In a performance worthy of a Mafia don, Sheriff Joe Arpaio dissembled under oath today in a disciplinary hearing for disgraced former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and Thomas' ex-underlings, former deputy county attorneys Rachel Alexander and Lisa Aubuchon.
During more than two hours of questioning, mostly by counsel for the State Bar of Arizona, Arpaio's favorite response was, "I don't recall," which he repeated numerous times.
He asserted that he had delegated all authority concerning the investigations of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, county judges, and various other county officials to former Chief Deputy David Hendershott, Arpaio's hand-picked fall guy.
Though he admitted Hendershott briefed him regularly on investigations by the Maricopa County Anti-Corruption Enforcement unit, which went after the political enemies of the sheriff's and county attorney's, it was only "in general terms." The sheriff claimed ignorance of the "nuts and bolts" of the operations.
"I was not micromanaging these operations," Arpaio stated at one point, in direct contradiction to press releases, public statements, and reams of documents released following a whitewash review done by Arpaio's political ally, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.
My colleague Ray Stern read thousands of these documents, pointing out in his May 26 cover story "Joe Knew," that Arpaio was intimately involved in the witchhunts against those who dared oppose him, sitting in on MACE meetings, according to several witnesses, and even reviewing search warrants.
But instead of the hard-charging sheriff who stood side-by-side with Thomas at countless press conferences regarding MACE investigations and the RICO suit wherein he was the lead plaintiff, Arpaio depicted himself as someone who was just going along with what the County Attorney and his top deputy wanted.
Regarding the September 2009 arrest of Supervisor Don Stapley on bogus fraud charges, Arpaio previously has told the press that he ordered it. Also, in Hendershott's recent testimony before the disciplinary hearing, the erstwhile Arpaio minion confirmed that Arpaio ordered the collaring of Stapley.
But this morning, Arpaio claimed his hands were clean, and that the decision to arrest Stapley was not his.
"I don't order arrests," he said, adding a moment later that he "didn't oppose it" either.
Arpaio conceded that he met with Aubuchon, Thomas, and Hendershott the day before Judge Gary Donahoe was indicted on three bogus felony counts, meant both as retaliation against Donahoe for his previous rulings against Thomas and Arpaio, and a way to head off another hearing before Donahoe, scheduled for the following day.
But Arpaio averred that he had no part in the decision to charge Donahoe, which is a key part of the bar's complaint against Thomas. The bar contends more than just an ethical violation here. It alleges that federal laws were broken in the Thomas-Arpaio vendetta against Donahoe.
"I don't file charges," Arpaio contended. "Prosecutors do that."
Arpaio feigned ignorance of the details of the charges, the timing of the charges, and insisted he had only "peripheral knowledge" of the sham case against Donahoe.
"I was confused then," the sheriff said of the Donahoe matter. "I'm confused now."
Yet, of that same meeting before the Donahoe charges were filed, Arpaio stated later in the hearing that he "suggested maybe a complaint" against the judge.
Confronted with press releases from the county attorney's office in which he was quoted concerning the various shenanigans of his MACE unit, Arpaio admitted that the MCAO must have gotten permission from his staff to use those quotes.
And yet he was "not privy" to every detail concerning these matters, he contended.
About the racketeering lawsuit he and Thomas brought against numerous county officials and judges, the one concerning the supposed "court tower" conspiracy, Arpaio maintained that he has never read the RICO action, though he's the number one plaintiff in it, though he agreed to its ultimate dismissal, and though he agreed to it being turned it over (ironically) to the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Division.
Hendershott suggested that he should be a plaintiff, Arpaio said. He went along with its dismissal on similar advice.
But in an MCAO press statement about the RICO suit's dismissal, Arpaio was quoted mentioning "pressures exerted by certain elected officials in powerful positions." He said he couldn't remember what these "pressures" were or who exactly he was talking about.
How could he have made a statement about a RICO complaint he had never read? Arpaio said it was a county attorney press release, and the MCAO was responsible for knowing all the details.
Arpaio said he had no "objective" in bringing the lawsuit, though the suit's prayer for relief asked for "triple damages" against the defendants.
Toward the end of his testimony, Arpaio asserted that he was not trying to be evasive in his answers.
"I don't have a computerized mind," he told the three-member panel overseeing the hearing.
Arpaio may not have a computerized mind (who does?), but his testimony today was at odds with his previous statements, the statements and testimony of his subordinates, and everything we know about the Arpaio-Thomas-Hendershott axis.
It would be a near miracle if the sheriff did not perjure himself today.
And yet, the feds continue to sit on their hands and do nothing about Arpaio, though a federal grand jury probe of Arpaio began in 2008, so far producing zilch.
My sources have indicated that the Department of Justice has enough evidence to do indictments of Arpaio and his henchmen, but a political decision has been made by the muck-a-mucks in Washington, D.C. to defer such action until after the 2012 elections.
As I pointed out in May of this year, President Barack Obama and his Justice Department are more afraid of Joe Arpaio than Obama was of Osama bin Laden.
The soon-to-be octogenarian is expected to run again for reelection in 2012. His campaign war chest boasts millions in contributions from around the country, and GOP presidential candidates have been traipsing through Phoenix, hats in hand, seeking Arpaio's endorsement.
So, in spite of Arpaio's damning testimony today, I remain pessimistic that the feds will do anything about the sheriff, even if Obama is re-elected. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his boss are that weak-kneed.
And that's one reason why corruption such as Arpaio's is so bald-faced. Another is a sheep-like electorate that overlooks all of Arpaio's misdeeds no matter how many millions are squandered on his illegalities, no matter how many individuals are ruthlessly targeted by his regime.
My colleague James King will continue following the hearing this afternoon in the Valley Fever blog. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, and later perhaps Aubuchon, are expected to take the stand at some point. You can watch the hearing live via the Arizona Supreme Court's website, here.