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The message behind the pardon

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

It was an end-of-summer Friday night and President Trump, ensconced at Camp David, wanted to show the establishment who's boss.

In any other time, we'd have had saturation coverage of a once-in-a-decade hurricane aimed at the nation's petrochemical heart. And a rookie president facing the prospect of his first domestic calamity would have been fretting and sweating his understaffed government's response.

Not Trump! Instead, he melted the news circuits — forcing the cable newsers to go with boxes in boxes in boxes. The Friday night news dump:

  • Trump issues his first pardon, sparing Joe Arpaio of Arizona — who called himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," and was known for hunting immigrants and humiliating convicts — from posssible jail time for a federal conviction stemming from immigration patrols that focused on Latinos.
  • Seb Gorka, a bombastic White House aide known only to cable-news viewers, posted a blistering departure letter. In a very unusual move, the White House blasted an email to reporters making it clear the Bannon protégé had been forced out: "Attribute to a White House Official: Sebastian Gorka did not resign, but I can confirm he no longer works at the White House."
  • Trump formalized his "ban on transgender individuals joining the military but gave the Pentagon the authority to decide the future of openly transgender people already serving."
  • Oh, and BTW, North Korea fired three short-range missiles. (They crashed.)
  • Oh, and NBC reported: "Mueller issued grand jury subpoenas ... seeking testimony from public relations executives [from firms including Podesta Group and Mercury LLC] who worked on an international campaign organized by Paul Manafort."

Bob Bauer, a New York University law professor who was White House counsel to President Obama, tells me: "There is nothing usual about this ... pardon — issued weeks after the court order and before any appeal or sentencing; previewed at a political rally."

Why it matters: The aggressive Arpaio pardon — so early in a presidency, and without the usual Justice Department protocols — raises the possibility that Trump was sending a message to targets and witnesses in the Mueller probe.

  • Republican commentator Ana Navarro said on CNN that this was Trump reminding: "I have absolute power to pardon and I have no qualms ... come hell or high water."
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