(WASHINGTON) — Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday called on his fellow Republican presidential candidates to have “more courage” and “to speak out” against those already offering to pardon former President Donald Trump.
Asked about other White House hopefuls promising to pardon Trump, were he to be convicted, Hutchinson slammed such pledges as “wrong,” “unjustified,” and “bad precedent.”
“They’re politically pandering to get votes using the federal pardon power,” he told “ABC News Live Prime” anchor Linsey Davis in the wake of Trump’s arraignment on federal charges. “It incenses me as somebody who’s had to use the pardon power as governor and respects that power as president. You don’t use it as a campaign wedge issue or a campaign tool, so I’m offended by that as someone who loves our justice system in America.”
“It’s wrong for candidates to be promising that — whether it’s to a former president, or whether it’s to an average Joe that’s out there — you just don’t do that during the campaign. I want our candidates to show more courage and to speak out about this and provide leadership,” he added.
Trump was arraigned earlier Tuesday in Miami after he was indicted on 37 federal criminal counts stemming from his alleged mishandling of classified materials while out of office, including, prosecutors claim, holding onto government secrets and showing them to unauthorized people. He pleaded not guilty and has called the case a “hoax.”
2024 hopefuls split on indictment
While Hutchinson has been quick to call Trump a “distraction” to the 2024 race, other Republican candidates are getting behind the former president, who remains the front-runner in the race and is very popular with the Republican base. Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy held a press conference on Tuesday in Miami to rally support and issued a letter to other 2024 hopefuls asking that they all commit to pardoning Trump.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Cranston, Rhode Island, Mayor Steve Laffey have joined Hutchinson in condemning Trump’s conduct, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott have criticized, instead, what they call a “weaponization” of the federal government in bringing charges against Trump.
“This case is a serious case …. But in America, you’re still innocent until proven guilty,” Scott said on Monday.
Others have had evolving reactions as more details on the indictment become public.
Former U.N. ambassador under Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley initially slammed the charges as “prosecutorial overreach, double standards and vendetta politics,” but added days later, after the 49-page indictment was unsealed, “If what it says is actually the case, President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security.”
By Tuesday afternoon, Haley told “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show”: “I would be inclined in favor of a pardon, but I think it’s really premature at this point when he’s not even been convicted of anything.”
Hutchinson, who has said “no” to pardoning Trump, continues to call on him to resign from the race but doesn’t expect that will happen. He’s also asked the Republican National Committee to not require candidates who qualify for the debate stage to pledge to support the eventual nominee “if they are found guilty of espionage or a serious felony.”
The RNC has not offered to change its requirement.
“I’m not going to be supporting somebody who is convicted or who has wrongfully handled material that jeopardizes the security of the United States,” Hutchinson told Davis on Tuesday. “We’re gonna be negotiating this language to assure that there’s not going to be a circumstance that we’re bound to support somebody who is convicted of a very serious felony.”
“I hope it’s something that I can live with because I want to be on the debate stage — but there’s certain principles you don’t cross,” he said.
Weighing in as a former federal prosecutor
A former federal prosecutor, Hutchinson served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas during the Reagan administration before serving three terms in the U.S. House and two terms as Arkansas governor, among other roles in public service. He’s repeated that Trump carries the presumption of innocence until proven guilty but called the indictment “thorough” and the charges “very serious.”
“Whenever you look at the specificity that’s laid out in the indictment, it’s a very strong case,” he said Tuesday. “As [Trump’s former Attorney General] Bill Barr said, if half of it is true then it’s a very devastating case that’s being presented.”
Hutchinson said the American people deserve to see a speedy trial as Trump’s case coincides with the 2024 race for president.
“I’ve actually tried cases in which classified information was involved, and it does have a level of complexity … it is more complex than normal,” Hutchinson said. “I hope that the judges and the courts understand that you have to be fair to the defendant and give them the right to prepare. But at the same time, there’s extraordinary public interest for our nation in getting this issue resolved in a timely fashion.”
Hutchinson is polling at less than 1%, according to an average from FiveThirtyEight.
He said he’s determined to make the first debate stage on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.