Potential pardon for ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio not on DOJ's plate

'America's toughest sheriff' Joe Arpaio
'America's toughest sheriff' Joe Arpaio

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Story highlights

  • Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio could face up to six months in prison
  • Arpaio has said he has not talked to the president since around Thanksgiving

(CNN)President Donald Trump has signaled that an executive pardon could soon be on the way for embattled former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but he may end up using the authority he has touted as his "complete power" without involving the Justice Department.

CNN has learned that although the President told Fox News last week that he's "seriously considering" a pardon for Arpaio, the Trump White House has not, thus far, consulted with the Justice Department office that typically handles clemency petitions, according to a source familiar with the process.
Under the Constitution, the President enjoys broad power to pardon any federal offense on his own and is not required to go through DOJ.
    But the prospect of Trump using his first presidential pardon on a political ally -- who has been in the crosshairs of repeated claims of racial profiling and discrimination for years -- has proved controversial since Trump floated the idea last week.
    Arpaio, who touted himself as "America's toughest sheriff" and served the poster child for hardline immigration policies until his defeat last year, recently was convicted by a federal judge for ignoring a court order that he stop detaining people on the mere suspicion that they were undocumented immigrants. He now faces up to six months in prison and is expected to be sentenced on October 5.
    He told The New York Times in an interview over the weekend that he has not spoken to the President since around Thanksgiving, but was "honored by the potential pardon" and would accept it if offered.
    In the typical clemency case, an applicant submits a petition to the Office of the Pardon Attorney at DOJ roughly five years after being sentenced, that office reviews the case and prepares a recommendation to the Deputy Attorney General, and then the DAG makes a recommendation to the president.
    That process has not happened in Arpaio's case.
    But an early commutation of a sentence without DOJ involvement in a high-profile case wouldn't be entirely without precedent.
    In 2007, President George W. Bush commuted the sentence of former White House aide Scooter Libby without consulting the Justice Department.
    And while the White House has not yet made any formal announcement about Arpaio, civil rights groups already have sounded alarm.
    "Rather than taking action to unite our nation and heal the wounds he has opened, President Trump is considering using the power of his office to sow hate and division," said Vanita Gupta, former head of DOJ's civil rights division under President Barack Obama and who now leads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
    "If President Trump uses his power to pardon a discredited law enforcement official who persistently engaged in illegal racial profiling of the Latino community, it will not be a dog whistle to the so-called 'alt right' and white supremacists, but a bull horn," Gupta said.