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Arkansans' paths converge at trial; Asa Hutchinson makes case against Clinton; brother Tim is juror


WASHINGTON -- Growing up in the 1950s, Asa and Tim Hutchinson spent summer afternoons memorizing Bible verses, meandering through northwest Arkansas farmlands and splashing in Spavinaw Creek like clean-cut, Ozarks versions of Tom and Huck.

People thought the boys were twins, they semed so inseparable. The older they got, the more their interests merged.

The Hutchinson brothers discovered politics, campaigned for each other, and together planned their futures as Arkansas Republicans.

The ambitious pair saw their fortunes rise alongside those of fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton. By 1996, all three were in Washington: Clinton in the White House, Tim in the Senate and Asa in the House.

Today, the paths that meandered out of Arkansas will collide in Washington, as the three become prosecutor, juror and defendant in Clinton's impeachment trial.

When the Senate allows opening statements in the trial this afternoon, Asa Hutchinson will take a turn as a lead House member making the case against Clinton.

Sitting in judgment will be his older brother, Tim, one of the 100-member Senate jury that will decide whether Clinton should be removed from office.

In the center of it all will be Clinton, a Democrat the Hutchinson brothers have known, served alongside and politicked against for years.

"It's a very sad experience," Sen. Tim Hutchinson said this week. "In Arkansas, your lives and careers intertwine."

The experience today, he said, will feel "surreal."

The Hutchinsons are not the only ones with awkward ties in this trial.

The daughter of Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, married Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother, Tony Rodham, and the couple's toddler shows up at family holidays with the Clintons and the Boxers in tow.

Three new senators, meanwhile, voted on the impeachment matter as House members last session. Two Democratic senators campaigned against Clinton in the 1992 presidential primary.

But the Hutchinson connection holds perhaps the most history.

In the intimate world of Arkansas politics, the Hutchinsons' careers brushed against Clinton's many times.

Tim Hutchinson was a state legislator for eight years while Clinton was governor. Asa Hutchinson became a U.S. attorney and in 1984 sent Roger Clinton to jail on drug charges, winning praise from the governor for "saving my brother's life."

In 1992 Tim Hutchinson won the U.S. House seat that Clinton failed to capture in 1974 and arrived in Washington the same year Clinton moved into the White House. The Whitewater affair that hounded Clinton shaped Tim's fate as well, prompting a state political reshuffling that suddenly left the way open for him to win a vacant Senate seat in 1996. That allowed Asa Hutchinson to win his brother's old House seat.

"Politics in Arkansas gets quite personal," said Art English, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. "The same people keep bumping into each other."

Now comes the impeachment trial.

With their families in Arkansas, the Hutchinsons live together during the week in a spartan apartment in Pentagon City, Va., where they have vowed not to discuss the particulars of the case to prevent a conflict of interest. Asa Hutchinson is preparing for his star turn as one of three House members to make the case against Clinton: His job is to argue Article 2, the obstruction of justice charge.

"Asa's holed up in his bedroom working all day and all night," said Tim Hutchinson, noting that Asa wouldn't even take a break to see "A Civil Action" with him. "He took a lonely card table and set it up in his bedroom as a desk. It's covered with papers."

Asa sees good reason to be nervous about performing in front of Tim: "He'll probably be the toughest critic."

A hint of sibling rivalry, even the good-natured kind, is to be expected. The two were born 16 months apart and since then have competed in the same games -- from football to politics. Arkansas political observers always believed Asa would make the bigger splash.

But Tim climbed steadily up the Arkansas political hierarchy and made his way to the national stage first. Asa took risks and lost three high-profile campaigns, including a 1986 bid for Democratic Sen. Dale Bumpers' seat.

Their views are similar: Both are staunch abortion opponents and fiscal conservatives who clashed with the Clinton agenda in Arkansas and Washington.

"You can sure tell they're brothers," said A. Lynn Lowe, a farmer and former Arkansas Republican Party chairman. "They bleed essentially the same stuff."

The brothers get mistaken for each other in Wal-Marts and Shoney's, but their styles are distinct.

A former prosecutor, Asa, 48, is lankier, softer-spoken and more lawyerly. The darker-haired Tim, 49, is a former minister and a more polished orator with campaign charisma.

Both share the syrup-thick accent of their home in Gravette, Ark. (population 1,400). This is northwest Arkansas near Bentonville, the area perhaps best known for being the headquarters of Wal-Mart and the home to the Bible Museum and the outsized Christ of the Ozarks statue. The two were members of the "Giant Fighters," a church youth group that made country outings.

After tending their parents' 279-acre cattle and chicken farm, Tim and Asa, the youngest of six children, followed each other to college, graduating in the early 1970s from Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian school.

Back home, the GOP booth was attracting few takers at the county fair and the Democrats had seized all but some lowly political posts, but the brothers joined the local Republican committee with their eyes on future office.

They learned to accommodate each other's political ambitions.

"They made a deal with each other early on that if they ever wanted to run for the same office, Tim got the first shot," said Jonathan Barnett, former Benton County Republican Committee chairman. When Tim first ran for the House, an ambitious Asa had to wait.

"Asa wanted that also at the time, but he stepped aside because he thought it was Tim's turn," said older sister Marylea Hendren, who still calls her brothers "the boys."

Now in Washington, both are carving their own niches. As one in a sea of 435 House members, Asa is catching up to his big brother's clout in the Senate club. He served on the House Judiciary Committee that ruled on the articles of impeachment and through this week will play prosecutor in the Senate. At the moment, Asa is generating more CNN buzz than Tim.

This week, the brothers swear not to discuss the trial in their cramped apartment. While Tim cannot exactly be sequestered from his brother, he plans to limit his interactions with Asa to sports chats and rounds of Skipbo -- the card game they grew up playing.

But the talk back home will be plentiful. All eyes will be on the boys.

"They got a legacy and a whole family of folks watching them," said brother-in-law Kim Hendren. "But I think they'll do what's right. That's how they were raised."

Sun staff writer Karen Hosler contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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