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Joe Arpaio, convicted & pardoned ex-sheriff, declares Senate run

Joe Arpaio, the ex-Maricopa County Sheriff who lost a 2016 re-election bid and was found guilty of criminal contempt in a racial-profiling case before being pardoned by President Donald Trump, said he's seeking a U.S. Senate seat.

"I am running for the U.S. Senate from the Great State of Arizona, for one unwavering reason: to support the agenda and policies of President Donald Trump in his mission to Make America Great Again," Arpaio tweeted Tuesday.

The former sheriff will compete to fill the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, who announced late last year that he would not seek another term.

Arpaio — who reveled in his self-description as "America's Toughest Sheriff" — was pardoned last year by Trump after being convicted of disobeying court orders in a case that found his department had racially profiled Latinos in Maricopa County.

The 85-year-old Republican has repeatedly floated the idea of running for Arizona governor or U.S. Senate in the past, but has always held on to his office as sheriff rather than take the plunge as a candidate. But now he's out of office, having lost a bid for a seventh term in 2016 to Paul Penzone, a Democrat.

This time, Arpaio will face a tough GOP primary, with Tea Party favorite and Steve Bannon-endorsed former state legislator Kelli Ward out in front of the pack. Arpaio's announcement came after a rift developed last week between Trump (who has often praised his work as sheriff) and Bannon, a former Trump campaign manager and top White House advisor.

Poised to enter the race is U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, who has scheduled a trio of "special announcement" events across the state on Friday. She and her staff have for months refused to comment on her political plans.

With Ward and Arpaio potentially dividing the right-wing vote, McSally — who has dithered on formally announcing her campaign — may face a smoother path through the primary.

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Other Republicans who may seek Flake's seat are State Treasurer Jeff DeWit and former Arizona State Republican Chairman Robert Graham. Complicating the political calculus is the state of U.S. Sen. John McCain's health; he was diagnosed last year with an aggressive and often deadly form of brain cancer.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who represents the Tempe area, is leading a group of contenders. She faces activist Deedra Abboud and a handful of political unknowns in the Democratic primary to determine who will run for Flake's seat.

Flake announced in October that he was walking away from a 2018 re-election bid, saying in a speech on the Senate floor that he “will not be complicit or silent” about the ongoing degradation of the political climate.

Democrats blast Senate announcement

Democrats were quick to jab at Arpaio's announcement (although many of the party's statements inaccurately claimed Arpaio was "kicked out of office last year" — he lost in 2016).

Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said Arpaio is "one of our nation's most notorious agents of racism and bigotry" and that it is a "sad and disturbing sign of moral decay in the modern Republican Party that a racist former sheriff and convicted criminal in Arizona and an accused child molester in Alabama are the best they have to offer."

Arpaio "spent his career tearing apart immigrant families and devastating Latino communities, and he has no place in the U.S. Senate," Perez said.

Arpaio's conviction, pardon

President Donald Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in August, allowing the former lawman to walk free despite facing sentencing for his conviction on criminal contempt charges in a racial profiling case.

"Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life's work protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration," Trump said.

Arpaio in fact only seized on immigration as a political issue in 2005, during the controversial heyday of the Minutemen when a man held a group of immigrants at gunpoint in the desert.

The pardon was quickly decried by Democrats, and several prominent Republicans.

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Calling Trump's move an "abuse," U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said it was "a full-throated endorsement of selected racial prosecution and bigotry."

"If you're wronged by law enforcement, this president doesn't have your back. Racist vigilantism has a champion in the White House," the Tucson Democrat said. "This sets a sad precedent that only further divides our nation."

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who has feuded with Trump, said that "I would have preferred that the president honor the judicial process and let it take its course."

Trump's issuing a pardon "undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law," said U.S. Sen. John McCain.

"No one is above the law and the individuals entrusted with the privilege of being sowrn law officers should always seek to be above reproach in their commitment to fairly enforcing the laws they swore to uphold," he said. Arpaio "was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their perceived immigration status in violation of a judge's orders"

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey supported the move.

"I believe Sheriff Joe deserves credit for helping to reduce crime in Maricopa County over his long career," the Republican governor said.

Arpaio had faced up to six month in prison after being convicted in July by a federal judge.

In July, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton found that Arpaio "willfully violated an order of the court," by disregarding another federal judge's order. In the 14-page decision, Bolton found that Arpaio and his staff showed a "flagrant disregard" for a court order to stop arresting people on the suspicion that they were unlawfully present in the United States.

Another federal court judge had ordered Arpaio to stop the practice of arresting motorists solely on suspicion they might be in the country illegally, but Arpaio "announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise," Bolton ruled.

Arpaio was scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5 and faced a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The tab for settlements and compliance efforts in civil suits over discrimination and racial profiling by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office under Arpaio is still mounting for taxpayers, but has already hit nearly $70 million.

Arpaio promoted himself as "America's Toughest Sheriff" and built his reputation by tilting at the federal government, and engaging hard-nosed practices that made him a conservative darling. 

While his agency was being accused of civil rights violations, Arpaio also launched an attack against President Barack Obama, arguing that the president's birth certificate was fake. 

In December 2011, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow ruled that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office violated the constitutional rights of people by detaining them without state charges, solely for violating civil immigration law.

However, despite this ruling, Arpaio allowed his deputies to continue holding people for another 17 months despite Snow's "clear and definite" order forbidding it, said Bolton.

Arpaio argued during trial that he had the authority to detain people under Arizona's controversial immigration bill, SB 1070 and under a federal agreement, known as 287(g), that allowed local police agencies to enforce immigration law. 

In 2009, the federal government rescinded MCSO's 287(g) agreement. 

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However, Bolton ruled that Snow's order was clear: Arpaio and his agency could not continue this practice.

"Judge Snow’s preliminary injunction spelled out that detaining those persons past the time sufficient to conduct a criminal investigation was a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights and that Defendant had to cease the practice immediately," she wrote. 

Attorneys for Arpaio argued that the violations were the result of miscommunication, and that he had delegated enforcement of the order to his staff.

However, Bolton rejected this claim, saying that it was clear that Arpaio knew about the order, and that Arpaio said on "numerous occasions that he would continue to keep doing what he has been doing." 

Arpaio "willfully violated the order by failing to do anything to ensure his subordinates’ compliance and by directing them to continue to detain persons for whom no criminal charges could be filed," Bolton wrote.

Before the pardon, his attorneys had said they would appeal.

Arpaio’s office had good reason to pull over motorists, defense attorney Dennis Wilenchik said.

“What the sheriff’s office interpreted that (court order) to mean, what everyone at the trial interpreted that to mean, is that you don’t stop someone just for being an illegal alien,” Wilenchik said.

“The confusion here is that’s not what the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was doing. Police generally stop someone for criminal violations. That’s exactly what the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was doing,” Wilenchik said.

Arpaio's trouble began in 2007, when the American Civil Liberties Union led a lawsuit against Arpaio, arguing that his agency racially profiled and illegally detained Latinos, violating their constitutional rights. 

Snow ruled against the agency in 2011, and then again in 2013. 

In May 2016, Snow once against ruled against Arpaio, finding that he and his top deputies repeatedly violated court orders, and charged Arpaio with civil contempt of court. 

"The Court finds that the Defendants have engaged in multiple acts of misconduct, dishonesty, and bad faith with respect to the Plaintiff class and the protection of its rights. They have demonstrated a persistent disregard for the orders of the Court, as well as an intention to violate and manipulate the laws and policies regulating their conduct," wrote Snow.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio tells an Oro Valley audience about battling the federal government over immigration laws in the state in 2014.

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