TRANSCRIPT

Trump revives US-Saudi alliance, sends message to Iran

Cliff May discusses the president's Middle East reset

 

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 27, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The recent attack on Manchester in the United Kingdom demonstrates the depths of the evil we face with terrorism.

All people who cherish life must unite in finding, exposing, and removing these killers and extremists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

That was President Trump in Brussels on Thursday addressing fellow NATO leaders and calling for a united front in fighting terrorism following this week's deadly bombing at a concert in Manchester, England. The Islamic State took credit for that attack carried out by a 22-year-old British-born Muslim who recently returned from a three-week trip to Libya and may have had ISIS training.

The assault came just one day after President Trump addressed Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, urging them to drive out the terrorists and extremists in their midst.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your Holy Land. And drive them out of this earth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Mary Kissel; and columnist, Bill McGurn.

So, Bill, let's take a look at the whole trip. What do you think? Success or not, this first excursion abroad?

BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: I think he's been largely successful in getting his message across. You know, the first part was the Middle East along with Rome, trying to get the three big religions on the same page on terrorism, an aggressive message. Now, the greatest gift to Donald Trump is Barack Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: Especially in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

MCGURN: Eight years without American leadership. He was there basically to say American leadership is back.

And, look, I think the cities are -- have changed, too. They recognize this threat against themselves. They're in a much different place than they were in --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: When you say the Sunnis, you mean the Sunni-Arab nations, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the gulf states.

MCGURN: But there was just an attack on Coptic Christians and so forth. They understand that they're not going to have a future unless they arrest this extremism and terrorism on their home soil.

GIGOT: Mary, one of the big themes that the president offered for the Sunni-Arabs was, look, you need to take on the radicals in your midst yourselves. OK? We can't just do it. You have to root them out. That's not a message that I don't think any previous president has addressed that directly to Arab leaders.

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, that's because the last president thought that terrorism was a war that needed to be resolved in the Muslim world, and Americans were simply collateral damage in that war. He didn't want to take a leading role. I think President Trump is doing well in sending that message that they need to be involved.

But he also made the point in Saudi Arabia, Paul, that more than 95 percent of the victims of terrorism are Muslims themselves. And that's why they have an interest here. And, look, these nations know it. Saudi Arabia's fighting a war on its southern front in Yemen, fighting the Iran-backed Houthi militia. You have moderate nations like, for example, Israel, who are threatened to their north by what's going on in Syria. The nations of Europe understand this as well. They're dealing with refugees. So it's time to have this message come across.

GIGOT: Go ahead, Dan.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: You know, look, the press after this trip is making the point that when Donald Trump went to Brussels and NATO, that he didn't make a full-throated commitment to NATO and Article V. First --

GIGOT: Which is what?

HENNINGER: Which is an attack on one is an attack on all.

GIGOT: OK.

HENNINGER: As though the United States and Europe were now threatened by the Soviet Union coming through the gap in Germany.

(LAUGHTER)

No. The western world is threatened by Islamic State. Donald Trump made a campaign promise to get rid of the Islamic State. This trip was the beginning of assembling a strategy to do exactly that. First, he goes to Saudi Arabia, gets a commitment from the Saudis to create an Arab coalition to fight the Saudis (sic). We are going to work with Israel to that.

GIGOT: To fight Islamic State.

HENNINGER: To fight Islamic State, I'm sorry. Then he goes to Brussels, and the secretary-general of NATO, Jan Stoltenberg, says we are now formally joining this coalition to fight Islamic State. This is done in the midst of the attack in Manchester. So I think it was a very successful trip. He's beginning to build a coalition to do exactly what the point of it was.

GIGOT: What about the charge, and we've heard the criticism, that in tilting, going to Saudi Arabia and so overtly aligning with them, he's tilting too far to the Sunni-Arabs, and that ignores the Shiite -- the Persians and the Shiites in Iran, in particular, and that that's a strategic mistake.

HENNINGER: Once again -

(LAUGHTER)

-- let's roll the clock back 40 years, and if Iran were just sitting there pumping oil, whether it was under --

(LAUGHTER)

-- you know, the ayatollahs or under the shah, this would not -- that would be an issue. But Iran is now a centrifugal force trying to project itself and subsidizing terrorists in the rest of the Middle East. That's the Shiite problem.

MCGURN: Iran is a thousands-year-old culture, a real nation with all this projection of power and surrogates and proxies.

Look, I think that the president -- it's welcome that the Sunni-Arabs now say we want America's leadership in the region. They haven't had it. And I think it was welcomed to go to NATO and shake them up. They don't pay their fair share, and they have been a little lax on terrorism. You know, General Keane was on FOX the other day --

GIGOT: Jack Keane.

MCGURN: -- and calling them feckless. I think he said 32 attacks in eight NATO countries, yet they won't commit ground troops to going after the centers of ISIS and so forth.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Go ahead, Mary.

KISSEL: It was also nice to see a little bit more discipline out of the president, too. He wasn't on his Twitter account. We didn't see scandals there. He was reading from the teleprompter. The message was clear, and I think it was consistent during the trip.

GIGOT: But did he miss an opportunity to just say flat-out, look, I endorse Article V? His colleagues -- his aides were setting that up early. The Europeans were saying they were disappointed he didn't say that overtly, given the fact in the campaign he'd said NATO was obsolete. He's worked that back, no question. But did he miss an opportunity?

KISSEL: What matters? Do words matter or do actions matter?

GIGOT: Well, words matter.

KISSEL: The president was there for the commemoration ceremony. He talked about the threat from Russia, which is why the NATO allies are worried, besides from terrorism. He is taking a leadership role. He dropped a bomb in Syria that Obama didn't do, couldn't do for years. He's taking action. So if they're worried about, you know, the rhetoric. I think they're worried about the wrong thing.

GIGOT: Well, but, I mean, you do need to send a strong signal rhetorically to the Russians, it seems to me, don't go over that line.

KISSEL: Well, he hasn't eased sanctions. He's talked about the Ukraine incursions. I'd say that's a pretty good signal.

GIGOT: All right, thank you very much.

President Trump adopting an aggressive approach on his first trip abroad, reviving old alliances in the Middle East and sending a message to Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Iran's leaders routinely call for Israel's destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror. It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: President Trump in Riyadh singling out Iran in his address to Arab leaders. That speech in Saudi Arabia kicked off the president's first foreign trip which culminated this weekend at the G-7 summit in Sicily.

Cliff May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He joins me now from Washington.

Cliff, welcome back. Good to see you.

CLIFF MAY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, THE FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Good to see you.

GIGOT: So in the NATO -- I want to ask, first, about this NATO address where the leaders are all standing there, and the president really gets pretty blunt about saying you need to spend more money on defense. I don't think some of them liked it. I'm just reading from the body language and some of their comments later. What do you think of that challenge to those leaders?

MAY: I think it's a necessary challenge. They need to spend more. They also need to do more. Too many of our NATO allies do not have sufficient capabilities. Too many of the generals love hanging out in the more than billion dollar NATO center drinking espresso.

(LAUGHTER)

But they don't expect ever to see combat in their entire lives. Combat is so 19th century to them. We have real challenges and real threats, and NATO will become obsolete. I don't think it is, but will become obsolete if NATO doesn't face those challenges, and particularly the challenges represented by jihadism and Islamism, both in its Shia or Iranian form and its Sunni form.

GIGOT: So you think it actually is an improvement that NATO's now announced it's going to join the coalition against Islamic State? That's clearly a response to Trump.

MAY: That is a response to Trump. Look, I think the -- it's clear that the European leaders were not pleased by Trump. They don't like him particularly.

GIGOT: Right.

MAY: They see him as gauche. I think his job was to send them a very clear message that they can't be "free riders" -- and that's also a word Obama used. They can't simply use NATO to be protected by the U.S. while they disrespect the U.S. They have to participate in mutual self-defense or it's not really a mutual self-defense alliance.

GIGOT: Do you think the press is making too much of this failure of the president to address specifically Article V, which was invoked once in NATO history. After 9/11, the NATO allies said after the attack on 9/11 this, they triggered Article V, and they joined us in the alliance to fight Afghanistan the Taliban. Do you think Trump should have stated more explicitly, look, I endorse that?

MAY: I think that would have been a reasonable thing to consider, but having said that, keep in mind he did mention Article V --

GIGOT: Yes, he did.

MAY: -- and he praised Article V. That sends a pretty good signal that he hasn't deviated from Article V or nullified Article V. He still holds by it. But he didn't emphasize it as much as one might. But he also said -- and I think this is part of the carrots and stick approach -- you want me to be strong on protecting you, help me protect the free world, don't make it my job alone.

GIGOT: Let's talk about the Middle East and especially that visit to Saudi Arabia where the president really, I think, took the biggest change of direction from President Obama in trying to revive the traditional alliance with the Sunni-Arabs. Yet, he's getting some criticism on that from some people who say, look, he was too hostile to Iran. What do you think the president was up to there, and how do you see this, how do you see this moving ahead with his policy in the Middle East?

MAY: First of all, he's being very clear that he intends to be the corrective for the policy of appeasement that President Obama undertook.

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Towards Iran.

MAY: Towards Iran. A total policy of appeasement towards Iran. Iran, the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world, according to our government, is getting a patient pathway to nuclear weapons and billions of dollars that it does and can use for military purposes, for intercontinental ballistic missiles, and to support terrorism. He's making it clear that he doesn't accept that, that appeasement is now off the table.

I think we've been talking a lot about the words, there's also symbolism, deep symbolism that I think was very effective when he has the leaders, or rulers to be more precise --

(LAUGHTER)

-- dozens of Sunni nations lined up behind him. That sends an important, symbolic message. When he flies, first president ever to do so, from Saudi Arabia to Israel, that sends a message. When he also, on the same trip, visits the Vatican, that sends an important message. And I think you have to give credit for these things. I think if this were a normal presidency, I think more journalists would.

GIGOT: All right. What do you think about the arms sales to the Saudis? We're selling a lot of arms. And do you worry that that could potentially be a threat to Israeli security?

MAY: I do worry about that. The Israelis have been promised by the U.S. that they will maintain a qualitative military edge, and it's important that they do. I think the Israelis worry about it, but they're also not protesting it because they do know that the Saudis are very much on the front lines, that the Islamic Republic of Iran represents an existential threat not just to Israel, but also to the Saudis and the gulf -- and most of the gulf Sunni states. And, in fact, it's a more imminent threat represented by Iran. So they understand why the Saudis are going to have that. Israel needs to stay ahead of the game. This is a tricky maneuver. Everybody's walking on a tight rope. But at the end of the day, I think it is necessary.

And by the way, from a Trumpian perspective, selling lots of arms to the Saudis so they can help defend themselves, we don't have to defend them entirely. That's will be helping a lot. That's a good thing. And perhaps a lot of jobs coming out of these sales as well.

GIGOT: Well, and moving towards a policy, it sounds to me like containment against Iran's regional ambitions even if he doesn't withdraw from the nuclear pact. Briefly, Cliff.

MAY: Containment for now, but I think we know that the Trump administration is working on a coherent, comprehensive strategy towards Iran. Doesn't have one yet, needs to have one, and it gets that.

GIGOT: Thank you, Cliff May. Appreciate your coming.

When we come back, the Senate faces new hurdles in its effort to repeal and replace Obamacare after the Congressional Budget Office released its report on the House version of the bill. How to read those health care predictions, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: A much-anticipated report by the Congressional Budget Office was released this week outlining costs and coverage predictions for the House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. The CBO forecasting that the plan will cut taxes by $992 billion, cut spending by $1.1 trillion, and the deficit by $119 billion over 10 years. But also estimating that 23 million fewer people would be insured by 2026. That headline raising the stakes for GOP Senators working on their own version of the legislation that passed the House earlier this month.

We're back with Dan Henninger. Wall Street Journal Columnist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow, Jason Riley; and editorial board member, Joe Rago.

So, Joe, how much stock should we put in these CBO estimates?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: What we should do is take these as an educated guess about what the future might hold but not treat them as some kind of holy writ carved in stone tablets. The CBO has a track record of overestimating the effects of government-directed policies, underestimating the effects of market-based policies. So it's one opinion, and take it with a grain of salt.

GIGOT: But do other people think there'll be fewer people who will lose their insurance down the road here?

RAGO: Certainly, there may be some kind of erosion in coverage, whether it's in absolute numbers working off an imperfect CBO baseline, maybe different types of insurance that the Congressional Budget Office doesn't considered adequate. But certainly, if you get a richer, more liquid market with more choices, more competition, you're likely to get a healthier market over time.

GIGOT: Jason, the politics of this, what damage does it do?

JASON RILEY, COLUMNIST & SENIOR FELLOW, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: That's the problem. I think Joe's absolutely right, but the GOP still has a political problem with this number being out there and bandied about by Democrats. It's going to impact how the Senate tries to put together their version of this bill. You already see certain Senators coming out citing this number, saying we have to come in under it, whether it's Orrin Hatch in Utah, Susan Collins in Maine, Dean Heller in Nevada, who's very vulnerable next year.

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: They are worried about this number. So it does present a big political problem.

HENNINGER: Well, look, I mean, Donald Trump is getting more political sport from leaders in the Middle East than he is from Senate Republicans, which is kind of pathetic commentary on the Republican Party right now. But they cannot be intimidated by this CBO report. The CBO is described as this nonpartisan, disinterested body, just the facts, ma'am. But the idea of the health bill, in great part, is to put money back in the hands of the states, allow governors and legislators to decide how they going to --

GIGOT: Particularly with Medicaid.

HENNINGER: Particularly with Medicaid. The CBO says they think one-third of the states will alter Obamacare based on it. How do they know that? That is a political judgment. That is not based on any facts or data. So this is in great part a political document.

RILEY: I think, however, Paul, that the strategy of the Republicans should be to talk about the effects of Obamacare in the real world right now. There's been -- the -- Obamacare is failing, we see the evidence of it week after week after week, whether it's insurers pulling out of exchanges or making plans to pull out of exchanges, like Kansas City, Blue Cross Blue Shield did recently, talk about the real-world effects that the status quo is not an option. This cannot -- this is not sustainable. Instead however, though, and this is why I think for Democrats it was a good week, all the focus has been on that number. And Republicans have been playing defense all week. They need to go on the offense here.

GIGOT: Joe, our friends on the left are blaming Trump and the Republicans for what's happening, for the decline in the Obamacare exchanges. That doesn't really add up.

RAGO: No. I mean, look, this process started in 2015, 2016. You started to see the insurers start to withdraw, you started to see premiums really start to spike. So unless you have a time machine going back to before Trump was elected, what you're seeing is an acceleration of an already- existing trend.

GIGOT: And that was something that a lot of critics predicted would happen.

RAGO: Right. Except for the Congressional Budget Office.

GIGOT: Except for -- which way overestimated by millions of people how many people would now be covered by Obamacare. What is it? I think they said 15, 16 million would be covered on the exchange?

RAGO: Right. Under their original prediction, it was 23, 25 million for this year. We're actually looking at nine.

GIGOT: Wow.

RAGO: So just a huge overestimate.

On the politics, Republicans have to decide whether they want to defend an achievement that will fix some of these problems in the market or apologize for a failure. I think that's a pretty clear political decision.

GIGOT: And that achievement would be actually passing a bill and then saying, look, here's what we did to fix this problem, and then defend it going into the election rather than saying, oh, well, we failed, let's all go home, sorry.

RAGO: Right. We had this great opportunity and we wasted it on in- fighting and Congressional Budget Office scores.

GIGOT: All right. Thanks to you all.

Still ahead, the White House unveils its 2018 budget, but critics say its economic forecast is far too optimistic. So is 3 percent growth really within reach?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: The foundation for the plan is 3 percent growth. In fact, that is Trumponomics. People ask me you're the budget director, what do you think about Trumponomics. Trumponomics is whatever can get us to 3 percent growth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIGOT: White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney this week unveiling the Trump administration's budget for 2018. The $4.1 trillion plan seeks to eliminate the deficit in 10 years while avoiding cuts to Medicare and Social Security. All this based on the premise that the U.S. economy will reach 3 percent growth by 2021. So is that a realistic goal?

Let's ask economist, Douglas Holtz-Eakin. He's the president of the American Action Forum and former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Welcome, Doug. Good to see you.

DOUG HOLTZ-EAKIN, ECONOMIST & PRESIDENT AMERICAN ACTON FORUM & FORMER DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE: Thanks for having me.

GIGOT: So let's deal first with the 3 percent growth issue. Jason Furman, former White House economist under President Obama, wrote for us this week that you just can't really get there for any extended period anymore because population growth is too slow, and there are too many structural barriers. What do you think of that?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I don't agree with that. I mean, a lot of the structural barriers were erected by Jason Furman and the president he served, Barack Obama. So if you got serious about tax reform, if you got serious about regulatory reform, if you had a sensible, targeted national infrastructure program that enhanced national connectivity with economic performance, and if you took off the table the potential that the U.S. itself would have a sovereign debt crisis by getting the budget back to balance as they promise, you could get the 3 percent growth. That's certainly within the reasonable bounds. 4 or 5? No. But 3 is a sensible number.

GIGOT: Well, but we had 4 percent growth over an extended period of years in the Reagan years in the 1980s and the late 1990s. Why can't that happen again? Is that just because the population growth isn't going to be as great?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Right. It's the population. I mean, the building blocks of growth are simple. You've got workers and productivity. And the growth in workers is slower now because of the demographics. And this is all about getting productivity growth back to where it should be. It's declined precipitously. And to do that, you need some ability to start businesses. We've seen business start-ups decline recently.

GIGOT: Right.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: You need capital investment in new technologies. There are lots of pieces that we know go into better productivity growth, and we haven't done those for a number of years.

GIGOT: Well, and if you look at Trumponomics, which Mulvaney mentioned, I mean, deregulation, that reduces the barriers to capital investment and business confidence. Then you have tax reform, if it's done right -- and that's a big if -

(LAUGHTER)

HOLTZ-EAKIN: A big if.

GIGOT: But if it's done right, you're going to reduce the taxation on corporate income and small business income, and then you -- that's going to help investment. And those things both would drive greater business and worker productivity.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Sure. I mean, if you took, for example, the House-proposed tax reform, that's a plan that taken as a whole would incentivize firms to invest, innovate and grow in America as opposed to elsewhere. You'd get a one-time pop from a lot of money coming back to the U.S., you'd get sustained better investment, better allocation of capitol. You let markets do it, not the tax code. All that can give you a half a percentage point, if you do that.

Now, as you said, it's a big if. But remember, the president's budget is what will happen if the president gets everything he wants the way he wants it. So every president's budget is at some level an elaborate fantasy, but it tells you what the outer bounds are on the policy. That's what they're trying to stake out policy.

GIGOT: All right, let's talk about the budget, some of the specifics in it. What's your biggest disappointment in the budget? I'll tell you mine. It's that there's no touching Medicare or Social Security, which takes a huge chunk off the table for any kind of fixes.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: You've got it exactly right. That has to happen. We have Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, those programs are driving the ever-rising spending that fuels the red ink. If you take those two off the table, you can't really make sensible adjustments to the rest of the budget that add up. And you see that in the fact that they don't really have the out-year defense money that they need --

GIGOT: Right.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: -- made room for it, and they don't have a sensible strategy on cutting non-defense discretionary program. There's some massive cuts in places like National Institutes of Health, but they need that in the budget. That's the problem.

GIGOT: So what do you like about the budget? Is there anything you really think is useful that's in there that's much needed?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: There is a Medicaid reform. We're going to have to reform all of our entitlement programs. And critics don't like this one, but they are missing the point. There has to be one. So if you don't like this one, propose another one that you like better, but don't take Medicaid reform off the table. They're doing that, they're aiming for better growth, I think those are two big pluses in this budget.

GIGOT: And the Medicaid budget, the big reform is sending the program back to the states in the sense that you take more responsibility for it, and if you have more stake in the game, the states, then reform it. And we've seen that in a lot of states. You know because you were watching that program.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Sure.

GIGOT: A lot of states have done some very good things, Democrat and Republican governors, that get that program on a better footing and don't hurt the poor.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Yeah. I mean, there's no substitute for putting something on a budget. Once something's on a budget, and this puts it -- gives it to the states and says, here's the money, they have every incentive to use that money more wisely. It's a way better than an open-ended draw on the Treasury. And when we've done it in the past and given the states the flexibility, and look at Indiana and Wisconsin, they have managed to cover those populations, get better health care, and not spend as much money. That's the key.

GIGOT: All right. General economic question here at the end. Why is the stock market doing so well here if there's so much uncertainty still in Washington about the Trump policies?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think the number one thing is the fact that the regulatory freezes really worked. Obama was cruising along at $3.2 billion a week in new regulatory costs, and now it's zero.

GIGOT: Wow.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: People notice that. If you're running a business, the beatings have stopped and people are happy.

(LAUGHTER)

GIGOT: You think that, and if you got tax reform, it'd be even better?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Yeah. I think the promise of tax reform is keeping people's hopes up. I sincerely hope the president and Congress deliver. It's something this country needs.

GIGOT: Thank you very much, Doug.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: Thank you.

GIGOT: Still ahead, President Trump wraps up his first foreign trip and returns to the Washington maelstrom. A look at where the Russia probe heads next, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: President Trump returns to Washington this weekend, and the ongoing controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. Even in his absence, the drip, drip of stories continued with former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, taking the Fifth on Monday and refusing to comply with a Senate committee's subpoena for documents. In his testimony Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats refused to comment on reports that President Trump asked him to publicly deny allegations of collusion between his campaign and Russia. And the president himself has reportedly retained the services of New York attorney, Mark Kasowitz, to help him navigate the probe.

We're back with Dan Henninger, Mary Kissel and Bill McGurn.

One other detail, Mary, I want to ask you about. The report is Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, White House aide, is now a person of interest as the investigators want to ask him about meetings he had with Russian officials. What do you make of that?

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: OK. That's interesting, but it's just part of this big what I think is becoming a blur to the American people of, you know, illusions and insinuations. Paul, the only thing that we know for sure that was a criminal act was the leak of classified information to the media. We know that for sure. Then let the special counsel go and figure out the facts of what's happened with other people.

Personally, I find far more interesting a "Washington Post" story that came out this week that said that James Comey may have acted, gone to the public with his findings about the Clinton e-mail investigation based on a Russian document that might have been planted by Russian intelligence sources. Now, why was --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: This was last summer.

KISSEL: Yep. And why was this document interesting? Because it claimed that somehow Loretta Lynch had talked to the Clinton campaign and said, don't worry about that e-mail server, we're not going to investigate that. And then as "The Washington Post" reported, Comey may have acted on that information. If that's true, that means the Russians duped the FBI and DOJ, maybe not the Trump campaign.

GIGOT: Which is entirely possible, that that happened, although we haven't seen that document.

KISSEL: No, we haven't.

GIGOT: So we don't know what it is, Bill, we don't know -- you know, there's so much of this, it's all kind of murky.

BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Right.

GIGOT: And I want to ask you has this probe now gotten any sharper focus in your mind, any more clarity about what it is that we're actually learning?

MCGURN: Well, that's a good question because I think the purpose is not to have clarity. It's not to --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Well, whose purpose?

MCGURN: Well, I think Democrats and the people that are pushing this, they don't want to reach a conclusion and find out what happened. I think what they would like is to create this constant stir around President Trump and hope something sticks and maybe there's an impeachment. Now, he doesn't help when he lobs a tweet or something in there or says something, you know, that he shouldn't say. I mean, I always thought he need an editor, not a lawyer --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: He needs both now.

(LAUGHTER)

MCGURN: A lot of this this is -- you know, I worked in the White House when there was an investigation into Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, and it really is designed to handicap you and freeze you up and change the debate from what you want to talk about to Russia. And we've had DNI, FBI, CIA and no, no conclusion.

GIGOT: On Bill's point that Trump sometimes is his own worst enemy in this thing, the story about Trump having asked Dan Coats and I think General Rogers, is it, the head of the NSA, please go out publicly and vouch for the fact that there was no collusion. You can't do that when you are president, ask those advisers to do that. And his general counsel, Don McGahn, should have been in the room telling him, you can't do that or -- and been in the room when he asked them.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yeah.

GIGOT: And this is the problem with this president, because there's no self-discipline there to try to say, look, I want to try to contain this probe and this damage. Instead, it's I'm innocent, and he blurts things out that only create another week of stories.

HENNINGER: Right. Yeah, normally, a president would be sitting with his advisers in the Oval Office and say, why can't we get directors of National Intelligence to say that there's no collusion. That would be vetted, and there'd be a reason why you can't do it.

This brings up the subject of the fact that Mr. Trump has now hired an outside attorney to handle these investigations who is his personal lawyer. He's a New York corporate lawyer, who's handled New York corporate cases. He is not a lawyer who specializes in these kinds of investigations you have in Washington. I can understand Mr. Trump wanting a lawyer who he personally trusts, but he -- Mr. Kasowitz has got to add some lawyers who are expert in document retrieval, investigation, subpoenas in Washington, or he's going to remain vulnerable.

GIGOT: And he's known, Kasowitz, as a guy who really fights, which you might want. On the other hand, you want to have somebody that cooperates enough. You can't get anywhere in these things stonewalling. That just leads you down a terrible path, Bill.

MCGURN: Yeah. I think, look, a lot of it for President Trump is just don't feed the beast. Don't throw something into the mix that -- you know, gasoline onto the fire that gives them more reason to scream and holler. And try to work with these guys to get conclusions. Let's look into these things and let's reach a conclusion about what happened and what didn't happen.

KISSEL: Well, I think the other takeaway here was just the incredibly poor judgment that Trump showed in hiring General Michael Flynn. This is a guy who was paid by a Turkish group during the campaign. He registered later as a foreign agent. We know that, somehow, he misled the vice president, and now we're learning that he maybe didn't disclose everything that he should have disclosed when he was getting his security clearance renewed. So Trump came out and defended him. I think, at this point, you start to distance yourself from a guy like that, but Trump just can't seem to do that.

GIGOT: The question is, some people have suggested that maybe he, you know, Trump is worried that Flynn might be able to implicate Trump in something. I'm not saying he has any evidence. I'm just saying that's the scuttlebutt.

HENNINGER: Evidence is the right word. I don't disagree with Mary, but let's look at what has been going on in this investigation for months. Everything is based on hearsay and insinuation. A thing that any prosecutor would say to a detective, give me something I can take into court, and they have not done that to this point.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you all very much.

When we come back, state legislatures struggling for years with just how much they can or should consider race when redrawing political districts, so did this week's Supreme Court decision clear that question up or create more confusion?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GIGOT: The Supreme Court weighing in this week on a closely watched voting rights case. In a 5-3 decision, the justices ruled that the Republican- controlled legislature in North Carolina improperly used race in redrawing the lines for two congressional districts resulting in boundaries that disadvantaged black voters.

"Wall Street Journal" editorial board member, Collin Levy, joins us with more.

Collin, what's the big takeaway from this decision?

COLLIN LEVY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think the big takeaway, Paul, is that the Supreme Court has made things more complicated. You know, for years basically we've been telling state legislatures they have to use the 1965 Voting Rights Act when drawing districts. They have to take some race into account to make sure that minority voters are able to elect a candidate of their choice. And what the Supreme Court basically said this week was, OK, you do have to take the Voting Rights Act into account, but you actually can't use that as a defense because, if you put too many minority voters into a district, that's impermissible concentration and violates equal protection. So this has actually gotten more confusing, I think, for states, not less.

GIGOT: Where do they draw the line between not enough and too much?

LEVY: Right, exactly. That's sort of what people call the Goldilocks problem here. In this case, this was a matter of moving just a few percentage points of minority voters into some of these districts. And, you know, Republicans there, who control the state legislature, said they were doing this because they wanted to sort of increase Republican chances in surrounding districts. And, you know, what happens here, what's so difficult is that because about 90 percent of the African-American community votes Democrat, moving black voters often means moving Democrats. So it gets a little muddy.

GIGOT: Well, and that's right. I mean, they have -- there's no question that Republicans have used redistricting to pack some districts with more black voters --

(CROSSTALK)

JASON RILEY, COLUMNIST & SENIOR FELLOW, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE: Which is legal.

GIGOT: They're commanded to, in some --

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: As Collin was saying, because here race can be a proxy for your political views, because of the high percentages that blacks vote Republican -- for Democrats, they find themselves in uncharted waters here. The Supreme Court has given them no guidance. They use the same language when it comes to affirmative action in higher education. They tell schools race can be a factor but not the determinant factor. Now you go figure it out.

(LAUGHTER)

And it's -- but, you know, Clarence Thomas --

GIGOT: That's what I wanted to can about.

RILEY: Yeah.

GIGOT: So Clarence Thomas was the fifth vote here.

RILEY: Right. Right.

GIGOT: Now, you'd say Clarence Thomas -- I've looked at his jurisprudence for years -- he abhors the use of race as a -- in redistricting and anything else. He thinks the Constitution is essentially race-neutral.

RILEY: Right. And that's why he voted --

(CROSSTALK)

GIGOT: Why did he vote for the liberals --

(CROSSTALK)

RILEY: Because, again, it's not whether race is a factor or the factor, he says, once you're talking about using race here, he thinks that's just an outdated notion, and that should not be the interpretation. And he's right. The thinking behind this gerrymandering is that we need to segregate voters by race in order for black elected, black figures to be elected. This is nonsense in this world we live in. Under Obama, lots of whites voted for Obama, and he wasn't the first black candidate to receive a lot of white votes. So I think this is just an outdated interpretation of the Voting Rights Act.

GIGOT: But, Collin, is he, is Clarence Thomas with that vote for different reasons empowering the liberal interpretation of the Voting Rights Act?

LEVY: Right. I think that's very interesting because I think what's happening here is the court has now acknowledged that there needs to be strict scrutiny on any use of race. And that's something that, you know, the whole court may consider again if there's another case that ever challenges section two of the Voting Rights Act.

Now, Paul, one of the other interesting things here though is how much this is probably going to increase litigation, you know, on these Voting Rights Act cases.

GIGOT: Right.

LEVY: As Samuel Alito said in his opinion, the danger here is that you actually have a situation where you're taking federal courts and empowering them as political weapons, you know, in these sort of local and state political battles, you know, where the states try to get through the courts what they're unable to get through the political process.

GIGOT: Yeah. Race again will become more of a partisan weapon --

(CROSSTALK)

HENNINGER: Exactly, and that's what's going on here. Political gerrymanders are legal, racial gerrymanders are illegal. And the Democrats have discovered when they can file lawsuits, generally they win. It's a complete act of hypocrisy on their part.

GIGOT: Racial gerrymanders are sometimes illegal. Sometimes, Jason, they're legal.

RILEY: Well, and we look to the courts for some clarity on this. Again, they continue to punt as they've done again in this case.

GIGOT: And as Samuel Alito, in his dissent, pointed this out, too.

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.

Joe, start us off.

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Paul, I think we've all had the impulse to strangle a journalist from time to time, but somehow we manage to resolve our differences civilly. So this is a miss to Greg Gianforte, the Montana Republican who body slammed a reporter for The Guardian ahead of a special congressional election on Thursday. He went on to win, believe it or not, but only by about five or six points in a state with an 11-point Republican advantage. This could be an ominous sign for the Republican majority ahead of the 2018 midterms and certainly an ominous sign for decent behavior in Congress.

GIGOT: All right.

Collin?

LEVY: Paul, we've become sort of accustomed in recent years to mobs on college campuses shutting down conservative speakers the way that Middlebury College did with conservative author, Charles Murray, this spring. But some legislatures have now had enough and they are starting to look at laws that will make sure that college campuses have free speech all over them, not just in designated free-speech zones. Places like Wisconsin and Tennessee are doing it. And some of them are better than others, but I think, you know, it's a sign that these states have finally had enough and it's a step in the right direction. So good for that.

GIGOT: All right.

Jason?

RILEY: Paul, it's a hit for Roger Moore who has died at the age of 89. He was not my favorite James Bond, but he did play the character in one of my favorite Bond movies, "For Your Eyes Only." I also thought he wore the celebrity well. He didn't complain about being typecast or throngs of fans bothering him wherever he went. He seemed to appreciate that there are worse things in life than being rich and famous. In that, he was sort of like the anti-George Clooney.

GIGOT: All right.

Bill?

MCGURN: Paul, I have both a miss and a hit on the same event, the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York coming up. The board of the parade announced that they were designating Oscar Lopez Rivera as a national hero, freedom hero. And that's backed by the speaker of the city council. It's provoked backlash. These people get a hit, the Yankees, the NYPD, Hispanic Society, for pulling out of the parade. Look, the truth is this guy is no different from the people who plotted Manchester, no moral difference, and there'd be no controversy if President Obama hadn't commuted his sentence.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you all.

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

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