TRANSCRIPT

Chaos on Capitol Hill: Fallout continues over Comey firing

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey offers his take on 'Journal Editorial Report'

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 13, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

President Donald Trump plunged the capitol into turmoil Tuesday with the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey. The White House initially citing the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, even releasing a memo from Rosenstein that offered a scathing assessment of Mr. Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. But the president himself told NBC News on Thursday that he would have fired Comey regardless.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There's no good time to do it, by the way. He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Michael Mukasey served as the 81st attorney general of the United States.

Welcome. Thanks for coming in.

MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good to be here.

GIGOT: First point, is there any doubt in your mind that as a legal matter the president had the right, the authority to fire James Comey?

MUKASEY: None.

GIGOT: None?

MUKASEY: None. The FBI director is a part of the executive, the president is the head of the executive. Regardless of whether the FBI director is appointed for a term or not for a term, the president has the authority to fire him.

GIGOT: That's despite the 10-year term he was supposed to --

MUKASEY: Yeah.

GIGOT: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: In the chain of command at the Justice Department, some people seem to believe that the FBI is independent. That is not true.

MUKASEY: It is not true. The FBI director is supposed to report to the deputy attorney general, who then reports to the attorney general. That's the way it's supposed to work.

GIGOT: OK.

MUKASEY: And the FBI is not some independent branch of government.

GIGOT: OK. So, ultimately, this is the basis of the critique, that Mr. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general -- only in the job now for two weeks. Confirmed two weeks ago. Baptism by fire.

(LAUGHTER)

MUKASEY: By fire.

GIGOT: He -- in his critique that he laid out in that memo of the FBI director's behavior -- you've read the memo?

MUKASEY: I've read the memo.

GIGOT: What do you think of the analysis?

MUKASEY: The analysis is spot on, and I say that not only because I'm quoted.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: As are several others.

GIGOT: Yes. Of both parties.

MUKASEY: Of both parties. That's right. But it's quite clear the FBI director has the authority, is supposed to investigate cases and then bring his or her findings to the attorney general or to some other designee at the department then to evaluate, to a prosecutor, to evaluate whether a case should be brought or not. It is not the job of the attorney general to decide whether the case should be brought or not. It's certainly not the attorney -- the FBI director's job to go out and announce that no case should be brought and then to go into a discourse on why it is that whoever was under investigation done wrong.

GIGOT: And that's exactly what James Comey last July 5.

MUKASEY: Right.

GIGOT: Now, Comey's defense, ex post facto, is that the attorney general at the time, Loretta Lynch, was conflicted because she had met on the tarmac with Bill Clinton, the husband of Hillary Clinton, and that compromised her. That's why he did what he did.

MUKASEY: Yeah.

GIGOT: Is there justification for that?

MUKASEY: Well, that may be true. First of all, that's not his determination to make. But secondly, even if it were true, there is, in the office, somebody known as the deputy attorney general, who is there for precisely the situations, among other things, but precisely the situations in which the attorney general has to recuse herself, as she probably should have in that case.

GIGOT: She hadn't formally recused herself.

MUKASEY: No.

GIGOT: And you have to formally recuse yourself if you're going to actually say I'm not responsible for this decision.

MUKASEY: Correct. You put it on a piece of paper.

GIGOT: Right. And then if she had done that, Comey still would have had to go to the deputy?

MUKASEY: Right.

GIGOT: Now, another thing that Rosenstein said in that memo was related to the statement that Comey made, the letter he sent to Capitol Hill, saying that he'd reopened the case 11 days before the election which, of course, created all of that turmoil. And Comey said later, I had to do that because I felt I couldn't conceal what had occurred. And Rosenstein's memo said that's not your job either. Concealment -- silence in a case does not mean conceal.

(CROSSTALK)

MUKASEY: Correct. Of course. Concealment is an active -- is an act.

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: Simply not talking about an investigation is simply not talking about an investigation, which is what the FBI director is supposed to do.

GIGOT: That's the norm?

MUKASEY: That's the norm. When you start an investigation, you don't go out and announce it and think that you're concealing the existence of the investigation by not announcing it. That's what you're supposed to do.

GIGOT: OK. So adding all of this up, the Rosenstein memo, the circumstances that you followed closely, you've written for us, do you think the president was justified in firing the FBI director?

MUKASEY: In the firing? Absolutely.

GIGOT: OK. In the firing, he was.

MUKASEY: Right.

GIGOT: He had more than ample reason to do so?

MUKASEY: Absolutely.

GIGOT: OK. You suggest to me that maybe the firing, but what about the timing and the politics? Certainly, that's complicated.

MUKASEY: Well, that -- I mean, that's sort of stepping outside my lane a bit.

GIGOT: OK.

MUKASEY: I'm pulling a James Comey.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Well, but you're not -- you're not the director.

MUKASEY: Right. It couldn't conceivably have been worse. The timing was awful. It was made to appear as if, you know, somebody was trying to derail an investigation.

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: And, of course, you don't derail an investigation by firing the director, because the director doesn't conduct investigations.

(LAUGHTER)

That's done by agents out in the field.

GIGOT: Right. Is there any doubt in your mind that this investigation is going to continue no matter who runs the FBI?

MUKASEY: Absolutely.

GIGOT: And McCabe said so. The deputy director was up on Capitol Hill saying they'll be no interference and we're going ahead with it. And in my experience with the FBI, it shouldn't be this way, perhaps, but it's pretty porous. If there are facts that they discover, and they think it's being covered up, that's going to come out. Is that your experience?

MUKASEY: Of course. The FBI knows how to keep investigation in confidence. It also knows how to release it to its particular benefit. We've seen that many times over the years. And there's no way that you kill an investigation by firing the director.

GIGOT: All right --

MUKASEY: Or by firing anybody.

GIGOT: There's no pressure, political pressure on Rod Rosenstein because the attorney general has recused himself from the Russia probe. He's the man who would make a decision about a special prosecutor.

MUKASEY: Right.

GIGOT: Do you think he should name a special counsel?

MUKASEY: I don't. And it's kind of too bad, because there are many people who are now -- who have now announced that they are going to measure his propriety and his suitability and his ethics by whether or not he appoints a special prosecutor. And in order to have a potential prosecutor, there's got to be something to prosecute. And as far as I know, there is no crime being investigated. This is a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation.

GIGOT: Explain the difference.

MUKASEY: The FBI has two functions. One is, of course, the traditional one. We all know it investigates crimes.

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: After 9/11, it was given an intelligence-gathering function and a counterintelligence function, which the counterintelligence function, actually, it's had for a long time. And that is simply to conduct investigations that relate to national security and then report those to other national security agencies.

GIGOT: And there's no doubt in your mind, briefly, that the FBI -- that the Justice Department under Rosenstein can conduct this investigation honestly.

MUKASEY: None.

GIGOT: None?

MUKASEY: None.

GIGOT: OK.

MUKASEY: If -- none. And there are other agencies within the intelligence community that can -- that can and will look into this. And there are Senate committees and House committees that can and will looking into it.

GIGOT: all right. Thank you very much, Judge Mukasey. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, calls grow for a special prosecutor in the Russia probe in the wake of Comey's firing, but is that the best way to get the answers Americans deserve?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-N.Y., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I have said from the get go that I think a special prosecutor is the way to go. But now, with what's happened, it is the only way to go, only way to go to restore the American people's faith.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: That was Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, this week calling for the appointment of a special counsel in the wake of FBI Director James Comey's dismissal. But is that the best way to get to the bottom of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign?

Let's ask "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; columnist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow, Jason Riley; columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady; and editorial board member, Joe Rago.

Dan, let's put this week into context. Step back and start with a question, do you think that the Comey firing -- on the merits, the legal merits, we'll get to the politics in a second, but on the legal merits -- was justified.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes, Paul, it was absolutely justified. And as you and Judge Mukasey just made clear, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein's memo on this makes it clear that Mr. Comey had arrogated to himself powers that do not belong to the director of the FBI. Those powers should have belonged to the deputy attorney general after Loretta Lynch recused herself. And secondly, it was not, as he made clear, Mr. Comey's responsibility to decide whether any prosecutions were warranted in the email server case. That was something that should have been handed up to his superiors at Justice Department. So Mr. Comey was way outside his brief, and it would have been best if Mr. Trump had fired him the day after the inauguration and put a new FBI director in place to proceed with whatever investigation of the Russia connection was onboard. So that there was no question at all that there was a basis for firing him.

GIGOT: But, Mary, Trump said he was going to do it no matter what, I was going to do it anyway, no matter what they told me at the Justice Department. That certainly did contradict some of the early lines out of the White House. And it kind of messes up the whole tale and makes it look worse than, I think, the decision actually was.

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: You know, there's no question he has handled this so poorly. I mean, across the board, in every way. And I think the public's perception matters a lot here. And so, yes, their confidence is shaken, even though, as Dan says, he was completely within his rights to fire him. But I think that Donald Trump is also right when he says there was no good time, because had he fired him when he first came into office, after everything happened with John Podesta's emails being hacked and so forth, he would also have been accused of trying to cover something up. So --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: But it would have been a more natural transition, would it not? New government, come in, fresh start, FBI, all that?

O'GRADY: In hindsight, for sure.

GIGOT: That's what we specialize in, Mary, hindsight.

(LAUGHTER)

O'GRADY: But I understand --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: We did recommend it at the time.

O'GRADY: Yes. But I'm mildly sympathetic to his point. I think what's really damaging now is when it comes out that he -- when he explains that he went out to dinner with the guy and asked him, am I a subject of the investigation, and then decided to keep him when he found out that he was not.

GIGOT: This is the problem with Trump, in many respects, it's about him.

(LAUGHTER)

JASON RILEY, COLUMNIST: It is about him, but also the management of this. It's not just the timing, it's the rollout. Did they learn nothing from the rollout of the travel ban? You have to get your ducks in order? You have to get everyone on the same page, Paul. This is a very important decision. Why not hold a press conference, give a speech to the American people: This is why we need a new FBI director, he has damaged the credibility of the institution, and he has to go, and here's why. He could have anticipated all of the responses to this and handled them in a press conference.

And the leaking that has gone on, daily, it's been a very exhausting week in that sense. There was one "Washington Post" story that said there were 30 sources. 30 sources! I mean, there's leaking and then there's Niagara Falls.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Yeah. Well, and there's no question about that, Joe. But it's interesting, the Russia probe -- the implication from the critics of Trump is that there's a cover-up going on, right? You're trying to -- he's trying to -- Comey was serious about the information which, of course -- the investigation which, of course, no doubt he was. If you fire Comey, you're covering up. That's not likely to be the case, is it?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: No, I don't think so. If that's really the goal, then this is probably the worst possible way to actually squelch an investigation.

The interesting thing is, if there's actually evidence that Trump was colluding with the Russians or there was some kind of nexus between his campaign and the Kremlin, that evidence would probably be coming out right about now. We haven't seen that. So for all the outrage, it's a lot of innuendo that hasn't actually gotten to the merits of the case.

GIGOT: And McCabe, the deputy FBI director, Mary, came out this week and told Congress there's no interference that he knows of in this investigation. And, in fact, a report, I think in the "Washington Post," that said he had made a request, that Comey had made a request for more resources for the probe, that, actually, he was not aware of the request, and they have ample sources to investigate.

O'GRADY: Yeah. There's more than 100 people working on this investigation. And as Joe says, the odds of or the ability to cover that up is sort of ridiculous. And I think McCabe really rained on the parade of the Democrats by saying, look, this investigation is going to go on.

But to Jason's point, the bigger problem that we see here, not just related to this issue, is Donald Trump's lack of discipline. And, you know, you look at this, another mistake in the same vein, and you kind of wonder, is this guy going to learn, because it's going to be a long four years if he doesn't figure this out.

GIGOT: Dan, should the -- Rod Rosenstein name a special counsel for this, or should he himself supervise this probe?

HENNINGER: Absolutely, he should not name a special prosecutor for the reason Judge Mukasey made absolutely clear. No crime has been identified or alleged at any point in this incident. And that is what prosecutors do, is they investigate -- virtually, a fishing expedition, in my view. So I think it should reside in the deputy attorney general's office to decide whether any sort of prosecution is warranted.

GIGOT: All right, thank you all very much.

When we come back, Democrats are already targeting Republicans in swing House districts following last week's health care vote. So what does the GOP need to do to sell its plan to voters?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: House Republicans in swing districts already feeling the heat from last week's vote to repeal and replace Obamacare. Democrats are targeting two dozen members who supported the legislation, promising to make it a central issue in 2018. And with a new poll showing that just 38 percent of the votes approve of the GOP plan, the party has its work cut out for it ahead of the midterms.

This week, a group allied with House Speaker Paul Ryan went on the offensive with this ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: It's a bold plan to cut the deficit and provide $1 trillion of job-creating tax relief. It puts patients and doctors back in charge of health care, eliminating Washington's expensive mandates, empowering state to reduce health care costs, and protecting people with pre-existing conditions. The Republican health plan provides families with more choices, better coverage, and lower premiums. Thank Congresswoman Mimi Walters for keeping her word and fighting for the health care we deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: So, Joe, Democrats clearly think they've got -- this is their ticket back to the majority? Do you agree?

RAGO: I don't. I think Republicans have a fairly good product. It needs to be improved. They can do that in the Senate where the bill is now. But I think they really have a problem with messaging. They are not explaining -- they have not done a good job explaining what's in the bill, how it would work, how it would improve people's access to health care.

GIGOT: Now let's -- I want to listen to another explanation for the bill. We've got a Democratic attack ad that's running. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Congresswoman McSally just voted for a disastrous health care repeal bill opposed by the American Medical Association, AARP, and the American Cancer Society. McSally voted to raise your costs and cut coverage for millions, to let insurance companies deny affordable coverage for cancer and maternity care, and charge five times more for people over 50. McSally voted yes, even though the bill makes coverage completely unaffordable to people with pre-existing conditions. Congresswoman McSally, how could you do this to us?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Jason?

RILEY: Well, you mentioned earlier that 38 percent of people support the Republican plan. They have their work cut out. But I still think Democrats are overstating the popularity of Obamacare. They really are. Only about one in four Americans support Obamacare in its current form. Only about 40 percent of Democrats support Obamacare as is. You've, meanwhile, got around 70 of Americans who either want significant changes to it or want it to start from scratch. So you have to be careful. So in addition to fulfilling a campaign promise, I think Republicans also need to deal with the unpopularity of this current plan. And, you know, Aetna is pulling out, pulled out of two more states recently, Nebraska and Delaware --

GIGOT: For 2018.

RILEY: They said they were going to lose about $200 million. Remember, they were big backers of Obamacare --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: And that's happening, whether or not the Congress acts. If Congress does nothing, you're going to see that exchanges deteriorate, Mary.

O'GRADY: Well, I think the Republicans should focus on the fact that the Democrats have, it seems to me, completely given up on this idea of the exchanges. That was how it was sold, but really what they're talking about now is single payer. And --

GIGOT: Throw people on Medicaid or expand Medicare.

O'GRADY: Yeah. It's basically government health care. And if you look at the town halls where people are up in arms and so forth, they're people who are on Medicaid, and because Medicaid was expanded, they got access to health care. And they're basically saying we want more of this. And I think the American public basically wants to have its own doctors, and it wants to have, basically, its own choices. It doesn't want government-run health care. That's where the Republicans should target their campaign.

GIGOT: The question, I think, Dan, 20 Republicans voted against the House bill, no doubt because they felt they'd be in trouble if they voted for it. Do you think there's an element of safety there if they didn't vote for this, or would these folks be washed out anyway if there's a wave?

HENNINGER: Well, I think they were in a tough spot, no question about it. And they're in a tough spot because they're on the defensive, Paul. The Republicans have to understand they are this a political war over this health care bill. And that was made clear at a town hall this past week. Representative, Republican, Tom MacArthur, of New Jersey, held a town hall less than five hours that essentially consisted of people yelling at him. There was one guy that stood this close to his face for 10 minutes shrieking into his face. The Republicans are going to have to get their own people out to these town halls to counteract the Democrats. And I'll tell you something, if a melee ensues, so be it, but they have got to get their story out there, they've got to get their people supporting them, or they're going to have a problem in 2018.

GIGOT: Right. But the way to do that, I think, Joe, is actually to pass something. In other words, the Democrats are going to be motivated, going to be fired up, OK? They're going to be waiting in lines around the block in 2018. The only -- Republicans can't stop that. The only thing you can do is to get your own people also excited about the election, and that's by actually showing some legislative success with the power they have.

RAGO: Exactly. Defend an accomplishment, point to specific things, how it will improve people's lives. Much better than trying to defend a failure, saying, well, we said for seven years we were going to repeal and replace Obamacare. We tried but we couldn't.

GIGOT: Oh, well, never mind.

Meanwhile, the exchanges go downhill, Jason?

RILEY: One of the other challenges here are getting Republicans in order. You've got Ted Cruz, you've got Rand Paul, two guys that specialize in obstructing everything that are going to be out there, and you've got more moderate Republicans like in Ohio.

GIGOT: No question there's going to be a challenge in the Senate. We'll see what happens.

Still ahead, as he prepares for his first trip abroad, a look at Donald Trump's foreign policy. Has the unconventional candidate turned into a conventional Republican president, or will our allies be surprised?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Amid the political turmoil here at home, President Trump is preparing for his first trip overseas, leaving late next week for stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome before attending a NATO meeting in Brussels and a G-7 meeting in Sicily. So what should our allies expect?

Earlier, I spoke to Walter Russell Mead, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College, and editor-at-large of "The American Interest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GIGOT: When Donald Trump ran for president, he was an unconventional candidate, to say the least, especially on foreign policy. But now a lot of people look at him as president and say, you know what, it's a pretty conventional foreign policy, maybe even normal, if you can use that word, for a Republican president. Do you agree?

WALTER RUSSEL MEAD, SENIOR FELLOW, HUDSON INSTITUTE & PROFESSOR OF FOEIGN AFFAIRS, BARD COLLEGE & EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE AMERICAN INTEREST: Yes and no. His appointments, you know, the core national security team is as normal as it gets. Didn't start out that way, but --

(LAUGHTER)

-- it soon became that way on some of the key issues like NAFTA, like the alliance with Korea. He has moved away from what once seemed very non- mainstream positions.

GIGOT: Right.

MEAD: On the other hand, he can still surprise us on any given morning.

GIGOT: By what he tweets or what he says --

MEAD: Exactly.

GIGOT: -- like considering pulling out of NAFTA, for example, and then has to walk that back as his aides talk to the Canadians and Mexicans and said, get on the phone and talk him off the ceiling.

MEAD: Or in the middle of a tight Korean presidential election saying we're going to make them pay for the missiles.

GIGOT: OK. On that point, since we're there, how is that for an American ally? That's got to be disconcerting.

MEAD: You know, it's -- I mean, in a sense, in Korea and in Japan, I think a lot of people have the feeling that they're betting their future on the capabilities of the American president. And that is -- that's an unsettling thing. I think that Mattis and Tillerson and McMaster have all done a pretty good job of broadcasting a message that American policy is what it was.

GIGOT: Secretary of defense, state, and national security.

MEAD: Exactly. So that's a pretty powerful team, and they're all people Trump appointed.

GIGOT: So if you're an ally sitting in South Korea or Japan, you have to say, you know, we're going to roll with the odd comment and actually keep our eyes on the main policy? Is that the way you have to approach this?

MEAD: That's what you have to do, but also you have to explain it to your public opinion --

GIGOT: Right.

MEAD: -- because the public opinion is reading the tweets and seeing the remarks. And so it's not just something that you control within the government.

GIGOT: OK. Now, where would a Donald Trump foreign policy, do you think, differ from, say, the last couple of Republican presidents?

MEAD: Well, I think the you compare him to George W. Bush, George W. Bush was very much about spreading democracy, especially in the second term with Condi Rice's influence --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Nation building.

MEAD: Nation building, you know, let's have elections in the Palestinian Authority --

GIGOT: Right.

MEAD: -- and that will bring peace and democracy to everybody. So I think the Wilsonian element in American foreign policy, which has been a pretty strong theme for a while, has had so many failures really under both Bush and Obama, to some degree -- think of the Libya invasion -- that Trump has pushed that way in the background. I think any American president right now would be devaluing that some, because we've been burned, and the American people are not that eager to make sacrifices for something they think may not happen.

GIGOT: But that doesn't necessarily mean isolationism.

MEAD: No.

GIGOT: It doesn't mean disengagement from the world. And, in fact, Trump in his first couple of months here has sent missiles into Syria.

MEAD: Now, right. Exactly. And I think, when I think of where does Trump come from in the spectrum of American history, I think of Andrew Jackson, who was certainly a president who believed in unilateral American action and use of force. But Jackson was very global. He mobilized the fleet against France --

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: That's when we were, basically, not even a full continental nation.

MEAD: Exactly. He shelled a village in Sumatra. So he was a very forceful and global-minded president.

But also, you think of Alexander Hamilton, who saw the international economy as an important -- the United States had to be engaged in the international economy, but on favorable terms and, in a way, that would build the strength of the American nation, which would then protect us.

GIGOT: So be engaged with the world but don't -- and not afraid to use force, but you're not going to have long-term, permanent, new commitments, you don't think, around the world?

MEAD: Well, I think he's -- it would depend on events. I mean, any president, you know, something happens and you have to respond. I do think that both in Asia and in the Middle East, Trump, if anything, is strengthening some of our traditional alliances more than, say, Obama did.

GIGOT: OK.

MEAD: So, you know, the Saudi Arabians and the Israelis are looking forward to his visit with some anticipation.

GIGOT: All right. Let's -- let's talk about Russia, because, this week, the president met with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, with a photo-op that Vladimir Putin loved and wanted, and yet the timing was very awkward, given what we've been having in domestic politics with the Russian probe and at the FBI. How do you see Trump's Russia policy so far?

MEAD: Well, to me, the interesting thing is that Trump's -- the core of Trump's policy is almost a stake through the heart of Putin's goals. You know, what is the core of Trump's energy policy and domestic policy? It's to frack everything that can be fracked --

GIGOT: Right.

MEAD: -- to build every possible pipeline, to get every barrel.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Keep oil prices down.

MEAD: Exactly. And this is more than any other single factor, more than sanctions, more than diplomatic actions. The price of oil is the limit on Putin's power. And the fact that it is so low and will stay so low, because of Trump's policies and because, generally, the fracking revolution, does much more to limit Russian power than all the diplomatic notes you could write.

GIGOT: Can Trump -- we don't have a lot of time. But can Trump actually find a working relationship with Putin?

MEAD: Not a good one, I think. You know, Kennan wrote in his famous long telegram that our problem with these people isn't that they're Marxists. It is that they're Russian.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: That hasn't changed --

(CROSSTALK)

MEAD: No, that hasn't changed a single bit.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: And they have their own national interests.

All right. Walter Russell Mead, thanks for coming.

MEAD: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GIGOT: Still ahead, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both making a return to public life, but is that good news for Democrats? Our panel weighs in, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: They're back. After a brief hiatus, both former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, are making a return to public life. Accepting the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award last weekend, President Obama defended his signature health care law and called on Congress to do what's right to protect the sick and vulnerable. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is reportedly set to launch a new political action committee, calling herself part of the resistance during an appearance last week in New York City.

We're back with Dan Henninger, Jason Riley, Mary Anastasia O'Grady and Joe Rago.

Mary, first, let's take Hillary Clinton. What's she doing here? Is she running for president again?

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: You know, Hillary Clinton reminds me of one of those blow-up dolls that you -- with the weight in the bottom that you punch and it goes down and pops back up? She's just irrepressible.

But I think the problem with her launching this, she has something called Onwards Together. She wants to sort of restore energy in the party and so forth. But, basically, Hillary Clinton has maxed out on the number of people she's going to draw. And she can't expand beyond, basically, who supported her in the last election.

And the other problem with what she's doing, which is sort of amusing, is that she describes herself as -- that she's going to be a connector between big money and political actors. And if that doesn't sound familiar, I mean, that's basically what the Clintons have built their whole political career on. And as the money passes through, somehow, they've done very well.

GIGOT: Yeah. That was Bernie Sanders' critique of the Clintons in the last election.

JASON RILEY, COLUMNIST: I think the Democratic Party is in a state of disarray now. They didn't expect to lose. They're still trying to find themselves. And the two big names they still have going for them are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And Hillary is still in denial about why she lost. She's still blaming it on James Comey and Russia and so forth, but so are a lot of her fellow Democrats. Something like 60 percent tell pollsters, Hillary, you know, the Russians are why Hillary wasn't elected. So joining the resistance seems like a natural thing for her to do at point.

GIGOT: And what about former President Obama, Dan? He's really gotten out earlier than any recent former president that I can think of. And he's making fairly pronounced shots at the Republican agenda and President Trump's agenda.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes, he is. And I don't believe the Democrats are particularly happy about it.

Look, when they were running for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, both Tom Perez and Keith Ellison said in public forums that they thought the Obama presidency had sucked too many resources towards that presidency and starved the Democratic grassroots, and that had to change. But consider Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are media superstars, and it is unlikely that CNN or MSNBC are going to start interviewing second-level Democrats when they can interview these two superstars. They are siphoning the oxygen out of the political air for young Democrats. If I were a Republican, I'd be cheering them on.

GIGOT: Let me push back against that a little bit, Joe, in this sense. The 2018 election is going to be, in large part, about mobilization and energy. Are Republicans fired up enough to deter Democrats who are going to be fired up? So is Obama and Clinton coming out now to mobilize Democrats against Republicans maybe doesn't hurt the party, on Dan's point. It could in 2020 if they basically dwarf anybody else and make it difficult for anybody else to emerge.

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Yeah, I think that could be part of it. I mean, Hillary Clinton and Obama, I think, are different. I mean, Hillary spent a billion dollars to lose to a reality TV star. So for all the disorder that we're seeing in Washington today, I think she should probably maybe reflect a little bit more on what just happened.

RILEY: About Obama, however, he continues to be personally popular. I mean, he left office pushing a 60 percent approval rating. The problem he's had, though, is transferring that popularity to his party. And we saw what happened in the off-year elections when he was president. That's what he'll be out there trying to do right now. Historically, it hasn't been very successful. So I can understand why they might want to go that route. But historically, it has not been -- gotten them where they want to be.

O'GRADY: A politician with the popularity that Barack Obama had has to be willing to groom successors. And it seems like he's not really willing to do that. He likes being in the limelight. I think, as Dan says, that is going to suck oxygen out of room for many years to come.

GIGOT: Does Hillary Clinton want to run for president again? Is that what this is about, setting up the machinery to be able to do it?

O'GRADY: I don't think so. And not that she doesn't want to run, but I think that she, at some point, will have a reality check and realize that she cannot go through that again, she cannot put party through that again. And I don't think the party would let her do that again.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you, Mary.

Still ahead, a raucous reception for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at a historically black college in Florida. So what's behind the hostility? And is it misplaced?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: -- celebrate the Bethune-Cookman University class of 2017.

(BOOING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Betsy DeVos faced a hostile reception at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach this week. Students at the historically black university booed the education secretary, some even turned their backs as she delivered a 20-minute commencement address there on Wednesday. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEVOS: It's a real honor and privilege to be with you as we celebrate the Bethune-Cookman University class of 2017.

(BOOING)

DR. EDISON O. JACKSON, PRESIDENT, BETHUNE-COOKMAN UNIVERSITY: If this behavior continues --

(SHOUTING)

JACKSON: -- your degrees will be mailed to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Jason, what's behind this hostility? She was invited, after all.

RILEY: I think you have a couple things going on. One is what's going on, on college campuses, all over the country. You also have a long tradition in this country of college graduates protesting speakers, turning their backs and so forth. And that's all been on steroids in this Trump era. She was a stand-in for the Trump administration, which is very unpopular on college campuses. And I think that's what we saw a reaction to.

It's particularly unsettling in her case, however, because if there is one member of the administration who, in a previous life, had done a lot more for black Americans, particularly in offering educational choices to them, in working to get low-income blacks better access to better schools, it is Betsy DeVos. And it's a shame she was not allowed to explain her vision for bringing educational opportunities to low income black families.

GIGOT: And explain what she did. She worked for something called Americans for --

RILEY: School -- I'm blanking on the exact name of her organization.

GIGOT: Educational Freedom or something like that.

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: But Betsy DeVos spent a lot of money pushing for school choice.

GIGOT: Right.

RILEY: Which is very popular in the black community. You won't hear that from the --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Charter schools, charter schools.

RILEY: Vouchers, charter schools, home schooling, you name it. She wants better educational options. And she's pushing for the types of schools that are, in fact, closing the achievement gap. So she really did deserve to be heard on this subject, and it's a shame she wasn't able to.

GIGOT: Kudos, though, to the president at Bethune-Cookman for standing up and saying, look, let's tone it down or we're going to call this whole thing off.

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Well, I thought that was fantastic. And I wondered when I was listening to those students, you know, what they had learned in the four years when they were at that school because, obviously, tolerance was not one of the items on the agenda.

By the way, Betsy DeVos' organization was the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

And I agree with Jason, she has done an enormous amount and particularly, which is the most important thing in this country, K-12. She's worked in the K-12. And some people said that these students were complaining because there's a threat of university education being cut. If we don't fix the K-12 education in this country, you can forget about the, you know, the opportunities underprivileged people will have in universities.

GIGOT: Dan, if I had to -- when I was in college, if I had to turn my back and boo everybody I disagreed with who was on stage, I mean, I would have flunked out freshman year, because that was most of the people who came and talked, including most of the professors.

HENNINGER: Yeah, well, that's for sure. But times have changed. And, you know, there was a very specific, discreet incident which caused this, which was a signing statement that Donald Trump issued last Friday on the budget, had about 11 paragraphs in it. In the final paragraph, there was something a lot of people interpreted to say he was going to withhold $20 million from the historically black colleges. This became a firestorm on black social media. It was fed into those students, and they reacted to it. And this is why White House staff really flyspeck everything that a president puts his name to. This wasn't justified, but there was this issue behind it that drove this kind of reaction.

GIGOT: What should Betsy DeVos do going forward to make her case, Jason?

RILEY: I think that Betsy DeVos should continue to back those state and local efforts to spread school choice across this country. You know, the federal government only plays a limited role in education. They only make up around 10 percent of funding. Most of the action is at the state and local levels. And what school reformers at that level need is to know that Washington has their back --

GIGOT: So --

RILEY: -- and can use her platform to talk about this.

GIGOT: So don't back down?

RILEY: Oh, no.

GIGOT: Just accelerate and take --

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: And I don't think she will. Because she's been in the trenches on these fights for many, many years. And I think she would have been willing to explain that to those students if they had been willing to listen.

GIGOT: All right, thank you all very much.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits & Misses" of the week.

Jason, start us off.

RILEY: Paul, on Thursday, New Orleans removed a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. I have no problem with the city doing that. But I do wonder about the priorities of the liberal activists who place so much time and energy into these gestures. New Orleans is a place where the murder rate last year was the highest it's been since 2012. The black/white student achievement gap has been widening in recent years. Last year, black unemployment in Louisiana was double digits. A statue of Jefferson Davis coming down is not going to solve any of those problems, so I'm kind of wondering why they're so focused on things like this.

GIGOT: Jason, thank you.

Joe?

RAGO: Paul, a miss this week to the Department of Homeland Security, which is probably going to expand its laptop ban to flights from Europe as well as the Middle East. If the risk is that a laptop can be used to conceal a bomb or detonate a bomb, that would be good to know. But if in that case, it should apply to flights from Asia and domestic flights. This is a miss for security theater over government candor.

GIGOT: Get ready to check your laptop.

Mary?

O'GRADY: Paul, this is a miss for Senator Marco Rubio, who visited the Colombian embassy in Washington for dinner last week, and the next day, threw his support behind an amnesty deal in Colombia for the terrorist group FARC, who are also getting, by the way, as part of that deal, unelected seats in Congress. He said that the crimes that they committed should not go unpunished, but amnesty for the terrorists is the centerpiece of the deal. And now they're asking, Colombia's asking for $450 million, and Senator Rubio seems to want to give it to them.

GIGOT: All right.

Dan?

HENNINGER: Well, my miss goes to New York City, Paul, where if this summer you have people blasting a party into your neighborhood at four a.m., you can just forget about calling the cops. Under a new NYPD directive, the cops can only enter a party if the host invites them in. Now, this is apparently the result of the city getting sued constantly by partiers who objected to the cops coming into their parties. Now the only way they can come in is if host invites them in. Welcome to fun city.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: All right.

And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us, @JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel. Thanks to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. We hope to see you right here next week.

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