PHOENIX (AP) — Joe Arpaio is seeking an investigation into his claim that the U.S. Justice Department meddled in his unsuccessful 2016 campaign for sheriff in metro Phoenix.
Arpaio, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, alleges the federal agency tried to sway voters against him by agreeing to push a criminal contempt of court case against Arpaio just weeks before the election.
In asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the investigation, Arpaio's lawyer Mark Goldman made parallels between the Justice Department's actions in Arpaio's case and its conduct in the investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential race and whether then-candidate Donald Trump's campaign was involved. Goldman cited an anti-Trump text message made by an FBI agent who was once part of the team conducting the Russia investigation.
"Given that these high-ranking FBI officials had no qualms about discussing methods of overthrowing the future president, it is more than reasonable to believe that the there was a concerted effort to steer and influence the election of Sheriff Arpaio," Goldman wrote in a June 1 letter to Sessions.
Months after losing the sheriff's race by nearly 13 percentage points, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt after he was found to have intentionally disobeyed a judge's order to stop his traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.
The retired lawman was spared a possible jail sentence a month later when Trump pardoned him, reversing what critics saw as a long-awaited comeuppance for a lawman who escaped accountability for headline-grabbing tactics.
While Arpaio has acknowledged disobeying the judge's order, he said he was treated unfairly when Justice Department lawyers appeared in court a few weeks before election day to say they would prosecute Arpaio.
Arpaio blames the Justice Department, but the criminal charge against him was filed by a judge, not by prosecutors from the federal agency.
In an interview Wednesday, Arpaio insisted he wasn't opportunistically using a Trump strategy by attacking the Department of Justice's conduct. "I am not jumping on a bandwagon," Arpaio said.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Arpaio's investigation request and the claim that the agency tried to turn voters against Arpaio.
"It's unfortunate that Joe Arpaio is focused on re-litigating his unsuccessful 2016 election — as an Arizonan, I can tell you he lost because he doesn't have command of the issues affecting our state," said Shawn Dow, campaign manager for former state Sen. Kelli Ward, one of Arpaio's GOP primary opponents in the Senate race.
The campaign of U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, another Republican running for the Senate race, didn't respond a phone call and email seeking comment.