Judiciary Committee's Clinton Ties
KELLY P. KISSEL
Sep. 15, 1998
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ A decade ago, Asa Hutchinson prosecuted Roger Clinton on federal drug charges, an action that President Clinton later said was ``the best thing that ever happened'' to his half brother.
Now Hutchinson, a freshman on the House Judiciary Committee, will have a voice on whether impeachment hearings should explore potential wrongdoing by the president.
Hutchinson said he'll rely on his experience as a U.S. attorney to weigh evidence against the president, and that the important question is whether Clinton lied to a grand jury.
``The heart of the matter goes to allegations of perjury before the grand jury,'' Hutchinson said. ``It's the hallmark of our justice system. If the integrity of the grand jury is diminished, then our whole justice system will be weakened.''
In 1984, Hutchinson was the Reagan-appointed federal prosecutor for western Arkansas when Roger Clinton was sentenced to two years in prison and, under a plea bargain, agreed to testify in other cocaine-related cases.
The president has long said the conviction helped turn his brother's life around, and he told that directly to Hutchinson on a 1997 trip to Arkansas.
``I flew down on Air Force One back to Arkansas to examine the damage from the (1997) tornadoes, and during that trip we had a very casual visit and the president remarked that that prosecution probably saved his brother's life,'' Hutchinson said Monday.
``The prosecution was very tough on the family and then-Governor Clinton responded to it as a loving brother would,'' Hutchinson said. ``I haven't followed Roger that closely, but I know he's made an effort to change directions.''
Friends say Clinton did not hold the conviction against Hutchinson.
``I've been a political opposite of him,'' Hutchinson said. ``He was governor of the state while I was the state (Republican) party chairman. I was running for the Senate while he was running for governor. Our paths have crossed numerous times. I think we've been respectful adversaries,'' the congressman said.
According to David Maraniss' book on Clinton, ``First in his Class,'' Hutchinson believed Roger's conviction and testimony against others helped stem a growing cocaine scene in central Arkansas.
``Here the brother of the governor was saying, `Hey, nobody touches me, look who I am!''' Hutchinson is quoted as saying in the book. ``And the people had come to think it was all right. The case was important in showing people they couldn't do that.''
Hutchinson was U.S. attorney from 1982 to 1985, and Clinton was Arkansas governor through much of that tenure. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1986 and lost, then was a private lawyer and chairman of the state Republican Party before being elected to the House in 1996. Asa's brother, Tim, then in the House, won a seat in the U.S. Senate in the same election.
``It's not a comfortable position being on the Judiciary Committee in this decision,'' Hutchinson said. ``Arkansas is a small state. Relationships are intertwined regardless of which side of the political fence you're on.''
Hutchinson, 47, wouldn't say whether he thought the president lied to the grand jury called by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
``It was an occasion that demanded truth,'' Hutchinson said. ``Certainly, he knew and everyone in America knew the significance of telling the truth in his appearance before the grand jury _ but at that time, there were questions about matching the testimony given in the Paula Jones case.''
Starr's report alleges that Clinton lied in a deposition given in Mrs. Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit, which has since been dismissed by an Arkansas federal judge.