The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee believes that President Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa Co., Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio sends a message to targets of the Russia investigation: “stay loyal & get pardon.”
“Arpaio action was appalling & political. It also sends message to witnesses in Russia investigation to keep quiet, stay loyal & get pardon,” California Rep. Adam Schiff wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
On Friday night, Trump pardoned Arpaio, who was convicted in July of criminal contempt for defying a federal court order by continuing to detain undocumented immigrants who had not committed crimes. Arpaio, who lost his re-election bid in November, was due to be sentenced in the case in October, but the Trump pardon saves him from serving any jail time.
Trump had hinted over the past week at a forthcoming pardon for Arpaio, who embraces his title as “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” The 85-year-old Arpaio endorsed Trump for president early in the 2016 campaign.
Trump critics immediately blasted the pardon, pointing out that Trump issued the reprieve without going through the normal process of getting clearance from the Justice Department first. Trump supporters pointed to the controversial pardons of WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning and Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar Rivera Lopez by President Obama and the pardon of politically-connected financier Marc Rich by President Bill Clinton.
Schiff was not the only person floating the theory that Trump pardoned Arpaio, in part, to send a message to associates being targeted in the Russia investigation.
In an interview on MSNBC late Friday, Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego made the same assertion.
“He wants to erode the idea of pardons in general so he can go on and pardon his friends and his allies that may have helped him on his campaign,” Gallego said.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof also wondered on Friday if the pardon “tests the waters” for pardons of Trump associates embroiled in the Russia probe.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn are the highest profile targets of the investigations, which are exploring possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government as well as any illegal business activities.
Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s business activities are also of interest to investigators, both in Congress and in the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.