The Washington Post’s report on Saturday that President Donald Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions about dropping the case against former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio offers a critical window into Trump’s thinking.
Trump’s alleged conversation with Sessions and subsequent decision to pardon Arpaio could shed new light on Trump’s motives when he spoke to former FBI director James Comey about ending the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn one day after Flynn resigned.
Arpaio, an early and enthusiastic Trump surrogate, was convicted of criminal contempt in July for violating a court order to stop racially profiling Latinos.
When Trump allegedly asked Sessions this past spring whether it would be possible to drop the federal criminal investigation into Arpaio, Sessions told Trump such a move would be inappropriate, but that Trump could pardon Arpaio if he was convicted, The Post reported, citing three people familiar with the conversation.
Trump ultimately granted the pardon on Friday evening, sparking fierce backlash from liberals and some conservatives.
But some legal analysts also pointed out that Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio, and the actions he took preceding that, may serve as an important piece of evidence to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is reportedly investigating the president for obstruction of justice.
Specifically, Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio is key to determining his intent when he had the February conversation with Comey about dropping the Russia investigation before ultimately firing Comey after he refused to do so, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor.