Arkansas Gov. Hutchinson calls FBI search on Trump’s estate ‘alarming’

Questions are swirling after the FBI searched former President Trump's Florida home. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas under President Reagan, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the political implications.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Back now to the FBI search of the home of former President Trump in Palm Beach, Florida.

    Arkansas' Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson joins us for that.

    Early in his career, he served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas under President Reagan.

    Gov. Hutchinson, thank you very much for joining us.

    You have said that the — this FBI search of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is alarming. Why?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark.:

    Well, because it's never happened before.

    And whenever you have such a high public official, we know that the approval was given at a high level in the Department of Justice, because that's the standard of practice. And just by the fact that it does require that high level of approval means it's a very serious thing.

    And the fact that you have this search warrant that's executed — and I say that it's alarming, in the sense that we need to know, the public needs to know, the institutions in the United States needs to understand why this happened.

    And we don't have the affidavit for the search warrant that has been released. It should be released. If it has to be redacted, it should be redacted. But the public has an interest in knowing what is happening here.

    And the fact that former President Trump criticized the operation and made noise about it indicates that there needs to be some kind of response. And that is important at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But it's our understanding that it's Department of Justice policy not to make these documents around a search like this public.

    So what you're calling for would be a violation of that policy, or is that what you're asking for?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    No.

    In fact, I mean, it's been a while since I was a federal prosecutor, but I was a United States attorney. I understand the guidelines that they have. And whenever you put something under seal — and a search warrant should be under seal, and it is. But that seal, they can ask that that search warrant be released, the affidavit be released, because it's already public information.

    The idea of having that sealed is to protect the homeowner or whoever might be impacted by the creation of that information. Well, here, it's already out and public. And so while that is a standard practice, there are the exceptions. When it's already public information, they can ask that be unsealed. And I think that is important to be done.

    And short of that, they need to make a comment. The Department of Justice needs to understand the public's interest in this, and legitimate interest. There's two institutions at stake here, the presidency of the United States. But the other institution is the Department of Justice.

    I served in the Department of Justice. I care about it. I value it. And it is critical to our democracy that it has credibility and it has broad support and that they operate under our rule of law. And they need to explain what is happening here. And there is some urgency.

    I think both Democrats and Republicans expect some comment from the Department of Justice explaining exactly what is happening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, has already said what the Justice Department has done is weaponizing. He used the term they have weaponized the justice system.

    Are you prepared to go that far?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, no, because I don't know the facts. And I think that would be totally unfair.

    I think they have had instances in the past where it appears that the Justice Department got political. But I don't think we ought to jump to that conclusion. I don't think we ought to jump to a different conclusion. Let's get the facts out there. And let's hear from the Justice Department as exactly what happened and what interest is at stake.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what has been…

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Because we believe in the broad application of the rule of law.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm sorry to interrupt.

    Governor, what has been reported, as you know, is that the — that there were agents who showed up at Mar-a-Lago this spring and had a discussion with the former president about papers that the National Archives say should have been given to them, turned over to them, rather than taken to the president's own home.

    If it turns out that the former president took documents that should have been turned over to the government, what should be done about it?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Well, we should make the efforts to retrieve those. Perhaps that is what this is about.

    But, generally, it's not done through a search warrant. There's other ways to retrieve documents through legal processes. And I think what's important here too is that the public is not going to get too excited if these documents are routine documents in the White House that the president took out in violation of the presidential documents act.

    What we'd be concerned about is if these are classified documents, if there's documents that would really be offensive to our national security. This is a serious matter to do a search of a former president's residence. And it has to be justified with equally serious conduct that is at risk that required this action.

    And that's the vacuum that we do not have right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, we are seeing today that a number of the people who are close to the former president are saying they think that this move by the Justice Department is going to expedite his decision to run for president again.

    Do you think he should run again?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    No, I don't think he should.

    But I also am a political realist that this is the kind of action by the Department of Justice that, without explanation, is going to give fuel to those that just say he's being persecuted, he's being picked on. And they're going to come to his defense, and it very well could motivate him to do that.

    Fairness is what we have to have in the justice system. I want the Department of Justice to explain what is happening here, give the American public hopefully a sense that this is being conducted to support the rule of law and fairly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, Governor, you did say yourself in May that you are mulling the idea of running for president yourself.

    That was in May. This is August. Are you any closer to a decision?

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    No, that is going to be in the thinking-about stage until probably next January. We have got to get through this election.

    And we will — we will wait and see how that develops. But whenever I say I don't think President Trump should run again, obviously, people who are concerned about the country have to give it thought, as I am.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, thank you very much.

  • Gov. Asa Hutchinson:

    Thank you, Judy. Good to be with you.

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