This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," June 2, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: Welcome to the 'Journal Editorial Report.' I'm Paul Gigot.
House Oversight Committee Chair Trey Gowdy causing a stir this week when he told Fox's Martha MacCallum that he believes the FBI acted properly when it used an informant to investigate Trump campaign aides.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TREY GOWDY, R—S.C.: It was President Trump himself who said, number one, I didn't collude with Russia, but if anyone connected with my campaign did, I want the FBI to find that out. It looks to me that the FBI was doing what President Trump said I want you to do.
The FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Gowdy's remarks, which came after he and other lawmakers meet with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last week, are seen as many as debunking President Trump's Spygate narrative. But the White House said Wednesday that there's still cause for concern about the FBI's actions leading up to the 2016 election.
Let's bring in "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger, and columnists, Kim Strassel and Bill McGurn.
All right, Kim, what do you make of Gowdy's remarks there and where are we on the probe right now?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Well, the first thing I'd note is that there's a lot of different points when you're talking about the FBI's mishandling of 2016. And while Mr. Gowdy seems to be saying that he thinks this informant or spy is OK, we haven't heard him renounce other areas, like FISA abuse, which we know he's had concerns with.
But I think the bigger point here is, look, Mr. Gowdy has always been clear, he's a former federal prosecutor, he tends to have a lot of difference for the Department of Justice and FBI. He's saying that they acted appropriately, and that the informant was used to investigate Russia, not the campaign. The problem with that, though, Paul, it's belied by their own investigation. The FBI, in 2016, opened a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign. Not in the specific individuals, not into Russia, which would have been a CIA job, they did it in the broader campaign and they said -- we know that for a fact.
GIGOT: Kim, did Gowdy and Nunes, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee, did they see all of the documents they had been seeking or was this, what Gowdy said, a reference to the briefing that they got?
STRASSEL: If you listen to Mr. Gowdy, he seems to make it very clear that he's making the judgment based on what Rod Rosenstein and Christopher Wray said to him. He talked about how important it is they're Trump appointees, loyals. He makes a distinction between them and the crew that came before them. I don't think there's any indication in any way that Mr. Nunes or Mr. Gowdy had seen the vast trove of documents related to this question of this informant-spy.
GIGOT: Bill, the question I would have is, if, in fact, let's say Gowdy is right and the FBI did everything properly, they had more than ample reason to get an informant, why wouldn't you tell the Trump campaign or the candidate? Did they have an obligation to do that?
BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Absolutely. That's why I'm not willing to say they were right. There's so many dots to connect. It's very hard to follow this.
But the main question we don't know is, we don't know what started it all. Devin Nunes saw the electronic communication that was the official start. We have an official start of the investigation at the end of July. But we have these things going on earlier, May and June. We don't know. Why are they fighting so hard to keep Congress from seeing it? If the FBI did everything correctly, why shouldn't they let the committee see it? And why did they hide it from them for so long. The Gang of Eight, Mr. Comey mentioned that he did not tell them about what was going on. The reason we have a Gang of Eight is so that the FBI can tell Congress what's going on in a controlled way.
GIGOT: Gang of Eight, being the most senior congressional --
MCGURN: Senior, right.
GIGOT: -- congressional --
MCGURN: That's why we have Gang of Eight, to deal precisely with very sensitive things.
GIGOT: Dan, what do you make of the fact that they still haven't turned over documents to the Intelligence Committee? If Trey Gowdy is right, why not turn them over?
DAN HENNINGR, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Paul, you end up defaulting to something approaching one worst's suspicions about the behavior of the FBI and the Justice Department. Because, consider, we are talking about events that took place in 2016, possibly early 2016. Here we are in the middle of 2018 and the Justice Department and the FBI are essentially saying, trust us, over this truly mysterious investigation that began possibly with legitimate concern over Russians trying to penetrate an American election. But Russians have tried to do that in Germany and France as well. Why has it been necessary for those institutions to keep this investigation to themselves at this late stage, other than the fact that they are perhaps, indeed, investigating the Trump campaign and possibly the president himself?
GIGOT: Here is an idea, Bill. Why doesn't the president ask his director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, to look into the counterintelligence side of this? Leave aside the criminal stuff. But this started as a counterintelligence probe. The president, I think, has the right to know what intelligence services are doing? Why doesn't he say, Dan Coats, you go do investigation and tell me what really happened?
MCGURN: Exactly. Look, there's a lot of things the president could do. The assumption behind your question is the right one. The most important thing is for the American people to know what happened in 2016 and what role our intelligence agencies played in it. And there's lots of things the president can do like that, to declassify information. What we need is less people being indicted or so forth and to get the story out of what really happened.
GIGOT: Kim, you close out the segment. You had a column this week about Alexander Downer, who was the Australian diplomat who, according to leaked stories, started it off. Why is this important?
STRASSEL: Well, it's important because what we have now discovered and put out there is that Alexander Downer, when he met with Papadopoulos, we had never known how the information was transmitted back to the FBI. It now turns out it was run through U.S. embassy in London. And that means the interdiction here, intersection of the Obama State Department, and that's political element in the story that's new, at least with regard to that event. It brings up the question of whether or not, was this really entirely driven by intelligence agencies talking to each other or was there political pressure exerted for the FBI to act.
GIGOT: More questions still to come on this. This is a long way from being over.
When we come back, the Republican record. President and members of Congress looking to run on their accomplishments in the midterm. So what have they done in last year and a half, and will account for anything in November?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To keep this momentum going, to continue this incredible progress, to keep on winning, you have to vote Republican in November.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We've gotten now through confirmation a record number of judges who will interpret the Constitution as written.
We've passed the largest tax cuts and reform in American history.
Plus, in the tax cuts, what did we get? The individual mandate is out the window.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: President Trump ticking off some of the Republican accomplishments this week in a rally in Tennessee. Polls show the GOP closing the gap when it comes to which party voters will support in the midterm elections. The latest "Real Clear Politics" average showing the Democratic lead shrinking to a little over 3 percent, down from double digits earlier this year. So will the Republican record over the last 18 months be enough to keep control of the House and Senate this November?
We are back with Dan Henninger, and "Wall Street Journal" assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, and editorial page writer, Kate Bachelder Odell.
Kate, you heard Trump give a couple of examples. Give us a list of what you would call the main establishments of this Congress?
KATE BACHEDLER ODELL, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Well, the first one is tax reform, Paul. That was the first in several decades to overhaul the tax code. But there's also a lot of things that haven't gotten as much attention, like a large increase for defense spending that isn't a Reagan- style build-up but a still important reversal of the Obama years. And also just recently, the Congress finished reforms for the Veterans Affairs Agency and a Right to Trial bill on experimental therapies. There are a long list of accomplishments.
GIGOT: Also the individual mandate, I guess. And in that tax reform they also included the Alaska drilling, opening that up over a couple of decades. And how many appellate judges now have been approved? I think it's more than 20, isn't it? It's not just the Supreme Court, but the appellate bench?
ODELL: Right. No, this is also a new record in the Senate, even as Democrats are invoking a cloture vote, or long debate periods on every nominee.
GIGOT: James, let's look on the debit side. What they have they failed to do that they promised?
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSITANTE EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: They have failed to control spending. And not just failed to control it but made the problem much worse. Essentially, over 2018 and 2019, we are going to spend almost $300 billion more than under previous legislation.
GIGOT: But wait a minute. Part of that was the price of more military spending, was it not?
GIGOT: And you're not willing to grant that that had to be done?
FREEMAN: Well, I think when you have --
GIGOT: To get votes in the Senate, I mean?
FREEMAN: I think you have a problem in terms of debt that 75 percent of GDP, having doubled in the last decade, on our way in next decade to 100 percent of GDP, you are getting close to Italy territory. And that amount of debt, this is not a place where want to be. And typically, that much debt I think is not associated with super power status --
GIGOT: Italy --
FREEMAN: -- the military.
GIGOT: Italy is 132 percent of GDP. We have 79 or so.
FREEMAN: I know.
GIGOT: That's a huge difference.
FREEMAN: Ten years from now, though, we will be at 100, unless we change trajectory. I would say, in his defense, President Trump did not promise us huge cuts in spending. Entitlement reform was not part of his pitch. I'm not sure how much you can hold him to that in terms of what he promised in 2016. But as a governing failure that he and the Congress owns, I think controlling spending would be one of them.
GIGOT: Dan, I would be willing to give the Congress a break on that short-term domestic spending that James talks about. But I can't give them a break on Medicaid reform, which failed as part of health care reform. I think that was the big failure. Repealing -- as part -- their failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare, because that's going to stick with them for a long time as Medicaid increases.
HENNINGER: Yes, it will. And the other thing that they failed to make progress on is immigration, the DACA bill, bogged down in partisan battling inside the Congress. And I think, you know, James makes a fair point, spending -- the level of spending is a serious issue with a lot of Republican voters. And what we are talking about here is whether you can connect this record to the November elections. Be that as it may, much of what they have done, we forgot to mention the Congressional Review Act, reversing 18 --
HENNINGER: -- eighteen Obama-era regulations. And I think one of the big issues here is the economy under two terms of Barack Obama and the economy that we now have after a year and a half of President Trump, and it is like opposite sides of the moon. It was a torpid meandering economy then.
And the economy now is -- is basically through the roof.
FREEMAN: We are on the sunnier side of the moon.
This is something where the president has really exceeded his promise on regulation. He promised he was going to knock out two rules for every new one, and he's on a pace of about five to one.
FREEMAN: So reducing the overall costs of regulation.
GIGOT: I think the Congressional Review Act, Kate, has been used one 19 times in history, and 18 of them have been in this Congress.
What else can we expect to see between now and -- and, say, when the campaign begins in earnest in September or October?
ODELL: Well, I think we point into one of the Republicans' biggest vulnerabilities this fall, and that's their failure on health care. Democrats have already decided that they are going to make huge issue out of health care and, hence, every premium increase on the GOP. I think they deserve some of the political heat for that failure, that all of them campaigned on repealing and replacing that law.
GIGOT: Yes, but are they -- is there any chance they can make progress on that, further progress here in the next coming few months?
ODELL: I'm not particularly optimistic, but perhaps they can cancel some of their August recess and use that time valuably.
GIGOT: But you don't think they can get that through the Senate unless they can put -- I guess they have to put together a budget to get that 50- vote threshold, otherwise they have to get Democrats and they are not going to get those Democrats.
ODELL: They won't get those Democrats and they may not get Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski again, and they've lost a seat in Alabama. It's just gotten even tougher.
GIGOT: All right, James, briefly, I'm going to say -- give you credit. You said back when it was double digits, you know, the economy could float this back up and they could get to -- they might be able to hold the House and the Senate. You're looking better.
GIGOT: These days.
FREEMAN: Nothing is assured yet.
FREEMAN: It's now a game.
GIGOT: All right. When we come back, with the North Korean nuclear summit back on track, we will ask General Jack Keane what President Trump should demand from Kim Jong Un before going ahead with the meeting or meetings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We'll be, June 12th, we will be in Singapore. It'll be a beginning. I don't say, and I never said it happens in one meeting. You're talking about years of hostilities, years of problems. Years of really hatred between so many different nations. But I think you'll have a very positive result in the end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: That was President Trump Friday announcing that the June 12th summit with President Kim Jong Un is back on after meetings this week with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a top North Korean official. Those meetings capped off by a visit to the White House Friday where North Korean delegation delivered a letter from Kim Jong-Un to President Trump.
Earlier, I spoke with retired four-star general, Jack Keane, about the expectations for the June 12th meeting.
GIGOT: So we have the report of a letter from Kim Jong-Un to President Trump, apparently saying, I want to have the meeting, but no demands and no concessions. Is that enough to go ahead with a summit?
GEN. JACK KEANE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I think that the letter is in response to President Trump's letter to Kim Jong Un, and he ended his letter when he was terminating the summit saying, get back to me if you want to go forward. That's kind of what this is.
And we shouldn't expect much more than that.
But we have to pay close attention to what Secretary Pompeo is saying. While he says, on the one hand, we've made great progress, on the other hand, he's also saying there's significant challenges and differences. And I think what they are trying to do, as in his words, set the conditions. In other words, resolve differences so we can set up at least the first summit because there's likely to be more than that where there can be some success, where they can at least agree on a framework going forward.
The president is really holding all the cards here, Paul. I mean, he doesn't need the summit as much as the North Koreans need it. And this period we're in right now, although we are getting up close to the summit, he still has significant leverage, and I'm sure he's using leverage to the fullest with his envoys, Pompeo and also Kim Sung, over in North Korea.
GIGOT: It seems to me that if there's just a meet-and-greet summit, that is, if there's really no tangible movement on the North Korean side towards denuclearization, that's a victory for Kim Jong Un, because he would have sat on the stage with the president of the United States and it turned out to be kind of a meet-and-greet. Would you agree with that?
KEANE: I totally agree with that. If that's all there is, then the president at a minimum should delay the summit and apply more pressure to try to get these differences to close a little bit. And if he can't, he's just got to back away. He cannot go in there and just come out with a framework for a peace treaty ending the war and bring back the families from the North and the South and reunite them and agree, in general, that the security of North Korea is paramount to the United States. That would be unsatisfactory solution.
GIGOT: OK. Now there's emerging here a difference on the pace of denuclearization. The United States saying it must be complete, verifiable and irreversible. And the North Koreans suggesting that, well, we want this to be in a phased form, we want to kind of, you do one thing and we will do something. Is that what you see as the biggest gap that has to close?
KEANE: It certainly is. And they want to do this over a period of many years.
KEANE: Certainly, they want outlast Trump's first term because they don't know if he will have a second one. I think the president is right on the mark when he's saying, I want to get this done during my presidency, during my first term, two-plus years is sufficient time to get it done, we can phase it during those two years, I'm not going to pass this problem onto my successor, as it's been passed onto me. And I think that's a reasonable goal to have and we should stick to it.
GIGOT: As we know, we have done twice before, that is the promise of denuclearization, over stages, and both times the North Koreans reneged, stopped, kicked out inspectors. So, I mean, it's a bit of a gamble with the United States, with any president taking their word for it again.
JACK KEANE: I totally agree. The Russians and Chinese are both advising Kim Jong Un to do -- to a phased operation and push it out over many years for the very reason that the North Koreans have taken advantage of us in the past. It's a promise that is not kept. And that's clearly the path that we would be on if we buy into that.
GIGOT: Can the U.S. president put the status of U.S. forces in South Korea on the table to negotiate in return for some promise of denuclearization?
KEANE: Yes, I think he can. That would really unnerve the Japanese quite a bit. But that doesn't mean it would have to be immediate withdrawal or complete withdrawal. That could be done over time. And it doesn't have to be all at once. It could be a gradual withdrawal of those forces.
Listen, if we have a peace treaty and the war has ended and Kim Jong Un is denuclearizing and taking systems, the reason why those troops are there starts to go away. We'd be able to pull those armies away from each other on the DMZ. That's sort of a happy solution, and it's unlikely to get something like that, I believe. But nonetheless, it would delegitimize the presence of 28,000 troops. I think the president has in the back of his mind, not initially, but eventually he would put those troops on the table to get a final completion of denuclearization.
GIGOT: What about security guaranties that the North Koreans are talking about -- have talked about for Kim Jong Un? Is that something that we can really promise Kim? How can we guaranty his continuation in power, particularly if they open up to the world and people see just how destitute the North Korean people are?
KEANE: Well, it is their number-one issue. Economics, prosperity is not their number-one issue. This is the issue. It's the reason they have nuclear weapons and it's the reason why they are nuclear -- they are weaponizing ICBM's, because they want to hold the American people at risk to guarantee the preservation of the regime. We will never get a deal with them even on the best of circumstances unless we are able to convince them that we are providing a grantor of their indefinite security. Kim is a young man and he's clearly got that in mind as he looks to decades ahead. He wants that regime to be secure.
GIGOT: All right, thank you, General. Appreciate you being here.
KEANE: Good talking to you, Paul.
GIGOT: Still ahead, the Trump administration pushes ahead with a plan to impose steep steel and aluminum tariffs on some key allies. How Mexico, Canada and Europe are responding and what it could mean to the American economy, next.
GIGOT: In a move that stoking fear of an escalating trade war, the Trump administration announced Thursday that it is moving ahead with a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imported from the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The president first announced the tariffs in March but granted exemptions to some major trading partners while the U.S. continued negotiations. Those exemptions expired on Friday. The renewed trade tensions come amid some good news, with the U.S. economy adding 223,000 jobs in May bringing the unemployment rate down to 18-year low of 3.8 percent.
We are back with Bill McGurn and James Freeman, and "Wall Street Journal" editorial board member, Mary Kissel, in London.
So, Mary, you're over there. What's the reaction been from our allies, and they are allies, in Europe, Canada and Mexico to this unilateral trade action?
MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, I think it's what you would expect, Paul, it's complete disbelief that the United States would punish such close and important trading partners. And I think the individual country reactions are what you would expect. The Germans were pragmatic, and the British were measured, and the French were disdainful.
And E.U. announced that they would take immediate counter action. Look, the E.U. supplies about 17 percent of steel imports to the United States. A lot of it is high-end, going into cars in Detroit. They say they will take counter action, and you have to believe that they will put their money where their mouth is. They will file a WTO case also.
GIGOT: So, Mary, one question. Is Canada a national security threat? Do you see the invasion from Mexico coming any time soon?
How can you justify that imports from those countries are really a national security threat?
KISSEL: No, well, the short answer is that you can't, Paul. It's absolutely indefensible. And, you know, the real tragedy of all of this is that President Trump is doing exactly what he said he wouldn't do, which is to reward the swamp. He's rewarding certain interests, which is the U.S. and the steel-producing industries, steel and aluminum industries rather. And everybody who uses the stuff downstream will get hurt, not to mention U.S. consumers who will pay 10 percent or 25 percent for goods. And it comes at a terrible time also, I'd add, for European partners who we are dealing with Brexit, the terror threat, Iran, Putin on their doorsteps.
GIGOT: I guess the big question, Bill, is how much economic damage will this -- will this hit us with?
MCGURN: Well, I think it could be a lot. And the problem with the trade war is that a lot of innocent casualties. And the reason for that is supply chains are very complicated things, come from all over. So when you launch one of these things, you hit people that you don't intend. For example, when President Bush put the steel tariffs in, in 2002, I think the estimate is it cost
GIGOT: More jobs.
MCGURN: -- more jobs in the steel industry, which is why they ended early.
GIGOT: The other risk here, James, is retaliation. All three of these, all of the E.U., Canada and Mexico, said we are going to retaliate. Japan is coming because they are also not exempted. And what they're doing is they are targeting precise areas that are going to do some political damage to the Republican Party and their Senate candidates and potentially House candidates. Paul Ryan, Harley-Davidson in his district, for example, bourbon in Kentucky. You've got a Republican in Washington, citrus fruit and -- not citrus, but apples and grapes.
GIGOT: So there's some downside political risks here too.
FREEMAN: Yes, it's especially frustrating. You mentioned the great Friday jobs report. I think all the evidence is that so far the Trump plan to cut regulation and taxes is working within the United States, so now he's saying, but I think more regulation and more taxes at our borders will somehow benefit the United States. It won't. As you mentioned, a lot more people consume steel than produce it. So you're talking a lot more jobs in the industries that make things out of steel than in the actual producers. So it's a strange idea to fight with our allies. I think what he ought to be doing is getting together with them to say, how do we fix that Chinese intellectual property theft problem he also seems concerned about.
GIGOT: There's a problem, a danger, Mary, going forward with what happens with NAFTA. On the cusp of a deal where we've been negotiating a renegotiation, a redoing of the agreement, modernization, for some time, but this really is a thumb in the eye of the Canadians and Mexicans. And they were already kind of approaching a deadline in Mexico with its presidential election. I don't know if that can be salvaged?
KISSEL: It may not, Paul. I hate to say that, but it may not be salvageable. The other thing we should worry about, too, when it comes to Mexico, is that Mexico's next leader may not be very pro-American, so you might see additional measures that could hurt U.S. consumers, hurt the U.S. economies from the Mexican side.
GIGOT: Do you see over there in Europe any -- is this kind of tariff decision, they had been asking for exemptions, is this hardening the responses, unlikely to say we are going to retaliate, and Trump might say, look, OK, you hit me, I'm going to hit you back again. He's already threatened 25 percent tariff on German cars, for example, on British cars. That could escalate this. And the more you escalate, the more economic damage you get.
KISSEL: Well, look negotiating trade deals or going to trade wars is not like buying a condo in Manhattan or erecting an office building. The leaders over here, Paul, have their own domestic political constituencies. Take Britain, their steel industry is in a lot of pain right now, and the idea that Prime Minister Theresa May can do nothing or will do nothing in response to this is just fanciful. They have to respond.
GIGOT: Briefly, Bill.
MCGURN: Yes, no one responds responsibly in a trade war because of the political things. So you kind of assume that the other side is going to respond back. And this is the way a lot of innocent people get hurt. And let's remember the American consumers, the kind of people Donald Trump wants to help, they benefited enormously from the lower prices that come from trade.
GIGOT: Let's face it, this economy has been doing very, very well, and this is a real risk to that progress.
President Trump causing a stir this week with another controversial pardon and hints of more to come. Is the president trying to send a message as his critics' claim?
GIGOT: President Trump issuing another controversial pardon this week, this time for conservative commentator and author, Dinesh D'Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance laws in connection with illegal contributions to a Republican Senate candidate in 2012. The president tweeting that, "D'Souza was treated unfairly by our government." Mr. Trump also telling reporters Thursday that he's considering pardons or commutations for Martha Stewart and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison on public corruption charges.
We're back with Dan Henninger and Bill McGurn.
Dan, just as a constitutional legal matter, there's really no limit on the pardon power, is there?
HENNINGER: No, there really isn't. It's one of the great powers that the president has. There's a process. There's a pardoning attorney at Justice Department. There are several thousand people who feel they were wrongly accused or convicted of trying to go through the process. Donald Trump has jumped over all of that to pardon these individuals. And I don't think we should be too doubtful about this, Paul. Donald Trump feels he is in a war with the Justice Department and Robert Mueller, and he's going use pardons like this to send them a message. Every one of these individuals, Dinesh D'Souza, and the two proposed for Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich, are connected to prosecutors who have been -- who have had Donald Trump in their crosshairs one way or another, Preet Bharara, in New York, Comey prosecuted Martha Stewart and Patrick Fitzgerald, a friend of Comey, prosecuted Rod Blagojevich.
GIGOT: Bill, is that proper use of the pardon power? You can use it legally, that's one thing.
GIGOT: But usually, you would think we want to use the pardon power, if the president, to enhance justice, not undue injustices, not to undermine the rule of law.
MCGURN: Yes. A few things. One is, it is one of the least fettered powers. That's a reason. There was a debate by the founders on what they should do, and they rejected ideas of having Congress have the check on --
MCGURN: They gave it to the president for a reason.
I don't think it's about guilt or innocence strictly as a legal matter of the people. I think a lot of it is the idea that a president would have a discretion to redress something that might be legally right, someone who might be legally guilty of all things, but in some ways, it's out of whack. It's a check for that. I think the president can do it. The one check there is on the pardon is public opinion.
MCGURN: It's the politics. That's what it was meant to be. Which is why presidents usually wait until the end of their term to give out the controversial pardons.
GIGOT: I really do think the Scooter Libby pardon, Dan, was a terrific act. I think it was deserved. We've been urging it for a long time. I think it undid a mistake that President Bush had made. But then you get to Joe Arpaio. He had essentially, refused to honor a court order. That was a different thing.
What about these individual cases? You list them. I agree with you that he is sending a message. But are these justifiable cases, do you think, just as a -- on the standard of, does this increase respect for the rule of law?
HENNINGER: Well, look, Paul, this is a complicated subject. Dinesh D'Souza was convicted for campaign finance violations, Martha Stewart for securities transactions, insider trading, Rod Blagojevich for political corruption. Now in every one of those cases, we have editorialized that there are not clear lines on some of these issues. You want to respect the rule of law --
HENNINGER: -- but as the attorney, Harvey Silverglade, has written, there are thousands of ways you can now break a federal law without being aware of it. You can get into trouble very easily. And the pardon power is one way, one sort of thumb on the scale to try to correct the balance against prosecutorial abuse. You have to go into the details here, but I think there's a legitimate issue raised of just how the public, the people, including celebrities, find some sort of compensation against what prosecutors can do to them.
GIGOT: Briefly, Bill, you wrote about the Martha Stewart case.
GIGOT: Do you think the pardon is justified?
MCGURN: I think it is justified. I think, as Dan said, it's a redress. For example, I thought the Scooter Libby pardon was fine. But it's a message to prosecutors. Sometimes it's not about the crime but about the punishment that is disproportionate, right?
GIGOT: OK, thank you very much, gentlemen.
When we come back, primary voters get set to head to the polls Tuesday in California, a state that could make or break Democratic hopes of taking back the House. Why the primary system there could leave them out of the cold in some key races come November.
GIGOT: As primary voters get set to head to the polls in California Tuesday, Democrats in the Golden State are feeling the heat. All eyes are on three battleground districts in Orange County, a one-time conservative bastion that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Once seen as promising pickup opportunities for Democrats as they seek to take back the House. A crowded primary field as well as state's unusual top-two primary system could leave Democrats without a general election candidate in these key races.
We are back with Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel and Allysia Finley.
Allysia, 53 House seats in California. How many are held by Republicans?
ALLYSIA FINLEY, EDITORIAL PAGE WRITER: Fourteen.
GIGOT: Only 14.
FINLEY: Right. They are an endangered species out there. Seven of those seats held by Republicans are expected to be competitive this cycle.
GIGOT: Those were picked --
FINLEY: Won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. And some of the Democrats have voter registration advantage. A huge one, a district up in the central valley.
GIGOT: Are most of those seats that are competitive, where are they, in southern California, and the valley?
FINLEY: Mainly, southern California and the central valley, which is very agricultural.
GIGOT: OK, how does the so-called jungle primary where the top-two vote getters get to go on the ballot in November, regardless of party, how does that figure in here in.
FINLEY: Well, I guess the worry for Democrats right now is that in some of the seat, like Darrel Issa's, who is retiring, you will get two Republican that will go to November. They are trying to put thumb on certain candidates in order so that outcome doesn't happen. And this has happened in the past --
GIGOT: The problem is that so many Democrats are running.
GIGOT: It's an open seat.
FINLEY: It's very divided. In many cases, they all kind of stand for single payer, they're all very progressive, and there's nothing distinguishing them.
GIGOT: And there are fewer Republicans running so Republicans could possibly --
FINELY: Republicans have some name recognition. You know, you have Diane Harkey down in Darrell Issa's district, who is a Board of Equalization member, and ran against high-speed rails.
GIGOT: That made a name for herself --
GIGOT: -- in that district.
Now, if they don't take those -- any seats in California, Democrats, they are going to have a harder time picking up the House, aren't they?
FINLEY: Well, I think that's right. They are still counting on Pennsylvania and the redistricting there by the State Supreme Court. But California is their hope. They need to pick up at least four there.
GIGOT: Kevin McCarthy is from California. He's the majority leader in the House of Representatives. He is trying an interesting maneuver. He wants to push John Cox, the Republican who is running for governor, to finish second, so he can get into the final race in November. And you think, OK, that makes sense. On the other hand, you disagree with that?
FINLEY: Well, I think --
GIGOT: You wrote a piece where you disagree with that.
FINLEY: I think the worry is that you have two Democrats, Gavin Newsom, Cox, a former L.A. mayor. Gavin, very progressive, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Republican unionist. If you get John Cox in the top two in November, Gavin is sure to win. You'll probably get a lot more left-ward tilt to the party.
GIGOT: So the state goes further left.
FINLEY: To the left more. So I think probably higher taxes. Where Antonio Villaraigosa, may actually -- there's a chance he gives more pension reforms, charter schools, more charter schools.
GIGOT: But McCarthy, Kim, figures that if you don't have a Republican on the governor's race, Republican voters might not turn out in those House races and you lose more House seats.
STRASSEL: Yes. I'd push back a little bit. I'm not sure it's possible for California to go more left. I look at the candidates --
And it's not clear to me it could get much worse. But I think McCarthy has a really good point, that you get a Republican on statewide ballot for that big top governor's job, and you inspire some more turnout for Republicans. Because that's going to be key in many of these districts. Hillary Clinton won in some of them, but very narrowly, as Allysia said. There's a lot of voter registration imbalance in some of them. The Republicans' biggest challenge in California is to get their side out to vote that day.
GIGOT: Dan, what do you make of this jungle primary idea? Do you like this idea of -- of just the top two -- Mike Bloomberg pushed that in New York, didn't go through. The idea is it's somehow it's going to move our politics move to the center, it won't have the -- it won't be as polarized. I don't see a lot of evidence that California is becoming less polarized.
HENNINGER: No. But I have to tell you, Paul, I love the jungle primary in California, because what a spectacle it is in a state, as Kim said, that can't move any further left. Typically, in some of these congressional districts, you have a couple of Republicans running and, say, five Democrats. Why? Because of the tremendous anger at Donald Trump. Democrats, left-wing Democrats have come out of the woodwork to run for Congress and get to Washington to impeach him. This is driving the Democratic National Committee absolutely crazy because the Democratic voters out there can't distinguish between the five candidates and they are worried that ultimately Republicans will put their two candidates at the top of that ballot.
GIGOT: All right, thank you all.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Time now for our "Hits & Misses" of the week.
Mary, start us off.
KISSEL: I want to give a big hit, Paul, to Ukraine Security Services, who ran an extraordinary cloak-and-dagger operation this week to save the live of a Putin critic, Arkady Babchenko. We are learning time and time again, Paul, that critics of Putin are not safe at home, nor abroad. The West has to do more to exact some consequences before the irregular warfare comes to U.S. soil.
GIGOT: All right, thank you.
BACHEDLER ODELL: Paul, this is a miss for some GOP state legislators in Virginia who this week caved to a Democratic governor in expanding Medicaid to cover childless, able-bodied adults above the poverty line as part of Obamacare. Every states that's taken this money and said it's free money, but they are now facing budget shortfalls and tax increases. It's disappointing to see some in the GOP sign on to a huge growth in the entitlements.
GIGOT: All right. Allysia?
FINLEY: This is a hit to Serena Williams who is returning after having a baby at the French Open. Great, but this is a miss to her fans who are saying she should have an automatic seed. Other women who have come back from having children have not received that special treatment and neither should Serena.
GIGOT: How do you know how well she'll play?
MCGURN: Paul, in New Jersey, Democrats passed a billionaire's tax five times when Governor Christie was running the state. They knew he would veto it. Now that they have a governor, Phil Murphy, who wants a billionaire's tax, it's stalled. I don't know whether it's a miss to the Democrats for their hypocrisy or hit to them for finally waking up to the damage that high taxes do.
GIGOT: Do you think they're going to pass it or not?
MCGURN: I don't think they will.
GIGOT: You don't think they will? Really?
So it will be stopped by Democrats --
MCGURN: By Democrats.
GIGOT: We know Murphy wants, that's for sure.
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 especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.
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