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Former Ark. Governor Asa Hutchinson on how Trump's indictment could affect the GOP presidential race


Many prominent Republicans have rallied to denounce the indictment of former President Donald Trump in New York City. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise calls it outrageous. Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted, the American people will not tolerate this injustice. Asa Hutchinson sounds a different note. The former House member and former governor of Arkansas, who's openly considering a run for president, joins us from Bentonville, Ark. Mr. Hutchinson, thanks so much for being with us.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Good to be with you today.

SIMON: Let us first say how sorry - we heard about the horrible tornadoes that hit your state yesterday.

HUTCHINSON: Well, thank you. They are recovering. It was a tragedy. They were hard hit in Little Rock. But thank you for expressing that.

SIMON: You've said Donald Trump should step aside from the presidential race. Isn't he entitled to his day in court?

HUTCHINSON: He absolutely is. And he's entitled to the presumption of innocence. And so whatever I said some time ago - that if he's indicted, he should step aside - it's a standard that I have followed for public officials in Arkansas all during the time that I was governor. And the reason is that the position that you seek in our country, particularly the presidency, is more important than any individual. And so that's the reason I said that as a matter of principle. But at the same time, he's entitled to his presumption of innocence. And the charges that were brought are not charges that I would have brought, as a former federal prosecutor. But the system will work, and we've got to give it time to do that.

SIMON: Why wouldn't have you brought the charges? You are a former prosecutor, as you note.

HUTCHINSON: Well, a prosecutor has discretion. And in this case - and I'm saying that based upon the facts that I know - you have something that's never been done before. And so it looks like it's very thin. And when you're going after the former president of the United States of America, you better have a rock-solid case. Now, we need to be a little patient on the facts because he hasn't - the district attorney, Bragg, has not released the indictment yet, so we don't know the details. But based on what I know, it doesn't look like a case that I would have brought or should be brought against the former president.

SIMON: But you say based on what you know. There is more to be known, right?

HUTCHINSON: Well, that's exactly right. And that's why everybody needs to take a deep breath. And while this is unprecedented - it's not a great day for America; it's a sad day - let's let the system work. Let's find out what the facts are exactly. And, you know, he's going to have his day in court. That's how it works. It works for thousands of Americans every day. And this is unprecedented because it's a former president, but let's let the system work.

SIMON: Well, when you say - let me get back to this. When you say let's let the system work, are you - then why not let President Trump run for president even as he's being prosecuted? Why not give him the presumption of innocence and let him run for president?

HUTCHINSON: Well, he is, and he has that right to do it. And he's not going to change.

SIMON: But you've asked him to step aside, we'll note again.

HUTCHINSON: I said that he should - and this was a couple of months ago - said that he should step aside if he's indicted.

SIMON: Yeah.

HUTCHINSON: Yes, I believe he should. That's the decision I believe is the proper one. He's not going to make it. There's - nobody can require him to step aside, and so he's not going to do it. I've just stated my position on it.

SIMON: Asa Hutchinson, former governor of Arkansas, thanks so much for being with us. And our best to the people of Arkansas this weekend.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you very much, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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