Sheriff Joe Arpaio, courtesy USA Today
When Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio scheduled a news conference to discuss the findings of his "birther" investigation just two days before a civil-rights case against his agency gets under way, it drew a knowing sigh from longtime observers.
Tuesday's event was not the first instance in which a well-timed Arpaio news conference has coincided with potentially negative news involving his office.
Arpaio's supporters say the timing of Tuesday's event, revealing results from the sheriff's volunteer investigation into the authenticity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate, was purely coincidental.
Whether or not it was a coincidence, the substance of his message Tuesday -- that Hawaiian officials' stonewalling about inconsistencies in Obama's birth certificate must mean it is forged -- will be at least somewhat obscured by the federal civil-rights trial beginning Thursday.
In that case, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow will determine whether Arpaio's agency has engaged in racial profiling.
"Sometimes, in such high-profile cases, you might want such publicity to influence potential jury pools, but that has no application for the upcoming trial because it's a bench trial and this is a no-nonsense judge," said David Don, a Phoenix civil-rights attorney. "I see this (birther announcement) as part of his political campaign, to put on a show and do some counterprogramming, give something for his supporters to get excited about because he probably anticipates some unfavorable news in this trial."
Tuesday was the second time in recent months that the sheriff has shared with the media what he considered positive news in advance of anticipated negative publicity.
In May, the federal government was preparing to file a separate civil-rights lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office that claimed the agency engaged in discriminatory policing and disregarded the needs of Latino citizens. Arpaio held a news conference the day before the lawsuit was filed at which he unveiled a plan to restore integrity and accountability to his agency.
Sheriff's officials said at the time that the document had been in the works for weeks leading up to its release and that they had no idea when the Justice Department would file a lawsuit.
Chad Willems, Arpaio's campaign manager, dismissed suggestions that Arpaio's news conferences were part of a strategy to deflect attention from other matters. He noted that it would be difficult for sheriff's officials to coordinate timing for a Justice Department lawsuit.
"We don't know when bad stories are going to come out. I think it's paranoia on the part of our detractors," Willems said. "People around Arizona support the sheriff for a variety of reasons, and they have for the last 19 years. We don't pick and choose dates and times based on anyone else's calendar or schedule of events."
If the revelations related to Obama's birth certificate were intended to deflect the spotlight from the upcoming civil-rights trial, it will likely be the last time Arpaio can employ that tactic: He revealed at the end of Tuesday's news conference that a governmental body with more authority, like Congress, would have to take up the investigation into the authenticity of the president's birth certificate.
"It's time for someone else to look into this situation," Arpaio said.
The information revealed by Arpaio and his team on Tuesday did little to resolve questions about Obama's birthplace that linger in the minds of the sheriff's supporters. Instead, the sheriff's lead volunteer investigator, Mike Zullo, took nearly an hour to lay out his case after he and a spokeswoman for
Arpaio admonished the media for ignoring information Zullo presented in March.
While Arpaio's investigators were in Hawaii for 10 days, they located a former local registrar who might have written coding on the copy of Obama's birth certificate posted on the White House website. The woman is now 95 years old.
After the team's return from Hawaii, a national leader in the so-called birther movement who has worked with the sheriff's volunteer investigators placed a call to the woman, pretending to be a news reporter. The woman, who Zullo referred to as "amazingly sharp," told the fake reporter that the numbers on Obama's birth certificate were inconsistent with the time and place of his birth.
Her information, other inconsistencies investigators said they discovered in documents posted on the White House website and the refusal of Hawaii officials to let Arpaio's investigators inspect the original birth certificate led the team to conclude the document is a fraud.
The team also discovered information that they said caused concern about Hawaii's lax standards for verifying where children are born or where their parents live.
When such media events are timed to coincide with a potential onslaught of negative news, there are generally three goals, said Jason Rose, a longtime Valley political consultant and Arpaio supporter: Mobilize fans, distract critics or take the wind out of your foes' sails.
"In this case, all three options are not the best options," Rose said. "The upcoming trial is an example: It's an opportunity for the sheriff to make up ground with people who could be determinative with the election. There's a bunch of people in the middle who want to know, 'Is this a coldhearted or a warmhearted human being?' I think it's an opportunity to say, 'These charges are not true, here's why and here's a more complete portrait of me as a husband, father and grandfather.'"
The impact will likely be negligible for Arpaio and his critics, observers say, citing the well-worn theory that most Maricopa County residents long ago made up their minds about the sheriff, just as many have about the president's citizenship.
But it could help the sheriff raise campaign money.
The Justice Department's decision in May to file a separate civil-rights lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office proved to be a boon for his campaign fund, and Arpaio's birther probe has resonated with Obama's critics nationwide -- including in Hawaii.
Richard Ferguson, a 71-year-old Honolulu resident, said he worked with Obama's grandmother when she was a bank administrator in Hawaii. He graduated from the same high school as the future president. Now a retiree, Ferguson has donated $50 to Arpaio's re-election campaign.
"I'm a person who deals with the facts, you know. It seems like Arpaio's trying to get at some of those facts," Ferguson said. "Arpaio's standing up for things that I think we should know about, which is probably predominantly the immigration issue. The other one (Obama probe) is just interesting. But Arpaio's under siege."
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/articles/2012/07/17/20120717arpaio-obama-birth-certificate-issue-needs-further-investigation.html#ixzz210555edK