President Trump on Tuesday teased that he may yet decide to pardon controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, though he stopped short of making an announcement one way or the other.
“I’ll make a prediction: I think he’s going to be just fine,” said Trump during a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona.
Arpaio had been found guilty in July of criminal contempt for willfully violating a federal judge’s 2011 order to stop racially profiling in immigration roundups, the Los Angeles Times reports. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton wrote that Arpaio demonstrated “flagrant disregard” for the order and “broadcast to the world and to his subordinates that he would and they should continue ‘what he had always been doing.'”
Arpaio is set to be sentenced in October and is facing up to six months in jail.
Trump has been mulling a pardon for Arpaio since at least Aug. 13, when he told Fox News, “He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”
Presidents have very broad authority to issue pardons. Article II Section 2 of the Constitution says presidents “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” The President doesn’t need approval from anyone else in the government to issue a pardon, and can even pardon someone before they’ve been formally charged with a crime. (Or, in this case, before they’ve been sentenced.)
In general, people seeking presidential pardons submit applications to the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Justice Department for evaluation.
“All requests for executive clemency for federal offenses are directed to the Pardon Attorney for review, investigation, and preparation of the Department’s recommendation to the President, which is signed by the Deputy Attorney General, for the final dispositions of each application,” the office’s description on the Justice Department website reads.
But as a legal matter, the President can unilaterally pardon anyone he wants, with or without the recommendation of this office. Arpaio told NPR on Aug. 17 that he has not asked for a pardon in this case.
“As far as the situation on a pardon, I didn’t ask for it but I will accept it if he does do it,” Arpaio said.
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Write to Tessa Berenson at tessa.Rogers@time.com