Trump Says He Pardoned Former Arizona Sheriff During Hurricane Watch for Better Ratings

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President Donald Trump

"Even though it was Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally," the president said of his decision.

President Donald Trump on Monday defended his decision to pardon Joe Arpaio, calling the former Arizona sheriff a "patriot" who loves his country.

Asked about his controversial pardon during a joint press conference with the president of Finland, Trump insisted that "a lot of people" believe he made the right call. He said Arpaio had done a "great job for the people of Arizona" and argued that he'd been treated "unbelievable unfairly" by the Obama administration.

"He's done a great job for the people of Arizona. He is very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration. He is loved in Arizona," Trump said.

The president's decision drew criticism from both sides of the aisle and renewed allegations that he has little respect for an independent judiciary.

Arpaio shot to national fame by aggressively targeting immigrants living in the U.S. illegally using tactics that Latino and immigrants' rights advocates likened to racial profiling. He faced a possible jail sentence on a federal conviction stemming from his refusal to halt certain immigration patrols.

"Sheriff Joe is a patriot. Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders and Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration, especially right before an election, an election that he would have won," Trump said during the event on Monday. "So I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe and I think the people of Arizona who really know him best would agree with me."

The announcement from the White House on Friday came as Hurricane Harvey threatened to batter Texas with heavy winds and severe flooding and shortly after the administration outlined long-awaited details of Trump's plan to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. But the president pushed back on the assumption the timing was intended to bury the news, claiming instead that he'd announced the pardon then because he knew people would be watching.

"In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally," he said.

Trump on Monday also continued to insist that Mexico will pay for his long-promised southern border wall.

"One way or the other, Mexico will pay for the wall," said Trump, arguing that while the project may initially be funded by U.S. taxpayers, "ultimately" Mexico will pay.

The president recently threatened to force a federal government shutdown unless Congress provides funding for his wall, but Trump said Monday that he hopes such a drastic measure is "not necessary."

Still, he added, "if it's necessary, we'll have to see."

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