he lost with 44.4 percent of the votes to Democrat Paul Penzone.

Arpaio was convicted by a federal judge of contempt of court, after the judge denied his request for a jury trial. He was facing six months in prison.

He was charged for not following a federal judge’s 2011 orders to stop enforcing federal immigration laws. The judge had ordered that Arpaio could only detain illegal immigrants if they had violated a state law. 

Trump compared his pardon of Arpaio with pardons made by former presidents Clinton and Obama, who had excused convicted terrorists, drug dealers, and murderers.

“President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, who was charged with crimes going back decades, including illegally buying oil from Iran while it held 53 American hostages—he wasn’t allowed to do that, selling to the enemies of the United States,” Trump said, adding, “He was pardoned after his wife donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Clintons.”

Rich was an international fugitive whose crimes included multiple counts of tax evasion, wire fraud, and racketeering. Clinton pardoned Rich on Jan. 20, 2001, during his last day in office. Even the New York Times referred to the pardon at the time as a “shocking abuse of presidential power.”

Before Rich was pardoned by Clinton, according to the New York Post, Rich’s ex-wife Denise donated $450,000 to the Clinton Library, and gave “over $1 million to Democratic campaigns in the Clinton era.”

Trump continued, “President Clinton pardoned Susan Rosenberg, a member of the Weather Underground. The charge is part of a bank robbery that led to a guard and two police officers being killed.”

Rosenberg was part of the Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization the Weather Underground, which carried out attacks in the United States. One of its leaders, Bill Ayers, who is a long-time associate of Obama, famously stated,  according to the 1982 video documentary “No Place to Hide: The Strategy and Tactics of Terrorism” that had his movement succeeded, he planned to kill 25 million Americans.

Trump added, “President Clinton commuted the sentence of Carlos Vignali, a central player in a cocaine ring that stretched from California to Minnesota.”

Salon reported in Feb. 2001 that Vignali was a drug kingpin, whose ring “shipped hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Los Angeles to Minnesota.” It noted, “It was more than luck or Clinton compassion that sprung Vignali after he had served six years,” as Vignali’s Argentinian immigrant father, Horacio Vignali, had “dumped tens of thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of some of California’s top politicians.”

Among the politicians who received the money from Vignali’s father were former speaker of the California assembly, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Rep. Xavier Becerra. Salon reported that both politicians wrote letters and made phone calls “asking the White House to consider clemency for Vignali.”

Trump continued, “President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning [formerly known as Bradley Manning], who leaked countless sensitive and classified documents to WikiLeaks, perhaps and others.”

He added, “President Obama commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was charged as part of a violent independence group from Puerto Rico, responsible for 28 Chicago-area bombings and many deaths in the 1970s and 1980s.”

While some news outlets came to Rivera’s defense following Trump’s announcement, the general reporting on Rivera was much different even a few months ago.

Politico reported on Jan. 24 that Ocar Lopez Rivera “was one of the most violent extremists of his time,” and noted Obama commuting his sentence “doesn’t speak well of U.S. politics.”

Rivera helped lead the radical Marxist group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) in Puerto Rico. The organization was responsible for over 130 bombings, Politico Magazine reported, “including the January 1975 explosion in Manhattan’s historic Fraunces Tavern, which killed four and wounded 63.”

Trump then put these pardons in contrast to his pardon, stating, “Sheriff Joe is a patriot. Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders, and Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration, especially right before an election—an election that he would have won.”

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @JoshJPhilipp