Thursday, November 10, 2005

LIBBY AFFAIR 'SERIOUS,' SAYS GOP'S HUTCHISON

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2005 at 4:00 AM

If national Republican strategists are counting on party solidarity to minimize the dimensions of the ongoing Plamegate scandal and, in particular, of vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby's indictment, they could be in for a rude surprise.

Former congressman Asa Hutchison, the current bearer of Republican hopes as a declared candidate for governor of Arkansas next year, will have none of it. “I will say this about the lessons to be learned about the Scooter Libby indictment,” Hutchison said after appearing at an East Memphis fundraiser in his honor. “That’s something that Republicans should not diminish in terms of the seriousness of the charges. There was some reference in talking points about this being a mere technicality.  The charges are very serious because they go to the heart of our criminal justice system.”

Therefore, said Hutchison, who in recent years has served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration and as under-secretary of Homeland Security, “Mr. Libby should have a fair trail with all due process, but we should not in the course of this diminish the seriousness of the charge because it goes to the heart of our system of justice in this country.”

Hutchison, whose likely Democratic opponent next year in the race to succeed GOP incumbent Gov. Mike Huckabee will be Arkansas attorney general Mike Beebe, drew a parallel between the seriousness of the current scandal and that of the one which resulted in an impeachment trial for former President Bill Clinton in 1998. In that crisis, then Rep. Hutchinson served as one of the Republican “managers” of the impeachment case when it went to the U.S. Senate, where President Clinton was acquitted.

“There’s a consistency there,” he said.

The former congressman downplayed the significance of his impeachment role in next year’s election, however.  “It was a very difficult time for our country, and my role was simply to help my country through that very challenging time. I think history’s going to continue to look at it, but I think that both sides were operating under a conviction that represented a strong difference in viewpoints in their approach to the constitution. So I did my responsibility, I turned that chapter, I moved on, and, as any trial lawyer does, you accept the jury verdict.”

If anything, Hutchison seemed determined to distance himself from that impeachment process. “It’s not something I feature or talk about, because people have strong feelings about it. It evokes a lot of emotions, and so I talk about what I’ve done at the DEA and Homeland Security for our country, and then the Arkansas issues.”

And again: “Congress needed my services in a professional way, but that’s past, and I run absolutely on what I’ve done in the legislative process and as an administrator and on my goals for Arkansas, in growth of jobs and education.”

One of the achievements cited by Hutchison was a 14 percent reduction of teen drug use during his tenure at DEA.

The Hutchison reception, which drew supporters from both Memphis and Arkansas, was held at the local Regions Bank headquarters on Poplar Avenue.

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