- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

The Senate Judiciary Committee put partisanship aside yesterday to embrace the nomination of Rep. Asa Hutchinson to head the Drug Enforcement Administration, with his formal endorsement by the full committee expected by the August recess.

The Arkansas Republican, nominated in May by President Bush, was described by Democrats and Republicans alike during a confirmation hearing that lasted just an hour and 45 minutes as a good choice to lead the drug agency.

"Many of us on the committee know Rep. Hutchinson well from his service with the House Judiciary Committee, where he earned the respect of his peers from both sides of the aisle," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and committee chairman. "I have known Asa Hutchinson as a man of integrity and intelligence, who is committed to reducing drug abuse in this country."

Mr. Leahy, who was actively involved in the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton, described the nominee as a man of integrity, noting he had had several dealings with Mr. Hutchinson, who served as a House impeachment manager.

"The two of us handled a number of the depositions together. I would note for the record throughout that time, notwithstanding the fact we were on opposite sides, Congressman Hutchinson's word was gold with me," Mr. Leahy said. "He never broke his word. He never showed anything but the highest integrity and the highest standard of the Congress."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the committee's ranking Republican, described Mr. Hutchinson as "good people" and said he was "grateful" the three-term congressman was "willing to serve" as DEA administrator.

"DEA needs a dynamic, innovative and experienced leader, and I am confident Congressman Hutchinson's past experience prosecuting drug crimes as the United States attorney and formulating drug policy as a congressman have prepared him, and prepared him well, to take the helm of the DEA," Mr. Hatch said.

All the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee supported the nomination in a letter to the Senate. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the House committee's ranking Democrat, made an appearance before the Senate panel to endorse Mr. Hutchinson.

"It's unusual that we'd bring this level of support to a nominee not from our administration and not from our party," Mr. Conyers said. "We all like him a lot . I'm willing to bank on Asa Hutchinson as our next drug enforcement administrator."

Mr. Hutchinson, flanked by members of his family, told the committee the nation's anti-drug effort was "a noble purpose worthy of a great crusade."

He said he was "honored" by the nomination and grateful for Mr. Bush's "heartfelt desire to strengthen the American character by reducing our nation's dependence on drugs."

The 50-year-old former prosecutor said he learned as a U.S. attorney in Arkansas that drug abuse "destroys individuals, shatters families and weakens the fabric of a community and a nation." He vowed to run the DEA to be "effective in saving lives and rebuilding families and communities."

Mr. Hutchinson, a graduate of Bob Jones University and the University of Arkansas School of Law, told the committee he hoped to accomplish his goals through the "vigorous enforcement" of federal drug laws and new approaches including an emphasis on "educating our youth for the best life choices and the rehabilitation of those who have become addicted to drugs."

On other issues, he said that while mandatory minimum sentence laws have helped reduce violent crimes, he supports efforts by Congress to review them; that federal funding to help Colombia in the drug war should continue; and he guaranteed that racial profiling would not occur under his watch.

Mr. Hutchinson, elected to the House in 1996 from a heavily Republican district in northwest Arkansas, has been actively involved in DEA issues as a member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime. In 1997, he joined the DEA on a fact-finding mission to Colombia to review joint U.S.-Colombian operations.

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