This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 15, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," Hillary Clinton breaks her silence on the email controversy, but will this week's performance reassure anxious supporters or coax another Democrat into the presidential race?
Plus, as the U.S. leads from behind in Iraq, Iran is filling the power vacuum. What it means for the fight against ISIS and American interests in the Middle East.
And just in time for 2016, the Justice Department announces a crackdown on coordination between candidates and the outside groups that support them. Should conservatives expect the same treatment they got from the IRS?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Hillary Clinton broke her silence this week on the scandal surrounding her use of a private email address while serving as secretary of state, calling it a matter of convenience and claiming she complied with all State Department rules.
Take a look at some of the highlights from her Tuesday press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: When I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.
We went through a thorough process to identify all of my work-related emails and deliver them to the State Department. At the end, I chose not to keep my private, personal emails, emails about planning Chelsea's wedding or my mother's funeral arrangements.
I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Here with reaction, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.
So, Kim, some of the pundits down there in Washington, your environment you kind of work in, say that this press conference put the issue behind Secretary Clinton. Do you agree with that?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: They wish. This raised 10 times more questions than we had even before. I mean, did she turn over all of those documents? Who, in fact, ran that process for her? How do we know there was no classified information? What, in fact, was the security arrangement of this? And as this story has grown, we have now got more questions that have not been answered. We've now found out there's a document that all State Department employees are supposed to sign as they leave, attesting that they have turned over all work product and material. Did she sign that? And if she did, what does that mean? So, no, a flurry of questions, still. And I don't know when or if she intends to ever answer them.
GIGOT: Well, I think she doesn't intend to answer them. I suspect this is all we're going to get from her, unless there's some new revelation.
But just a simple question about the authority and fact. Did she have the authority under the law to be able to make the decision by herself to - - which emails to turn over and which to keep?
STRASSEL: That question is central. She's making the argument, well, everybody gets to make this choice.
GIGOT: Right. It's all up to the individual no matter how high or how high up the ladder.
STRASSEL: Right. But this is classic Clinton, Paul. The records law is very clear about what you should do. And she crafted a system that was entirely outside the realm of anything that had ever happened before. And she's now having to revert to making to make legalistic arguments about whether or not she technically followed the rules. There's no question she violated the spirit, absolutely, if not the law itself.
GIGOT: OK, she also said she was emailing Bill all the time. You know, her husband. Then turns out, Bill --
GIGOT: -- Bill, as the Wall Street Journal reported, doesn't do email. Sent out two in his life, and not to his wife.
So I mean, what do you make of --
GIGOT: How far is this going to go?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST, DEPUTY EDITOR: I think -- this is a typical Clinton behavior. This is known as stonewalling. It's almost like it's the Clinton family sport. Rather than give a full explanation of anything, you stonewall.
GIGOT: You put out the story out there and you say, that's it, I'm sticking to it.
HENNINGER: There's one big difference here though. During the Clinton presidency, Bill Clinton deployed all the resources of the federal legal apparatus to defend himself. It was like a phalanx around the White House. She's a private citizen. She does not have those resources. And, you know, the members of Congress, Trey Gowdy, the prosecutor looking into Benghazi, Jason Chaffetz, the head of the House Oversight Committee, are making requests. I can see this escalating up from voluntary appearances before them, then perhaps a subpoena, then perhaps the issue of being held in contempt of Congress. Not that they'd be able to that, but it means the issue will be kept alive.
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: I suspect that strategy will end up helping Mrs. Clinton because she will paint herself probably with some success as the victim of a congressional witch-hunt.
GIGOT: Oh, so you're saying Republicans should drop it?
STEPHENS: Well, I think they should be careful politically about how they go about doing this. I think quite frankly what this scandal reminds all Democrats of is the immortal column by the late Bill Safire that Mrs. Clinton, in his words, is a congenital liar. And I think that this is being felt very powerfully not simply among Republicans who have always felt this or conservatives who have always suspected this of Mrs. Clinton, but among the very Democrats in 2008 who decided they desperately needed a different alternative, they desperately needed a different narrative from the Clinton narrative of lie, stonewall, deceive, obstruct.
GIGOT: How will you get to the bottom of it if the Republicans don't use the subpoena power to try --
GIGOT: Hold on. Because the press corps can ask questions, but if she doesn't have a press conference, they can't ask the questions.
GIGOT: And she's not making herself available.
STEPHENS: But legally, it will be very difficult for them to subpoena the actual server that she was -- it's private property that --
GIGOT: So just drop the whole thing and let the press corps go at it or let it simmer and Democrats figure, OK, maybe we should have somebody run against her. But they have already concluded there's nobody out there to run -- to do it.
STEPHENS: I'm not sure that's true. They have concluded there's no one not to run simply because she seemed unstoppable. It's very clear that this is the first shoe of many Clinton shoes to drop. And this is a candidate who has as many shoes as Imelda Marcos did in the scandal department. I think this is going to cause, A, some misgivings among Democrats, but also whet the appetites of some people who had taken themselves out of the race prematurely.
GIGOT: Kim, are there any --
GIGOT: -- Democrats -- I mean, who's going to run against her who is actually serious and would have enough a chance to beat her? Joe Biden doesn't seem like he'd have a following. To me, the only one I can think of is Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Senator.
STRASSEL: Yeah, and what was notable about this is, as soon as this Hillary Clinton scandal broke and it followed right of course on the Clinton Foundation revelation as well, a lot of progressives don't like her, Paul, and Elizabeth Warren is their horse. They really want her in this race.
STRASSEL: And they have jumped all over this. They have been as critical if not more critical of Hillary Clinton over these escapades than even those on the right. They are using it to try to leverage Elizabeth Warren into the race. They would like to see her damaged in this because they hope it will make that opening.
GIGOT: But there's nobody else out there to do it, except for Warren. If she doesn't run, she's got the nomination all but locked up, I think.
GIGOT: OK. When we come back, with all eyes in Washington on the administration's nuclear negotiations with Iran, the Islamic republic is making some major advances in Iraq. What Tehran's military surge means for the fight against ISIS and American interests in the Middle East.
GIGOT: Well, with all eyes in Washington on the Obama administration's nuclear talks with Iran, the Islamic republic is making major but little noticed gains in Iraq, with Tehran playing a dominant role in the military offensive to take back territory from ISIS.
So, Dan, what do you make of this extended -- just how widespread is it and what does it mean?
HENNINGER: Well, it's very widespread, Paul, and it's been going on for some time. Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds forces, the Special Forces in Iran --
GIGOT: Most powerful military man in Iran --
HENNINGER: In Iran.
GIGOT: -- and probably now in Iraq.
HENNINGER: Well, after the Islamic State emerged in northern Iraq and Syria, the Iranians went in there quickly. They started to -- and in Iraq, political officials were going to Tehran to discuss whether they could help them fight Islamic State, since it looked like the United States was not going to. And so, you had fatwas delivered by religious leaders in Baghdad. The Shiite militias have reformed. And those Shiite militias, which are substantial, are under the control of the Iranians. And that's the group that is now fighting in Tikrit. So you're looking at the possibility of them extending themselves across Iraq and into Syria. And, you know, they have supported the forces in Yemen that overthrew the president of Yemen there. And if you have them extending their control from Yemen in the south, below Saudi Arabia, Iraq to the north of Saudi Arabia, you've got the Iranians more or less surrounding the Saudis with a Shiite crescent, which would -- the Saudis will not accept that.
GIGOT: Just to give you a sense of the magnitude, Bret, the reports are there are 20,000 to 25,000 Shiite militia groups which are advancing on Tikrit, which is a Sunni --
STEPHENS: About 3,000 Iraqi soldiers.
GIGOT: Soldiers. So that means it's really a Shiite force.
STEPHENS: You have to look back 10 years ago. One of the principal criticisms of the U.S. invasion of Iraq is that we essentially handed the Iraq over to Iranians. That was not, in fact, the case.
GIGOT: By removing Saddam.
STEPHENS: Exactly. By removing Saddam we would increase Iranian influence.
STEPHENS: That, in fact, was not true while we were in Iraq. There are many reasons why Iraqis, including Iraqi Shiites, don't want to be another satrap dominated by Iran. But when we withdrew completely and when the Iraqi Shiites discovered that it was either Iranian help or increasing inroads from ISIS, they turned to the Iranians in a big way. So it's our withdrawal from Iraq that has, in fact, handed over so much of Iraq.
GIGOT: But the president said, President Obama said we'll put together a coalition and a coalition of neighboring states, and that would have been in particular a coalition of ground forces from Sunni neighboring states, states like the Saudis, the Gulf States, Turkey in particular, which has a very potent military, and Egypt and Jordan. We haven't seen anything like that come together. Why not?
STEPHENS: No. Well, nothing at all.
GIGOT: Why not?
STEPHENS: Well, I mean, look, there is a nominal coalition that serves the sort of -- the advertorial purposes of the administration.
GIGOT: Yeah, a couple or sortees.
STEPHENS: Basically, a few sortees from the UAE. And, of course, those are welcome and those are important. But the truth is, right now, the principal military partner of the United States in the fight against Islamic State is Iran. We are providing, not directly, but indirectly, we are providing an air force for these Shiite -- Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
GIGOT: What does that mean in terms of the stability of the region? Because this is happening at the same time you have the nuclear talks. OK? And if you let an Iran get on the cusp of the nuclear weapon, as I think this deal will end up, if it is struck, and you have the advances militarily on the ground, you're talking about Iran emerging as the dominant force in the region. Or is that taking things too far?
HENNINGER: I don't think so. I mean, if you get a situation of the sort that Bret describes where the United States is essentially pulled back from the situation, the Saudis, the Turks, the Egyptians have to look at the situation and decide where do their interests lie. And there interests lie in trying to obtain the same nuclear capabilities that the Iranians have.
STEPHENS: Right. Basically, the Saudis and their allies have concluded that the United States is not a good partner and not a good ally and does not provide reliable security guarantees, so they will have to get them on their own. So a nuclear deal with Iran, which is intended to defuse a nuclear escalation, is actually leading to a nuclear escalation.
GIGOT: All right.
Kim, let me take a different subject, briefly, and that's a letter from Tom Cotton, the Senator from Arkansas, and 47 Republicans sent to the government of Iran, saying, warning them that, look, President Obama may sign this nuclear deal but that doesn't mean the Senate will vote for it. The White House came down very hard on that claim that was almost traitorous, so what's the fallout from that going forward?
STRASSEL: I mean, traitorous is taking it a bit far. I mean, what it probably was though, Paul, it was a political distraction. What Republicans need to be doing right now is building on this bipartisan coalition that does exist in the Senate that is pushing back very hard against President Obama's authority to do this deal and not get congressional sign-off. You have legislation moving forward that Bob Corker and Robert Menendez have done. They are very close at the moment to getting a veto-proof override -- I mean a veto override if the president were to veto this bill.
STRASSEL: But what this letter did is it allowed the administration to blame it on Republicans. It made some Democrats a little bit nervous. You see Corker and Menendez working very hard to remedy that and they seem to be making some progress again.
GIGOT: All right. Kim, thanks.
When we come back, just in time for 2016, the Justice Department says it's cracking down on coordination between candidates and the outside groups that support them. So should conservatives expect the IRS treatment from the DOJ?
GIGOT: Well, just in time for 2016, the Justice Department has announced that it is gearing up to prosecute coordination between candidates and outside groups, a move that senior editorial page writer, Collin Levy, says should worry Republicans in particular and the super PACs that support them.
So, Collin, why is this important, this announcement, and why did they do it now?
COLLIN LEVY, SENIOR POLITICAL PAGE WRITER: Well, I think you hit it right on the head. They did it now because the election is heating up. Look, Paul, this is scary because illegal coordination happens when a campaign is directly organizing its message with an outside group, which is then effectively spending money on the campaign's behalf.
GIGOT: And that's illegal. That's illegal.
LEVY: Yes, that's illegal. But what's scary here is all the Justice Department really needs is the allegation that that is happening and then they can go on a fishing expedition, subpoenaing documents, bank records, all sorts of things, immense numbers of records from campaigns in an effort to find the needle in the hay stack.
GIGOT: Well, the definition of coordination is pretty slippery. I mean, it's not -- I mean, so people may know each other in an outside group and know somebody on the campaign. They may have worked for them previously. What is illegal is calling them up on the phone and saying, hey, now we want you to run a $5 million buy in Iowa to influence this race. But if it's just sort of in the ether that, you know, we understand the message, we've been paying attention to the newspapers and there's no active coordination, it's not illegal. But you're saying this can become a fishing expedition that can dig into everything inside a campaign and create havoc and with a mere accusation, is that fair?
LEVY: Yeah, that's certainly fair. We saw that happen in Wisconsin with the allies of Scott Walker, who, all of a sudden, had prosecutors literally subpoenaing thousands of pages of documents. The same thing could happen with the Justice Department. The fact that they used the words that they were going to "aggressively pursue" possible coordination offenses here I think with us meant as a scare tactic, too. It was meant to put these campaigns on alert. Hey, you know, we're watching you.
GIGOT: And there's a link here, is there not -- and this is really interesting -- between the Justice Department figure who's announced this, Richard Pilger, who runs the Campaign Crime Section, and the IRS, the IRS figure, Lois Lerner, who ran the Tax Exempt Section of IRS that had harassed conservative groups. Put that together for us.
LEVY: Yeah, that's right. Back in 2010, Mr. Pilger was emailing with Lois Lerner saying, hey, maybe we should look at the possibility of prosecuting some of these tax exempt groups for any false statements they make on their applications here. So, you know, you get the real sense that he's a true believer and I think that's something we should be very wary of.
GIGOT: So, Kim, how should Republican campaigns respond to this?
STRASSEL: Well, look, you have to step back and put this in context. The IRS and the Justice Department thing, this is all part and parcel. More broadly, too, look at the disclosure laws that the Obama administration has wanted to impose on corporations. This is not necessarily about keeping campaign finance law in good order. This is about shutting people up. It's about making them not talk. So Republicans, that's going to be the threat to them. And they're going to have to, I think, continue operating as they normally do. If the Justice Department comes sniffing, make an issue about this.
Most of the groups by the way, too, Paul, they have teams of incredibly experienced lawyers who do know all the rules.
STRASSEL: You know, and are keeping them in check. They have to be doubly careful about that, too.
HENNINGER: Two words.
GIGOT: To lawyer up.
HENNINGER: Two words. Exactly. This is the Democratic obsession, Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that allowed the Republicans to compete on the basis of money with the Democrats. The Democrats are going to take the Republicans down because of Citizens United. This is the method they'll use.
GIGOT: This could pop up at any time during the election campaign.
HENNINGER: Just intimidate them.
GIGOT: All right. We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time now for "Hits & Misses" of the week.
Collin, start us off.
LEVY: Paul, this is a hit to Wisconsin for becoming the nation's 25th Right-to-Work state this week. Governor Walker signed the bill on Monday. But what was really striking to me was how little fuss and drama there was about this compared to what we saw with the great union protests that once surrounded his public-sector union reforms. Wisconsin is now the third state in the Midwest to take this on in recent years. Now they can compete with Indiana and Michigan. Good for them.
GIGOT: Right-to-Work means if you don't want to join a union and pay dues, you don't have to. OK.
STRASSEL: Speaking of politicians, like Hillary Clinton who never go away, this is a miss to the news that Charlie Crist may be running for office again. For those who don't know Charlie Crist, he was a former governor of Florida up until to 2010. He has since made an art form of saying anything, being anything, doing anything to try to get back into office again. He's run for the Senate again. He's run for the governorship. He's run as a Republican, an Independent and a Democrat. We don't yet what reincarnation will come with Charlie Crist this time. But if he does run, just spare a little feeling for the voters of Florida.
GIGOT: All right.
HENNINGER: Well, Paul, last week -- this was a miss to the Secret Service. Last week, according to The Washington Post, two Secret Service agents, who are on the president's detail, were driving back from a work party at a bar at night to the White House where they ran through a criminal investigation surrounded by police tape, slammed into a barricade. Then a Secret Service supervisor refused to let the D.C. police give them a sobriety test. You know, this was one of the most respected agencies in the government, Paul, and one hopes that eventually they will be able to restore themselves to that.
GIGOT: Well, let's hope so.
OK, thanks, Dan.
That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.
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