Some people like to say that Donald Trump is totally unpredictable. I think that is wrong. No matter what the issue, no matter where the place, Trump will consistently side with his base, no matter what.
As the words and actions get more obnoxious the base is beginning to shrink, as indicated by recent polls. In the most significant recent play to the base, Trump pardoned his brother in spirit, former Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Here is a capsule view of Arpaio’s life’s work as recently reported by the Los Angeles Times:
Arpaio … housed inmates in such inhumane conditions — an outdoor tent city that was an inferno in the summer and a freezer in the winter — that he himself described it as a concentration camp. He overlooked routine brutality by his deputies, which led to legal settlements costing taxpayers at least $140 million. He arrested the owners of a newspaper, the Phoenix New Times, which ran critical coverage of him, leading to a $3.75-million settlement. He was so busy pursuing immigrants that he neglected to investigate cases of rape and child abuse.
And one more thing – Arpaio spent years and lots of Maricopa County taxpayer money chasing the Obama birthplace conspiracy.
Here, in brief, is a summary of the Trump-Arpaio conspiracy:
- Arpaio defied federal court orders to cease his harassment of Latinos, which ultimately led to federal prosecution
- Trump asked Attorney General Sessions about cancelling the Arpaio trial; Sessions declined
- Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court in federal proceedings
- The White House Counsel asked Arpaio if he would accept a pardon; he agreed
- Trump basically said at a Phoenix rally on August 22nd that he planned to pardon Arpaio
- Arpaio on August 23rd, the day after the Trump rally, sent out emails asking for contributions to an organization that is funding his defense
- Before Arpaio was sentenced Donald Trump pardoned him, announcing his actions in the midst of a category 4 hurricane in Texas – to hype the ratings, he cynically noted.
There are legal scholars who suggest that when someone accepts a pardon they are admitting their guilt. There was even a Supreme Court case that said that. Admission of guilt is no more likely to come from Arpaio than an apology for anything is likely to come from Trump.
As noted, Arpaio on August 23rd sent out emails soliciting contributions for the National Police Defense Foundation, which, he claims, paid for his defense. Arpaio said in the email:
I apologize for not being able to write to you sooner, but my attorneys had advised me against it until my trial was over… I was found guilty by a federal judge after a referral by another judge in the same courthouse. That’s right, despite the charges against me, I wasn’t allowed to have a jury to hear my defense! The appeals process not withstanding, as of right now my sentencing hearing is scheduled for Thursday, October 5th. … Despite the disappointing outcome, the generous supporters of NCPD donated $450,000 to my legal defense and gave me a fighting chance at trial… My friend, whether you donate $2,500, $1,000, $250 or a different amount, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support… God willing, I’ll win my appeal — but I need to ask you to please help me pay for it!
The Tampa Bay Times in 2014 reported the following about the Foundation:
The National Police Defense Foundation offers medical and legal support to law enforcement officers and free fingerprinting for children. It also pays cash rewards to people who help solve officer shootings.
Of the $10 million raised over the past decade, $8 million has gone to professional fundraisers. About five percent of the money raised has been spent on legal defense, rewards and other direct cash aid…
So unsuspecting Trumpkins rushing to their checkbooks to help “Sheriff Joe” were actually donating 80 percent of whatever they contributed to professional fundraisers.
The future pardons of Donald Trump
The Arpaio pardon may very well turn out to be more significant as a warning flag of what comes next than the simple stay-out-of-jail card that Trump handed the former sheriff.
The pardon serves as a dog whistle (boy, Trump loves dog whistling), letting his allies such as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner know that he has their backs if they don’t rat on him.
From what we read and hear about the activities of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, it appears that he may be actively building a case against one or more of those men. The standard way to do that, of course, is to work your way up the organizational pyramid, cajoling underlings to fess up to save themselves by providing evidence on higher-ups in the food chain. The fish stinks at the head. Donald Trump is the head. People like Flynn and the others might be more willing to keep quiet about what they know about Donald Trump’s finances and dealings with Russia if they feel that there will be a pardon waiting for them.
Of course if this were all to bear out it would seem likely that those actions could also find their way into an article of impeachment as an obstruction of justice charge.
The pardon serves as a bit of a test run for how such political pardons play out. Trump may be seriously misreading what might happen the next time he tries this stunt. Granting pardons to his allies and family members would also create an interesting dynamic: someone granted a pardon would no longer be subject to prosecution, so the 5th Amendment ban on self-incrimination would not apply, making them more likely to be used effectively by prosecutors against Trump.
Recent reports of Mueller and the New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman cooperating in their investigations of Paul Manafort suggest that Manafort might face state level charges, which President Trump cannot pardon. This model of Federal-state cooperation could significantly reduce the allure and protection of a potential Trump pardon for Trump associates who might consider covering for him in the Federal investigation.
Oh what tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive