President Trump said he's considering a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as rumors swirl that the paperwork is ready to sign ahead of a presidential visit to Arizona.
But it remains unclear whether Trump actually will break with recent tradition and issue a pardon early in his term outside the standard clemency process. The president will appear in Arpaio's home state of Arizona on Tuesday. He has feuded with the state's Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans.
Although the former sheriff awaiting sentencing for criminal contempt was an early Trump supporter, sharing vehement opposition to illegal immigration, Trump has teased and then withheld clemency before.
Sailor Kristian Saucier, serving a one-year prison sentence for taking pictures of a submarine, became a key Trump talking point after being denied "the Clinton deal," meaning no prison for mishandling classified information, referring to Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
Trump said he was considering a pardon of Saucier in a Fox News interview days after taking office. "I'm actually looking at it right now," Trump said.
While campaigning, Trump used Saucier as an example of someone prosecuted for doing "nothing by comparison" to Clinton. "That's an old submarine; they've got plenty of pictures, if the enemy wants them, they've got plenty of them. He wanted to take a couple of pictures. They put him in jail for a year," Trump said.
Today, Saucier is nearly finished his sentence without a commutation or pardon. He was refused a waiver from the Justice Department to apply for a pardon within fewer than five years of a criminal conviction.
Trump's remarks about Arpaio have been similar to those about Saucier.
"I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio," the president said in a recent Fox News interview. "He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration. He's a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him."
White House spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on the theoretical Arpaio pardon.
A pardon of the former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff would be done outside of the standard clemency process, in which petitions are first vetted by the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney.
There is no pardon paperwork for Arpaio processed by the pardon attorney office, according to the Justice Department, though the constitutional power can be exercised without bureaucratic review.
On Friday, the website Infowars, which specializes in conspiracy theories, claimed that White House counsel Don McGahn "has prepared, at the request of President Trump, a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio that is ready for Trump to sign."
McGahn did not respond to an email seeking comment.
An attorney acquainted with McGahn questioned why it would be necessary to put much effort into a boilerplate pardon proclamation, though they were able to offer no inside information.
As the possibility looms, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, asked Trump not to pardon Arpaio on Tuesday when he visits the city.
"If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then it will be clear that his true intent is to inflame emotions and further divide our nation," Stanton said.
Arpaio told the Washington Examiner he doesn't know if Trump will pardon him.
The former sheriff, whose media interviews were cited in a judge's ruling as evidence he defiantly attempted to enforce federal immigration law, even without suspicion of someone committing a state crime, said he was wrongfully convicted and will appeal if he's not pardoned.
"I hear a lot of rumors going around, but I don't know officially if it's true or not," Arpaio said on Friday afternoon about a potential pardon from Trump. "Right now, I don't have any updates. I guess he's the only one who knows. I have no idea."