Trump hints at pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio during Arizona rally

The controversial sheriff was known for his hard line approach to immigration.

ByADAM KELSEY
August 22, 2017, 5:33 PM

— -- President Donald Trump did not issue a pardon of controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio during a campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday evening, but he certainly continued to hint it's possible.

The White House had said the pardon would not come on Tuesday, but that didn't stop Trump from bringing up Arpaio's name during the rally. Trump asked the crowd if Arpaio was convicted for doing his job, which was met with a resounding "Yes" and chants of "Pardon Joe." Trump said the sheriff would be "just fine," and said the reason he didn't want to pardon Arpaio on Tuesday was to avoid any "controversy."

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had told reporters while Trump was leaving for Arizona that the pardon would not come.

"There will no discussion of that today and no action will be taken on that at any point today," said Sanders during a gaggle with reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Arizona with Trump.

Arpaio faces up to six months in prison after being found guilty of criminal contempt in July, stemming from his disregard of an order that he cease detaining suspected illegal immigrants. The former sheriff became a national figure for his hardline approach to combatting undocumented persons living and moving within his jurisdiction.

Speculation that the president would use the occasion of the rally -- which took place in Maricopa County where Arpaio served as sheriff -- arose from comments Trump made in an interview with Fox News earlier in August.

"I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio," Trump said on Aug. 13.

Arpaio and Trump maintained a relationship throughout the presidential campaign, during which Arpaio appeared at rallies on the Republican nominee's behalf, and ultimately spoke at the Republican National Convention. He lost reelection to his post as sheriff the same day in November that Trump captured Arizona's 11 electoral votes on his way to an electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton.

Trump has yet to exercise his pardon power as president. Any move to do so soon would come far earlier than former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who each waited almost two years into their terms before granting an initial pardon.

Sanders did not rule out that Arpaio could be pardoned at a later date.

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel and Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.

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