The Republican governor of Arkansas, who acted as a prosecutor during former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, called President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky “very troublesome” but said it does not necessarily rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who served as House manager during the Clinton impeachment, said that it was “unwise” for Trump to encourage Zelensky during the call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who once held a seat on the board of directors for Ukraine oil company Burisma. In an interview with ABC News’ podcast “The Investigation,” he said the call also raised legitimate concerns about public corruption in Ukraine.
"Let me make it clear that what I've seen yet is a very troublesome telephone call," Hutchinson said. "But I have not seen anything yet that would lead me to believe you should remove a president from office."
When asked whether a censure might be a more appropriate congressional response to the phone call, Hutchinson said he doesn't see censure as a "serious part of the discussion."
"The constitution gives the House of Representatives one choice, and that is — impeachment — is their only remedy versus some other process," Hutchinson said.
A transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky was released by the White House on Sept. 25, one day after House Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, announced a formal impeachment inquiry. The call was the subject of a whistleblower complaint, which raised concerns that military aid to Ukraine was being withheld on the condition of an investigation into Trump’s rivals. On Sept. 26, a declassified version of the whistleblower complaint was made public.
Throughout the early stages of the impeachment inquiry, Republicans have criticized the way in which the majority has handled the proceedings — so far, they’ve taken place behind closed doors. This week, however, the House will begin holding public hearings. Still, Republicans have also been critical of the formal impeachment procedures, which included the move to public hearings and which were passed by a vote on the House floor last month.
Hutchinson said that although he believes that maintaining a fair process is critical, he said that focusing on process will not be a sufficient defense for the president.
"It's not going to be enough to attach the process," Hutchinson said. "You also have to get in there and address the substantive questions that the American people will be thinking about."
Some Republicans have also repeatedly stated the need to directly hear from the whistleblower, whose filing launched the probe. Hutchinson said Americans will want to see the accuser.
"Anybody who tries to take down the president of the United states should know...that's not going to be a private matter," Hutchinson said. "I think that if they move forward with an impeachment process, the American people will want to say we ought to hear from the whistleblower. We ought to be able to weigh the credibility of these witnesses ourselves."