By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican running for president, said he would not have pursued the secret money case against former President Donald Trump but said his 2024 rival had a “significant responsibility” in the January 6 attack. in the United States Capitol and should be out of the race.

In an interview with Reuters, Hutchinson called the Manhattan criminal investigation into hush money paid to a porn star on the eve of Trump’s 2016 election victory a misguided use of prosecutorial discretion against a former president.

But a federal investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol and an investigation in Georgia into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results were based on “serious allegations” and deserve criminal scrutiny, he said.

“January 6 undermined our democracy, our transition of power. It is unacceptable, and former President Trump bears a significant responsibility,” said Hutchinson, 72. “What happened and his actions there should disqualify him from being president.”

Hutchinson, who was governor of Arkansas from 2015 until earlier this year and declared his presidential bid on Sunday, has stood out among other potential 2024 challengers who have refused to criticize Trump in the wake of the charges.

“We need a leader in our country who can bring out the best in America and not appeal to our worst instincts,” he said.

His comments came the same day that Trump flew to New York City to face charges in the secret money investigation. Trump is expected to plead not guilty when he appears in Manhattan court on Tuesday.

Trump, who is seeking to regain the presidency in 2024, is the first former US president to face criminal charges.

Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor, said he would not have pursued the Manhattan case because he believed it was based on a “unique legal theory” applied to a payment that only drew scrutiny for its proximity to the 2016 campaign.

“This is not good for the United States of America,” he said. “Now if he comes out again tomorrow with blockbuster facts that we’re not aware of, that would change the scenario.”

The impeachment appears not to have hurt Trump’s position in the primary race. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday found that 48% of Republican voters wanted Trump to be their nominee, up from 44% last month.

Hutchinson estimated that less than a third of Republican voters were the kind of hardcore Trump supporters who “love the spirit of Donald Trump and how he creates chaos” and would not consider another candidate in the primary.

But Hutchinson sees an opportunity for a candidate without Trump’s legal baggage. He said he, too, had some fundamental policy differences with Trump, criticizing Trump’s large spending package in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and his “isolationist” stance on foreign policy issues like Taiwan and Ukraine.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; editing by Andy Sullivan and Leslie Adler)

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