The McLaughlin Group

Issues: Iran Nuclear Deal; Hillary’s E-Mails; Space Exploration

John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner
Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly

Taped: Friday, March 13, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of March 13-15, 2015

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ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, the American original. For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue One: A Call to Arms.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: My friends, for over a year, we’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): That was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress a week ago. The prime minister fears that President Obama’s looming deal with Iran, what Mr. Netanyahu calls a, quote-unquote, "bad deal" would engulf to the Middle East in flames.

NETANYAHU: So, this deal won’t change Iran for the better. It will only change the Middle East for the worse. A deal that’s supposed to prevent nuclear proliferation would instead spark a nuclear arms race in the most dangerous part of the planet. This deal won’t be a farewell to arms. It would be a farewell to arms control. And the Middle East would soon be crisscrossed by nuclear trip wires.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yet, with Vice President Biden and a number of other Democrats deliberately absent from the speech, the political disagreements were also obvious. And President Obama didn’t exactly react kindly to Mr. Netanyahu’s address.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Prime Minister Netanyahu has not offered any kind of viable alternative that would achieve the same verifiable mechanisms to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

MCLAUGHLIN: And this week, there’s been another twist to the Iran negotiations controversy. To the White House’s fury, a group of 47 Republican senators sent a letter to the Iranian leadership, suggesting that a future president would not be bound by any deal that President Obama signs, unless that deal has the overt consent of Congress.

Here’s how the letter’s author, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, explained it to MSNBC.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: And that Iran’s leaders can only be certain that any deal will be lasting if Congress approves it.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who is right? Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Cotton, or Mr. Obama?

Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: John, what those 47 Republican senators did was basically send a letter to scuttle the talks the United States is having with Iran. They’re telling the ayatollah, if you sign a deal, we will veto it in the congressional level and if we get a president in, that president will sign a statement that will -- you know, use a stroke of a pen to kill that deal.

I think what the Republicans are doing is they’re following the Bibi Netanyahu line that they got in that meeting, in their joint session of Congress. I think in the short run, they’re going to help themselves politically. But in the long run, if they are perceived as driving this country down the road to a confrontation and a war with Iran, the American people are not going to follow them down that road.

MCLAUGHLIN: You think that the logic of Netanyahu is, is that if Obama walks away from the table, that he, Netanyahu, will get better terms out of Iran.

BUCHANAN: He’s not going to -- look, the United States, John, this deal is either going to be had or not had by the end of March. My view is the Republican Party should have written a letter saying what they’re going to do, and what they want and what they think we ought to do and sent it directly to the president of the United States, with Corker, with all the Republicans and with half a dozen Democrats would have backed it up.

ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, President Obama is right. Bibi Netanyahu offers no alternative. He wants Iran to sort of unilaterally disarm. That’s not how you make a deal. And secondly, the president is right that the senators who wrote that letter are really making common cause with the hardliners in Iran, because the hardliners in Iran don’t want a diplomatic deal, and the Republican senators are clearly trying to undermine the president on the world stage in his dealings with an adversary – and not only in his dealings with an adversary, but with five other world powers.

This isn’t just Obama and the ayatollah. Japan -- not Japan -- Germany, U.K., France, China and Russia are all part of the talks. And it seems to me that the Republicans really are undermining their own cause and they have a total misreading of how our government works. The president is allowed to make international agreements. This is not a treaty. And "The New York Times" reported that 94 percent of international agreements since the 1930s were made by presidents.

And so, the Congress does not necessarily have the power to overturn this, and the next president, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat, will be happy to continue with a deal that postpones and -- any nuclear Iran and that allows weapons and inspectors to get into the country.


SUSAN FERRECHIO, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, I think there’s a little right and a little wrong in what everybody did this week. I think the letter probably should have, as Pat said, should have been addressed to the president and it should have just outlined what the Congress is intending to do once he leaves office and there’s a Republican president. I mean, it’s a practical letter to say, look, the terms of this deal are not going to survive unless you -- they might survive if you work it out with us and Iran and not just cut us out of the deal.

So, in that sense, I think they were right in expressing this, but I think the letters should have gone to the president. And I think ultimately, we’re not going to really know who the winners and losers are until we see the terms of the deal. We know a little bit. The emerging deal, some people think, is too weak to stop Iran from producing a nuclear weapon, which I don’t think ultimately anybody wants to see, not just Israel. And so, I think once when you see the terms of the deal, if it considered a weak deal, that’s going to hurt the president and the Republicans will come out looking a little better over this whole letter issue.

But again, if it happens by the end of March, that’s when we’re going to see who the winners and losers are.

MCLAUGHLIN: Paul Glastris?

PAUL GLASTRIS, WASHINGTON MONTHLY: You know, we actually know the answer to the question, what would happen if we walk away from this deal when we get a better one? We tried it in the 199 -- 2000s. George Bush and his administration were presented a very similar set of circumstances where the international community had negotiated terms with Iran. They walked away from that deal, presuming that sanctions, and said we need to increase sanctions.

What happened was, today, Iran has a lot more enriched uranium and a whole lot more centrifuges than it did before. So, the idea that we can walk away, increase sanctions and get a better deal has been disproven by history.

CLIFT: Well, and who’s going to say that the other powers are going to continue with sanctions?

GLASTRIS: Absolutely.

CLIFT: I don’t think China and Russia will. And, you know, the emerging deal, which has like a 10-year timeline and would gradually lift sanctions, assuming the Iranians lived up to their deal, sounds to me like about the best you’re going to be able to get.

BUCHANAN: John, the Iranians have the capability to build a bomb. There’s no doubt about that. What you want to get is a situation where with regard to enrichment of uranium, it would take them a year to enrich enough uranium even to have a test. I think we got that.

My view, to be honest, I don’t think Iran wants actually to test and have the bomb. I think it would be a disaster for them. Turks would get it. Egyptians, Saudis would get it. The Israelis would put their nuclear arsenal on a hair trigger.

So, I think we can get a deal that’s acceptable and I think -- I’ve always felt that way.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia just signed a deal with North Korea to build a nuclear reactor in Saudi Arabia. Is this a beginning of a Middle East nuclear arms race?

Paul Glastris?

GLASTRIS: Well, this is not a weaponized deal, and I think the answer to your question really does get back to something we were talking about before, which is what happens to this Iranian deal if Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt perceived that we have some secure deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, to the extent that they have nuclear ambitions. I don’t think you’re going to see that kind of break. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to increase -- to weaponize nuclear -- to create nuclear weapons. They -- and so, it all gets back to that deal.


CLIFT: Right. What’s unspoken of is the fact that Israel does have nuclear weapons. And I think these other countries want to have leverage, but I don’t think they want to get into an arms race, with Israel and with their other powers. But they all want to have access to peaceful nuclear energy, that you don’t have in these particular countries the kind of the nervousness about nuclear energy that we have in this country, or in Germany, and they’re proceeding, you know, full speed ahead. And that’s what Iran says it wants, too.

So, we can’t fully trust them obviously. But, you know, I think an agreement with finding regulations is appropriate.

BUCHANAN: U.S. intelligence said in 2007 and 2011 it reaffirmed it Iran does not have an active bomb program right now. They’re enriching uranium, but even their 20 percent uranium, they’ve wiped it.

FERRECHIO: I just think this deal, whatever it, it needs to have the kind of inspections requirements that will satisfy people, and address all these other issues. I think there’s a real question now, whether we’re seeing what they actually can do. There’s always rumors about weaponry being developed. That’s going to be really important part in the deal, difficult part of the deal.

BUCHANAN: If they break out, it will be because they’re cheating, because I think we got cameras and inspectors in all their major plants right now.

CLIFT: You can’t bomb away knowledge.

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Should President Obama follow Netanyahu’s advice, to hold out for a better, even a better deal, even if it means breaking off the talks while sanctions continue to take their bite? Yes or no?

BUCHANAN: You break off the talks and that P5-plus-1 is gone, John.

CLIFT: Right.

BUCHANAN: I think he should get the best deal he can. He should drive the hardest deal he can. And I think we should mistrust the Iranians and verify and I think that’s what we ought to do. I think it’s what we’re going to do.

CLIFT: That’s right. Six world powers negotiating with Iran, they’re not going to walk away with a deal that isn’t as good as one they can get.

But they’re not going to get a deal that satisfies Netanyahu. He’s going to be opposed to this deal, whatever it is.

MCLAUGLIN: Polls show the race is extremely close. Some polls show Isaac Herzog, leading the Labor Party, with a slight lead. The race will go down the wire.

Do you share that view?

FERRECHIO: It’s going to be a very close race, and, you know, and Pat and I were talking earlier. In fact, if he doesn’t come out with a majority of seats, I still think that he’ll be able to form a government. But Netanyahu perhaps will be a slightly weakened leader.

MCLAUGHLIN: You want to answer the wisdom here?

GLASTRIS: I was surprised to the extent to which Netanyahu’s poll numbers have fallen since the speech. And I think if he, in fact, doesn’t win and can’t form a government, it’s going to be a huge bloody eye for the Republicans here in the United States.

MCLAUGHLIN: I think the Israeli people were shocked by what he had to say.

Issue Two: Hillary Hasn’t Got Mail.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This report does raise questions about security and transparency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a stunning breach of security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The new revelations are already haunting Hillary Clinton’s unannounced presidential campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Federal law requires that all official communications, including email, most be preserved by the government.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Hillary Clinton has had a bad couple of weeks. Her problem: revelations that she relied upon a private email system while serving as secretary of state between 2009 and 2013. Mrs. Clinton says that she obeyed the law and that she’s handed over tens of thousands of emails to the State Department, yet she insists she won’t allow an independent third party to go through her records.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The server contains personal communications from my husband and me, and I believe I have met all of my responsibilities, and the server will remain private and I think that the State Department will be able, over time, to release all of the records that were provided.

MCLAUGHLIN: But Republicans are not satisfied. They claim Mrs. Clinton’s deletion of private emails, and her subjective discretion over what to submit to the State Department, reeks of conspiracy. They worry that Mrs. Clinton is concealing politically damaging information on issues like the 2012 Benghazi attack.

Here’s what the Republican National Committee’s Raffi Williams told Newsmax TV.

RAFFI WILLIAMS, RNC: We’ve got to assume she’s not going to tell us what’s going on here, because her past examples have set the precedent that she’s going to be opaque over transparent.

MCLAUGHLIN: But others disagree. David Brock claims the media firestorm is simply about Republican’s desire to damage Mrs. Clinton in a run-up to her expected 2016 bid for the presidency.

DAVID BROCK: They’ve found nothing after 10 investigations. And, you know, they’ll find nothing in the emails on Benghazi and we’ll be debating Chelsea’s wedding plans.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this a scandal or is it a slip-up?

Susan Ferrechio?

FERRECHIO: It’s an absolute breach in the president’s promise for an open and transparent government. And the secretary of State, one of the highest ranking officials in the government, had secreted her information on a server that the public may never have access to and got rid of tens of thousands of emails, not by having an individual, an independent individual, go through each one individually, but by using word searches and programs to just universally got read of things that now the public can never see.

And I think that that’s a bad thing for the government, and it’s really bad thing for the public. And for me as a journalist, I will never have access through the Freedom of Information Act. All of this is not good for transparency.

BUCHANAN: It’s a really bad thing for Hillary. Look, before people -- when people think about the Clinton, she’s coming back. They think of the ‘90s were the good times and OK, you know, Bubba was in trouble and all the rest of it. We had -- the unemployment was down.

Now, this is breaking us, dragging us back into the Whitewater, and all the lies, and the mendacity and the investigations. And I think it’s put a pall over her candidacy.

Now, I only think right now, it is not something that’s really caught fire in Middle America. But the potential here for further reaches of drawing this out are inexhaustible.


CLIFT: Well, enjoy it and it’s going to go on. It will be part of the Washington noise. But unless they find out that she compromised national security with classified information in a place where it could have been gotten at, or that she’s really hiding something serious, I think this becomes part of the stew of scandal and the whiff of pseudo scandal around the Clintons.

In the ‘90s, remember, as a first lady, she was hauled before a grand jury for obstruction of justice.

BUCHANAN: She may be going back.

CLIFT: Now, $70 million was spent and there was no there there. And she’s always been saved, the Clintons have always been saved by their enemies. Are they going to overreach, Trey Gowdy and his committee -- they won’t -- you know, they’re going to try to keep probing something is there. If it were up to me, I think she should turn over the server and have somebody go through, some third party go through those emails.

But she’s right that she has followed the law. Every secretary is apparently allowed to decide what personal and what isn’t. And every other -- her previous secretaries of State did exactly what she did.

FERRECHIO: Well, in the current cabinet, though, Kathleen Sebelius, the former HHS secretary, said that she understood it completely differently. She understood it that she was to use the dot-gov account, and that her emails were all archived. So, that I mean -- she’s telling a different story.

CLIFT: I know. But Kathleen Sebelius has not been under attack by the right wing for 20 years.

FERRECHIO: I’m just saying that the rules appear to have been different for Mrs. Clinton.

CLIFT: Hillary has always talked about the zone of privacy and it has backfired on her. She would have been much better off if she had, you know, two devices, and I’m sure they would have been controversy around that as well. But this is --

BUCHANAN: You don’t want to see this, don’t take us through this again, Eleanor.


BUCHANAN: We don’t want to see this movie again.


GLASTRIS: Let’s talk about the press here. Let’s talk about for the press here by saying, this is another case of a story looking for a skin. The original "New York Times" story fell apart because after the story came out, it turns out that the law that says -- the rule that says that you’re supposed to use your -- have to use your government account was passed in 2014 after she left.

BUCHANAN: Subpoenas are going to be coming one after the other after the other.

GLASTRIS: Oh, I’m not saying it’s not going to be a political firestorm. I’m saying this is classic Washington press fishing.

BUCHANAN: Now it is.

GLASTRIS: They put a story that say there’s a law broken. Within 24 hours, we know that’s not true. But it opens up the possibility of asking endless new questions that weren’t there before. So, the thing smells horrible. I think we are back to the ‘90s.

BUCHANAN: I think that’s the bottom line – the thing smells horrible.

GLASTRIS: I think we are back to the ‘90s. It’s Whitewater over again.

CLIFT: Well, yes. In the end, there won’t be any there there.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK. Does it strike you as ironic that foreign hackers, they have better access to Secretary Clinton’s emails than the American public?


CLIFT: Has anybody heard of Snowden and WikiLeaks? I think they got into the State Department emails and so far --


GLASTRIS: If you’re Hillary Clinton, would you rather put your emails on a server that Edward Snowden can get to, or one that the federal government set up for your husband as president that is guarded --

FERRECHIO: But how do we know?

GLASTRIS: Well, because that’s been in the paper.

FERRECHIO: Oh, I know how we know, because she said so, because she said we’ve had not any breaches.

But how do we know that? That’s the problem here.

GLASTRIS: Independent people had looked at that account and said it’s encrypted and --

FERRECHIO: Well, are you assured, Pat? I don’t feel like we haven’t had --


BUCHANAN: If it’s encrypted and everything, who put it in and who owns it and who did the encryption? If the government owns it, can we get a look at it?

GLASTRIS: It’s her private server. You can’t look it like that.

BUCHANAN: Who owns it? Who put it in?

FERRECHIO: This is amazing, this whole --

BUCHANAN: Who hooked it up? Who does it belong to?

GLASTRIS: I guess we’re going to find out, Pat. But I’ll put a $100 down that she didn’t do anything wrong.

FERRECHIO: It’s her private server, but public records, with public records that the public will never be able to see. That’s not legal. I disagree with you.


CLIFT: Every official in the country, that you don’t see every email.


BUCHANAN: She was on the Watergate Committee. She knows how to handle this one.


GLASTRIS: Did you see the I.G. report that came out recently that said that there’s a billion emails that State Department employees have written and 60,000 of them have been archived. So, she’s in good company.

FERRECHIO: She was the secretary of State. So, that’s a different level of company I think.

CLIFT: Right. Well, the subpoenas fly and let them handle it and we’ll be back --


FERRECHIO: The big losers are the public. The public is not going to see what they should be able to see.

CLIFT: The public is seeing plenty. The public is already sick of it.

FERRECHIO: According to Mrs. Clinton, they’ve seen plenty.

CLIFT: Right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: On a Clinton scandal scale, from zero to ten, with zero meaning the Vince Foster suicide, five being Whitewater and ten being Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, where does the email scandal fit, zero to ten?

BUCHANAN: I’d say it’s between the two and three, but a terrific potential to rise.

CLIFT: It’s a solid two. No inflation.

FERRECHIO: I’d give it a five, just because I think it does have a chance to keep going with the Benghazi investigation.

MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?

GLASTRIS: Well, if it’s linked to Benghazi, it’s a one.

CLIFT: Right.

FERRECHIO: The investigation is ongoing.


CLIFT: Talk about a dry hole.

GLASTRIS: Benghazi is a fished-out waters. There’s not a fish left in that pond.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Spock in Space.


LEONARD NIMOY, SPOCK: Since my customary farewell would appear oddly self-serving, I should simply say, good luck.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): America recently lost an entertainment giant -- Leonard Nimoy Revered by fans for his longtime role on "Star Trek" as the half human, half Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy leaves a legacy of optimism that were long endured. Using Spock to epitomize the logical compass of humanity and the pursuit of pure wisdom, Mr. Nimoy became a globally recognized figure. But Mr. Nimoy didn’t simply inspired generations of TV fans, he inspired generations of scientists.

Here’s NASA astronaut Mike Fincke.

MIKE FINCKE, NASA ASTRONAUT: As we at NASA, along with our international partners, explore the moon, Mars and beyond, we’ll take the spirit and energy that Leonard brought to his character, Mr. Spock, along with us. Live long and prosper.

MCLAUGLIN: Yet Leonard Nimoy’s passing is also a time for introspection. After all, today, some wonder whether Americans have lost our zeal for space exploration. The evidence might suggest so. In 2010, facing budget overruns, President Obama cancelled the Constellation space program. This effort to bring the launch system for future manned missions to the moon and Mars, as now been replaced by the Space Launch System.

But that new system won’t likely be ready until 2018. Until then, NASA must rely on Russian launch vehicles to send its astronauts into space. And while commercial space development is proceeding with vigor, NASA’s launch impotence discourages America’s long term commitment to explore space.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Was it shortsighted for Obama, President Obama, please, to cancel the Constellation space program? How much had the U.S. invested in Constellation before President Obama scrapped it?

Is space exploration a high tech form of infrastructure spending.? Has the private sector lived up to Obama’s expectation and begun to eclipse NASA and space exploration, and so on?

CLIFT: Well, I think NASA is trying to partner with commercial interests because the government money is not there -- for the kind of money it takes to explore the universe.

But NASA is performing. I mean, they just sent up four probes that are out there, I guess, taking pictures and sending back information. And I think it’s a good thing that we’re partnering with the Russians. I mean, they’ve got some expertise on this. I mean, they started in the space world before we did. And the fact that we can get along with them while still having all these other adversarial positions with them, I think is a good thing.

I don’t know if there’s a pullback position, though, if the Russians decide to, you know, take their launch pad and go somewhere else with it. And I don’t know what the backup plan is. But I think for now, this is a good arrangement.

BUCHANAN: Their launch pad I think is in Kazakhstan, Baikonur. But let me say, I think what’s happened is that NASA, John, after those glorious days, when we were in the Nixon White House, what, we had six or seven times we landed on the moon, then you had the space shuttle, you had Columbia, Challenger, you had Apollo 13. The feeling I think is, is the risks and costs of human endeavor in space are too great and we can do so much more without manned probe and with just the technology and all the rest of it and we are doing (INAUDIBLE).

Unfortunately, the next man in the moon is going to speak Mandarin.

FERRECHIO: That’s right. China is trying to get to the moon and I think that’s -- the problem is that we’re not trying to get up back on the moon and tap its resources and trying to establish a colony out there. Other countries are, and they will be ahead of us. But --

GLASTRIS: And let them, let them waste their money on manned spaceflights. There’s really nothing for men or women to do in space right now, but as Eleanor said, we’ve got moons of Saturn and Jupiter with giant oceans that we could explore with unmanned probes and find out all kinds of --

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if they don’t know what to do when they’re up there, that would be very helpful I think, Paul, for them to have a copy of this wonderful book you have, "The College Guide: A Roadmap to the Right School for You". It has some volume and we’re going to get to it next week.

Now, is there any other observation you want to make about outer space?

GLASTRIS: Yes, I think this is a perfect book for any astronaut stuck on the space station.



FERRECHIO: Who has kids about to go to college.

GLASTRIS: It’s the college guide that he can read to get his kids to college.

MCLAUGHLIN: You go along with that, wouldn’t you?

FERRECHIO: Oh, absolutely.

CLIFT: But you can find out where STEM – S-T-E-M -- and all those science and technology courses are --


CLIFT: That your kid can take and maybe on the ground floor of NASA in the next generation.

FERRECHIO: Absolutely.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there it is, "The Washington Monthly", "The College Guide: A Roadmap for the Right School for You".

Prediction, Pat?

BUCHANAN: Bibi Netanyahu’s party will come in second to Herzog’s party which will come in first. But I think there’s a real possibility still that Bibi may be the next prime minister by putting together a right-center coalition. Herzog is going to have a lot of problems.


CLIFT: Despite all the emotional symbolism around the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma that led to the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Republican-led Congress will not reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.


FERRECHIO: I agree with that. I will add that this week, Loretta Lynch will be confirmed as the attorney general of the United States. It will be one of the closest votes, though, that we’ve seen for attorney general.

MCLAUGHLIN: Will that be debated?

FERRECHIO: At least briefly it will. They usually have a quick dialogue before the vote. But it’s normally just an up-or-down vote. She just needs 51 and it’s going to be close.


GLASTRIS: Long-term prediction, if she’s elected president, Hillary Clinton’s first nominee to the federal Supreme Court will be Barack Obama.

MCLAUGHLIN: I predict, Benjamin Bibib Netanyahu will win reelection as Israel’s prime minister in next Tuesday’s balloting.