WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump on Monday defended his decision to pardon Joe Arpaio, calling the former Arizona sheriff a "patriot" who loves his country. Asked about his controversial pardon during a joint press conference with the president of Finland on Monday, Trump insisted that "a lot of people" believe he made the right call. He said Arpaio had done a "great job for the people of Arizona" and argued that he'd been treated "unbelievable unfairly" by the Obama administration.
"He's done a great job for the people of Arizona. He is very strong on borders, very strong on illegal immigration. He is loved in Arizona," Trump said.
Trump's decision drew criticism from both sides of the aisle, and renewed allegations that he has little respect for an independent judiciary.
Arpaio shot to national fame by aggressively targeting immigrants living in the U.S. illegally using tactics that Latino and immigrants' rights advocates likened to racial profiling. He faced a possible jail sentence on a federal conviction stemming from his refusal to halt certain immigration patrols.
"Sheriff Joe is a patriot. Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders and Sheriff Joe was very unfairly treated by the Obama administration, especially right before an election, an election that he would have won," Trump said during the event on Monday. "So I stand by my pardon of Sheriff Joe and I think the people of Arizona who really know him best would agree with me."
The White House's Friday announcement came as Hurricane Harvey threatened to batter Texas with heavy winds and severe flooding and shortly after the administration outlined long-awaited details of Trump's plan to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. But Trump pushed back on the assumption the timing was intended to bury the news, claiming instead that he'd announced the pardon then because he knew people would be watching.
"In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally," he said.
Meanwhile, Arpaio said now that he has been pardoned by Trump, he is not ruling anything out. He and his lawyers, however, want the whole thing to go away. Arpaio's lawyers have reported asked for the case to be dismissed, and the verdict to be vacated, following the pardon.
"I'm not guilty," said Arpaio, via a telephone interview. "If you looked at the court trial, anyone in the right mind would know that, but that's another issue that I'll be talking about as time goes on about the abuse of the judicial system."
Arpaio also did not rule out running for office again, including possibly running for Sheriff, or running against Sen. Jeff Flake to be the state's next U.S. Senator.