By Tom LoBianco, CNN
(CNN) — President Donald Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions this past spring whether he would drop the federal case against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but was rebuffed at the time, according to The Washington Post.
Sessions told Trump it would be inappropriate for him to interfere in the federal case against Arpaio, one of Trump’s most ardent allies, according to three people with knowledge of the conversation who spoke with the Post.
Trump eventually decided to let the case go to trial with the plan of pardoning Arpaio if he was convicted, according to the report.
When asked about Trump’s conversation with Sessions, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Post: “It’s only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different.”
The Justice Department declined to comment to the newspaper. It also declined to comment to CNN when asked about the Post’s story.
The White House did not immediately return CNN’s request for comment.
CNN has not independently verified the Post’s story.
Trump quietly pardoned Arpaio late Friday as the national focus turned toward Hurricane Harvey as it was about to hit Texas. Trump hinted at the pardon earlier in the week during his rally in Phoenix, but the White House was circumspect about what would happen.
Arpaio was found guilty last month of contempt of court for refusing to comply with a federal judge’s orders that he stop racially profiling Latinos. Arpaio was scheduled to be sentenced in October.
Trump’s pardon of Arpaio enraged Democrats across the board and divided Republicans. Many in the GOP, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, denounced the pardon, while others, including Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, praised the move.
Unlike almost all presidential pardons, this one did not involve any role for the Justice Department, according to a source with knowledge of the process. Typically an office at the Justice Department reviews clemency applications and gives a recommendation to the President.
“This is the President’s pardon,” the source said.