White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that no decision has been reached on whether to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, despite President Trump's openly floating the possibility.
Sanders said at a press briefing that a pardon of the 85-year-old immigration hardliner likely would go through a standard Justice Department vetting process, which features review by the Office of the Pardon Attorney and an FBI background check.
"I would imagine they go through the thorough and standard process, and when we have an announcement on what that decision is after that is completed, we will let you know," she said, responding to a question about Arpaio.
CNN and the conspiracy-minded news site Infowars have reported that paperwork has been prepared for Trump to pardon Arpaio outside the standard process, which requires applicants to wait five years after a conviction before submitting a petition.
A Justice Department official told the Washington Examiner after Sanders' remark that the pardon attorney's office has nothing on file for Arpaio, who would have to seek a waiver from the five-year rule if he went through the standard process.
Arpaio was convicted of contempt last month for defying a judge's order that his department not arrest suspected illegal immigrants without suspicion that they committed a state crime. He faces a maximum six months in prison when he's sentenced on Oct. 5, but incarceration is not guaranteed.
Trump does not need Justice Department review to exercise his constitutional clemency power, which he can use unilaterally.
The president initiated intense speculation about an Arpaio pardon earlier this month when he told Fox News he was considering issuing one. At a large rally in Arizona on Tuesday, he openly hinted he would follow through.
"I won't do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy," Trump said Tuesday. "But Sheriff Joe can feel good."
Trump has suggested he may use his pardon power before without following through, though not so boldly.
Sanders declined to more describe Trump's pardoning philosophy, saying "I haven't had a specific conversation with him about that, but I know that the White House counsel plays a big role in that."
Any act of clemency by Trump, who has been in office 215 days, would break with the recent tradition of early-term stinginess. Former President Barack Obama waited 682 days to use his constitutional clemency power, George W. Bush took 699 days and Bill Clinton waited 672 days.