Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman who presided over President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, sat down for an interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation,” an ABC News podcast. A transcript of Hutchinson’s interview as it appears in this episode of the podcast follows here:
ABC NEWS’ CHRIS VLASTO: Welcome to “The Investigation.” I’m Chris Vlasto, senior executive producer here at ABC News and your podcast co-host. I’m joined by John Santucci, senior editorial producer who’s been covering Donald Trump since the day he went down that escalator. It’s going to be a very historic week here in Washington as the House impeachment inquiry goes public. For the first time, these witnesses that have been behind closed door are going to face the cameras and face the American people. And the Democrats are going to try to outline their case and make their case to the American people for impeachment. But before we get to that, we actually have the Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, and I first met Asa Hutchinson when he was a congressman from Arkansas on the House Judiciary Committee, and he was a House manager during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. And what the House manager did back then, they were the ones. They were the prosecutors. They were the ones that presented the case before the Senate and actually made their case for impeachment. So he has a unique perspective on this. Governor, before we begin, I’m gonna play a tape of something you said back 20 years ago about the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
CSPAN SOT verbate: I’m Asa Hutchinson, of Arkansas, member of the House Judiciary Committee. This is certainly a difficult time for everyone in our nation. It’s particularly a difficult time for those on Capitol Hill. And because of the difficult nature of what we face, it’s important for the shrill voices to end so that we can do our constitutional duty. This is about the constitution. This is about the rule of law, and obedience to the law. It’s particularly important to me, being from Arkansas, as well as being an American, that this process be conducted in a fair manner, in a bi partisan manner, and in a manner that can gain the support of the American people. I believe we have a good start to that process, that has been my guiding light. If you look back and put this in perspective, the leadership of both houses met, both minority leader Dick Gephardt, and Speaker Gingrich, and other members of leadership. They met and they came out with a very positive statement, that we’re going to work together on this. And I believe that has been the case. They met together then and then we proceeded to the House floor with a resolution that would govern the handling of the materials received from the Independent Council. And that resolution that was passed, and it’s very important, it was passed by a majority of both parties.
VLASTO: All right. Governor, when we hear that, what are your reflections of what you said then and how it compares to what we’re seeing now with this partisan shrill going on today?
ARKANSAS GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, those are good words for 20 years ago. And those are good words for today. I think it outlined the desire that you have of a bipartisan process. That you don’t see today, you see a total divide even on the process, and that’s probably the first step to gaining public support. And the credibility of what you’re trying to accomplish, which is simply following the Constitution. So I think those are some wise words 20 years ago. I hope that they can be adhered to today and that we can reduce the shrillness. But I’m not very hopeful.
VLASTO: If you were advising, though, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, what would you tell them to do?
HUTCHINSON: Well, of course, I wouldn’t not do that. Nor would I be invited to do that. But what we know from history is that you cannot impeach a sitting president without the support of the American public. You cannot gain the support of the American public unless they’re convinced of the fairness of the process that you’re proceeding by. And then secondly, you’re not going to gain the confidence of the American public without having public testimony. Now they’re moving into that phase. But you’ve got to keep those two things in mind that nothing, nothing can be accomplished. Nothing can be done without the support of the American public. And the first way that you start is by showing it’s a fair process. And that should be the guiding light as you go into the public hearings.
VLASTO: But you know, the difference of today versus 20 years ago, when you guys went forward with the impeachment of President Clinton, his popularity was soaring. He had, I think, a 70 percent approval rating around the country today. It appears that, you know, Donald Trump’s popularity, especially with – the support for impeach – popularity is only in the 40 percent. And recent polls put the American people at almost 50 percent, saying they support the inquiry. Does that make it difficult for the Republicans?
HUTCHINSON: It does. I mean, it’s all about the public attitude toward it. I think it puts the Republicans in a precarious position because as you go into the public hearings, it’s not going to be enough to attack the process. I think you also have to address the substance of the charges and you don’t want to spend all of your time just creating a – atmosphere that this is unfair. For example, I think as you go into the public hearing, there’s one fundamental question why was there a delay in getting the funds for Ukraine? Well, the natural response is there’s a national security interest and there was corruption in Ukraine that the president wanted to address. Well, you can call witnesses on that substantive point and where you’re treating the process seriously, the allegations seriously, you’re going to attack the process. But you also have to get in there and address these substantive questions that the American people will be thinking about.
VLASTO: But when you look at that call itself of the president, How do you see that call?
HUTCHINSON: Well, it’s an unwise call. You know, you should not – the president should not be addressing the political atmosphere in the United States of America or a political opponent in a call with a foreign leader. But, you know, substantively, you’ve got to go deeper than that. There was corruption in Ukraine. It is a legitimate issue for the United States to be concerned about if there is corruption there. And so while it might not have been appropriately expressed, it might have been a bad call, there is still a significant question as to whether the funds to Ukraine that are important for national security issues, whether there was an overriding concern about corruption, was that being raised by the Department of Justice, by the CIA? Those are fact questions that can be addressed. So my reaction is very negative towards the call. But that doesn’t mean that a president ought to be impeached. It doesn’t mean they ought to be removed from office. I think there are some very deep constitutional questions that need to be probed.
ABC NEWS’ JOHN SANTUCCI: And Governor, it’s John Santucci in Washington. I just want to take you back a little bit now to the process of this, because this is obviously very different than what you and your colleagues dealt with during the Clinton impeachment hearings in that, you know, you have the House Intel Committee that is leading the public hearings of these key individuals that they have identified. But when this eventually goes to the House Judiciary Committee and Jerry Nadler’s committee, that was obviously the committee that you sat on, sir, during the Clinton hearings. Walk us through what the American people need to be watching for in those proceedings. Because obviously, that is the committee, as you well know, that will draw up the articles of impeachment if we get there.
HUTCHINSON: That’s correct, and the first point is that it’s really hard to make comparisons to the impeachment process 20 years ago because it started differently with the Starr report. It started with a vote of the House to formally refer it to Judiciary Committee for an impeachment inquiry. So it’s very different today. But you’re right. Ultimately, if it is referred to Judiciary Committee, the first thing they have to do is to draw up articles of impeachment. They have to decide whether they’re going to conduct their own separate inquiry and hearing or whether they’re just going to receive the report from the Intelligence Committee in the public hearings there. I think the other thing to watch for is what kind of defense will the White House present? Obviously, that’s not something you want to ignore. You need to have defense counsel in there. You have to be engaged in the presentation of witnesses or summaries to the House Judiciary Committee. So this – we’re getting ready for a very long process. You’ve got a lot of witnesses before the Intelligence Committee and then you could have a long process before the House Judiciary Committee as well.
SANTUCCI: And how does that process work as far as deciding what articles would qualify in their eyes for impeachment? Cause right now, our reporting suggests that Democrats are considering possibly as many as three articles for impeachment against the president. A lot of that negotiation, if you will. Those are things the American people may not see. Right?
HUTCHINSON: Well, they won’t see the negotiations behind closed door, but I think it’s actually premature to know how they will address that. You know, whether there’s any obstruction that may be articulated in article or whether there is – is simply the telephone call in and of itself and the concern about misusing the powers of the presidency. Let me make it clear, that what I’ve seen yet is a very troublesome telephone call, but I have not seen anything yet that would lead me to believe you should remove a president from office.
SANTUCCI: Well, Governor, let me just ask you this. Is it something that leads you to believe that perhaps a censure vote is more appropriate?
HUTCHINSON: Again, that that is not even a part of the equation right now. You’ve got a White House that is not seeing that as part of the discussion. And, you know, my position 20 years ago was that we looked at a potential censure possibility. And the conclusion was that the Constitution gives the House of Representatives one choice, and that is impeachment is their only remedy versus some other process, such as censure or fines or rebukes. And so I don’t see that will be a serious part of the discussion.
VLASTO: But, Governor, also, when you see the White House and maybe even the president’s son attack the whistleblower – you were in law enforcement, you were a U.S. attorney, etc. Are you troubled by that, attacking this whistleblower and wanting to know the identity?
HUTCHINSON: Well, there’s some statutory protections for whistleblowers, but anybody who tries to take down the president of the United States should know that that’s not going to be a private matter. They were relating, the whistleblower, was relating things that had been reported to them. I don’t see how that can be ultimately protected in the end. I think that if they move forward with an impeachment process, the American public, in a sense of fairness, will want to say we ought to hear from the whistleblower. We ought to be able to weigh the credibility of these witnesses ourselves.
VLASTO: Isn’t the whistleblower kind of pointless now because we have firsthand witnesses who are going to be testifying who are actually on the call? And he or she was a second hand witness?
HUTCHINSON: I agree with that. I agree with that, but I do think that, you know, the motivation does weigh in here in terms of credibility. You have any witness before a jury and it’s appropriate cross-examination to go after their motives. And this all started with the whistle blower. And so, again, while all of that testimony can be covered by someone else who saw it firsthand. There still is some relevance in the overall picture as to motivation, whether it’s politically motivated or not. And so I think the American public, you know, you can you can get by perhaps with not doing it. But I think that the American public will want to see that and will demand it.
SANTUCCI: And Governor, one more question from me, if you had to offer advice to your Republican colleagues, lessons learned, things that you’re watching right now for them to do, and maybe some trip wires they should avoid, what would you be telling them?
HUTCHINSON: You’ve got to keep the American public with you. And I – And as you go into public hearings, I think you can concentrate on the political unfairness of it. But you also have to look at the substance of it and not use all of the witnesses simply to attack the process, to attack motivation. I think you’ve got to bring witnesses in there for the public to see that. We’ll put this in context of national security, will present a broader look at the allegations that are being made.
VLASTO: All right. Well, Governor, thank you so much for, for your time. It was great insight.
HUTCHINSON: It’s good to be with you today. Thanks for talking to me today.