Tom Bossert calls criticism of Trump pardoning Arpaio during hurricane "wrong"

White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert called Sen. Chuck Schumer's claim that President Trump hid his pardoning of former sheriff Joe Arpaio under reports of Hurricane Harvey "clearly wrong."

"I think the president weighed the totality of the circumstances and the sheriff's history of service, both in the military and to the law enforcement community, and decided that the 80-something year old man with his history and record of service deserved clemency at this point," Bossert said Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation."

"That was a very unique and personal decision the president took, and he made that decision on Friday night. I don't think that took up more than a minute of his time on Friday night," he added.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer tweeted Friday night that Mr. Trump used the "cover" of the storm to pardon Arpaio to "avoid scrutiny" for his actions, something he called "so sad, so weak." The pardon came Friday night, just before Harvey made landfall in Texas.

Bossert said Sunday that "clemency is within the body of law."

"This is something that previous presidents have done. It's always quite controversial when this happens. There's legitimate questions, but at this point it's pretty straightforward," Bossert said.

Since Harvey made landfall as a hurricane Friday, it has been downgraded to a tropical storm. Bossert said the focus should remain on saving lives as the days and weeks unfold.

"Let's not lose our focus on how bad this still is. Some news coverage outlets, not yours, are reporting that this is being downgraded and it's less of an event, it's just a storm now. That's a mistake," Bossert told CBS News' Major Garrett.

"What we're going to do is pay attention to this, watch the inland flooding unfold, make sure we take care of the people with their food, water, and shelter needs," he said.

Bossert commended the work of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, saying he has demonstrated "great leadership" in the face of the storm. He shot down criticism of the administration patting itself on the back prematurely, saying the federal government has provided "unprecedented" resources to those in need.

"What Brock Long at FEMA did and myself and the president, we got together and, and reviewed that carefully, and decided on Friday night that the president would issue a major disaster before landfall. Now, what's important about that is it freed up federal resources, but it also freed up those federal resources for the individuals affected," said Bossert.

Bossert said the federal government will typically provide money and assistance to local governments for initial aid, then award additional money to the individuals themselves as need presents itself.

"What we did is said no, we're going to provide that- that assistance to the individuals as well. And any additional counties that require that assistance, as individuals or the- or the public, they'll get that and the FEMA director has the authority to add it," said Bossert.

Meanwhile, Bossert said he's been in regular contact with Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence since their initial briefings on Friday.

"Yesterday we had a two hour-long almost conversation with his entire cabinet and all of his senior leadership team. The president was actively involved in that and making sure our operations were coordinated, unsticking any disagreements, of which there were none at this stage."

Bossert said the response to the storm is now a relay race to providing the appropriate resources to those in need.

"There's a lot of moving parts. So there's a lot of effort, but we have to unify that effort into one direction. And so what I'm worried about is that we don't drop the baton," Bossert said.

He added,"All the resources are there, now let's make sure that we apply them in a way to help the people, and not worry about the governments."

  • Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital