GOP governor: Jan. 6 panel has shown Trump derelict in duties, but not criminal in conduct

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said on Monday the House Jan. 6 committee has presented strong evidence that former President Trump was “derelict in his duties” during the attack on the Capitol, but stopped short of saying the panel has made a case of criminal conduct.

Hutchinson told Washington Post Live anchor Leigh Ann Caldwell he has watched a “majority” of the Jan. 6 hearings and said its probe has been “just emphasizing those facts” of Trump’s inaction during the Capitol riot, which he said “should be a concern of every American.”

But he said he wasn’t convinced that a strong criminal case has been put forward, as the Department of Justice conducts a parallel investigation into the riot, and would ultimately decide who to indict on criminal charges. 

“I think the attorney general’s got a tough call there, but I haven’t seen the actual case being presented effectively in terms of criminal conduct on the president,” Hutchinson said. “I think they’ve made the case that he was irresponsible; he was derelict in his duties.”

Hutchinson previously said Trump is “politically, morally responsible” for Jan. 6 and that the committee had “a long way to go to establish” Trump’s criminal liability. But the governor has also said Trump’s role on Jan. 6 “disqualified” him as a 2024 presidential contender. 

While Hutchinson confirmed he stands by that assessment, and is still considering his own run for the White House, he said talk about 2024 — as Trump has indicated a third run for president — is distracting from the midterms.

“He’s out there talking about 2024 constantly, and whenever he does that, that becomes, and he becomes, the issue in this year’s election,” Hutchinson said.

“If we get sidetracked on a personality that is as divisive as Donald Trump, then that does not bode well for the outcome in November. We’re going to do well, I have no doubt about that, but we lose ground whenever Donald Trump becomes the issue,” Hutchinson added.

The governor added the focus needs to be on solutions and optimism, not about “dwelling about hurt feelings in the past.”

Last year, Hutchinson said “re-litigating 2020 is a recipe for disaster in 2022” and on Tuesday pointed to mixed election results for those who have refused to go along with false 2020 election claims.

Both Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) and Gov. Brian Kemp (R) won their primaries in May, despite facing Trump-backed candidates, but others like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) are facing tougher re-election bids. Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), who like Cheney voted to impeach Trump for his role on Jan. 6, lost his re-election bid to Trump-backed Russell Fry in June.

Hutchinson said Cheney has done an “amazing job” in taking a “courageous stand” in her role as vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee.

“But it’s a tremendous political cost because her electorate wants her back there talking about the rising costs of fuel and the challenges they have,” Hutchinson said. “Every candidate cannot be so focused on the past that you’re not addressing those issues, and I think she’s paying a price for that.”

The Arkansas governor is term-limited and will leave office in January, and has teased a 2024 presidential run himself. In June Hutchinson said he is working to “lay a foundation for 2024,” though he said his first priority was finishing out his term as governor.

“Obviously I’m thinking about it, but not going to have a decision until next January. We’re going to focus on this year,” Hutchinson said. “But 2024 is so critical in terms of shaping the Republican Party, and so whether it’s a candidate or whether it’s in some other role, I certainly want to be a voice.”