In July, Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for violating the terms of a 2011 court order in a racial profiling case. Arpaio is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5 and faces a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a fine, according to Reuters.
Trump, who spoke with Fox News while on a “working vacation” at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, said he could pardon Arpaio within days.
“He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration,” Trump said. “He’s a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him.”
Arpaio gave himself the nickname “America’s toughest sheriff” while working in Maricopa County, where he operated a “tent city” jail and made inmates wear pink underwear and uniforms featuring stars and stripes.
Arpaio was a leader in the birther movement that questioned former President Barack Obama’s birthplace, and therefore his legitimacy to serve as president. Arpaio led a years-long investigation into Obama’s birth certificate, which the then-president released in April 2011. Trump also spent years touting birther conspiracies.
In 2013, a federal judge ordered Arpaio to stop using police tactics against Hispanic and Latino drivers, saying it amounted to racial profiling. Arpaio was holding what he called “saturation patrols” in an attempt to find people who had entered the country illegally.
Arpaio publicly acknowledged he violated the judge’s order but argued the violations were “not intentional.”
Amid this controversy, Arpaio lost his re-election bid to Democrat Paul Penzone. Arpaio had served as Maricopa County sheriff since 1993.
The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement Monday saying an Arpaio pardon would be “an official presidential endorsement of racism.”
“President Trump would be literally pardoning Joe Arpaio’s flagrant violation of federal court orders that prohibited the illegal detention of Latinos. He would undo a conviction secured by his own career attorneys at the Justice Department,” the organization said. “Make no mistake: This would be an official presidential endorsement of racism.”
This article has been updated with comment from the ACLU.