Will voters buy Hillary Clinton's email defense?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," August 22, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the Clinton campaign fights back as the e-mail controversy continues to take its toll on the Democratic frontrunner. Will voters buy her defense?

Plus, Donald Trump forces the GOP candidates to weigh in on some controversial immigration issues. We'll tell you where they stand.

And Democrats roll out their plans to curb college costs. But could their proposal raise the price of a degree? Find out after these headlines.


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

Hillary Clinton's camp is stepping up its response to allegations that she stored sensitive material on her private e-mail server after a court filing this week revealed that intelligence agencies have flagged more than 300 documents from Clinton's account that may contain classified information.  The problem, her campaign argued this week, isn't Clinton's handling of the emails, but the dysfunctional system used by the government to designate what's secret.

During a testy exchange with reporters in Las Vegas Tuesday, the former secretary of state claims she's the innocent victim of that agency battle.


HILLARY CLINTON, D-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  It has nothing to do with me, and it has nothing to do with the fact that my account was personal. It's the process by which the government and sometimes, in disagreement between various agencies of the government, make decisions about what can and cannot be disclosed.


GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; editorial board member Joe Rago; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

So, Kim, in the ongoing e-mail saga, what is the most important detail we learned this week?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: I think the most important thing -- well, a couple of things. One, we have found out that the server that was turned over to the FBI was, in fact, according to Mrs. Clinton's lawyers, wiped clean. We still don't know what that means yet in terms of their ability to retrieve data, but that was one thing. We've also seen the Clinton camp become very defensive about this, which suggests that they and the Democratic Party realize that there's a bit of a problem for them.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: Because of revelations about classified material, which has also been in the news yet more again this week.

GIGOT: But, Kim, also we've learned that there really was a lot of classified information that's crossed her e-mail back and forth. Maybe more than 300. That's just based on the documents that have been looked at so far. This is an escalating problem of mishandling classified information.

STRASSEL: Yes, and we also have new reports -- there was a story out from Reuters this week that suggested that some of this information that just by its very nature, whether or not it was marked classified or not in her account, by its very nature should have always been viewed as classified because, for instance, it included high-level discussions between the secretary of state and foreign diplomats.

GIGOT: So, James, her response, "I didn't know it was classified when it came in to me, and I never sent knowingly classified information."  Adequate?

JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: No, it's not adequate.  You remember the Clinton campaign also said -- a few weeks ago, made a stink with the press saying, "She's being investigated, it's not criminal yet," but it should be a criminal investigation because, for anyone not named Clinton, it would be. As Judge Mukasey, the former attorney general, wrote in our paper last week, it's punishable for up to a year in jail for having classified information in an unauthorized location, her server. It does not matter whether she allowed someone to mark "classified" on it.

GIGOT: This would be misdemeanor?



So, Joe, what about Judge Emmet Sullivan this week, in a court hearing said -- told the FBI and the State Department, get on the stick to get the information and response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Judicial Watch, information from her server as well as from the thumb drives that Hillary Clinton's lawyer turned out to the FBI. Reluctantly, but they have turned it over. How significant is the judge's order?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think it's pretty significant. You've kind of got these circling cases, there's three Freedom of Information cases in court, and sort of a growing outside suspicion from the intelligence community, from the FBI. They're really the only people that can force some kind of resolution to this. If it's left to the political system, you're going to continue to see these kinds of made-up excuses.  Look, she was the secretary of state, she decides what is classified.  That's one of her jobs. Just the fact that anything -- any of her official business was on a private server is troubling.

GIGOT: James, how much damage is it doing to her standing politically?

FREEMAN: Certainly, she's been gradually, not quickly, but gradually sinking in the polls since these revelations came out in the sprint.  Trustworthiness going down as well. Approval rating not looking good. But she's still kind of hanging in there. She's still the leading Democratic candidate, I guess you would say. But I think this legal problem and maybe more on the investigative side, the potentially criminal side than the lawsuit side, is going to be a problem because, unless she's saying she hired somebody to sit in the bathroom in Denver and review these things, the fact that they're unmarked is going to be a consequence of her running this private operation.

Kim, you know, a wise man, once told me a slogan, "If there's no alternative, there's no problem," and I think that the Clinton strategy on this is that. If there's no alternative to Hillary Clinton for the nominee, they figure the Democrats are going to circle the wagons, they'll get behind her, and all of this will fade as the campaign goes along. Is that why she's trying to use the partisanship defense here and saying it's all just the Republicans?

STRASSEL: Absolutely. It's what Clintons do. The goal here, as you said, is to keep everyone focused on the prize, which, in the Clintons' minds, is the Clintons. I think the problem for the Clintons is Democrats are looking around, wondering if they don't need another person to come in.  The polls, in fact, just this week, there was a couple of really devastating ones for her showing her losing in head-to-head matchups against most of the top Republican tier candidates in places like Florida and Pennsylvania, which really matter. You've also begun to have some Democrats publicly starting to question her. A Democratic member of Congress, John Yarmuth, actually came out and said that he was very concerned that he could never get the facts from the Clinton campaign, worried that this might up-end her run.

GIGOT: Well, Yarmuth's career is going to be over before too long, I'll tell you that.


All right.

Still ahead, Donald Trump's call to end birth-right citizenship divides the Republican presidential field. A look at where the candidates stand on that and other immigration issues, and the potential fall-out in 2016, next.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: A woman is going to have a baby, they wait on the border. Just before the baby, they come over to the border. They have the baby in the United States. We now take care of that baby -- Social Security, Medicare, education. Give me a break. It doesn't work that way. The parents have to come in legally.


GIGOT: Donald Trump taking on the issue of birth-right citizenship. The Republican frontrunner pushed immigration proposals this is week that include ending automatic citizenship for children born to parents here illegally, as well as deporting the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here.

So, Joe, birth-right citizenship, you have looked at that issue and the legal history of it. Donald Trump says it's unconstitutional. What do you think?

RAGO: I think he is promoting a crank theory of the Constitution that has absolutely no basis.

GIGOT: This is in the 14th Amendment.

RAGO: This is the 14th Amendment. It says anyone born --


GIGOT: The Civil-War era.

RAGO: The Civil-War era. Necessary to include black former slaves as part of American politics. It said anyone born on U.S. soil, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, shall be a U.S. citizen. It doesn't matter about their genetic heritage. It doesn't matter about their circumstances of their birth. It says anyone born in U.S. soil is --


GIGOT: There was a Supreme Court decision in the late 19th century --

RAGO: Right, 1898.

GIGOT: -- involving a Chinese immigrant.

RAGO: San Francisco-born Chinese dissent, raised exactly this issue. It's well settled as a matter of Supreme Court precedent. It's well settled as a matter of just the plain reading of the text. And there's sort of -- the restrictionists are coming out and saying, well, "subject to the jurisdiction" means that if an illegal alien is here in America and they have a kid, they're not subject to the jurisdiction. This is crazy.  They're essentially saying if an immigrant commits a crime, they cannot be prosecuted for it.

GIGOT: James, so, but nonetheless, all the Republicans are getting behind Trump on this in some form or fashion. Smart politics?

FREEMAN: I hope not. I think it's refreshing to see Chris Christie say that really the problem here is lawlessness, not immigration. Let's address lawlessness. Let's enforce our immigration laws. But let's realize Trump is doing horrible cost-benefit analysis. All he is looking at are costs. He talks about public schools. He is not looking at the resource that more people bring us when they work, when they produce, when they create. You can go to Silicon Valley and look at all the immigrants doing great things in technology. But even in terms of Mexican immigration -- I know people are focused on that -- South American immigration, there are jobs here in the United States. There are western growers who will pay $17 an hour. They can't find anyone to do the work. People want to come here, they want to work. That's what we need.

GIGOT: But birth-right citizenship is something that is really just a symbolic issue. It doesn't really involve all that many immigrants, really. And besides, you need to have a constitutional amendment to overturn it, that's not going to happen. And --


FREEMAN: It's not going to happen. It's also the wrong approach. We have a president who will not enforce the law. The solution is not to write more laws. It's to elect a president who will enforce the law. And you may see this issue kind of cool down once that happens.

GIGOT: What about the deportation issue, Kim? That hasn't had as many of the Republican -- other Republican candidates get behind it. But this idea that everyone who is in the United States illegal would have to be deported. Now Trump has said -- he's backtracked a little bit since his first announcement on it, saying, well, they would have to go back, touch down, and then the good ones, as he put it, would be able to go back. I'm not so sure how he would sort the good from the bad there.


But the point being that -- he is still saying we have to put them basically on buses and send them back over the border. Is that realistic politically either?

STRASSEL: No. But I think we're beginning to get to see what the real affect of Donald Trump in this race is going to be. It still seems unlikely he might win the nomination. But the question is, how many positions is he going to push Republicans into, unfeasible positions, by the time he exits this race. And the deportation thing is an excellent example of that. The idea of them all going on record -- and they haven't all, they have been a little more nuanced than they have on birth-right citizenship -- and rounding up 11 million people and somehow shipping them out, the cost of that would be enormous, the logistics would be practically impossible. It sounds good. It's symbolic, the way that you mentioned that birth-right citizenship is. But it's not necessarily a practical policy, nor is it a way forward on immigration reform.

GIGOT: Do you think -- how big of a problem is it, Kim, briefly, for the Republicans following Trump down, or is this something that they'll be able to get away from if some of them endorse it during the campaign?

STRASSEL: I don't think it's ever good when Republicans are going to go on record as rounding up babies to put them on buses and send them back over the border.

GIGOT: All right.

Still ahead, as students across the country head back to campus, a look at the skyrocketing cost of college tuition. It's a hot topic on the campaign trail as the Democratic candidate makes a play for Millennial voters. But will their plans really make that degree more affordable?


GIGOT: Well, as students across the country prepare to head back to school, skyrocketing college costs are becoming a hot topic on the campaign trail. A new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says average tuition climbed a whopping 46 percent from 2001 to 2012, while student loan debt exceeds $1.2 trillion in the U.S. But never fear. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both selling plans to make college more affordable, and maybe even free.

"Wall Street Journal" assistant editorial features editor, Kate Bachelder, joins with us more.

So, Kate, what is Secretary Clinton proposing?

KATE BACHELDER, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL FEATURES EDITOR: Well, Hillary is proposing a $350 billion plan.

GIGOT: That's billion.


GIGOT: Over 10 years.

BACHELDER: Over 10 years, that would offer federal subsidies to states who guarantee free community college and debt-free four-year public education.  So she also would like to cut student loan interest rates, below Elizabeth Warrens', and she also wants to open up allowing borrowers to repay based on what they earn. It's already an option now but she would like to make it available to everyone.

GIGOT: So reduce the cost of loans and then make it easier to write off those loans and not repay them?


GIGOT: OK, now what about Bernie Sanders? Is he doubling down on that?

BACHELDER: Well, Bernie Sanders wants to eliminate tuition. So it's a competition of who can make college the most free throw, and he wants to --


GIGOT: Free in a sense that the students but not for the country.


BACHELDER: That's right.

GIGOT: The taxpayers are paying, yeah.

BACHELDER: But Bernie's plan is to basically make it so public schools, nobody has to pay tuition to get there. He's pitching public education as a public good that should be free for everyone in the sort of ideological case where Hillary is not really making that argument.

GIGOT: Is there -- what's the evidence on whether or not these kinds of subsidy programs actually reduce the cost of college?

BACHELDER: This is irony. She thinks that college is expensive because we haven't spent enough money. In reality, college is so expensive because we spent so much money. A new Federal Reserve study that we've written about says that for every dollar in aid, in loans, subsidized loans, and in Pell Grants, colleges raise tuition anywhere from 55 cents to 70 cents. So instead of this money going to students and helping them defray the costs of college, it's going to colleges as they raise tuition.

GIGOT: So great for professors --


GIGOT: -- great for administrators, but it doesn't overall reduce the cost of college education?



But, James, the politics of this, they clearly think it's a really good idea. They think it's going to sell. And it has, in the last couple of elections, worked for Barack Obama with the youth vote. What do you think about the politics of this going forward?

FREEMAN: Yeah, I think maybe some of the youth vote starts to look at the trouble they get into as they try and pay back. So I guess the play here is let's make it all free. Let's hit taxpayers even more.

GIGOT: Because that's who would ultimately pay.


BACHELDER: Of course. But I think parents are also worried. I think this is a huge source for anxiety. And Republicans should be happy to talk about it. Student debt has nearly doubled under President Obama and it's not just the recession that's caused that.

GIGOT: Who is talking about it on the campaign trail?

BACHELDER: Marco Rubio has gone to talking about it and Scott Walker a great line that Hillary charges $220,000 just to show up at colleges -


-- while he's freezing tuition.

GIGOT: So what is the alternative, the Republican alternative? Marco Rubio has an interesting plan, intriguing plan about college accreditation, which would ease the rules to make it easier for -- to get more competition in college, for example.


GIGOT: One of the things the Hillary Clinton plan doesn't do, is it doesn't go to for-profits, which is a great source of education, particularly for people who have to work at night, young parents, parents of young children who can't afford full-time college. Are they proposing anything else, the Republicans?

BACHELDER: Well, Marco Rubio has approved accreditation reform that would basically be good for people who don't need traditional education --

GIGOT: Right.

BACHELDER: -- and shouldn't be going to four-year colleges, and would do much better in a vocational program. So he would allow more programs like that to exist. That doesn't really address that most students want to go to a good four-year college, that this idea is that's where you want to get your education. So there aren't a lot of real Republican alternatives to that yet. And I think they should come up with them.

GIGOT: They have to engage on this if they want to win, James, otherwise they're in trouble.

FREEMAN: Yeah, but --


FREEMAN: -- I think there is a natural advantage here. Big picture, I don't think what every kid dreams about is getting highly indebted and then running away from the debt because they can't find a job later to finance it. So I think, to the extent they talk about, how do we actually get some payoff for that education, how do we get the economy moving. That may be a stronger argument.

GIGOT: All right. Thank you all very much.

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: Paul, you might have thought the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran couldn't get any worse, but, in fact, we found out about the existence of a secret side deal that our negotiators supposedly had nothing to do with and that Congress has not seen the contents of that, in essence, gives Iran the lead role in conducting its own inspections and then going back and alerting the international community that everything is A-OK. The whole point of this deal was, in fact, to make Iran stop producing nuclear weapons and also give the international community the tools it needed to guarantee that that's what was happening. None of that is happening. It's another reason for Congress should vote this down.

GIGOT: All right, thanks, Kim.


RAGO: Paul, not a great week for politics, as we've been discussing, but let me extend a hit to something a little bit more sustentative, which is Scott Walker's plan this week to replace Obamacare. He'd extend tax credits to individuals buying private health insurance on the individual market. It includes -- and befitting the governor, it includes a lot of innovative Medicaid reforms. This is intellectual progress for the GOP.  Hopefully it starts a robust debate as the candidates follow his lead.

GIGOT: Replacing ObamaCare not just repealing it.


FREEMAN: This is a hit, Paul, to two Army veterans who have been trying to make NFL football teams this summer. Nate Boyer, trying to become a 34- year-old rookie with the Seahawks.


FREEMAN: -- with the Steelers. Now, this week, unfortunately, the Seahawks released Boyer. But I think other clubs should be looking at this guy. These are leaders and studs, and they ought to make rosters this summer. Let's hope they do.

GIGOT: They're certainly tough enough for the job, that's for sure.

FREEMAN: Absolutely.

GIGOT: All right.

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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