Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says he had no idea he was agreeing in a televised interview that he'd consider having oral sex with President Trump.
And he thought, when talk to turned to "golden showers," that he and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen were discussing a shower made of gold.
This is a problem.
Cohen, pretending to be a Finnish YouTube star, found Arpaio to be like Play-Doh in his hands.
Arpaio, 86, is apparently easier to fool than a homeschooled third-grader.
And he's running for U.S. Senate.
Fool him twice, shame on him, as the saying goes. He's admitted to being "duped" before. In fact, what happened in the Cohen interview is just the latest piece of evidence from the past 10 years or so that Arpaio's mental faculties have faded.
Forget the scandals for a moment — the jail deaths, the lack of sexual abuse investigations under his reign, the discrimination against Latinos.
Cohen just exposed for the rest of the country what many Arizonans already knew: If Arpaio was ever fit to be a senator, that time has passed.
Republican voters in Maricopa County turned on Arpaio in 2016, rejecting his bid for a seventh four-year term. But Arpaio isn't satisfied staying out of the limelight — he's one of several Arizona candidates this year who screwed up somehow and are trying to regain their reputations and give their self-esteem a boost.
Arpaio's in third place for the Republican primary, polls show, behind Kelli Ward and Martha McSally, and all of them may be behind Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema for November's general election. Despite the long-shot odds, Arpaio seems to be taking the race seriously. He's raising money and recently plastered metro Phoenix with campaign signs.
Yet Arpaio can't handle the complex, fast-paced world of being a senator, and is likely to be pushed around and manipulated if voters actually put him back in office.
The Cohen example is only the latest of his dotage. It sure is a doozy.
Trouble begins in the interview for Arpaio when Cohen gets him to debate gun control with a toy. Then he informs Arpaio that he's been collecting guns "for the upcoming race war."
Arpaio, clearly not on the ball, says nothing in response.
Cohen soon asks Arpaio if he thinks Trump has had a golden shower.
"Wouldn't surprise me," Arpaio answers.
"I would love to have a golden shower," Cohen tells him. "Do you think there's any way you could get President Trump to give me a golden shower?"
"In Finland?" Arpaio answers, oddly. He then adds that Trump would like the things Cohen is saying.
So Cohen continues the game happily, asking Arpaio about handjobs. Arpaio doesn't seem to know that Cohen's talking about a sex act. Then Cohen moves in for the kill:
"If Donald Trump calls you up after this and says 'Sheriff Joe, I want to offer you an amazing blowjob, would you say yes?'"
Arpaio responds, "I may have to say yes."
On Monday, Arpaio tells Phoenix New Times that he "never agreed" to consider oral sex with Trump. He seemed to be unaware of news coverage about his statements to Cohen. Phoenix New Times informed him that a transcript of the back-and-forth with Cohen, and especially the part about a sex act, had become the headline in news outlets across the country.
"I didn't even know what he was talking about," Arpaio said. "I couldn't even hear what the hell he was saying ... He had a bad accent. He was twisting things around."
And what about the talk of "golden showers?"
"He mentioned Trump and gold — I thought he was talking about a gold shower," Arpaio explained.
He also wasn't savvy enough to realize what Cohen meant by "handjobs."
"We were talking about illegals and working with your hands!" Arpaio said.
Arpaio has been duped before. In one such instance, it was a far more serious deception than the one Cohen pulled on him.
It was seven years ago, when his office was rocked by accusations of abuse of power and ethical violations in the run-up to his 2012 re-election campaign. Among the allegations was that he, along with now-disbarred former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, created an anti-corruption unit with which the pair used to attack political enemies.
Arpaio had his political ally, former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, conduct a supposedly independent review of the allegations. Babeu concluded that Arpaio had been "deceived" by his top aides, including ex-Chief Deputy Dave Hendershott.
"I was duped," Arpaio told the Arizona Republic in November 2011.
Arpaio's longtime aide and the legal counsel at the Sheriff's Office, Jack MacIntyre, told Babeu's investigators that Hendershott had a kind of "Svengali effect" over the sheriff.
Arpaio's excuse that he was duped isn't entirely believable. It's possible he knew about the corruption and claimed he didn't to avoid possible criminal charges. But he says he was duped.
Many observers have wondered for years whether Arpaio's mental capacity is diminishing. It is.
Back in 2010, current County Attorney Bill Montgomery was secretly recorded by a County Supervisor as he questioned Arpaio's mental fitness:
During a meeting in which Montgomery was hoping to be appointed as the next county attorney, he told former Supervisor Don Stapley about how he'd been discussing serious issues with Arpaio recently when the sheriff suddenly began talking about "stories about his family, past Valentine's Days, that sort of thing."
When an aide appeared to prompt the sheriff out of his reminiscing, "it was a little bit like — I don't want to disparage him — but a little bit like someone coming into a nursing home and saying visiting hours are over now," Montgomery told Stapley.
On Monday, Arpaio said he had no recollection that Montgomery ever said that about him, even though Phoenix New Times, the Arizona Republic, and other news outlets had mentioned the secret recording in articles.
Arpaio's only gotten worse since then. In a recent press conference about his candidacy for the Senate, Channel 12 (KNXV-TV) news reporter Brahm Resnik found that Arpaio seemed to be clueless on a range of subjects.
"You expect me to know everything? I'm not even in the Senate yet," a frustrated Arpaio told Resnik after a series of basic questions about China, tariffs, and other subjects any Senate candidate should be able to answer.
Having interviewed Arpaio many times over the years, I've witnessed his mental decline. When I interviewed him after his election loss in November 2016, I reported that he initially seemed tired and out of it, but seemed to snap together as the interview continued.
Here's the rest of the story: Before that interview, Arpaio asked me, "Wasn't I at your wedding?"
I told him that he wasn't at my wedding, which was in 1998.
Arpaio is confused about that, I believe, because I once worked at the East Valley Tribune with his daughter, Sherry Boas, and his son-in-law, Phil Boas, who's now the editorial page editor of the Arizona Republic. My wife once worked with Sherry Boas at the Scottsdale Progress.
I told him as much. And I was blunt with him, adding that since this was the second time he'd asked me if he'd been at my wedding, and because I'd previously told him no, it was such statements that made me worry about his mental health.
He grumbled and disagreed strongly his mental faculties were not as strong as always.
He made the same argument on Monday in trying to explain his bizarre statements to Cohen.
But Arpaio's wrong. He's slipping.
Arizona voters disagree that Arpaio deserved to be pardoned by Trump following his conviction for misdemeanor contempt of court. They disagree about his policies and actions while he was sheriff.
But they must confront the problem of his fitness for office.
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