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Arkansas governor: Should take allegations against Trump seriously

by Frank E. Lockwood, Doug Thompson | September 28, 2019 at 9:19 a.m.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson is shown in this file photo.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill should carefully examine the claims that have been made against President Donald Trump, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday evening.

While members of the state's all-Republican congressional delegation have opposed a broader inquiry, the Republican governor said further scrutiny is warranted.

"The facts have to be developed," Hutchinson said before attending a meeting in Rogers. "The allegations raised should be taken seriously."

Hutchinson, a former U.S. attorney and U.S. representative, served as an impeachment manager during the 1999 Senate trial of then-President Bill Clinton.

He was one of three Republican governors Thursday to voice support for a congressional inquiry into Trump's alleged misdeeds.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker have made similar comments.

The two New Englanders govern blue states where Trump has never been popular. The Republican nominee captured just 32.8% of the vote in Massachusetts in 2016, even less in Vermont -- 30.3%.

Hutchinson is the first governor in a solidly red state to call for greater scrutiny of the president's conduct.

In Arkansas, 60.6% of voters favored Trump in 2016.

Hutchinson said he doesn't want to see a lengthy probe.

"Hopefully this can be resolved quickly. No one wants another Mueller-like investigation." Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election lasted almost two years.

While House Democrats are investigating Trump on multiple fronts, Hutchinson is recommending a more streamlined approach.

"The inquiry is spread between four different committees," Hutchinson said. "There ought to be a focal point with one committee. Then the American public can follow all the issues by following that one."

"Intelligence has a history of looking at things in a bipartisan way," Hutchinson said of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

While Congress is beginning a two-week-long recess, House Intelligence Committee members have been summoned back to Washington.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., who serves on the committee, will be returning to Capitol Hill from Jonesboro to meet with the other members, his spokeswoman, Sarah Robertson, said.

Crawford declined Friday to comment on the governor's remarks, she added.

In a July 25 telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump asked his counterpart to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The request came after Trump had frozen more than $391 million in aid for the former Soviet republic, which has been locked in conflict with Russia since 2014.

On Capitol Hill, most Republicans have defended the president's remarks to Zelenskiy.

Trump has portrayed the interaction as exemplary, branding it a "perfect phone call."

The Arkansas governor sees it differently.


"It was an unwise conversation the president has had," Hutchinson said. "It needs to be looked at more. All we've seen is a loose transcript of the conversation. There is not enough in it to say there was a quid pro quo."

"The president should have wide latitude in conversations with global leaders, but we need to probe into that," Hutchinson said, referring to the questions raised about the conversation.

Similar comments have been made by the New England governors.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Vermont's Scott labeled the inquiry "appropriate."

"I think we have much more to learn and need to understand all the facts as this serious allegation is considered," he said. "Congress has a solemn responsibility to every American to fulfill its role in our government system of checks and balances."

Impeachment, he warned, "is a very serious issue and should not be taken lightly or abused."

In comments to reporters, Baker of Massachusetts also expressed concerns, the Post reported.

"It's a deeply disturbing situation and circumstance, and I think the proper role and responsibility for Congress at this point is to investigate it and get to the bottom of it," he said.

Hutchinson's support for a congressional inquiry sets him at odds with his own party.

On Tuesday, the Republican Party of Arkansas called the House impeachment inquiry "invalid," accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of "pursuing an impeachment inquiry without the support of the American people or a substantive reason to do so."

Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Doyle Webb could not be reached for comment Friday evening.

Party spokesman Stephen Houserman said Webb was traveling.

Reached Friday, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin did not say whether he agrees with Hutchinson.

But he condemned Trump's opponents for seeking to remove the president from office.

"I have seen nothing that even comes close to justifying impeachment, but Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats won't let that stop them," he said in a text.


Several members of the all-Republican state congressional delegation are on record defending Trump's comments.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers called Trump's Biden comments "reasonable."

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs said the conversation was "much less dire" than Democrats were claiming.

In an interview with CNBC, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle described the president's phone call as a "fairly straightforward diplomatic conversation." Speaking with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Cotton labeled it a "routine, diplomatic phone call."

In a text message Friday, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder of Little Rock said more information is needed.

"America's defense is best served by keeping our military institutions and diplomatic corps completely separated from campaign politics," he said.

"In Arkansas that means we don't campaign on the Little Rock [Air Force Base], we don't ask military leaders to host fundraisers, we don't do political rallies on bases, and a whole lot of other 'don'ts'. Overseas we do not convert our foreign policy apparatus and military alliances into campaign tools," he said.

"I believe a thoughtful gathering of the facts behind the current allegations will demonstrate and reinforce the wisdom of these bright lines," he added.

A Section on 09/28/2019


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