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Trump pardons convicted sheriff Joe Arpaio in first clemency
[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump pardoned former Arizona county sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday, using his first act of presidential clemency to give reprieve to a political supporter known - and criminally convicted - for his tough crackdown on illegal immigration.
"Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon," the White House said in a statement. Mr Trump lauded Arpaio for his "life's work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration."
Arpaio, one of Trump's earliest supporters, was convicted of federal misdemeanor criminal contempt this year after a judge found he had defied a court order to stop targeting suspected undocumented immigrants. By pardoning Arpaio, Mr Trump threatened to further inflame national tensions over race and immigration while also alienating some of the Republicans who have touted the importance of the rule of law.
Arpaio, who served for 24 years as the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, was defeated in last year's election.
"I have to thank the president of the United States," Arpaio said in a telephone interview. "I feel vindicated."
Mr Trump has praised Arpaio for his tough stance on illegal immigration, which critics have said promoted racial profiling. Arpaio also pushed the baseless conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in the US.
Mr Trump had told Fox News that he was "seriously considering" a pardon for Arpaio.
"He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration," Mr Trump said in the interview. "He's a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him." It's rare for a president to issue a pardon so early in his term.
Mr Obama pardoned 212 individuals during his eight-year term, with the majority of those in his final weeks in office, according to the Justice Department. Most recent presidents have opted against pardoning elected officials.
The last president to issue a pardon the same year he was inaugurated was George HW Bush in 1989.