Trump under fire over epic Friday news dump – Politico
It was a Friday night news dump like rarely seen before: President Donald Trump’s administration announced a series of polarizing decisions that had been under discussions for weeks, just as a hurricane bore down on the Texas coast.
Trump privately had signaled for weeks he would pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, praising the sheriff’s loyalty and telling at least one adviser that his base wanted it badly.
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Seb Gorka, a national security aide, was on the outs with Chief of Staff John Kelly after criticizing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on TV earlier in August. Kelly had told others Gorka had no future in the White House, and Gorka had aligned himself closely with now ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon.
And Trump’s top advisers had scrambled to write implementation orders for the military transgender ban for several weeks, after Trump startled lawyers and advisers with tweets they considered ill-advised and had warned against.
The pardon, the exit and the guidelines all came on Friday evening, as a ferocious hurricane barreled down the Texas coastline, dizzying chyron operators and buzzing phones across Washington. White House aides and advisers said it was coordinated to handle polarizing decisions that were sure to alienate various constituencies.
“With a natural disaster on the horizon, you have one shot at the public seeing the news and then they quickly move on to more important issues,” said Mark Corallo, a veteran consultant who briefly worked for Trump’s White House. “It is Washington PR 101.”
The Arpaio pardon was the most contentious within Trump’s White House. More moderate advisers and aides had tried to talk Trump out of pardoning the convicted ex-sheriff, who ran sweltering, punishing jails where inmates died and was accused of targeting Latino residents. Trump had floated announcing the pardon at a rally in Arizona Tuesday night, but was persuaded to hold off.
One White House adviser said that it wasn’t a “matter of if he was going to do it, it was a matter of when.” So it was announced Friday evening even though sentencing was months away.
The move surprised top officials at the Justice Department, this adviser said, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to describe private discussions.
The pardon was met with swift and widespread condemnation, drawing comparisons to Bill Clinton’s infamous pardon of Marc Rich. The two Republican senators from Arpaio’s home state of Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, suggested the move showed a lack of respect by Trump for law and order.
“The President has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions,” McCain said in a statement.
Democrats were harsher.
“Joe Arpaio ignored the courts of law in order to systemically target Latinos in AZ. Definition of racism and bigotry,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter, who added he “ran to Camp David” to “use the cover of Hurricane Harvey to avoid scrutiny.”
“So sad, so weak,” Schumer added, parroting some of Trump’s favorite put-downs.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Saturday that the Justice Department “found that for years Sheriff Arpaio systematically violated the civil rights of the people he was charged with serving and protecting. President Trump indicates that he approves of that behavior with last night’s decision, which will only serve to deepen the divisions in our country.”
Republican strategist Alex Conant, a former adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla), said that while “there are a lot of Republicans that want to support the president,” the pardon “goes against a lot of what Republicans have traditionally stood for.”