"Bryant urged to pursue Mena drug issue" By Max Parker THE ARKANSAS GAZETTE May 23, 1991 Attorney General Winston Bryant was asked Wednesday to make good on a campaign promise to convene a grand jury to investigate a drug-smuggling operation allegedly based at the Mena airport during the 1980s. But Bryant said later that he neither promised nor has the authority to empanel a grand jury. "I cannot do that," he said. "The attorney general's office has no criminal authority other than in the very limited area of Medicaid fraud, which has nothing to do with drug offenses. Any grand jury that is convened has to be convened by a local prosecuting attorney." Petitions containing 900 signatures collected over a two-year period were presented Wednesday to Lawrence Graves, Bryant's chief of staff, during an afternoon news conference called by the Arkansas Committee, a student group at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Bryant was in Conway on business at the time. "If we do not see some legitimate, productive effort to provide a grand jury investigation, we'll continue to collect signatures and alert the press about Mr. Bryant reneging on a campaign promise," said Mark Swaney, committee president. Carol Conger, the committee's information officer, said, "It (the promise) affected the election, and people voted for Mr. Bryant because of his stance on this issue." Bryant denied making any promise to convene a grand jury as he successfully fought of Asa Hutchinson, the Republican nominee who is now co-chairman of the state Republican Party, for the attorney general's office last year. "Asa claimed to be tough on drugs during the campaign, and I used the Mena situation to show he was prosecutor for five years and he allowed the biggest drug-smuggling ring to continue for the whole time," Bryant said. Hutchinson filed a lawsuit, which is still pending, contending that he was slandered by Bryant's campaign assertions. The suit refers to assertions that Hutchinson did not vigorously pursue allegations that convicted drug smuggler Barry Seal used the Mena airport as a base for cocaine operations. Hutchinson has said the investigation was in its early stages when he resigned from the U.S. attorney's office in late 1985 to make an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. "Until Winston Bryant came out and made his statements against Asa Hutchinson, there was a conspiracy of silence," said Tom Brown, committee treasurer, speaking about his own attitude during the campaign. "Winston Bryant broke that conspiracy and I support him 100 percent. Bryant said the "critical thing that happened is Barry Seal is dead."
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