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Arpaio claims Justice Department meddled in 2016 campaign for sheriff

Former Maricopa County Sheriff and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Arpaio speaks at his office, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Fountain Hills, Ariz. Arpaio, who was spared a possible jail sentence when President Donald Trump pardoned him for disobeying a judge, announced Tuesday, Jan. 9, that he would run for the Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Jeff Flake. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Former Maricopa County Sheriff and congressional candidate Joe Arpaio is asking the U.S. Justice Department to look into his claim that the agency meddled in his unsuccessful 2016 campaign for sheriff.

Arpaio claimed the Justice Department tried to sway voters against him by pushing 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.

The Justice Department didn’t respond to a phone call and email from The Associated Press seeking comment on Arpaio’s investigation request and the claim that the agency tried to turn voters against Arpaio.

In 2017, Arpaio was convicted of misdemeanor contempt when he continued his immigration sweeps for 17 months after a judge ordered him to stop.

His sentencing was scheduled for later that year and he could have faced up to six months in jail.

President Donald Trump pardoned him a month after the conviction was handed down, making him an innocent man.

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.

“America’s Toughest Sheriff” was voted out of office in 2016. He was replaced by Sheriff Paul Penzone.

Arpaio is currently running for U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.