Updated at 10:55 p.m. ET
President Trump formally pardoned Joe Arpaio on Friday, wielding the presidential power of mercy to absolve the former Arizona sheriff for defying a federal court order.
“Throughout his time as Sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration,” the White House said in a statement. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of honorable service to our Nation, he is [a] worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.” Trump subsequently confirmed the decision on Twitter.
I am pleased to inform you that I have just granted a full Pardon to 85 year old American patriot Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He kept Arizona safe!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 26, 2017
The pardon is Trump’s first since taking office, breaking a barrier relatively early in his tenure. Almost two years passed before Barack Obama issued nine pardons to people convicted of relatively minor offenses; George W. Bush waited only a few days longer into his first term to erase convictions for selling moonshine and stealing $11. But Trump eschewed his predecessors’ modest lead, instead wiping clean a guilty verdict for criminal contempt of court for one of his staunchest political supporters after only eight months in office.
Arpaio, who left office in January, ranks among the most controversial law-enforcement officials in American history. Phoenix-area voters elected him six times to lead the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, which he governed as a proto-Trumpian figure for almost a quarter-century. Arpaio’s harsh treatment of undocumented immigrants and criminal suspects brought him the adoration of Fox News viewers and multiple civil-rights lawsuits. He claimed former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate was a forgery even after Trump himself had publicly abandoned that stance. And he shared Trump’s disdain for the federal judiciary, frequently castigating the judges who oversaw lawsuits against him.