2.5.18

Mike Pence hails Joe Arpaio as a “tireless champion ... of the rule of law”

The vice president is all in on Trump’s shocking attacks on basic institutions.

Tuesday night I saw a story scroll by in my Twitter feed that actually shocked me.

Vice President Mike Pence, on the stump in Arizona to promote the Trump administration’s regressive tax cuts, delivered a shoutout to former sheriff and ex-convict Joe Arpaio, hailing him as a “tireless champion” of both “strong borders” and “the rule of law.” This is a description our vice president offered a man found guilty of criminal contempt of court, among other sins.

These days, to see something morally shocking done by our nation’s executive branch is not all that surprising. But shock and surprise are different things, and this was a shocking moment.

President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon Arpaio outside the normal clemency process last year was, of course, much more shocking than Pence’s tip of the cap. But there are a couple of nuanced elements here worth paying attention to.

One is that Arpaio is a candidate for the GOP nomination in the open Senate race in Arizona this fall, and he’s very much not the candidate national GOP leaders want to see as their nominee since he’s such a weak candidate. So recognizing him at all was not a no-brainer even from a Trumpy perspective.

Even worse, though, was the specific invocation of Arpaio as a tireless champion of the rule of law. Whether you loved or hated Arpaio’s famously cruel — or, as he would say “tough” — policies, that was his authentic persona. There simply isn’t a shred of the rule of law in him. I’ll quote the editors of National Review from their masthead editorial on the subject of Arpaio’s Senate run back in January so you don’t need to take my word for it:

Long a favorite of Fox News and talk radio, Arpaio is a publicity whore of the first order. An old Washington joke holds that the most dangerous place in America is standing between a senator and a television camera, and Sheriff Joe surely loves a camera. But a much more dangerous place to be, for much of Arpaio’s 24-year-run as the sheriff of Maricopa County, was the jail he ran, where inmates were brutalized and disabled men were beaten to death — and where the sheriff’s political opponents were incarcerated from time to time.

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt last summer for willfully violating a federal court order. Specifically, he was convicted of violating an order that he cease arresting and detaining people for whom there was no plausible criminal charge — i.e., the court asked him, pretty please, to stop detaining Mexicans for publicity purposes. Arpaio says he was arresting illegal immigrants, and he may well have been, but it is not a criminal offense simply to be illegally present in the United States. (That is a civil matter.) Until such a time as Congress passes a law making such presence a crime (and delegates enforcement of that federal statute to the sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz.), arresting people under color of law for that non-crime isn’t law enforcement — it’s lawlessness.

Last but by no means least, the fact that it’s Pence saying this is significant.

Trump’s pardons — one of Arpaio absolving him of the crime of defying valid court orders and one of Scooter Libby for the crimes of obstructing justice and lying to federal investigators — smack not of mercy but of self-interest. Trump is sending a clear message that he is willing and able to use the powers of his office to protect people who defy the rule of law.

This, along with the constant tweets about witch hunts and the alleged pointlessness of a special counsel investigation that’s already resulted in criminal charges against several of his top aides, is a real threat not just to Robert Mueller’s investigation but to the entire idea that the president and his friends and family and business partners and campaign donors are equal to the rest of us under the law.

Our backup in a moment of constitutional crisis induced by a president whose abuses of power became too horrific and obvious for Congress to continue turning a blind eye to would be, well, Mike Pence. And the message of hailing Arpaio as a champion of the rule of law is that we are well and truly screwed.

It was, in retrospect, a kind of weird coincidence and a great national blessing that when Richard Nixon was under investigation for Watergate the vice president was Gerald Ford, who genuinely hadn't been a member of the Nixon administration during the key period in time. Pence is not necessarily a member of Trump’s innermost circle, but the message Tuesday night was unmistakable — he’s on the same team, winking the same winks and sending the same signals. It’s not surprising at this point, but it does deserve to be noticed.

source: vox

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