What role did Blumenthal play in Clinton's State Department?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 23, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on the JOURNAL: EDITORIAL REPORT, Hillary Clinton's e-mails finally begin to trickle out along with evidence of a secret foreign policy adviser and claims of State Department stonewalling.

Plus, President Obama's ISIS strategy suffers a setback as the Iraqi city of Ramadi falls and extremists seize key Syrian territory. So will the administration change course?

And accusations of racial bias at Harvard University. Are elite schools using quotas to discriminate against Asian-Americans?

Welcome to the JOURNAL: EDITORIAL REPORT. I'm Paul Gigot.

Well, as the long awaited e-mails finally begin to trickle out, we're learning more about just who was advising her during her time at the State Department. Long-time confidant and Clinton Foundation staffer, Sidney Blumenthal, sent at least 25 memos to Clinton on Libya, including several on the 2012 attack in Benghazi. And we heard learned from the "Wall Street Journal" this week that Clinton's staff at the State Department, including, chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, scrutinized and sometimes blocked the release of politically sensitive documents requested questioned under the Freedom of Information Action.

For more I'm joined by "Wall Street Journal" "Potomac Watch" columnist, Kim Strassel; "Main Street" columnist, Bill McGurn; and Manhattan Institute senior fellow and "Journal" contributor, Jason Riley.

Kim, what is the most important takeaway you get from this week's news?

KIM STRASSEL, "POTOMAC WATCH" COLUMNIST: It is that Sidney Blumenthal appeared to be running State Department business or at least helping Hillary Clinton in a capacity nobody knew about. And in all kind of ways that bring up some very big concerns. Here is this man from her past, he is not only getting paid by the Clinton Foundation --

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: -- he is getting a salary from them. He's getting paid by outside groups that are helping set the path for Hillary's presidential bid. He is advising a group that is trying to get business in Libya. And he's --


GIGOT: Private business, private business, private business.


GIGOT: But this is private business.


GIGOT: That's right.

STRASSEL: Yes. At the same time he is putting things in Mrs. Clinton's ear about the events in Libya. So this is a very tangled web and we're not quite sure who is benefiting from it, or is anyone is. But there's a lot of questions to be asked.

GIGOT: This is really weird, Jason. Is you are -- he's advising, telling the secretary of state, who has this whole intelligence operation at her disposal, to tell her about Libya and foreign countries. He is saying here is what's really going on in Libya. And I know because I'm a half a world away in --


JASON RILEY, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE SENIOR FELLOW & WALL STREET JOURNAL CONTRIBUTOR: And let's keep in mind, Sidney Blumenthal is someone Hillary was banned from hiring to help her.

GIGOT: By the Obama White House.

RILEY: The Obama administration said, no, you cannot hire him.


GIGOT: In an official capacity.

RILEY: In an official capacity. So again, this is Hillary Clinton thinking the rules do not apply to her. And there is an open question I think deserving of a criminal investigation as to whether Sidney Blumenthal was being paid by foreign governments to whisper into the ear of Hillary Clinton, to write memos. I think that is worthy of investigating.

GIGOT: And she was taking the memos and distributing them to the State Department --


GIGOT: -- sometimes stripping out the providence where they come from. And here real chief of staff was distributing them saying, yeah, this is interesting. Follow-up. Or so forth.

MCGURN: Right. I don't think this was weird, as you say. I think it's very logical. I think it's very logical for the Clintons


GIGOT: You think the rest of the government normally works this way?


MCGURN: No. For the Clintons.


MCGURN: This is standard operating procedure. I think if you step back from the weeds, they always suck us into these debates, who was Sidney Blumenthal --


Did they report this speech on their IRS forms and stuff like that. The larger thing here is the mechanics are the message. She went into this job determined to use private e-mail, put it on a server in her living room. We see there is reason for that. And it has to do with the intertwining of Hillary's political ambitions, the Clinton's personal wealth and other goals of the Clinton Foundation. It is all a mix. And I think they deliberately built a structure that allowed them get away with these things.

GIGOT: We should -- I should add, Jason, that Sidney Blumenthal is not talking publicly so far, but he has said -- his lawyer had said he will cooperate with the investigation.

RILEY: We do know that all those e-mails are not about Chelsea's wedding plans --



RILEY: -- or the yoga routine.



MCGURN: For Sidney, he knew that the YouTube video was just a cover for a planned al Qaeda attack. So half a world away, he knew something contrary to the Obama line.

GIGOT: Kim, fill us in on this --


GIGOT: Go ahead, Kim. Go ahead, Kim.

STRASSEL: But this brings up a really good point, which is that the only reason we probably know about these Blumenthal e-mails is that Mr. Blumenthal's account was hacked a couple of years ago by a hacker and these e-mails were put up online. And therefore, it was discovered he had been e-mailing Hillary Clinton. Would we have ever been told about these e-mails otherwise? Would she have deleted them along with the rest? And how many others has she deleted?

GIGOT: OK, and those are all good questions.

Now, tell us, Kim, about Cheryl Mills, chief of staff for the secretary when she was at State, and senior staff vetting Freedom of Information Act requests. How unusual is it for senior staff to do that at an agency?

STRASSEL: It is a huge no, no. And I would phrase it as "controlling information" at the State Department, which we now know this is what Hillary Clinton was all about from the moment she set foot at the State Department. But Cheryl Mills, again, another person like Sidney Blumenthal, blast from the Clinton past. She's been around forever. Followed Mrs. Clinton to the State Department. We now know that she was telling -- you know, departments like this have public records experts. It is their job to look through these FOIA requests and decide what complies with the law, what can be released. We now know Mrs. Mills was going in on top of them and making her own decisions about it, and moreover, saying that if they released documents she said no about that Mrs. Clinton's office would no longer comply with disclosure requirements.

GIGOT: Will there be any ramifications for this, Kim, or is this just one of those things, OK, improper behavior but it goes away?

STRASSEL: It seems to fall, once again, into that gray area that the Clintons thrive in where you can't necessarily -- you get them with a felony then supposedly, according to them, it is no big deal.

GIGOT: Now, Jason, to the credit of the media, they have reported this, a lot of this stuff, breaking this stuff. But it is interesting to me that the liberal commentariate, the people who -- will comment on -- if Republicans were doing this, they would be all over it. They have before studiously silent with this. Is she going to get away with it?

RILEY: I think they're counting on a couple of things. One is that no one is paying attention right now. Yes, political junkies are, yes, the media is, but the public, the voters in general --

GIGOT: Sure.

RILEY: -- they're not tuned in right now.

They also have going for them that no other Democrat has stepped up and complained about what is going on with Hillary Clinton. So she can dismiss all of this as simply right-wing nonsense.

GIGOT: Why not? Why not?

RILEY: Again, they are intimidated by the Clinton machine, people coming back after them. I don't know. But I don't think that is going last. I think at some point, a Democrat will stand up and say, listen folks, Hillary Clinton is damaged goods, we need to start looking at alternatives.

GIGOT: And her trust ratings are taking a big hit in the poll now. About 25 percent trust Secretary Clinton.

When we come back, President Obama insists the war against ISIS is not being lost, but the fall of Ramadi and the advance of the Islamic State in Syria suggests otherwise. So will the administration change course before it is too late?


GIGOT: The Islamic State terror group now controls over half of Syrian territory after seizing the ancient village of Palmyra this week. That, according to activists monitoring the civil way there. The news comes on the heels of last weekend's fall of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to ISIS after government forces retreated and the extremists seized control. In an interview this week, Obama called the takeover of Ramadi a setback but insisted that the war against the Islamic State is not being lost. "I don't think we're losing," he told "The Atlantic" in an interview Tuesday. "There is no doubt there was a tactile setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time."

We're back with Bill McGurn. "Wall Street Journal" "Global View" columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Mary Kissel, also join the panel.

Bret, tactile or more significant?

BRET STEPHENS, "GLOBAL VIEW" COLUMNIST: Yeah, you know, you are waiting for the Hitler in the bunker video to appear describing the, I don't know, the disaster of Stalingrad as a tactical setback. This is a major loss for Iraq and also for the United States.

GIGOT: How so?

STEPHENS: Ramadi is the capital of Anbar Province, the Sunni heartland. And it was in 2007 during the surge that the retaking of Ramadi demonstrated to those Sunnis that we could prevail anywhere in Iraq in the toughest place. So the symbolism is important because psychological momentum has a lot to do with the ability of the Iraqis to take the battle against ISIS. The loss of Ramadi is going to have a psychological blow for those Sunni tribes that want to ally with us and for the Iraqi government.

GIGOT: What about the impact on the Islamic State, Mary, the recruitment they can do abroad? This shows they are gaining ground not being degraded and destroyed as the president promised in September. That gives them a sense of momentum around the world. Probably will help them recruit not only fighters to come to Syria and Iraq but also lone wolves here in Europe or the United States.

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: The Islamic State is clearly winning in Iraq. That's what the president doesn't want to say. And recall, too, Paul, that back in 2010, Vice President Joe Biden said that Iraq was going to be one of the greatest achievements of this administration. I think the disorder you see in the Middle East today, whether it's Iraq or Yemen or Syria, shows what happens when the White House makes decisions based on politics and not on our national interests and the interests of our allies in the region.

GIGOT: But, Bill, the president, I think, why would he say that? Does he know something, for example? Is he more confident this can be retrieved if it is a strategy sort of lying in wait that is going to get better?

MCGURN: I agree with both Bret and Mary. The strategy is domestic politics. He's always done this.


GIGOT: But how does it help --


GIGOT: OK, but --


MCGURN: Well, it helps because it -- you don't want to be the president saying we're losing. No one wants to hear that.


GIGOT: But people -- but Americans can watch the news, OK?

MCGURN: Right.

GIGOT: Major city falls in Syria. City falls in Iraq. That is --


GIGOT: That's not good news.

MCGURN: President Obama is committed to just two things. And he reminds us of this all the time. He is not going to put U.S. troops anywhere and he is always going to tell you a timetable for withdrawal. And he's always fighting not the last war but a different war from the one we're fighting. When he was running for office, he was fighting the necessary war in Afghanistan.


MCGURN: When he got in, he declared a surge and he declared the withdrawal. Same thing, red line in Syria. And then we get poll-tested language, "destroy and degrade."

GIGOT: I think the White House would say to that one, Bret, you know what, yeah, we don't really want to get into either side of this. And so -- the American people don't want us to intervene. The president said it in the United Kingdom --


GIGOT: I'm not George Bush and I'm not going to put more ground troops in there. And the American people support me.

STEPHENS: Right. Barack Obama came to office saying I'm going to destroy al Qaeda and that was one of the big promises of the first term. ISIS is al Qaeda on steroids. And I think Americans also recognizes this ISIS, a caliphate in the Middle East is a problem when you have attacks being inspired by ISIS in Ottawa or Garland, Texas or elsewhere. Remember, this is a president with a record of making massive misstatements about the nature of the fight we're in. Al Qaeda on a path to defeat. Yemen is a model for successful counterinsurgency. Assad is about to fall any day now. Now this with al Qaeda. So there's a question about whether the president is really attending to the business of knowing just what sort of position we're in tactically as well as strategically.

KISSEL: Also, you have to say, the irony of all of this is that by saying we're not going to put U.S. troops in harms way, he is allowing this disorder and this caliphate to grow that ultimately may require more U.S. troops in the region in the long term.

MCGURN: And it's not just a caliphate, to Bret's point. I was in the White House with President Bush when he announced the surge. Ramadi was the first test of it. And we saw -- we saw the al Qaeda presence there on these slides that looked like a tumor being shrunk. It is not just a symbolic victory. It also means ISIS, the al Qaeda off shoot, is growing in power. And it means the Iraqis are looking to Iran. There is an Iraqi leader quoted today saying the Americans are our friends on paper but, in combat, it is the Iranians. So Ramadi is sort of a microcosm of two kinds of extremists gaining in influence.

GIGOT: Bret, the Pentagon, officials in the Pentagon understand all this, OK? They've been trying to put an optimistic loss on it, however. But is their reputation at risk and are they going to be fighting internationally, arguing internally, you know what, we've got to change course here and accelerate our bombing and do more or we're going to really suffer a strategic defeat, not a tactical one?

STEPHENS: A generation of Army officers came of age telling saying we will never repeat the mistake that we made in Vietnam of telling our political masters what they want to hear. And I have a feeling that that is happening now. Obama doesn't want to hear that he needs to put in more troops if he's going to win this fight.

GIGOT: All right, thank you all.

When we come back, Harvard University under fire for allegedly discriminating against Asian-Americans in its admissions process. Are these students being held to a higher standard than other applicants?


GIGOT: A coalition of more than 60 groups is asking the federal government to investigate possible racial bias in undergraduate admissions at Harvard University. The complaint, filed last week, accuses Harvard of using racial quotas in holding Asian-Americans to far higher standards than other applicants, a practice used to limit the number of Jewish students at Ivy League schools in the half of the 20th century.

We're back with Jason Riley and Mary Kissel.

Jason, what is the root of the accusation here, the complaint by these groups?

RILEY: The complaint is that Asian kids hit it out of the park academically in terms of qualifications.

GIGOT: What are those qualifications?

RILEY: Just in terms of grade point average, class rank, SAT scores, they are always at the top. Yet, at our elite schools, their acceptance rates don't reflect that. And the suspicion is that they're being artificially capped.

GIGOT: What are the magnitudes? Do we have the sense of the magnitudes of how much they are being held back?

RILEY: Oh, yes. The studies that have been done show that Asian kids need to outscore blacks, whites and Hispanic kids by hundreds of points on standardized tests. They're really only competing with one another, in fact, at a lot of these elite schools.

GIGOT: So essentially there is a cap on admissions --


RILEY: That is what the record shows. If you look at Harvard's acceptance rate of Asians over the past 20 years, you'll see it ranging right around 17 or 17 percent, even though the Asian population has more than doubled over the same time period.

GIGOT: And here's the other thing that's odd about this. We're talking about Asian-Americans, such a generalization.


GIGOT: I mean, there's Korean-American, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Indian-Americans, a variety -- Vietnamese-Americans, a variety of people from different ethnic backgrounds. Asia is a big continent.


But they're all lumped in --


GIGOT: They're all lumped in together as part of one category? Is that what you're saying?

RILEY: For the purposes of these administrators in accepting them, yes.

GIGOT: How can this be justified, Mary?

KISSEL: I don't think it can be justified but --

GIGOT: How would Harvard do it?

KISSEL: Well, Harvard would say there are benefits of diversity, putting different groups of people together. But the problem is it is very hard to demonstrate the benefits. It is very easy to demonstrate the harm. Because diversity is, by definition, discrimination. It leads to things like quotas and racial profiling. By definition, if you're taking one student who wasn't as qualified as the other, this one in this case, the Asian, is not let in.

GIGOT: Well, let me push back a little bit because I think Harvard would say, look, diversity -- you may not be able to measure its impact but it enriches the education experience.


GIGOT: It is important for students to get a -- to be disposed to a variety of people. Just like you want football players, you want to piccolo players, you want people from all over the country and different backgrounds.

KISSEL: Yeah, well, show me the --


KISSEL: statistics or the benefits because you can measure the harm. Students who are put in a university who aren't qualified tend to have lower graduation rates, they have lower grades, they have lower bar passage rates. You can demonstrate that. You are putting them in position where they are not set up to succeed.

RILEY: I would agree entirely with that. How do you qualify this diversity rationale? Show me the tangible benefits of -- do I need an X percentage of Asians, blacks and whites to learn calculus or study Shakespeare? Is it going to increase my earnings after graduation? Is it going to increase the likelihood that I will graduate? The proponents of this can show nothing.


GIGOT: Well, here is what we want. We want people -- we want people of all races to be able to get access to the best quality education and this gives them that. Otherwise, they wouldn't have it. I want to play devil's advocate.

KISSEL: So fix high school --


-- in America so that they have the tools to qualify for some of these great tertiary schools.

GIGOT: The Supreme Court has said that race can be used as a factor in admissions. It said it can't be the factor, right?

RILEY: Right. So the frustration --


-- of the Supreme Court continues to blush the so called holistic approach that uses race --


GIGOT: That is the word, holistic.

RILEY: And these elite schools are driving a semi-truck through that exception.

GIGOT: Is that going to stay?

RILEY: We'll find out. Because there is a court case also pending in addition to this administration complaint.

GIGOT: OK, thank you, Jason, Mary.

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


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

Kim, start us off.

STRASSEL: A miss to Republican presidential contender, Rand Paul, who took to the Senate floor for 10 hours this week to protest renewing the Patriot Act on the grounds that we cannot allow a Big Brother government to keep spying on Americans. Here is the problem. There is no evidence that has ever happened or any indication that it will. It's entirely theoretical. What is not theoretical is the risk of terror. And the reality is that things like the NSA's meta data program have been at the front lines of the keeping the country safe. It's something to bear in mind when you hear speeches like this.

GIGOT: All right.


KISSEL: I want to give a hit to the Obama administration for finally releasing a trove of documents that were seized during the 2011 raid of bin Laden's compound. We learned a little bit more about the terrorist leader. We learned that he was actively managing al Qaeda. He was in touch with other terror groups. And he was also reading things like leftist screeds, anti-Semitic texts, pornography. It is a handy reminder, it's important to know our enemy. Let's get more of these documents out in the public domain.

GIGOT: All right.


MCGURN: Paul, we're moving into commencement season now and the Young American Foundation did a survey of the speakers that are going to address graduates. They found that the top 100 U.S. universities, liberal commencement speakers outnumber conservatives six to one.

GIGOT: I'm shocked.

MCGURN: Part of a pattern. In 2014, it was five to one. 2013, it was four to one. In 2012, it was seven to one. Maybe our university officials need a political course in commencement diversity.

GIGOT: Who is Notre Dame's speaker?

MCGURN: Fitz Patten (ph).


GIGOT: All right.

And remember, if you have your own hit or miss tweet it to us at JER on FNC.

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

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