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Angry Trump hints ex-Sheriff Arpaio will get pardon soon, pledges to shut down gov't to build wall

Trump lashed out at the media - and fellow Republicans - in a rambling speech in Phoenix on Tuesday night, and passionately defended his handling of Charlottesville.
23 Ago 2017 – 08:42 AM EDT
Trump speaking in Phoenix Aug 22 2107 Crédito: Getty Images

There was no pardon Tuesday.

But President Donald Trump told a rally of supporters in Phoenix that he still intends to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is awaiting sentencing in Arizona after his conviction in federal court for disobeying court orders to stop his immigration patrols.

He left little doubt that he wanted to do it. He said he'd aimed to avoid "controversy" by not immediately granting the pardon. But Trump also said, "I'll make a prediction: I think he's going to be just fine," adding that the 85=year-old former sheriff was "safe."

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton last week implored Trump not to pardon controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio during his Arizona visit arguing that it would cause further division in a time of mourning after the violence at a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The visit comes at a politically turbulent time for the president during which he has trashed both of Arizona's Republican senators.

On Friday, he fired his chief strategist Steve Bannon, a highly divisive ultra-conservative accused of promoting anti-immigrant policies in the White House, and last week he touched off a firestorm by saying that "both sides" were to blame for violence in Charlottesville.

Trump opened his political rally in Phoenix with calls for unity and an assertion that "our movement is about love." Then he erupted in anger.

He blamed the media for the widespread condemnation of his response to violence at a Charlottesville, Virginia, protest organized by white supremacists. And he shouted that he had "openly called for healing, unity and love" in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and had simply been misrepresented in news coverage.

In a speech where he constantly appeared to switch from prepared remarks on a teleprompter to outrageous ad-libs, the president told the enthuiastic crowd of thousands at the Phoenix convention center: "You know where my heart is. I'm only doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people are."

Several times he insisted that "crooked" TV news networks such as CNN were not broadcasting his speech, when in fact CNN covered it live in its entirety.

Media commentators on CNN afterwards expressed their disbelief, calling Trump "unhinged." CNN anchor Don Lemon described the speech as "A total eclipse of the facts."

As for how he would handle upcoming legislation in Congress - passing tax reform, raising the debt ceiling, and agreeing on a budget - Trump offered little detail. He did threaten that if legislators force a government shutdown "we're building that wall," a reference to his campaign promise to close off the border with Mexico.

He also said he thinks the U.S. will "end up probably terminating" the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico "at some point," though he said he hasn't made up his mind.

"Personally, I don't think we can make a deal because we have been so badly taken advantage of," Trump said.

He read from his three responses to the racially charged violence - getting more animated with each one. He withdrew from his suit pocket the written statement he'd read the day a woman was killed by a man who'd plowed a car through counter-protesters, but he skipped over the trouble-causing part that he'd freelanced at the time - his observation that "many sides" were to blame.

That, as well as his reiteration days later that "both sides" were to blame for the violence that led to the death of Heather Heyer and two state troopers, led Democrats and many Republicans to denounce Trump for not unmistakably calling out white supremacists and other hate groups.

Well after his appearance had ended, Trump sent a tweet on his Twitter account saying: "Not only does the media give a platform to hate groups, but the media turns a blind eye to the gang violence on our streets."

Trump's broadside against the media, and the "fake news" he says is out to get him, was one of several detours he took from his prepared remarks at a rally where he was introduced by Vice President Mike Pence and other speakers appealing for unity and healing.

The president unabashedly acknowledged that his own advisers had urged him to stay on message, and that he simply could not.

He went on to skewer both of Arizona's Republican senators, insisting that his coy refusal to mention their names showed a "very presidential" restraint. He said his aides had begged him, "Please, please Mr. President, don't mention any names. So I won't." Yet he'd clearly described Sen. John McCain as the reason Congress didn't repeal and replace the much-maligned Affordable Care Act, and he labeled Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake as "weak" on borders and crime.

Outside the rally, the divisiveness seen across the country was on display.

One man on a loudspeaker said the largely Latino protesters belong in the kitchen. A Trump opponent hoisted a sign depicting the president with horns. A day of noisy but largely peaceful protests turned unruly after his speech, as police fired pepper spray at crowds after someone apparently lobbed rocks and bottles at officers.

Trump is on a two-day trip to the west, which continues Wednesday with travel to an American Legion convention in Reno, Nevada. He began his Arizona visit Tuesday with a brief trip to the southern edge of the country, touring a Marine Corps base in Yuma that is a hub of operations for the U.S. Border Patrol.

Administration officials briefing reporters on the trip said the area had seen a 46 percent drop in apprehensions of people attempting to illegally enter the U.S. between Jan. 1 and July 31, compared with the same period in 2016.

In fact, the Associated Press pointed out immigrant traffic around Yuma has dramatically slowed over the past dozen years. Once a hotbed for illegal immigration, the Border Patrol sector covering Yuma now ranks among the lowest in the Southwest for apprehensions and drug seizures.

There were some 138,000 apprehensions in 2005. The number had dropped to 14,000 by last year.

"Trump is throwing salt on the wounds he tore open, traveling to Arizona to promote his divisive agenda and potentially pardon one of our nation’s most notorious symbols of racism and bigotry: former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio," Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez wrote in an opinion column published Tuesday.

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"Instead of catching criminals, Arpaio tore families apart and built what one of his own deputies called a “wall of distrust” between the police and the Latino community," he wrote.

During Arpaio's trial prosecutors argued that Arpaio intentionally violated the court order to stop his officers from detaining people simply on the suspicion that they were in the country illegally. As a result of the police tactics, some Latinos who were citizens or legal residents were wrongly detained.