Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a hearing on Wednesday that it was “well within the power” of President Donald Trump to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“The president has the power to issue pardons, with or without the Department of Justice involved,” Sessions said in response to Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) during his testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the agency.
Feinstein asked Sessions about the process of pardoning Arpaio, who was convicted in July 2017 of violating a federal judge’s order to not detain suspected illegal immigrants. He faced up to six months in jail for the conviction and possible fines.
Feinstein cited a Washington Post report that said Trump asked Sessions to drop the case against Arpaio.
“Senator Feinstein, I cannot comment on the private conversations I may have had with the president,” Sessions said. “I will just say that attorneys in the Department of Justice found the defendant guilty of a misdemeanor … for his actions and the president decided to issue a pardon.”
Sessions also noted that “in the past, some very dramatic type pardons” have been issued by previous presidents, including President Barack Obama, who pardoned numerous individuals convicted of drug-related crimes and other crimes.
Sessions told Feinstein he would respond to her in writing as to the exact process that took place at the agency, if any, ahead of the president’s pardon.
Arpaio, now 85-years-old, is considered a hero among supporters of immigration enforcement. Arpaio served in the Army before becoming a police officer in Washington, DC, and Las Vegas and was a special agent in the DEA. He was first elected sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, in 1992.
“Arpaio’s life and career, which began at the age of 18 when he enlisted in the military after the outbreak of the Korean War, exemplifies selfless public service,” a statement issued by the White House said of the decision to pardon the former sheriff.