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Trump returning to Phoenix for rally next week

President hints at Arpaio pardon; may endorse challenge to Flake

On the heels of a troublesome week, President Donald Trump will return to the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday evening for a political rally.

Announced on Wednesday by the campaign, Trump will hold an event at the downtown Phoenix complex, 100 N. 3rd St., on August 22, beginning at 7 p.m. 

Free general admission tickets are available from Trump's political campaign.

The president has hinted at a pardon for convicted ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, and may endorse a challenge to Sen. Jeff Flake.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva called Trump "unhinged," and said that he would hold a counter-demonstration against the president outside Trump's rally.

The mayor of Phoenix, Phil Gordon, said he was "disappointed" that Trump planned to hold an event in his city, and called for him to delay the rally.

If Trump pardons Arpaio, the mayor said, "it will be clear that his true intent is to enflame emotions and further divide our nation."

Gordon said that the city would respect Trump's constitutional right to use city property for the event, and work to keep safe those attending the rally and those protesting outside.

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Last September, Trump used the same location as a candidate to slam the door on rumors that he was softening his immigration stance, launching into an effusive description of his plans for a "great wall" along the southern border. 

Trump said he would build an "impenetrable, powerful, solid southern border wall." 

This wall, would be paid for by Mexico "100 percent," he said. "They just don't know it yet," Trump said to cheers from the crowd. 

As yet, the wall has not be built, however, federal officials began laying the groundwork for parts of the wall in a national wildlife refuge in Texas. Congress appropriated $1.6 billion for the construction of some kind of border wall, though it seems increasingly likely, that rather than Trump's "impenetrable" and "solid" wall, Customs and Border Protection will build bollard fencing similar to structures in and around Nogales. 

Trump also outlined harsher immigration enforcement priorities, some of which have come to bear following a series of executive orders from the president in January and February. 

The announcement comes following a tumultuous few days, in which the president appeared to seek equivalence between protestors, and a motley crowd of hundreds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the self-proclaimed "alt-right" who marched in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. 

In one bloody incident, a man from Ohio allegedly plowed his Dodge Challenger into another car, sending the vehicle careening into a crowd of anti-fascist protestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, and injuring more than dozen others. The driver was arrested on suspicion of murdering the Charlottesville resident. 

On Saturday, Trump said that White House officials were closely following the events in Charlottesville, and said, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides." 

"It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America," he said. 

The reference to "many sides" was controversial, and the White House responded by having Trump deliver a full address, in which he condemned "in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred and violence." 

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"It has no place in America," Trump said, calling those who cause violence in the name of racism "criminals and thugs." 

But, on Tuesday, the White House's messaging ran aground when Trump once again sought an equivalency between protestors and groups that chanted "blood and soil" and prominently displayed symbols of Nazism. 

"What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, alt-right?" Trump asked reporters during press conference at Trump Tower in New York City.  "Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands?"

Later, Trump denied he was putting the groups of the same moral plane, but then said "you had a group on one side and a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and horrible and it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side."

A reporter responded saying, "Neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville..." 

Trump interrupted, and said "Excuse me, they didn't put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides."

Arpaio pardon? Flake challenge?

Trump may have more than a general rallying of his base in mind in coming to Phoenix on Tuesday. 

On Sunday, he told Fox News that he was "seriously considering" a pardon for the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio. Trump may also endorse a primary challenger to U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who has frequently criticized the president. State Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who worked on Trump's campaign in Arizona, has said he won't seek re-election, but his name has been floated as a potential challenger for Flake.

Arpaio faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the violation, and is scheduled for sentencing on October 5.

On July 31, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the 85-year-old ex-lawman had "willfully violated an order of the court," and found him guilty of criminal contempt.

Arpaio, she said, showed a "flagrant disregard" for a court order to stop arresting people on the suspicion that they were unlawfully present in the United States. The order came after another federal judge found that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office had violated the constitutional rights of dozens of people. 

Despite the order, MSCO continued to arrest and hold people despite a "clear and definite" order forbidding it, ruled Bolton. 

Trump said that Arpaio "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," Trump said. The White House has not released an official announcement regarding Arpaio. 

Federal prosecutors with the public integrity office of the Justice Department secured the criminal contempt conviction against Arpaio after he was found liable of civil contempt charges as part of the original civil rights case against him. 

"President Trump would be literally pardoning Joe Arpaio’s flagrant violation of federal court orders that prohibited the illegal detention of Latinos," said Cecillia Wang, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which led the civil rights case against Arpaio. 

"He would undo a conviction secured by his own career attorneys at the Justice Department. Make no mistake: This would be an official presidential endorsement of racism," she said.

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Trump's comments condemned

While the president still has fervent supporters, many Republican leaders — both national and local — have decried his comments in the wake of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally.

Doug Martin, the owner of a group of conservative Christian-oriented radio stations in Tucson, said Wednesday morning that President Donald Trump must "repent humbly or resign" after blaming both sides for the violence at the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va.

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally commented Tuesday evening: "Let's be clear: white supremacy or any form of racism, bigotry, violence or domestic terrorism has no place in America."

The Republican congresswoman's statement followed the continuing controversy over Trump's statements. Beyond calls from Democrats, dozens of prominent GOP conservatives repeatedly challenged the president of specifically condemn white supremacy and neo-Nazis.

House Speaker Paul Ryan didn't mention Trump or Charlottesville, but tweeted after Trump's latest change in course: "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a conservative House member from Florida, responded to Trump on Tuesday by tweeting:  "Blaming 'both sides' for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no."

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, responded to Trump's statements: "No, not the same. One side is racist, bigoted, Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes."

Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism," said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) on Saturday.

"We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home," said U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on Saturday.

Arizona's GOP senators joined their colleagues in repudiating the neo-Nazi factions, with U.S. Sen. John McCain saying we must "defy those who raise the flag of hatred and bigotry."

"White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special," McCain said.

"The #WhiteSupremacy in #Charlottesville does not reflect the values of the America I know," U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted. "Hate and bigotry have no place in this country."

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On a different page was Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller, who responded to a discussion of Trump's dodging of a direct condemnation of white supremacists on Saturday by declaring "I'm sick and tired of being hit for being white....It is all about making us feel like we need to apologize. I am WHITE - and proud of it! No apologies necessary."

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Paul Ingram/TuconSentinel.com

Then-candidate Donald Trump speaking at the Phoenix Convention Center in September 2016.