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August 28, 2017 05:33 PM

President Donald Trump staunchly defended his controversial decision to pardon much-maligned Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, and at the same time revealed that the Friday move was strategically made amid deadly flooding in Texas to potentially capitalize on a larger news audience.

“A lot of people think it was the right thing to do,” Trump asserted of the pardon during a press conference Monday alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. “And actually, in the middle of a hurricane, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally. You know, the hurricane was just starting and I put it out that I had pardoned, as we say, Sheriff Joe.”

Late Friday evening, the White House announced that Trump had granted the pardon, which comes before the 85-year-old sheriff has even been sentenced following his July conviction of criminal contempt for disregarding a court order in a racial profiling case.

As Maricopa County’s sheriff, Arpaio was known for his extreme immigration stance and tactics. His more controversial moves have included the jailing of illegal immigrants in tent cities and chain gangs for women inmates.

“He’s done a great job for the people of Arizona,” asserted Trump on Monday. “He’s very strong on borders, he’s very strong on illegal immigration. He is loved in Arizona.”

Angie Wang/AP

Trump said that Arpaio was treated “unbelievably unfairly,” and cited the sheriff’s military background as one of the reasons for the pardon.

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Then, reading from prepared notes, Trump cited some of the more controversial presidential pardons of his predecessors, including President Clinton‘s pardoning of former financier Mark Rich on his last day in office, and President Obama‘s of Chelsea Manning, who was charged with violating the federal Espionage Act.

Concluded Trump, “So I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe.”

Of Hurricane Harvey – which is dropping catastrophic and unprecedented floodwaters on the state – Trump extended his “thoughts and prayers” to those affected.

“We are one American family. We hurt together, we struggle together and believe me, we endure together,” he added.

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