Michael Mukasey on where the Russia probe goes from here

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," January 27, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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

New developments this week in the Russia probe. President Trump saying he's looking forward to speaking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and is ready to do so under oath. Those comments coming as the president prepared to depart for the World Economic Forum in Davos, and amid reports that he called for Mueller's firing in June, something the president denies.

The Justice Department's inspector general also saying on Thursday he recovered missing text messages exchanged over a five-month period between FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

Former United States Attorney General Michael Mukasey, joins me now.

Judge Mukasey, welcome.


GIGOT: President Trump said this week he wants to speak to Robert Mueller, looking forward to it. As somebody who has represented private clients, would you recommend it?

MUKASEY: You have to consider what the alternatives are. It's always compared to one. On this basis, yes, I would recommend it. The alternative is, if he doesn't speak to him, he can get a grand jury subpoena. If he speaks to him, he gets to speak to him with his lawyer present, they get to talk about the topics and on so on and so forth. If he gets a grand jury subpoena, once he's in the grand jury room, he can't have anybody with him. He can go back out to talk to his lawyer, but it would look awkward to keep going back and forth.


GIGOT: Even the president of the United States can't have his lawyer present in a grand jury proceeding?

MUKASEY: Correct. Grand jury -- the only people in the grand jury room are the grand jurors, the lawyer for the government, the witness and the stenographer.

GIGOT: I guess the concern about the president is, let's be honest, he's known for somewhat imprecise statements on occasion and the FBI has been known to interpret statements as lying that may have been false memories, bad memories. That's a risk.

MUKASEY: Sure, it's a risk. It's a lesser risk if you have your lawyer sitting there able to reach over or even interrupt and start a conversation that gets you back on the right track.

GIGOT: There are news reports saying that the president wanted Robert Mueller fired back in June, and talked to his general counsel, Don McGahn, to do so, and then McGahn threatened to resign. That's the story. Now the White House says it wasn't exactly like that. They talked about it but there was no threat to resign by McGahn. What you make of that story?

MUKASEY: It was hard to imagine how that went down. First of all, the story that The Times sourced, not to somebody who was there but to four people who heard about it. Then --

GIGOT: Presumably, there were only two people there.

MUKASEY: Correct, the president and McGahn. Does the president say, I order you to call up and fire Mueller? McGahn says, I quit. Or is it, you know, I think I'm going to -- we ought to fire McGahn, you ought to call over there and fire him. And McGahn says that's a lousy idea, Mr. President, for a variety of reasons, including it's going to blow back on you, plus the idea that I'm not going it, I'd sooner quit than do that. And they then drift off into something else. It sounds more like the second than the first.

GIGOT: That's not a conversation that -- that's probably a conversation that probably happens a lot in any administration with a general counsel.




GIGOT: Is it a good idea? Would it be a good idea for the president to fire Mueller.

MUKASEY: No. It's a lousy idea. First of all, it would make it appear that he's got a lot to hide.

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: And secondly, it's not going to stop the investigation.

GIGOT: Right. Just like firing Comey didn't stop the investigation.


GIGOT: If that was, in fact, the intent.

As you look at what Mueller is constructing here in all of the news reports -- we don't know because he's not in the prosecutor's room. But does it look like to you that he's examining whether or not there was an obstruction of justice in firing Comey?

MUKASEY: It's possible that that's what he's examining but I really can't tell. I don't think anybody else can tell either. It's very much like the blind man with the elephant. One touches his ear, says it looks like a fan, and somebody touches his tail and says it's a rope, and somebody touches its side and says it's a wall. We don't know. We'll know when it's over. And examining it based on snippets of fact and speculation that we get based on who he's talking to, I think, is a mistake.

GIGOT: As you read stories about what the FBI did and the Justice Department did and the whole controversy over the 2016 campaign, do you find any of that troubling, somebody who was in the Justice Department?

MUKASEY: I find -- I found a lot of it troubling. I find the notion that somebody went and got a FISA warrant, and the question of what kind of evidence was used to get it, I find that extremely troubling.

GIGOT: Particularly, if it was based on Russian misinformation.

MUKASEY: Correct.

GIGOT: But we don't know that, but it could be.

MUKASEY: That is something that I think really needs to be examined.

GIGOT: And the House Intelligence Committee is doing that and has prepared a four-page memo they've shown, based on documents that they've seen. They haven't been able to haul the documents over. They've examined them in the Justice Department and at the FBI, and now they've prepared a memo that they said all members of the House can read, and they're preparing to make that public over the opposition of people in the Justice Department and Democrats. What do you make of the desire to make this public?

MUKASEY: I make -- what I make of it is obviously that think there's something there to publicize and they don't think there's a danger in doing so. For people to say that, well, this is a very dangerous thing to do, who hasn't seen the memo

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: -- seems to me a little rich. They're going to get to see the memo because there's a five-day delay between -- if the House votes to make it public, there's a five-day delay to allow the president to determine whether it's going to be public or not. The president could make it public with the stroke of a pen. He hasn't done that.

GIGOT: Right.

MUKASEY: But they give it, at least nominally, to the executive to decide whether it ought to be made public, and there's a five-day lapse. It's a four-page memo. Even if you read slowly --


GIGOT: And it's presumably if there's something that really does jeopardize national security they could redact it.

MUKASEY: They could redact it. They could summarize it. They could rephrase it. There's all sorts of things they could do.

GIGOT: But at this stage, it seems to me we need to find out what really happened here. That's the main public -- ought to be the main public goal.

MUKASEY: Right. And the more we find out, at this point, the better.

GIGOT: OK. Thank you, Judge. Appreciate it

When we come back, "extraordinarily reckless." That's what the Justice Department is calling plans by House Republicans to release details of alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI during the 2016 campaign. So should the memo in question remain under wraps? Our panel weighs in next.


GIGOT: The Justice Department warned this week that it would be, quote, "extraordinarily reckless" for House Republicans to release a classified memo alleging misconduct by federal officials investigating the Trump campaign's tie to Russia. The four-page document compiled by aides to House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes reportedly claims that senior officials at the FBI abused the secret surveillance program, known as FISA, to target the Trump campaign last fall. The memo has been described by House Republicans who have viewed it as alarming and shacking. Democrats call it misleading and a distraction designed to derail the Mueller probe.

Let's bring in "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger, and columnists, Kim Strassel and Bill McGurn.

So, Kim, you've been following the story closely. What's likely to happen next week with this memo? And are we ever going to see it?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I think you see two things happening. Most likely the House Intelligence Committee meets. They have the ability if a majority votes to declassify that memo and make it public so that everyone can finally see what's in it.


GIGOT: But not immediately. Not immediately.

STRASSEL: No. They can declassify it and then the president of the United States has five days in which he can object. If he does not object, it goes public. If he objects, the full House would have to meet to vote to override him and declassify it.

GIGOT: And the president could decide to say to the House Intelligence Committee, look, keep out this little bit of it or redact certain things. Could he also do that?

STRASSEL: I believe he has the ability to negotiate with them on some of that or simply ask that they take that into consideration. They would modify it and then go through the process again. But I think the bigger point is you're going to see a campaign -- you already are seeing a campaign by Democrats, by the FBI and other intelligence services to try to pressure the president into objecting so that this memo never gets made public.

GIGOT: Bill, what is in it that they would find so objectionable? Obviously, nobody has - it's whisper tight, and it would be a crime to do so, since it's confidential, since it's classified. But we're getting a sense of things --


BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: We're getting a sense from people who have read it that it does deal with the FISA implications. Remember, to get a warrant on someone, a FISA warrant, I believe the standard is you have to suspect them being an agent --

GIGOT: I think it's probable cause.

MCGURN: But an agent of a foreign -- not someone that's just pro-Russia or this. It's a very serious charge. What people who have read it said is that the information there includes stories of abuses, probably how the Steele dossier was used or not --


GIGOT: This is the key point. Would it have been -- the Steele dossier, the Christopher Steele dossier --

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: -- basically paid for by the Democrat national party through Fusion GPS, did it, was that used as part of the evidence to get the FISA warrant?

MCGURN: Right. That's one of the things we want to know. Remember, they had a warrant rejected before. So the question is, Steele dossier comes in, do they use the Steele dossier, and do they represent it accurately to the judge looking at it? And I think part of that representation would say this was a campaign piece, opposition research. It doesn't disprove it.

GIGOT: Right.

MCGURN: I mean, maybe Mrs. Clinton discovered real things. But it's something a judge would want to take into consideration.

Also, it's striking this justice official who said it would be extremely reckless, I'm not sure he's read it. The Justice Department is claiming they haven't seen it.

GIGOT: That's right.

MCGURN: So you have a man -- that's the kind of campaign Kim was talking about. You have a lot of people making claims. Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the committee, is out there blaming Russia bots saying therefore release the memo, and asked Twitter and Facebook to investigate. All I can say is the Russia bot seems to be more for disclosure than are Democrats on the Intel Committee.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Yes, but, you know, Adam Schiff and Senator Dianne Feinstein are saying these Russian bots are taking advantage of what the Republicans are doing, and they're on your side. This situation is beginning to spin out of control politically.

But I personally think -- it's conjecture -- but this is probably about something even larger than the FISA courts. You have the Justice -- this is Donald Trump's Justice Department trying to lean on the Republicans not to release this memo. And I'm convinced that the FBI was not only surveilling Trump campaign workers but surveilling the Russians. This has to do with trying to figure out how the Russians were trying to penetrate our politics. They're undoubtedly afraid of exposing the methods and means about what they were doing.

GIGOT: Does that mean you would agree, don't release the memo?

HENNINGER: No, I don't. I think that -- look, they put this game in play by leaking to the press about the Trump campaign. We've gotten this far. And I don't think Chairman Nunes, at this point, has any alternative other than to make the memo public because Justice and the FBI will not discipline themselves.

GIGOT: Well, and the president of the United States, Kim, has the ability to declassify anything immediately at the stroke of a pen. Why doesn't he go ahead and say not only -- go ahead and release the document in the House but, you know what, I think I want to get the underlying document out as well, to the extent they don't violate sources and methods.

STRASSEL: It would be magnificent if he did that. But you know and I know, and the entire press corps knows, and is using it to its advantage, that the president's legal team has told him not to touch anything to do with this investigation if he can in any way help it, because the fear is, and I think some of it is justified, that Mueller's team and the president's critics out in the media and in the Democratic Party are waiting for another opportunity to accuse him of obstruction or interference. And so there's a great reluctance within the White House to get directly involved in this matter.

GIGOT: Briefly, Bill, would you release the memo, too?

MCGURN: Yes, I would. What the American people need to know is, did the Trump team collude with the Russians -- I don't know. There doesn't look like there's evidence. And they also need to know, did the FBI and the Justice Department put their fingers on the scale. It's amazing --

GIGOT: In the campaign.

MCGURN: In the campaign. It's amazing all of these arguments against disclosure. Even Bob Mueller recognized the threat that Peter Strzok was by demoting him long before we knew the reasons. These texts that are being used are very troublesome.

GIGOT: All right, thank you all.

When we come back, the Trump administration releases an immigration plan that offers a path to citizenship for so-called DREAMers in exchange for border security and other restrictions. So can the White House sell the deal to skeptical lawmakers on both sides of the aisle?


GIGOT: The White House Thursday released the outlines of an immigration plan that would offer a path to citizenship for about 1.8 million undocumented immigrants bought to the United States as children. That, in exchange for $25 billion for border security, including President Trump's long-promised wall as well as other changes to U.S. immigration law. The proposal coming a day after the president told reporters that he would allow the immigrants known as DREAMers to morph into citizens over a period of 10 to 12 years. The White House is expected to brief lawmakers on the details of the plan early next week, but the proposal is already drawing fire from the right and the left.

Dan, as you say, right and the left giving it grief. On the other hand, there's something for both sides in this deal.

HENNINGER: Yes, there is. I mean, Donald Trump is talking about a path to citizenship for the DREAMers, which is anathema to the restrictionist right. And on the other side, he's going to get $25 billion to build the wall, which was a basic campaign promise. I don't see how you can give up on that, plus some other security measures. But not things like E-Verify.

The problem is here -- the goal should be to keep it simple. You're going to need votes in the House and the Senate. You say the right and the left have problems with this. But the problem is that when you get into stuff like chain migration, getting into the deep details of that, how many members of the family can come in and how much security you're going to impose, immigration is a Pandora's box in legislative terms.

GIGOT: But here's the thing, you have to give -- it seems to me, you have to give Trump and the restrictionists something for the DREAMers. And they're putting on the table not just citizenship, and not just for the 800,000 DREAMers who have applied under the Obama program, but everybody who would qualify, even those who haven't applied. That could be 1.8 million people. That's something that -- if you're Democrats or one of the DREAMers yourself, you say, that's a pretty good deal. So what are you going to give the restrictionists that Trump -- let's face it he ran on a - - I don't agree with that policy, but we need to break the logjam on immigration. So what are you going to give them?

HENNINGER: You're going to have to give them something on the limit side. But you have to understand that the restrictionist basically want, after this is done, whether it's 800 DREAMERs or a million, they want immigration stopped --

GIGOT: Sure.

HENNINGER: -- and capped period, zero. All right?

GIGOT: I understand that.

But that's not what this would end up with, Bill. It would reduce probably maybe 400,000 or 500,000 if you really restricted family immigration.

MCGURN: Right. Look, when the Democrats caved on the government shutdown, it really angered the pro-DACA community because they said they sold out. Remember, the original position was we're not going to reach any deal unless DACA is resolved. The question for the Democrats is, can they say yes, can they say yes. And maybe some of the details will change, numbers --


GIGOT: But there should be a negotiation.

MCGURN: Yes. And so not only things set in stone, but the question is, can they say yes. The same thing for the Republicans. They have to make tradeoffs. No one likes what we have but it's a test of sensibility. I'm with you in this sense. Even the details don't interest me as much as -- someone who was there during the collapse of the Bush-Kennedy deal, Congress is the proper venue for this and Congress has been unable to deal with this through several administrations. And clearly, the comprehensive thing is not in play for the reason that Dan says, it just complicates negotiations. I think we just need to get something solved, one piece of the puzzle and then move on and do other things later.

GIGOT: Kim, the way I've looked at immigration politics for a long time is that basically the left has a veto over anything restrictions and the right has a veto over anything that actually legalizes anybody. So you end up with the status quo. The deadline of the DREAMers, March 5th, because Trump basically killed the Obama legalization, that is now a forcing fact that basically says, if you do nothing now, if we still give both sides a veto, you're going to have these people illegal, and they could be deported. That's not, I think, a fair humanitarian position to take, morally or politically, because these people did not come here by their own volition.

STRASSEL: And now we have this incredible moment of truth. And it's going to be very revealing. It already has been revealing.

You have to give the White House credit here. They've not only come out with the contours of exactly what a deal generally needs to look like. They've been very generous, like saying to the Democrats, 1.8 million people and not just legalization but a path to citizenship. So now they're saying, can you take that deal? We already know that the restrictionist right is going to say no, and that's been very revealing. They've already come out and said, well, yes, that border money is good but the rest of this is a no-go. So the president is going to have to look beyond that if he ever wants to see this happen. The ball is really in the left's court and whether or not they're willing to finally make good on promises that they have been making to their constituents for years about getting this situation finished.

GIGOT: I agree with both of you, all of you about that. But the restrictionist right has some -



GIGOT: Are they going to get a veto?

MCGURN: Here's the question, I think we could be in an interesting place where Democratic activist who are pro-DACA that want this resolved start attacking the Democrats for rejecting a deal that would resolve their problem. And Donald Trump could be going after some of the Republicans saying, you're costing me my wall, right?


HENNINGER: Maybe also costing him his reelection. The restrictionists argue that this is going to cost him Republican votes. I think the DREAMer issue has altered the politics of immigration. Upwards of 80 percent of the American people want something done on their behalf. While it may not alter politics inside safe Republican seats that belong to people like from the Freedom Caucus, I think among the general population, there's a sense that we've got to get something done in a positive way on the immigration issue, and here's the opportunity.

GIGOT: All right, thanks, Dan.

Still ahead, President Trump goes to Davos and brings his American First message to the world's political and business elite. So how was it received?



PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I believe in America. As president of the United States, I will always put America First, just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first also. But America First does not mean America alone. When the United States grows, so does the world.


GIGOT: That was President Trump delivering an address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Friday. Mr. Trump, the first sitting U.S. president to attend the annual gathering in nearly 20 years, brought his America First message to a skeptical crowd of the world's political and business elite. So how was it received?

We'll back with Dan Henninger, Bill McGurn, and Wall Street Journal columnist, Mary O'Grady.

So, Mary, all your pals in Davos. Well, maybe McGurn's pals.


But, politically, Donald Trump arriving with the elites. How did he do?

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: I think he did an excellent job. First of all, it was a very good speech. I don't know who wrote it, but it was a good speech, both for its content and brevity. We had other presidents in the past who would speak for very long periods. And I think it was good to keep it short and sweet. He also talked about America is open for business a lot. And he talked about the importance of security to prosperity and the need for the world to come along with us in those efforts.

If I was going to criticize anything, I would say that, on trade, he's still completely wrong-headed about this. He talked about intellectual property theft. I'll give him that. That's a big problem. But in terms of countries that subsidize their exports and do central planning, which he said shouldn't be allowed in the international trade regime, we already know that's a failed strategy, and that is not a reason not to trade with other countries.

GIGOT: And, Bill, it does seem that the mood there at Davos -- a year ago, it would have been trepidation. Six months ago, it would have been horror. And now I think it's almost, OK, this is -- the tax reform growth, so maybe this is not going to be the catastrophe for America that we thought.

BILL MCGURN, COLUMNIST: Right. I think what he explained was America First meant making us attractive. He said, we're open for business for people to come here. The night before, he met with all of these European business leaders, head of Nokia, Siemens. I'm with Mary, it thought it was a good speech. All presidents never say just free trade, they say free and fair trade. That's a big asterisk.

I agree with Mary on the trade part. It contradicts the kind of growth message along with the weak dollar comments that they went into Davos on. The irony is like the idea that the weak dollar is going to promote your economy. That's one of the favorite little chestnuts of people like those who meet at Davos, right? I think it undercuts his message. I don't think he sees that. But I think that would be the little quibble I had.

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: My reaction is a lot more positive. I think it's a big deal. Davos represents one thing. What is that one thing? The word, globalization.

GIGOT: I thought you were going to say money.


HENNINGER: No. Globalization, that's the criticism of globalization, it's all about money for the big corporations and so forth, workers being set aside. I think Trump redefined it. He's saying, look, globalization is about the business sector and the private sector functioning. We've taken steps in the United States to allow or private sector to function, massive tax cuts, deregulation, making bureaucrats accountable again. As he said, we have a lot of unelected bureaucrats in the United States.

GIGOT: And that's just the --


HENNINGER: So he's describing this --


HENNINGER: -- as the model for a proper global economy. But on behalf of workers and jobs, not only in our country but in other countries. I think it was deft way of redefining the issue in a way that comports with a private-sector economy.

GIGOT: What's interesting, he was using the U.S. and its policies as an example to follow --


GIGOT: -- instead of attacking Europe or attacking the E.U.

And that's a different way of approaching this. And I think probably likely to win more converts than the opposite.

O'GRADY: Yes. I think the message was a U.S. leadership message, which we didn't have in the last eight years from President Obama. President Obama tended to be more apologize for U.S. strength. This president went out there and said, we're strong and that's good for you. I think that was very positive.

GIGOT: Let's talk about Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary. He created turmoil in the markets by talking about the low dollar, a low dollar is good for America. And Donald Trump, he fell out of that. And it had already been down in the Trump administration. So, now Donald Trump was really interesting. Two days later, he said, well, I think he was misinterpreted, and I actually think that, you know, he shouldn't talk about the dollar. The dollar will do what the dollar does. That's interesting. Because he's usually said I'm for a weak dollar, too. Maybe there's learning a little bit here about that.

O'GRADY: Yes. The dollar is down 8 percent against the index in the first Trump year. So I think that, you know, while Donald Trump might have wanted to weaken the dollar, he also understands that a 20 percent fall on the dollar would impoverish Americans. Anybody that holds dollars, when the dollar falls, you get weaker and poorer. It's a tax on people with assets. And it's --

GIGOT: Because they're buying oil, gasoline and oil.

O'GRADY: Yes. It helps people with liabilities.

GIGOT: OK, all right. Thank you all.

Still ahead, the U.S. economy continuing to grow at a solid pace in the fourth quarter. And Starbucks spending some of the Trump tax cut on its employees.


GIGOT: The U.S. economy continued to grow at a solid pace in the fourth quarter of 2017 with GDP rising at an annual rate of 2.6 percent, down slightly from the third quarter. That news coming as Starbucks announced it will use some of the savings from the GOP tax cuts to give its U.S. workers pay raises, company stock, and expanded benefits. Altogether, the coffee chain said it would spend more than $250 million on its employees and create 8,000 retail jobs.

We're back with Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel and Mary Anastasia O'Grady.

So, Kim, how do you read the 2.6 percent growth figure? Down a little bit from what the economists expected.

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Down what was expected. Down below the 3 percent that we had seen in the second and third quarters, but still strong and solid. Representing a very strong spending spree by American consumers, reflecting optimism both through Thanksgiving and Christmas. And most importantly, a number that does not take into account any real measure the effects of the upcoming tax cuts.

GIGOT: That's what's interesting. If you look inside the numbers, the reason for the decline, Dan, from the second and third quarters, which were above 3 percent, is inventories fell off. That's going to rebounded in future quarters so that's a temporary effect.

HENNINGER: Yes. Output was up close to 7 percent as well. And now we're seeing in the first quarter of this year, this tremendous amount of what looks like output, capital investment across the board. It's quite extraordinary. The tax cut has been notable. Cutting the corporate tax cut from 35 percent to 21 percent, one corporation after another is citing this as the reason they're going to make these capital investments, raise the wages of their workers, raise 401K matches. There's a tremendous amount of economic vitality happening in the first quarter. The question is, is it going to be sustainable over the long term or will something break it, whether it's a foreign policy event, like North Korea, a political event, or perhaps the feds eventually raising interest rates.

GIGOT: That's all a risk, I grant you. And I grant trade is a risk as well, Mary.

But I want to talk about one particular thing that we're seeing. That is a capital strike, so called, that we saw under Obama, seems to be ending. For years, you know, in the recovery you had really capital investment, much lower than you usually get in an expansion. And now it's actually popping up.

O'GRADY: Yes. CapEx is up, and that is really important component here going forward. Caterpillar Tractor was out last week with their earnings. They really surprised on the upside, which is showing you that people are - - companies are wanting this heavy machinery, not just in the United States but there's kind of a global reflation, which I think is going to be a very important component of this going forward.

GIGOT: Capital investment is not just important for building machinery. It's an investment in productivity. And if you increase productivity, which has also been low in the Obama recovery, what does that do? It flows through to workers. If each worker is more productive. They're worth more. You can pay them more.

O'GRADY: Yes. It's pretty clear that the business was really beaten down over the Obama years, partly just the rhetoric, the kind of negativity about -- made a very hostile business climate. But the other thing is that you have, going forward, you have some risk of no levers, monetary levers, and no fiscal levers to get the economy growing. That's why this tax cut was so important because it's going to bring capital off the sidelines back into the market.

GIGOT: Kim, let's talk about the political impact of all of this, not the GDP figure per se, but more of what's happening with tax reform, with all of these companies, hundreds of companies announcing bonuses, raises and so on, and new investment. Is this going to have an impact politically on voters?

STRASSEL: Well, it should have a huge impact. Now, remember, Democrats immediately came out and pooh-poohed this bill, in fact, campaigned against it the entire time it was under discussion, saying it was a payoff for fat accounts and that no workers in America would benefit whatsoever. They've been remarkably proven wrong on that, almost in embarrassing fashion. Republicans are going to go out with that, they're going to talk about how right they were with this tax policy in terms of the economy, talk about rising fortunes for Americans, and try to take credit for it. It could help them very much, especially if, and it's a big if, if the president can stay on message this year and talk about that as well, too, maybe even notch a few more victories, but try to do something about improving his own approval rate.

HENNINGER: One other quick point, Kim, the generic ballot has had -- earlier in this month, in January, people prepared Democrats to Republicans by 16 points. Four weeks later, it's collapsed to a six-point lead.


GIGOT: I think it was more like seven or eight.

HENNINGER: I think the average right now is six. And it is obvious --

GIGOT: Are you giving credit to the tax reform for that?

HENNINGER: What else could it be?


If this continues.

GIGOT: The president didn't speak for a week. I don't know.


HENNINGER: -- it could save the Republican House in November.

GIGOT: All right. When we come back, President Trump preparing to deliver his first State of the Union address on Tuesday. So should we expect a conventional speech from our unconventional commander-in-chief?


GIGOT: President Trump set to deliver his first State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. The speech seen as a chance for the president to outline his agenda ahead of the crucial midterm elections. But should we expect a conventional State of the Union address from our own nonconventional president?

Our own Bill McGurn served head speech writer for President George W. Bush.

So, Bill, you've worked on these. I gather it takes weeks and weeks of collating suggestions from everybody.

MCGURN: Every year, speech writers get together saying this is not going to be a laundry list. And every year, unless there's a war declared or something, it's a laundry list. It's the nature of the beast?

GIGOT: Why is it the nature of the beast?

MCGURN: Because the president is laying out his agenda and everyone in the White House, whatever little obscure part you work on, you want the president to mention it. And what the president usually does is lay out what he wants to do in foreign affairs, the economy, and domestic grab bag, from education to the environment, and then he goes out and sells it. If he's talking about the economy, he goes out to an auto plant or something and sells it.

GIGOT: Is there any difference between a speech, State of the Union written in an election year versus one in a nonelection year?

MCGURN: I'm not so sure. There's all of the little tricks. Your goal is -- you know, the Democrats, you say we're going to spend $10 million on the environment, Democrats get up and cheer. Republicans, you say we're going to do more for our troops and the Republicans get up. That's part of the little games. I think Donald Trump could be a little different. His Davos speech was a little different. I think he's going to explain himself. Maybe he doesn't get into the weeds as much as the normal State of the Unions do.

GIGOT: How many drafts do you go through?

MCGURN: So when I was there, a draft was, if you changed one word, that was a new draft. So we'd do 50 drafts. But that doesn't necessarily mean it has all been rewritten. And a president practices it a lot. The one thing about the State of the Union, it's probably the most majestic setting for a president, the most formal setting. Typically, there's some Supreme Court justices there.


GIGOT: Right. Military generals.

MCGURN: Both Houses are there. So it's all of the government there. It's a grand setting for a president. Which is why most of them, you know, like to give it there, and they get primetime TV.

GIGOT: And did President Bush edit a lot?

MCGURN: Yes. We used to call him the editor-in-chief instead of commander-in-chief.


He would edit a lot. You would go through a draft and then everyone -- each of these policies involves tricky words, and then you'd edit as he gave it, we'd change things or look up things.

GIGOT: As a speech writer, you have to put your ego into a box --

MCGURN: Yes. Yes.

GIGOT: -- and fall in love with your words.

MCCGURN: Except, it's the time of the year where nothing's happening. Everyone is working on the State of the Union, so they throw the speech writers out to the press to do profiles, to give them some news and so forth. The only speech I think hated more by speech writers is UNGA, the United Nations speech.


It's the longest speech the president gives and it's just a lot of different things you have to tie together.

GIGOT: What do you think Trump needs to do Tuesday, Mary? What would you like to see him do?

O'GRADY: He's accomplished a lot. He certainly has bragging rights before the American public. But I think his challenge will be to take credit for those things and highlight them but, at the same time, you know, have a good tone that brings people along. Dan was talking about all of the voters who have shifted during the last month, the tone that the president sets in this speech will have a lot to do with it. I think his accomplishments, he's popular, but he's not popular personally. He has to put on a better face.

GIGOT: Don't make it about him, in other words.


GIGOT: Make it, we're doing this for the American public, and here are the benefits of it. It's not just about me.

HENNINGER: Yes. And I think one issue will be his relationship with Congress, specifically the Democrats. I mean, Donald Trump likes to mix it up. And the thing is, is he going to be in your face with the Democrats or is he going to say, come, let us all reason together.


I mean, he --

GIGOT: What do you think the balance will be there, Dan?


GIGOT: I have my guess.

HENNINGER: Well, no. I think perhaps he should put the burden on them saying, we're making progress, we've got an immigration bill coming up, we're trying to move forward. And I believe Trump makes them put the burden on Chuck Schumer and the Democrat to say, hey, are you going to come along and join in with this great thing we're doing with the United States or are you going to resist?

O'GRADY: One item I think is important again is trade. He said in Switzerland that he's kind of interested in the Transpacific Partnership again, something that he pulled us out of. So I hope he would rein in a little bit on his hostility on trade where he's constantly saying that if we don't get the deal we want, we're going to pull out of these multilateral trade partnerships. It's not going to be good for the U.S. economy.

GIGOT: Kim, briefly, do you think the Democrats will boycott, a number of them, the speech?

STRASSEL: I think some of them will boycott. I think you'll see a lot of women there led by Jackie Speier, who is the Democrat in the House, who has been focused on sexual misconduct, encouraging all of the women to wear black. I think there's going to be a lot of symbolism on the Democratic side in which they seek to express their dislike of the man giving the speech.

GIGOT: All right, thank you very much, Kim.

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.

Kim, start us off.

STRASSEL: So, Paul, this is a hit for, Tennys Sandgren, a relatively unknown tennis player who burst on to the scene by making it to the quarter finals in the Australian Open. In the middle of this, the media started looking into him and discovers that, shock, horror, he's a Trump supporter, and not only that, he follows some people in on Twitter who they don't approve of. So they begin to hound him not over his tennis but over his political views. To his credit, he didn't take it lying down. When he lost, he shamed the press in a statement that would have made Sara Huckabee Sanders proud. Good for him.

GIGOT: All right.


MCGURN: Paul, a hit to Facebook. This week, the social media giant banned a Libertarian, Tom Champlin, who publishes the "Libertarian Review," and he published a meme playing off of the craze for teenagers eating pods of Tide detergent. The offending meme pictures a teen biting into one under the caption, "This is why we can't pay for your health insurance." He was banned from Facebook. It's hard to know what Facebook objected more, a sense of humor or Libertarianism.

GIGOT: Mary?

O'GRADY: A miss for the state of California where coffee companies are being sued because they don't put warnings labels on their coffee cups saying that coffee causes cancer. This is a shakedown by lawyers, Paul. Prop 65 says that if any product has even a tiny bit of a carcinogen in it, customers have to be warned. And last year, there were hundreds of settlements totally $25 million. Lawyers got 7 percent of the money.

GIGOT: That's why they wrote the code.


HENNINGER: I'm going to give a semi hit to Apple's Tim Cook, who said last week that he would just assume not have his nephew using social media. I agree with this. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, they all have their upsides, but they're being buried under an avalanche of dumbing down an antisocial problem. Tim Cook's problem is this is the gateway drug, his iPhone.


And that guy has a lot of work to do if he's going to solve this.

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

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