This is a rush transcript from "Journal: Editorial Report," July 14, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: Welcome to the "Journal: Editorial Report," as we wrap up a very busy week for President Donald Trump. I'm Paul Gigot.
It begins with a Supreme Court announcement and is ending with the president prepping for a potentially high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
But we begin with the president's meetings this week with European allies, first, at the NATO summit in Brussels, and then with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the U.K. The president confronting his fellow leaders over defense spending, a Russian gas pipeline and Brexit, but the president says the alliance has never been stronger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Certainly, it was testy at the beginning but, at the end, everybody came together and they agreed to do what they should do. We left the meeting, I think, probably more unified and wealthier as a group than ever before.
(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, Dan, did the trans-Atlantic alliance survive the visit by Hurricane Trump?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Hurricane Trump, yes, I guess they did.
You know, Paul, there's an old expression from the TV movies, detectives, "good cop, bad cop." Usually, it's played by two different people, not by the same guy.
But Trump is good cop, bad cop. And indeed, in the morning of the NATO meeting, he basically pistol whipped them over spending and a number of other issues. And by the evening, he's saying there was more love in the room, his quote, than you can imagine.
It's pretty confusing. You know, the statement that NATO put out, let's talk about that.
HENNINGER: And 80 percent of it was explicitly about Russia. I mean, Europe, the NATO allies, have a big problem with Russia and have a long bill of particulars. If NATO is allied today, it is because of the Russian threat. But there wasn't too much about that in the NATO meeting. And I think, to the extent that the president sort of diverts attention to himself, takes the wind out to have sails of their cohesion on the anti- Russian front.
GIGOT: Mary, he said the 2 percent target of spending, each nation, he wants more countries to do that, and more of them are stepping up, albeit slowly for a target of 2 percent. And he then comes out at the end of it saying, well, wait a minute, it has to be 4 percent. Now, we don't even spend 4 percent, the United States. So I think this whipsaw effect, what impact does it have on the credibility of a U.S. president?
MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, I don't know if it's a whipsaw, Paul, because, remember, President Trump ran in his presidential campaign on getting NATO allies to step up and spend more on their defense, and that's implicitly about the Russia threat. He can take some credit, I think, from the summit. Two-thirds of NATO members are going to meet those defense spending commitments by 2024. Almost all of them will meet the equipment spending. And there's a new focus on readiness and there's a focus on Russia, as Dan said.
GIGOT: All true.
KISSEL: A lot of measures. I thought it was a very successful summit.
GIGOT: OK, but you go with that 2 percent and then he suddenly comes out and says, wait, 4. Is everybody supposed to ignore that and say, oh, that's just --
KISSEL: It's an off-hand remark.
GIGOT: That's just Trump.
KISSEL: I don't know.
KISSEL: But it is just Trump, right? That's his technique, he hits you in the face, and he sees how you react.
GIGOT: Nobody is going to meet 4. That's just simply unrealistic.
KISSEL: Wasn't the official statement. And you saw French President Emmanuel Macron come out and say, we committed to 2 percent and the United States is not pulling out of NATO, deal done.
GIGOT: What about Theresa May, Bill, hosting the president, taking some risks to do so because he's not popular in the U.K.?
BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Right. As the protests show.
GIGOT: As the protests show. And then this interview with The Sun, which criticized May for Brexit.
MCGURN: Right. Look, I think Donald Trump is substantively right on a lot of those things. But the way Donald Trump works, when you go to point A to point B, you don't go in a car just straight, you go on roller coaster where part of your ride is thrilling and then part of your ride is terrifying.
MCGURN: And that's what we saw. He was right to criticize Mrs. May and her handling of Brexit. I mean --
GIGOT: Even though she's the host, hosting him for dinner?
MCGURN: Well, the point is substantively. Are you going to --
MCGURN: Most of the criticisms of Donald Trump has been style, and granted, it would not be my style.
But most of the reason the focus is on the style is because, on the substance, he has go case on a lot of the things. She's a very weak prime minister. Are we to believe that the protestors are protesting for more trade?
And a stronger NATO?
I mean, I find that -- I find that hard to believe.
I do think the president is missing an opportunity. He kind of walked back some of the remarks on it, trade deal. But so far, we have seen the stick part of his approach to trade, right, sanctions. The carrot part would be, let's negotiate a deal with Britain, which would be pretty easy to negotiate, I think -- they don't compete as much -- and have ideal deal, and say, not only do we have this deal with Britain, it's open to everybody else that wants to have a deal with us on the same terms. And that's a big opportunity for Trump to have a positive part on his agenda. They made noises about it but they haven't done anything about it.
GIGOT: Dan, I think that the critique that you hear from some people who otherwise would agree with some of the -- would say Trump has actually some fair points on this Russia pipeline and on NATO spending, would say. But it's that relentless criticism that he makes about NATO that undermines, over time, American public support for the trans-Atlantic alliance. If you look at polling of Republicans here in the United States, for example, support for NATO is falling. Is he doing some long-term damage here by this relentless criticism?
HENNINGER: Well, I mean, that's a good question. It's just part of Trump's technique. I mean, let's talk, for instance, about the interview he gave with The Sun newspaper in which he criticized Theresa May, said Boris Johnson would make good prime minister. Then, in the press conference with Theresa May, he essentially repudiated much of that interview. I would say all of what Trump said is what he believes. The question is, which part are you supposed to focus on.
To your point, yes, I think it creates confusion in people's minds about whether the president is, indeed, fully committed to the NATO alliance or has serious misgivings about it, suggesting that we should pull back. That's the problem with the Trump method. Sure, it keeps everybody on their heels but they don't know in which direction to finally make commitment.
GIGOT: All right. Thank you all.
When we come back, President Trump unveils his Supreme Court pick and the fight for confirmation officially underway. What kind of justice would Brett Kavanaugh be and will the left's attacks against him have an effect on undecided Senators?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What matters is not a judge's political views but whether they could set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require. I am pleased to say that I have found, without doubt, such a person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: That was President Trump Monday nominating Brett Kavanaugh to fill retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy's seat on the Supreme Court. The 53-year- old Kavanaugh, a federal judge on the D.C. circuit court of appeals, is President Trump's second nominee to the high court, and if confirmed, would help shape the judiciary's role in American life for decades to come.
We're back with Dan Henninger, Bill McGurn, and Wall Street Journal Potomac Watch columnist, Kim Strassel.
So, Bill, what kind of justice will Kavanaugh be?
MCGURN: Well, to paraphrase the Senator, I know Brett Kavanaugh, I served with Brett Kavanaugh, Brett Kavanaugh is no Anthony Kennedy. And I mean that in the healthy sense. I think he's a solid jurist. He's not the kind of guy who wants to be a celebrity judge, that Anthony Kennedy enjoyed, where people are courting you for the fifth vote. Brett Kavanaugh's audience was Anthony Scalia and the Federalist Society and people that believed the judge should not be the most dominant guy in the field.
GIGOT: It's interesting, Bill, 300 opinions he's written on, on the D.C. circuit.
GIGOT: I can't think of a judge who has a longer track record. Even Scalia was only on the D.C. circuit for four years before he was --
MCGURN: I also think that's a good model. We should be nominating justices whose records we can look at and get a better idea. No one knows how someone is going to go once they get a lifetime appointment. But I think Brett has probably the clearest record of any nominee in recent memory.
GIGOT: Kim, so what are the emerging arguments that are going to be -- we will hear about his jurisprudence and the arguments used against him to try to defeat him?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Democrats are settling on a couple. One of the favorite ones they're rallying around, which is sort of amusing, is that, having past Obamacare and made health care premiums go through the roof, they are now arguing that Judge Kavanaugh would strike down the basic health care provisions and make health care even more expensive.
Another one, which is a little bit more conspiratorial, is the argument that because Judge Kavanaugh believes very strongly in executive powers, at least in some fields, that Trump only is putting him on the bench so that he could allow Trump to pardon himself at one point or allow Trump to avoid some sort of criminal indictment. This doesn't carry much water in my mind because we already know that the president -- he is likely to be indicted. And there are other reasons, there's no reason to believe that that he would go that way.
GIGOT: On the health care point, health care is a policy dispute. It's not really a legal matter now that the -- the Affordable Care Act has essentially been upheld by the court. So that doesn't even seem to have any bearing really on what he would do on the court.
STRASSEL: No, and the reality is, look, they just don't have much that they can get him on. This is a very distinguished jurist. It's very clear what his views are. And so they are grasping at straws at the moment.
GIGOT: Dan, what about the -- the abortion issue, the Roe v. Wade appeal? He has a statement on the record when he was -- in 2006, when he was being-- at a Senate hearing for the -- his appellate seat, that he said it was a settled precedent -- a binding precedent, I think, was the exact quote -- and that gave some reassurance this week to Susan Collins, the Senator from Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, both saying they like what they see from Kavanaugh so far?
HENNINGER: Yes, I agree with that. That's my reading, Paul. I do believe that Senators Collins and Murkowski have basically decided to vote for Brett Kavanaugh. And if they can get his nomination to a vote, he's going through.
But I think we should understand something about the Democratic opposition. It doesn't have much of anything to do with Brett Kavanaugh. Their opposition to Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominees is generic. He could have appointed, named any one of the 25 people on his list, and they would be fighting the same sort of opposition as they are right now. I think it's mainly become about animating the progressive base. They will use the nomination hearing to do that, to try to paint Judge Kavanaugh as a right- wing nut. And he's not going to come across that way. He's going to come across like Neil Gorsuch, as an intelligent, interesting member of the judiciary.
GIGOT: Kim, you raised the point of executive power. What if, let's say, Robert Mueller subpoenas Donald Trump and the White House resists, which is entirely possible, and this case moves through the courts up to Supreme Court, should Kavanaugh have to recuse himself from hearing that case?
STRASSEL: Absolutely not. But be expecting and get ready for some Democrats to argue that if he's put up there, that's what he should have to do. The reality is that, by nature of the job, pretty much everything that the Supreme Court hears has to do with the administration in one way or the other. This doesn't have to do -- the basic reasons for judges recusing themselves is because they or their families have some financial interests or because in a prior job, working in an administration, for instance, they worked on an issue. But simply having an issue come before you related to the person who appointed you has never been a standard for recusal.
GIGOT: Bill, this issue of executive power, people say, oh, well, he's going to be a down-the-line supporter of Trump. It's interesting, on the foreign policy issues, when he was on the D.C. circuit, he supported Obama on executive power, a Democratic president.
MCGURN: Right. I think that speaks for his consistency. Look, what the Democrats are not worried is not really Brett Kavanaugh. It's the Constitution, because the Constitution is a limiting document and so is the law. That's what they are afraid of.
I point out, too, on Roe, that when Neil Gorsuch was asked, he cited the book he wrote on precedent. Brett Kavanaugh contributed to that book. He can give the same -- he was also through the murder boards for Roberts and Alito. He's going to be very good in the hearings.
When we come back, the Supreme Court battle lines already taking shape as Minority Leader Chuck Schumer promises to fight the Kavanaugh confirmation with everything he's got. So can Mitch McConnell push the nomination through the Senate before the November midterms?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We know exactly what the partisan playbook looks like. It's been hauled out for most everyone a Republican president has nominated to the Supreme Court for the last 40 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, D-NY, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Kavanaugh's danger will resonate with many groups. Women's freedom, health freedom and health care would resonate. And because Kavanaugh is so extreme on the issue of presidential power at a time when we have a president who has overreached more than any president in history, the third one resonates, too. So there are many issues but we will be focusing on these three.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: A preview this week from Senate Leader Chuck Schumer on the case Democrats will make against Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. But with midterm elections looming, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for a swift confirmation process, one that would put Kavanaugh on the bench before a new Supreme Court term begins on October 1st.
We are back with Dan Henninger, Bill McGurn and Kim Strassel.
Kim, my own reporting suggests that Mitch McConnell told President Trump that he though Brett Kavanaugh might be harder to confirm than a couple of the other nominees on his list, final list. Why did he say that?
STRASSEL: Well, it's not because of his positions or any of the papers he's written, but rather because of the potential for a paper-trail hunt. Brett Kavanaugh, in his prior life, worked for a while for independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, investigating Bill Clinton. More importantly, he served as a lawyer and staff secretary to George W. Bush, a position that he wasn't necessarily making a lot of decisions, but pretty much every piece of paper that went through the White House landed on his desk and was then dispersed. Democrats will be demanding to see all of it. And that has the potential to really draw this nomination fight out if they're allowed to get away with it.
GIGOT: All right, so, Dan, I think Kim is right, that's going to be the strategy. It's going to be, produce everything or else you're trying to cover up something if you don't produce it.
I guess the question is, how can the Republicans deny that request. Can they do that? Can Chuck Grassley, at the Judiciary Committee, who has a reputation for demanding documents from the executive branch, say, not in this case, let's close -- we can have some documents, but not this endless, endless search?
HENNINGER: Yes. Precisely that, Paul. Sure, they are entitled to some documents but I think Chairman Grassley has it within his power to impose some limitations on that document search, as Kim was suggesting. They are talking about going all the way back to his work with Ken Starr on the Clinton investigation. It is clearly a delaying track tactic. And you have to ask, just what is the something they're looking for in these documents? The idea that somewhere in millions of documents he said I will overturn Roe v. Wade? It is clearly --
GIGOT: Yes. Yes. That's what they are looking for.
HENNINGER: It is clearly a delaying tactic to get past the elections and to save those four, five at-risk Democratic Senator from having to cast a vote. I think Chuck Grassley needs to press hard to force them to limit that search.
GIGOT: By the way, Bill this is a staff secretary position, so people understand. You know this from working in the White House. You're the person who controls the paper flow to the president.
GIGOT: Doesn't mean you write the paper.
GIGOT: You are not going to scribble in the margins, "I want to do X."
MCGURN: It's a very difficult job because, as Kim said, all the paperwork goes through the staff secretary. When I wrote speeches for the president, I didn't hand my speech to the president. Brett Kavanaugh did, right? So they know, but it's ridiculous because he's not setting the policies, making the briefing book for the president.
I think Dan is right, they are looking for something. What we're seeing is a lot of sound and fury, signifying sound and fury, hoping that something comes up, whether it's his baseball tickets that he's got for the Nationals. But Mitch McConnell is looking at his caucus and, so far, all of the people you'd be nervous about, Murkowski, Collins, Rand Paul and Jeff Flake, they've been giving reassuring noises.
GIGOT: Kim, what about the point that Schumer's real goat here is to delay this as long as possible, both, maybe something will come up if you do that kind of document search or you wait for somebody to come up with an accusation, but also because he would like to delay this past the election so his -- his Senators, who are up for reelection in North Dakota, Indiana, West Virginia, and so on, don't have to take a tough vote that might upset one group or another.
STRASSEL: Of course, he does. There's nothing he wants more than to protect them from having to do that, because they're in a terrible situation right now, politically. They have a liberal base that's motivated and mobilized on this one issue showing up at their home state offices to protest and say, don't you dare vote for one of these nominees, but they hail from Trump states with a lot of voters who also focused on this. It was the reason they put President Trump in the White House, was for Supreme Court nominees. And they will likewise punish those Democrats if they vote against Mr. Kavanaugh.
GIGOT: And, Dan, what's McConnell's strategy here to get him through?
HENNINGER: I think his strategy is to press forward as hard as he can, try to put pressure on the Democrats, try to make it clear that this is an act of almost mindless obstruction. And I would go so far as to say, Paul, that whatever they do, I think that the Republicans ought to make this a very active campaign issue now in those four to five Senate seats and make them, you know, turn out Republicans based on the fact that they will try to hold up the most-important judicial nomination in a generation.
GIGOT: And I would argue that if Republicans fail to confirm a Republican presidential appointee, they will probably lose the Senate in November.
Still ahead, President Trump wrapping up a busy week of meetings with key allies and preparing for another high-stakes summit on Monday, this time, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. We will look at what both sides want from that sit-down, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I hope we get along well. I think we get along well. But, ultimately, he's a competitor. He's representing Russia, I'm representing the United States, so in a sense we are competitors. Not a question of friend or enemy. He's not my enemy. And hopefully, someday, maybe he'll be a friend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: President Trump Thursday calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a competitor, not an enemy, ahead of their summit Monday in Helsinki. The president promising to raise several contentious issues with Putin, including Russian intervention in Syria and Ukraine, as well as arm's control and U.S. election meddling.
We're back with Dan Henninger, Mary Kissel and Bill McGurn.
Mary, let's break this down from each side. First of all, what do you think Donald Trump wants out of this summit?
MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Donald Trump just wants to get along, frankly, and I think he would love to do a deal because, at the end of the day, he's a deal maker. So he's been floating ideas of an arm's control agreement or maybe coming to some agreement over Syria or potentially Ukraine. I think that's what's he's looking to do.
GIGOT: What kind of -- what does he want Putin to do for him on arm's control? That would go on for some time. But Syria and Ukraine, what does Trump want?
KISSEL: I think Trump wants to bring the U.S. troops out of Syria just as he wants to bring the U.S. troops out of the Korean peninsula. He doesn't want to be involved. I think he wants to say mission accomplished, we've gotten rid of the Islamic State caliphate in Syria and Iraq, and let's bring them all home. And he wants Russia to ensure that Iran gets out of Syria.
GIGOT: So he'd want some assurances from Putin that he can get Iran out of Syria, but is that realistic?
KISSEL: No. That's not realistic at all. Look, Putin doesn't --
GIGOT: Why not? Why isn't it realistic?
KISSEL: Because Putin doesn't want to commit serious military assets to Syria. He can't afford to have body bags coming home to Russia in the same way that he did with Ukraine. And it's also not clear that he would militarily be able to unroot Iran from Syria.
GIGOT: Because --
KISSEL: Iran has --
GIGOT: -- between Assad and Iran?
KISSEL: Absolutely. And Iran has military bases. They've moved civilians in. They're moved in imams. They are taking over Syria. They want to turn it into Lebanon. You have to be careful with what Putin promises. Because, remember, he's broken pretty much every promise that he's made over the last decade.
GIGOT: Dan, look at it from the other side. What does Vladimir Putin hope to get out of this from Donald Trump?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I think he wants some -- well, the one thing he would really like to get is some relief from the economic sanctions that the United States and the European Union have imposed on him and his cronies. If he could get that -- that's, I think, the primary thing he would like to see some movement on. But the main thing here is that Trump, you know, is operating in the moment. He's just-- he sees his relationship with Vladimir Putin as completely transactional. Historically, you would have a lot of work go on ahead of time between both sides trying to find out where the areas of agreement or disagreement are. Trump is going to do that himself. We're going to find out whether that negotiating model works, because it's just not clear to anyone what he wants substantially.
GIGOT: Well, what else does Putin want, Bill? I think -- first of all, the meeting itself was a kind of rehabilitation because, obviously, the criticism in the U.S. political system has been, look, you meddled in our elections, and now Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 12 more Russians for hacking the Democratic National Committee. Is that going to have any impact on --
BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Well, I think, look, what he wants, what you're alluding to, is what all dictators want, they want some legitimacy on the world stage. That's why the demotion of Russia from the G-7 was such a blow. I think perfectly legitimate thing to kick them out. They don't belong there.
GIGOT: Trump says they should be back.
MCGURN: Right. Right. That's one of the problems.
I think that President Trump's policy to Russia is actually stronger than what President Trump's says his policy to Russia is sometimes.
The part that I really worry about is Crimea, where he seems to be saying, we will acknowledge - I mean, it's one thing, de facto, to acknowledge that the Russians are there. But, you know, we had a Berlin Wall for years and we never acknowledged the right of that. That would be really endorsing an act of international criminality to take this. I think the signal to Putin would be a terrible one there. And it would be bad for Ukraine and peace in the region.
KISSEL: It would be terrible for U.S. deterrence worldwide is we just accept that he can invade another country, like he's done with Georgia --
MCGURN: And rewrite the map.
KISSEL: Yes. And Moldova as well, which was also part of that NATO summit
GIGOT: Well, what else -- what does Trump want out of Putin on Ukraine?
KISSEL: I think, again, Trump wants a deal. He wants to be seen as a peacemaker.
GIGOT: A deal, but what does a deal mean?
KISSEL: I think, for Trump, unfortunately, it might mean a de facto recognition that that was an Obama mistake, the Russians --
GIGOT: Crimea was?
KISSEL: Crimea was there.
KISSEL: And let's have some kind of agreement, like the Minsk agreement on Eastern Ukraine, which is another illegal invasion by Putin, and see if we can get some, I don't know, U.S. peacekeeping forces in there. That would be a terrible mistake. Paul, look --
GIGOT: Trump's not going to put U.S. troops --
KISSEL: Well, let's hope that he doesn't. But he's got an ambassador-at- large who is talking to Putin on a regular basis about a deal for Eastern Ukraine.
Look, Paul, we have to acknowledge that Putin is not a strategic competitor, he is an enemy. You have Britain fingering Russia for use of a nerve agent on British oil. You have two countries, Australia and the Netherlands, blaming Russia for downing an airliner over Ukraine.
GIGOT: OK, so are you saying that --
KISSEL: They killed almost 300 people.
GIGOT: All true. And yet, are you saying that the president should not be going to this summit then?
KISSEL: I don't think the president should go to the summit at all. I don't think anything good can come out of it. And everything that we need to do, vis-a-vis Russia, does not require socializing with Vladimir Putin in front of the cameras.
GIGOT: So you don't think there's any chance that he could actually maybe get a modus vivendi with Putin that could somehow make him less hostile to U.S. interests along the lines that you're talking about?
KISSEL: How can you trust him when he's embarrassing President Trump in Syria, breaking the agreement there, broke the agreement in Syria on chemical weapons, broke the agreement on Ukraine, invaded three of his neighbors, is flying bombers over the Pacific and using nerve agents in Britain?
GIGOT: Bill, briefly, do you agree with that?
MCGURN: Yes, I do agree. I think Mary makes a good point. Look, you were talking about Syria before. Part of the reason we are in the fix we are in is because President Obama accepted a Russia solution in Syria. So we know what that is. Also, President -- Mr. Putin has a big advantage. He's seen a lot of presidents come and go and that's a big advantage for him.
GIGOT: All right. Still ahead, Peter Strzok facing a grilling on Capitol Hill as lawmakers confront the FBI agent over his now-infamous texts. What we learned from his long-awaited public testimony and what Friday's new indictments in the Russia probe mean, when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER STRZOK, FBI AGENT: I understand that my sworn testimony will not be enough for some people. After all, Americans are skeptical of anything coming out of Washington. But the fact is, after months of investigations, there's simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions.
REP. TREY GOWDY, (R-SC), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Agent Strzok has a most unusual and largely self-serving definition of bias. Agent Strzok, despite the plain language of his texts and e-mails, despite the attorney general's report, and despite common sense, doesn't think he was biased.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: A contentious hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday as FBI Agent Peter Strzok made a much-anticipated public appearance before Congress. Strzok claiming that his personal opinions in no way influenced his official actions in the Clinton e-mail probe or the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, despite the now-infamous anti-Trump texts he exchanged with former FBI lawyer, Lisa Page.
This, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced Friday that 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted for hacking the Democratic National Committee prior to the 2016 election.
We're back with Bill McGurn and Kim Strassel.
So, Kim, what did we learn that was new in the Strzok hearing?
KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Well, here is a big take away, Paul, and that is that if the American people are to have a prayer of ever finding out what the FBI did in 2016 with regard to these two presidential campaigns, Donald Trump is going to have to declassify documents, because you will not get it from these congressional hearings.
This guy was the lead investigator on the Trump probe, a major player in Clinton investigation. He barely answered a single question. He refused to do so at the direct of an FBI lawyer, who sat behind him the entire time. And the entire hearing was constantly interrupted by Democrats who kept interceding in the proceedings and making sure he, the witness did not have to speak.
GIGOT: Yes, but Kim, what about -- were there any new details at all, any new information at all that we learned? I thought we learned something about how the FBI actually got some details about the Steele dossier?
STRASSEL: Yes, that was one to have few concrete new pieces of information we got, which was this, that Bruce Ohr, one of the top-ranking Justice Department officials, whose wife worked for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm, served as conduit between that oppo research firm and the FBI. Mr. Strzok acknowledged that the FBI received documents from Bruce Ohr that came from Fusion.
GIGOT: Well, that's pretty good. That's a pretty big detail, is it not? I mean, that's important because it suggests, in fact, that the FBI was working -- you know, had the interlocular FBI official with Fusion GPS.
STRASSEL: Yes, it's new. Nobody had acknowledged or divulged that before. It's also, in part, because this inserts the Obama Justice Department into this as well, too. It's very clear that this was not handled simply through intelligence channels and that there were some back-door dealings going on here, which people have long suspected.
GIGOT: Bill, you were watching the hearing. What's your takeaway?
MCGURN: Well, I agree entirely with Kim. Look, Peter Strzok tried to wrap himself in the mantle of all the FBI and saying the attacks on him, the questioning of him was discrediting the FBI. That's not true. Look, we have an inspector general's report. And Andrew McCabe, a top deputy director, may be indicted. It's people like Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page that have brought this disgrace on the bureau. It's all at the top. In fact, as they handled their investigations, they shut out the people in the field doing it.
I think the real takeaway is Peter Strzok was a lightning rod, you know, because he was so arrogant and defiant. But the real --
GIGOT: At the hearing, you mean?
MCGURN: At the hearing. But the real takeaway Kim alluded to is that the FBI counsel was telling him not to answer questions. This is Mr. Wray.
This guy is --
GIGOT: Christopher Wray, the FBI --
MCGURN: The FBI director. This guy is John Koskinen, the guy who succeeded at the IRS. Came in, but instead of cleaning up things, you know, worked his little magic to obstruct and so forth.
Congress is not going to get the information, the American people are not going to know what happened until either Congress stands up for itself with a contempt finding or an impeachment, or President Trump declassifies.
GIGOT: Kim, is Congress and Devin Nunes, of the Intelligence Committee, getting the documents that it needs?
STRASSEL: They still haven't received the documents that they need. There's still a standoff in regard to that. And by the way, I mean, Mr. Nunes gets a lot of attention, and rightly so, because he's unraveled so much of this. But there's a lot of other members of Congress that aren't getting what they asked for either. Chuck Grassley put another request out this week demanding for certain things to be handed over, but also for certain things to be made public and declassified so that more people can see them. You have Mark Meadows, head of the Freedom Caucus, Jim Jordan, who also sits on Oversight Committee, they have outstanding document requests. There are still hundreds if not thousands and thousands of important pages that they have not received.
GIGOT: Yes, I think if the president really does want this -- the public to understand this, he will have to declassify these documents or a big chunk of them and get them out.
All right, still ahead, as both sides gear up for a contentious Supreme Court fight, the political left is attacking one group in particular for its role in the president's selection of Brett Kavanaugh. So just what is the Federalist Society, and what is it trying to do? We will talk to one of its founders, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Who has vetted these judges? A preordained list of 25 preordained by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. The Federalist Society is run by a man named Leonard Leo, whose goal in life has been to repeal Roe v. Wade. He created the list.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Democrats attacking the choice of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court and the role conservative groups played in his nomination. The Federalist Society, whose leader is on leave as he advises President Trump on judicial selections, is being caricatured as a shadowy right-wing cabal. So just who are its members and what are they trying to do?
Let's ask former Congressman David McIntosh. He was a cofounder of the Federalist Society and the current president of the Club for Growth.
Welcome, David. Good to see you again.
So first of all, let me ask you, what do you think of Brett Kavanaugh's nomination?
DAVID MCINTOSH, CO-FOUNDER, FEDERALIST SOCIETY & PRESIDENT, CLUB FOR GROWTH & FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Brett is a tremendous judge. He's a constitutionalist who is going to limit his authority on the Supreme Court to really interpreting the law and then applying it in the cases before him. We see the liberals going into a huge fit over that because they want judges who will impose their liberal orthodoxy whether or not it's in the Constitution.
GIGOT: OK. So the Federalist Society, you founded it many years ago, co- founded it with some others. Why did you feel you need -- needed to do it? What hole were you filling?
MCINTOSH: Fundamentally, the Federalist Society is a law student organization. We were law students then. Scalia was my professor of constitutional law. And we realized the dominant thought in law schools and on the courts was the liberal version, really, after the New Deal that the courts should impose their vision of a good society on the rest of the country and that that had strayed so far from the Constitution we were learning, where the role of judges wasn't to make laws, it was to interpret the laws that Congress and the president passed. And we thought, you know, let's get into a debate about that. And we formed the Federalist Society to bring liberals, conservatives, Libertarians, Traditionalists altogether to debate these big legal questions.
GIGOT: You started as a student group. But now you've branched out and there are a lot of different chapters and you have meetings. These aren't, in my experience, secret meetings. They are advertised with agendas. And is that -- and you invite speakers and you invite liberals. What's the goal there?
MCINTOSH: The goal is to have that debate. In part, we believe that our views are right, and if you put them out there and test them in a debate, you'll be able to persuade people that a limited government and a judiciary that's limited to its proper role is the right thing for the country. If you just advocate, we found that then people who were skeptical said, well, I might not be able to disagree with that, but I know somebody, my smart professor would be able to. So we invited the smart professors to come and debate with us and we have that exchange and I think we are winning because it's the truth.
GIGOT: Well, I mean, does -- what about this role of vetting choices for the courts, whether it be the appellate court or the Supreme Court? I mean, what role does the Federalist Society play in that? I know that Leonard Leo is now on leave. But do you guys -- do you have to join the Federalist Society now if you want to be on the federal bench?
MCINTOSH: No, not at all. And that's not a criteria for who we think would be good judges.
I will say this. The Federalist Society actually does not take an official position on any legislative or confirmation matter. But we realized we have a lot of knowledge about who are really excellent, incredibly capable, smart, credential judges who have that same philosophy that President Trump said he wanted, judges who will limit themselves to their role, follow the Constitution, and interpret the law. And so Leonard and a lot of people involved the organization offered to the -- President Trump, we will research these people. But let's be honest about this, we don't get the choose. He's the president and he made the choice of Brett Kavanaugh. He has very smart lawyers throughout the Justice Department. And his White House staff really do a lot of the research. We offered some names, he liked them in the campaign, put them on a list, but the choice ultimately was his.
GIGOT: You've had just about every Supreme Court member, maybe other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and I might be wrong about that, who addressed your different meetings in Washington, have you not?
MCINTOSH: We have. We've invited the conservatives and enjoy having them there. But we've also invited what you call liberal justices, or judges and justices who have a different view than what we articulate in a lot of our materials, and we like that. We like them and they come. I think they enjoy it, frankly, because it's a cordial but serious intellectual debate.
GIGOT: All right, David McIntosh, great to have you here. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.
MCINTOSH: My pleasure.
GIGOT: 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.
Dan, first to you.
HENNINGER: A big hit to the University of Wyoming's board of trustees who voted unanimously this week to adopt a new slogan for the university, the world needs more cowboys. Meaning the cowboys spirit of toughness and independence. Needless to say, some of the faculty opposed it as racist and sexist. We know how political correctly has virtually killed off the idea of any Indian as a university mascot. Now it is cowboys! They are wrong. The world needs more cowboys!
GIGOT: All right.
KISSEL: I want to give a big hit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Paul, for forcefully advocating for the release of Liu Xia, the widow, of course, of the late Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo. She was held under house arrest for eight years in China. She was so depressed that her friends thought that she might commit suicide. She was released this week in large part thanks to Mrs. Merkel. She emigrated to Germany. It is a small but important win for human rights. You have to keep the focus on everyone else in jail in China.
GIGOT: Thanks, Mary.
STRASSEL: Paul, a hit to Donald Trump for his pardon this week of Dwight and Stephen Hammond, two Oregon ranchers who were convicted and then harshly sentenced of this non-crime of using the same fire land-management tools that the federal government uses. This pardon is great not just because of justice, but because it is a slap to a federal government that has been waging a campaign against western landowners for harassing them and bullying them, forcing them out. Between this and actions at the Interior and Ag Department, we are finally starting to see a change in that mentality.
GIGOT: Thank you, Kim.
MCGURN: A big hit to the Thai Navy SEALs and a special shout-out to Saman Kunan, the former Navy seal, who came in to help them rescue the boys' soccer team that was trapped in these tunnels or caves in Thailand. They got 12 kids out, plus their coach in an extraordinarily difficult rescue. Let's just say thank god for toxic masculinity.
GIGOT: And of course, that Navy SEAL gave his life.
MCGURN: Gave his life, that's right.
GIGOT: All right, thank you.
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. Hope to see right here next week.
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