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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, left, and Donald Trump. Photo credit: Hutchinson - Staton Breidenthal/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Trump-Jim Cole/AP

President Donald Trump's comments Monday regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin and that country's election interference in the 2016 U.S. elections were "very disappointing," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday in an interview.

Trump backtracked Tuesday and said he misspoke when commenting in front of Putin at a meeting in Helsinki. On Monday, Trump said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, contrary to the opinion of the U.S. intelligence community.

The comments drew criticism from officials in both parties, including from members of the Arkansas congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, who was unavailable for comment Monday, also had critical remarks Tuesday.

Hutchinson gave his reaction before the president clarified his remarks. The governor was unavailable for further comment later Tuesday.

"I support the intelligence community in their findings in regard to Russia," the Republican governor told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "There has been most recently a half a dozen or more indictments against high-level Russian officials for meddling in our election system and the world needs to understand that this is an interference with democracy and that should have been made perfectly clear at the Helsinki summit, and the president regretfully was anything but clear and his comments did not serve our intelligence community well, our democracy well and reflected poorly on the United States of America.

"So I hope that he clarifies that very, very quickly and recoups that lost ground," said Hutchinson, a former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. Hutchinson is an attorney who also served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, as Arkansas' 3rd District congressman and U.S. attorney of the Western District of Arkansas.

He said he received a classified briefing recently in Washington, D.C., on the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"And from the intelligence community, I saw it firsthand, and there is not any doubt in my mind that those are the facts and that Mr. Putin should have been confronted with that both privately and publicly at that setting in Helsinki."

Special counsel Robert Mueller is leading an investigation into possible connections between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. Trump, who is a Republican, has called the investigation a witch hunt.

Hutchinson said he doesn't believe the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt.

"Bob Mueller has been assigned the responsibility to investigate Russian interference with the election. He has done that. It has resulted in significant indictments, and it has served the American public well. We all hope that it is wrapped up quickly," the governor said. "But this is a serious investigation with very serious consequences and it needs to be continued until it is concluded, and he [Mueller] needs to have the leeway to do that."

Westerman advised caution in dealing with Putin.

"I don't think Putin's our friend. He's done things that I certainly don't approve of and I haven't seen anything change about him that would make me want to be too friendly towards him," said the Republican from Hot Springs.

Asked why the president is being so cozy with Putin, Westerman said, "You'd have to ask him that. I don't know. He hasn't told me."

During a telephone town hall meeting Monday evening, Westerman also said: "I don't think Russia's our friend. I don't think Putin's our friend and I don't think we need to be treating them like friends until they prove themselves any different."

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 07/18/2018

Print Headline: Hutchinson, Westerman join Putin-no-pal refrain

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