Those who cover Washington these days never make unbreakable plans for the weekend, thanks to that smarmy tactic known as the “Friday Night Dump.” That’s when the ethically challenged politicians (pardon the redundancy) who are the subject of one scandal or another release the embarrassing or incriminating documents they’ve been trying to hide, or take highly controversial or outrageous actions. They wait till after the nightly network newscasts, knowing full well that people are too occupied with errands and fun to pay much attention to the Saturday papers and TV news. It shows that our most powerful leaders often are pathetic weasels.
As a journalist, I’ve witnessed this chicken-spit little game through several administrations and have had countless Friday nights blown to smithereens by presidents and their peeps pathetically trying to minimize the damage when they’re forced to come clean about something or other. Of course, their efforts leave them still covered in slime.
And now we come to President Donald Trump, who has taken the Trump Dump to new lows. Not only did he wait until Friday evening, but he did it late on a Friday night when media and the nation’s attention were focused on Hurricane Harvey and the millions of people in Texas and along the Gulf Coast who were facing destruction and severe personal danger from the powerful storm. That’s when he and his ultracynical clowns hit us in the face with an Arpaio.
Joe Arpaio spent decades as sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix and environs, savaging the rights of Latino residents in his anti-immigrant crusade that violated too many civil rights to count. As is too often the case, that pleased the large number of bigots in the area who believe that no treatment is too ugly for those whose brown skin or Hispanic surname made them suspect. For 23 years, Arpaio was elected and re-elected until finally he was deposed last year, when reports of his blatant brutality, along with that of the henchmen in his police force, finally disgusted a majority of Maricopa’s voters. His sadistic treatment of all his county jail prisoners was something to which he proudly admitted, but it was his regular harassment of Hispanics that finally landed him in a lawsuit.
When a federal judge ruled that he cease the racial profiling, Sheriff Arpaio defiantly refused to follow the legal order, and he ultimately was found to be guilty of criminal contempt of court. The 85-year-old Arpaio faced six months in the slammer.
Obviously Joe Arpaio is Donald Trump’s kinda guy. He had been with Trump during the entire “birther” racist contrivance aimed at President Barack Obama, and Arpaio was an early “Trump for President” supporter when being a Trump supporter wasn’t cool. It still isn’t, but now that Donald Trump is chief executive, one of the goodies bestowed on him by the Constitution is the almost unfettered ability to grant pardons. So, even before his sentencing, his friend Joe Arpaio received clemency. No jail time for Joe. Case closed.
What this means is that President Trump is showing his friends that he’s got their back. Considering so many of his friends and family members are in legal jeopardy as special counsel Robert Mueller investigates possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government to sway the American election, the message is clear: His associates and loved ones don’t have to play ball with Mueller. If they end up facing charges, the implication is that POTUS will take care of them.
As for whether a president can pardon himself before he’s impeached, that has never been resolved by the courts. The lesson we’ve learned from the Arpaio matter is that Trump is not at all bothered when he attacks the fundamental parts of our rule of law. Will there be more pardons? Chances are we’ll find out some Friday night.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.