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Impeachment Probe Is An Extraordinary Responsibility, Hutchinson Says


The House Judiciary Committee takes control of the impeachment inquiry this week, which means we are getting much closer to a possible trial. The committee will consider whether to draft articles of impeachment. And this is a position familiar to Arkansas' Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, who previously served on the House Judiciary Committee when he was in Congress. He eventually became an impeachment manager in the case against former President Bill Clinton.

And the governor joins us on the line this morning. Governor, thanks for being here.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Good to be with you, David.

GREENE: I just want to take you back in time for a moment to listen to part of your opening statement in a Judiciary Committee hearing on the Clinton impeachment inquiry in 1998.


HUTCHINSON: The fate of no president, no political party and no member of Congress merits the slow unraveling of the fabric of our constitutional structure. As John Adams said, we are a nation of laws, not of men.

GREENE: Just the gravity of a moment like this - I mean, can you just talk to me, regardless of party, about what it feels like to be part of a process like this - to confront a president, to discuss whether to overturn the will of voters?

HUTCHINSON: Well, it's an extraordinary responsibility. And as it moves into the Judiciary Committee in Washington, I think that responsibility and the seriousness of the moment, it will be reflected. I hope it will be reflected. It certainly was 20 years ago. And all of a sudden, instead of having hearings in which you have witnesses and you have debates, you actually have votes. And the vote that you cast goes down in history.

And whenever you've only had - what? - three impeachment proceedings in America's history, you understand that this is something you're going to be judged by. And I think that awesome moment will set and and will cause people to reflect. And I know that 20 years ago, you know, we did not come out of the Judiciary Committee with all of the expected votes. There were two articles of impeachment that were actually defeated in committee, and I think it reflect that everybody looked at it individually and with seriousness. And hopefully, that will be reflected as it goes into consideration in the Judiciary Committee this year.

GREENE: Well - your part in the days of Clinton impeachment - I mean, you laid out the obstruction of justice case against the president. Democrats are considering the same now against President Trump. I mean, the House Intelligence chair, Adam Schiff, talked about witnesses the president has prevented from testifying, documents that the White House has refused to turn over. How strong is the Democrats' obstruction case today?

HUTCHINSON: I don't see it at all. And one of the challenges is that 20 years ago, you had an independent counsel that presented a thorough investigative report that they'd spent, you know, over a year on. In this case, you don't have any outside counsel that did the investigative work; you had it through the Intelligence Committee, and so the record is not nearly as established as it was 20 years ago.

And so I think there's a lot of challenges if you wanted to proceed further into obstruction. That's - you know, the abuse of office, the facts around the call - you know, that's one element. But if you get into obstruction, that is a very high bar to prove. And I think they would have a very difficult time being able to show - show that and convince the American public that that's serious.

GREENE: Well, it's interesting you bring up a special counsel. I mean, in this case, you did have Robert Mueller, who spent a very long time looking at the whole Russia issue. And Democrats are reportedly debating whether to include an obstruction charge related to the president's actions during the Mueller investigation. I just want to play a little bit of the special counsel when he announced his findings earlier this year.


ROBERT MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.

GREENE: It sounded to many like Mueller was essentially saying - I mean, handing the question to lawmakers of whether there might have been a crime committed by the president in the case of the Russia affairs. Would Democrats be wiser to pursue that as opposed to obstruction vis-a-vis Ukraine?

HUTCHINSON: Well, the problem is that the American public has closed the book on the Mueller report.

GREENE: Although it could be reopened if Democrats decided to go that route, couldn't it?

HUTCHINSON: Sure, they could. They could reopen that. They can do that. They could draft an articles - article of impeachment on that point. But...

GREENE: And would it be a strong case potentially - I mean, given what we heard from Mueller?

HUTCHINSON: No, I don't think it would be at all. Whenever you've got a special counsel that concludes the evidence is not sufficient to conclude that there was obstruction, that's a pretty weak start whenever you talk about removing a president from office. But again, more importantly, you've got to have the American public buy into that. You got to lay a foundation. They haven't done that. If you're going to include part of the Mueller report, it should have been brought in to the hearings that have been conducted most recently and laying a foundation for it. And they haven't done that. So...


GREENE: Although I suppose they have the opportunity to do it now as this process moves forward. And that's something reportedly they are debating. So much more to talk about, but we're out of time this morning, Governor. Asa Hutchinson is the Republican governor of Arkansas. Thanks so much.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.