Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio may challenge Jeff Flake for Arizona Senate seat

President Donald Trump hit back Monday afternoon at critics on his decision to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, claiming the clemency decisions made by his two most recent Democratic predecessors were far more controversial.

“I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe,” President Trump said at a White House press conference.

Clearly anticipating a question about the pardon, President Trump read from prepared notes as he countered the bipartisan criticism by rattling off the controversial commutations and pardons issued by former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked countless sensitive and classified documents,” Trump said, calling Manning a “criminal leaker.”

He also criticized former president Obama for commuting the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who had been serving a 55-year federal prison sentence for being a leader of the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN. (Related: Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio may challenge Jeff Flake for Arizona Senate seat)

President Trump also reached back to the Bill Clinton administration, invoking the controversial pardon of the late financier Marc Rich, “who was charged with crimes going back decades,” and Clinton’s clemency for Susan Rosenberg, a far-left radical and member of the Weather Underground.

He sought to draw a distinction between their histories and Arpaio’s.

“Sheriff Joe is a patriot. Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders,” Trump said, alleging the Obama administration treated him “unbelievably unfairly” and the case cost him an election in Maricopa County, Ariz.

Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt in regards to defying a judge’s order to stop his controversial immigration patrols. Sheriff Arpaio has long been accused of profiling and using inhumane tactics, and the decision to pardon him drew bipartisan criticism, including from Arizona’s two Republican senators.

“Mr. 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,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement. “The President has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.”

The president addressed the pardon during a joint press conference with the visiting president of Finland. Asked about the backlash by Fox News’ John Roberts, Trump also seemed to defend the timing of the announcement – and push back against claims that he was trying to bury the news late Friday during the coverage of Hurricane Harvey. Even though he ‘announced’ the pardon at his rally in Phoenix last week.

To the contrary, President Trump said, “in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.”

Fox News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.