The McLaughlin Group

Issues: NSA Spying; Ransom Rule Changes; H-1B Visa Issues; Confederate Flag Controversy

John McLaughlin, Host
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Tom Rogan, National Review/Daily Telegraph
Mort Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report

Taped: Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of July 3-5, 2015 and August 5-7, 2016

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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: NSA, C’est La Vie.



MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): The NSA can’t seem to get a break. On Tuesday, WikiLeaks, the organization the leaked tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010, released new documents that it says come from the U.S. national security agency, also known as the NSA. The documents suggest that the NSA spied on the phone calls of three French presidents, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, and current president, Francois Hollande.

The leaks also suggest that the NSA was able to spy on phone calls by many other officials in the French government. WikiLeaks says the documents prove that the NSA gained access to sensitive French negotiations, on issues including the European Union’s future. The French government summoned the U.S. ambassador to Paris for an explanation.

But U.S. officials aren’t unduly concerned. They believe that France won’t really be outraged about these revelations. Why? First, because France engages in similar espionage against U.S. leaders. Second, because France relies on NSA intelligence-sharing to safeguard French lives.


MCLAUGHLIN: Is this a tempest in a teapot?

CLARENCE PAGE, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, we really don’t know, do we, John? Because after all, this -- we don’t really know what they were listening in for and what they heard. So, it apparently coincided with some sensitive moments in regard to negotiations with Iran, and the push for the U.S. to do something about ISIS and Syria.

But it’s -- the question is, we don’t know exactly what was happening here. Was NSA working on their French lessons, or were the metadata sweeps going out of control. All we know is the administration says we’re not listening to them now. We’re not eavesdropping now. And if you can’t believe the administration and the NSA, who can you believe?



ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: I’m going to say yes to the question, it’s a tempest in a teapot. The French actually have a well-known reputation. They spy on everybody. Friends spy on friends. And yes, then, when you’re caught, you apologize and then the spying continues. It’s like Rick’s Cafe in the movie "Casablanca". I’m shocked, shocked gambling is going on.

And the French actually have a serious problem to worry about beyond this -- a week ago, the terrorist attack. And as Clarence said, they do rely on NSA intelligence. So, I think they’re going to be doing more sharing with the NSA than complaining.

MCLAUGHLIN: Tom Rogan, let me ask you this. Has anyone noticed a pattern here? The U.S. catches China in cyber espionage, and presto, there’s a new disclosure from the Snowden files about America spying on citizens and allies. Is that coincidence?

TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/DAILY TELEGRAPH: Who knows? And that’s the nature of the intelligence business. There’s a lot of stuff that you know that you don’t know. And, look, the Chinese and the Russians have had access to Edward Snowden, so potentially, it could be, you know, a leak in that regard.

But I agree with Eleanor in the sense that the French DGSE, which is the French intelligence service, is very, very aggressive, both in terms of monitoring if U.S. leadership and also U.S. industrial secrets. This is what happened. It’s known to happen. It doesn’t happen so much between the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K.

But the nature of the -- you know, this is intelligence business. You don’t -- you know, states act in their own interest. You monitor each other. You get caught. And as Eleanor says, you apologize and then you do it again.

MCLAUGHLIN: A reminder: Edward Snowden’s initial revelations came on the eve of President Obama’s Palm Spring Summit with Xi Jinping. After the U.S. accused China of massive cyber thief, leaks about NSA spying on Angela Merkel came on the eve of a U.S./E.U. Summit. And now, this.

I ask you again: is it coincidence?

MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: No, I -- well, everything is going to be coincidence, if that’s the case, because they’re doing it all the time. This is what they do. They try and get as much intelligence including from allies, more or less, if they have to. If they don’t feel they’re getting everything that they need to know if feel that they want to know.

We’re providing them with a lot of intelligence. We expect that they’re going to tell us what we want them to tell us. Often, they don’t do that.

CLIFT: Yes, the most embarrassing thing was being caught listening on one of Angela Merkel’s cell phones. And she rightly got upset.

But earlier, actually last month, the chief prosecutor in Germany called off a year-long investigation into that incident, saying they couldn’t come up with enough evidence.

So, I think that’s even been put behind us. So, this is -- you know, all of these leaders have much bigger problems to worry about than who’s snooping on whom.

ZUCKERMAN: That all depends who she was talking to on her cell phone.


PAGE: Yes, all depends on whose ox is being gored. I mean, we tell other people that you shouldn’t feel nervous us listening into you. But then, when they get listened into, they get upset.

ROGAN: And, you know, if you could consider the issues we’re dealing with in terms of now, you know, Iran going forward. Obviously, we don’t know what’s going to happen after, you know, this week. But the issue concerning France and Greece, E.U. relations, France arms deals in Africa, there’s a lot of meat there, France with China and development.

CLIFT: Well, the former French president, Sarkozy, apparently, is going to run for president again in 2017.

ROGAN: Right.

CLIFT: So, there’s stuff in these cables that are embarrassing to him.


CLIFT: Although it’s not surprised. It says that he felt he was the only person who could handle the global financial crisis. He is a bit grandiose in his thinking, but this is not going to stop him from running for office again. There’s some moments of embarrassment, but I don’t see any serious breaches.

MCLAUGHLIN: Did you hear this moment of piety expressed here by --

CLIFT: Which one?

MCLAUGHLIN: By Rogan. Yes.

CLIFT: Sorry.


MCLAUGHLIN: I was going to kneel down and say a prayer.

Does a gentleman ever read the other gentleman’s mail, or listen in on a foreign leader’s mobile phone?




MCLAUGHLIN: They do do it.

PAGE: They do. In the world, it’s possible you’ve been listened into.



ROGAN: Yes, I sit out of your house every night in a bush listening to your conversations.

CLIFT: Oh --


MCLAUGHLIN: Given that the Chinese were able to steal millions of sensitive SF-86 files from the U.S. government with ease, was Hillary Clinton smart to use a personal email system when she was secretary of State?

ROGAN: No, she was very silly to do that, and it raises more of a concern about what was she trying to hide there, because she knows.

PAGE: Maybe she learned the Nixonian lesson, though, like Pat Buchanan said, that you keep track of your own --

MCLAUGHLIN: What’s the answer to the question?

PAGE: Sorry?

MCLAUGHLIN: What’s the answer to the same question?

PAGE: I’ve forgotten the question altogether. What are you talking about now?


ROGAN: Should Hillary keep the private server?


MCLAUGHLIN: In the light of this?

PAGE: Well, not a --

CLIFT: It was a political error, but it’s awfully hard to make the case that her system is more secure than the State Department, that the State Department was hacked during that same period.

ZUCKERMAN: That is not fair. It is undoubtedly the case that the State Department had better security than what Hillary had in her own private --

CLIFT: But they were hacked, and she wasn’t. Just saying.

ROGAN: No, she probably was hacked.

ZUCKERMAN: We don’t know that she wasn’t hacked.

ROGAN: We assume the Chinese --

MCLAUGHLIN: I’m going to give her a yes. She did the right thing.


MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Ransom Red Lines.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our policy does not prevent communication with hostage takers by our government, the families of hostages, or third parties who help these families. And when appropriate, our government may assess these families and private efforts in those communications.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Facing criticism of his handling of previous hostage negotiations, including by some families of Americans held abroad, Mr. Obama this week relaxed restrictions on hostage negotiations with terrorists. While the president insisted the U.S. government will not make monetary or other concessions in return for hostages, he also said that families won’t be persecuted for financial negotiations. And the president says that the U.S. government will, on occasion, help manage negotiations on behalf of families.

Not everyone welcomes this change. Republicans say that the president is risking more kidnappings of Americans.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Does this change of policy put more Americans at risk of being taken hostage?


PAGE: I don’t think it does specifically, but that was the reason for the old policy, which was somewhat misleading. We have a flat that we don’t negotiate with terrorists policy, but in reality we did. There were backchannel negotiations and deals on the margins.

And I think the worst aspect of our policy was that the families were being told, don’t you dare give any money to these hostage takers because that will put you in jeopardy of breaking the law against funding terrorists. I don’t think anybody was ever persecuted or --


PAGE: -- was in any real danger of it. But what happened was families were handcuffed in so far as what they could do. And now, we’re coming more in line with what the European countries do.

CLIFT: Yes, except the European countries do pay ransom.

PAGE: Right.

CLIFT: And the president made clear that the U.S. government is not going to do that. And I don’t know that there are many families who could raise the kind of money into the millions. But I think this is an attempt to bring in families into the government’s efforts to free their loved ones. There are now more than 30 Americans being held.

So, this is not -- I mean, this problem is likely to grow. They’re now creating an interagency unit specifically to deal with the families and with the people who have captured them. So, I mean, this does go to a whole other level, I don’t think it encourages more hostage-taking because, you know, the treasury is not out there saying we’re going to give away millions. But it’s an ongoing problem.

MCLAUGHLIN: We’ll absolutely put more Americans at risk of being taken hostage.

What do you think of this? I’ll give you the rationale.

Terrorists and criminal gangs all over the world will welcome the FBI’s involvement in facilitating private ransom payments. America is a rich country and because so many Americans travel, the rate of hostage-taking will escalate.

ZUCKERMAN: Oh, I think without question. I think that is absolutely going to happen. I don’t know how it’s going to be avoidable. Once it is now permissible for families, particularly families who have enough money, to have to pay ransom in order to get their loved ones freed, it’s bound to happen. I don’t see how it’s going to be avoided.

PAGE: Of course, how will we know? Because there are so many are being taken already --

CLIFT: That’s right.

PAGE: -- even when there aren’t any --

ZUCKERMAN: Nothing compared to what will be taken, now that it’s going to be released from the constraints of the government, which did really constrain a lot of people.

CLIFT: Except the terrorist groups now have other means of funding. They’re not really dependent on getting, you know, ransoms from government. And I -- they’re going to do a lot better getting millions from the government of France than they’re going to get money out of here. So, I mean, I don’t think it’s going to have an appreciable effect. It’s a way to humanize a policy that is very difficult for the families.

MCLAUGHLIN: Will crowdfunding to ransom kidnapped Americans become a major source of financing for terrorist organizations?

ROGAN: Yes. I think it’s a big problem because, look, one of the things you’re going to find here now with the changes to the law is that -- or the executive order -- is that you’re going to find it easier for companies to get into insurance programs to people at risk, journalists going to conflict zone, terrorists become aware of that.

If you look at the statistics over the last 10 years, a lot more Europeans have been taken by Americans because these various terror groups have understood that the cost of capturing an American is that they might shot in the face by a U.S. special operator, to be blunt, and that the cost -- the benefit of capturing a European, a French citizen or a German citizen, is you get a big bag of cash. And so, yes, I think it will incentivize that.

I also think it has the secondary -


PAGE: They won’t get a bag of cash from us. We got to be clear about that.

CLIFT: Right.

ROGAN: Well, but, you know, if the U.S. government is seen as an involved in direct sense with negotiations, that I think breaks away from longstanding policy. I also think it becomes an issue with --

CLIFT: They’ve been involved. They had somebody in the State Department, somebody --


ROGAN: Not to this explicit degree, though. And perception matters.

CLIFT: Oh, every -- from three or four different agencies, and the families have been complaining because they don’t know who talk to. This is just an effort to bring some humanity and efficiency to a very underground process.


ROGAN: I think groups like Lebanese Hezbollah will look at this in the sense of perception, opportunity I think.

CLIFT: I’m so glad you know the mind of a terrorist, really.

ROGAN: Well, I’ve studied Lebanese Hezbollah. You look at their trend record from the ‘80s evolution, deterrence by the Bush administration after the Karbala raid in February 2007. They backed off. They take notice of steps.

CLIFT: All right.

ROGAN: It’s a fact.

CLIFT: Right.


PAGE: They’ll get more from the Europeans, though, to your point.

ROGAN: That’s true.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, they will get more now from American families too if they -- frankly, the American families can in fact pay ransom.

ROGAN: And what does the money go to, right? It goes to blowing people up. That’s a big problem as well.

PAGE: That’s right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three --

PAGE: They’re not going to arrest American families who are trying to save their relatives.

CLIFT: Yes, Mort --

ZUCKERMAN: That’s not the point. The point is, it will be an incentive for kidnappers to go after more and more Americans.

CLIFT: So, you’re saying the administration should keep the policy as is, that if you engage with any conversations and you think about paying money, that you’ll be persecuted in an American court.

ROGAN: I think the implicit sense --

CLIFT: You would support that?

ROGAN: -- that no one is being persecuted.

CLIFT: It’s insupportable, I think. But I’m asking you. I shouldn’t answer.

ZUCKERMAN: I think it’s just going to create a much different incentive on the part of people.

ROGAN: I think we should have stayed with the old policy.

ZUCKERMAN: I would have stayed with the old policy. It wasn’t so terrible, frankly.


PAGE: You’re going to say one thing and do another.

ROGAN: No, but the mess is better than clarity that endangers human life, in my opinion.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Reason to Celebrate?


UNIDENTIFED MALE: For 60 years, Disneyland has been the happiest place on Earth, and tonight, well, it feels even happier. Now, I’m fairly certain Walt would be extremely proud, certainly amazed at how far we’ve come.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): July marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland. Walt Disney’s premier theme park, a unique American icon.

The founder might be amazed at the changes in the Walt Disney Company that bears his name. But whether he would be proud is another matter. The New York Times reveal last month that Disney laid off hundreds of skilled American tech workers in Orlando and replaced them with foreign workers under the H-1B visa program.

The Times says Disney executives forced the American workers to train their foreign replacements before they were laid off. Quote, "I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desk and take over odd jobs exactly," unquote. Said one former worker, quote, "It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job," unquote.

H-1B visas are supposed to be used only to fill skilled jobs for which no qualified American applicants can be found. There are now 85,000 H-1B visas issued annually for foreign workers to come to the United States.

Disney CEO Bob Iger co-chairs the Partnership for a New American Economy, that is lobbying to increase the number of H-1B visas.

But the practice of replacing American workers with H-1B visa holders is now under scrutiny from the U.S. Labor Department. In June, after the New York Times story and under pressure from the Senate, the department announced it would investigate two Indian companies, Infosys and Tata, whose workers replaced U.S. tech workers at Southern California Edison, the Fossil Group, and Disney, on suspicion of visa fraud.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Would Walt Disney be proud of Disneyland?


PAGE: That’s a good question.


PAGE: I can’t go to the grave and ask Disney.

But this has been happening with a lot of -- I can take you to Ohio and talk to Americans who have been replaced by overseas workers, who they were asked to train before leaving. The fact that the Disney is so famous, so well-known --

MCLAUGHLIN: Have you been to Disney? Have you been to Disneyland?

PAGE: I am an American parent. Of course, I have. It’s part of your rite of passage.

MCLAUGHLIN: Disneyworld.

PAGE: I’ve been there three or four times.

MCLAUGHLIN: Disneyworld is better.

PAGE: World and Land, yes. And Universal Studios is terrific, too, I might add.

But anyway, but the fact is, though this is -- I’m in favor of this sort of visa. But there is an issue here about -- it’s being used to bring cheap overseas skilled labor in to replace Americans. That wasn’t the intent of the law.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, now, what is happening is that a lot of people who have graduate degrees, particularly in science and engineering, OK, are coming to the United States. For every one of those people that comes to the United States, they created an additional five jobs in all the statistics on that. So, it has a great positive benefit as well, and that’s one of the things that we have a shortage of, and foreign engineers or highly trained people come here.

I’m not saying it should be open doors or open cage. But for those kind of people, we have a shortage of them. We should be thrilled that they want to come here.

CLIFT: I’d rather see the American corporations put some money into training Americans to take those jobs. But in the interim, I think we should welcome people from around the world. But these visas are being abused, and that’s what’s happened at Disneyworld. They’re bringing in people not with great skills who are replacing people who can competently do those jobs.

So, I welcome the investigation.

MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama in March said that he would dramatically expand a different visa program, L-1B visa, to allow foreign companies to bring, quote, "hundreds of thousands of their workers to offices here in the U.S."

What impact will this have on U.S. wages, Mort Zuckerman?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, it all depends what kind of people they bring. But it’s bound, in effect, to contain wage increases or salary increases. There’s no doubt about that. But the other side of the coin as I say, is that it will also enable us to expand a lot of the industries that we want to expand, particularly those that require people with a lot of education.

And so, we have a shortage of these people. This is the fastest growing part of the economy. This is where we have to be competitive around the world. So, there is some benefit to it. It should be, shall we say, controlled a little bit more.

ROGAN: Right. And the ultimate reality here is that yes, this is being played by Disney in some sense, but it’s not just Disney. And the key is that you have jobs potential that is inherently based in the United States. The positive side of this is, if they try to play it too much, and obviously the brand damage that that would have in terms of consumers wanting to be able to have a quality service is a risk for that. So, there’s that equilibrium in the market.

At the same time, one thing, you know, a great untapped potential, I go back to it, is the energy revolution in this country. A lot of potential for Americans employed there on good wages for the long term and it doesn’t necessarily require an expensive education.

CLIFT: Well, we have the great universities in this country and we educate people from around the world and then they go -- they were forced to go back to their countries and they take those skills with them.

MCLAUGHLIN: A reliable consulting firm said that Southern Californians can save $40,000 to $45,000 per tech worker by laying off U.S. workers and replacing them with H-1B visa holders. Is this raw capitalism at work?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I would say that it is certainly raw and it is capitalism. Therefore, I accept your description of it.

ROGAN: But that’s the short term --


MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think it’s disedifying (ph)?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, that is not the purpose of H-1B visas. I mean, I can tell you that personally since I came into this country on an H-1B visa and I didn’t get that kind of salary --

MCLAUGHLIN: From Canada?

ZUCKERMAN: From Canada, sure. Now, it was easy for us Canadians.

MCLAUGHLIN: Look what happened to you.

ZUCKERMAN: I stayed here and I did not go to another country to earn whatever I earn.

PAGE: You will rebuild that fence between us and Canada.


MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, you’re a multibillionaire.


MCLAUGHLIN: You’re multibillionaire.

ZUCKERMAN: I don’t know. I can’t about these numbers on the air because I don’t understand them.


MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Four: Two Tales of One Flag.


GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in heaven.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Nikki Haley, Republican governor of South Carolina, calling on her state’s House and Senate to remove the Confederate flag from their capital grounds. The governor is not wasting time. She says that if a vote on the flag’s removal isn’t held before the summer recess, she will force an emergency vote.

Governor Haley made the announcement following a week of introspection over the murder of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston. The killer, Dylann Storm Roof, was motivated by white supremacist ideology.

And while many in South Carolina continue to support the Confederate flag as a symbol of state’s rights and human courage in battle, the governor disagrees.

HALEY: But we are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something that we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the capitol grounds. It is, after all, a capitol that belongs to all of us.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is Governor Haley right? Is it time for the South Carolina legislature to furl the Confederate flag?

Clarence Page?

PAGE: I thought it was long past time to move the Confederate flag into a museum, where it belongs. But what’s interesting to me is how quickly public opinion seems to have shifted in favor of retiring the flag here in recent days, especially since this terrible tragedy there in Charleston.

It reminds me of the Church bombing in Birmingham back in ’63, where minds were just changed overnight in many ways, that bombing people in a church, or shooting people in a church is just so far beyond the pale.

And the other thing is that, just nationally, we’ve moved beyond that now in many ways, and many South Carolinians were concerned about the economic impact among other things, of appearing to be still stuck in the past.

CLIFT: Right. The flag was erected on the South Carolina statehouse grounds in 1962 as a symbol of defiance against integration.

PAGE: Right.

CLIFT: So, it really is a hateful symbol to people alive today, who are not seeing it in the context of a war that was fought, but they are seeing it how it’s been perverted in its current use.

She, Nikki Haley, only has limited powers. She’s got to get the legislature involved.

In Alabama, also a Republican governor, he just -- he was able just through an edict to remove the flag.

MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on. There are calls for Confederate symbols to come down across the South, and in Texas, vandals have defaced civil war era monuments to Confederate statesmen and troops who died in a war.

Do all Confederate symbols need to be destroyed? I ask you.

ROGAN: No, of course not. I think the reason why it had to come down in the capitol is the capitol is a special place in the democratic representation of the people, all the people, right? It has to represent all the people, it did not do that.

But at the same time, the Confederate flag, I think this is important, I don’t think -- we have to back away from some of this rhetoric now. These stupid bans that some computer -- you know, that Apple have put this ban on its computer game. It is part of the fabric of history, to some people.


ROGAN: You know, it’s easy for me to say as a white man.

CLIFT: They’re making market decisions based --


ROGAN: OK. But I think we need to be careful here in the sense --

CLIFT: So, that’s their decision.

ROGAN: Well, but we have to be careful in the sense that to a lot of people in the South, it is a representation of courage in battle and of state’s rights against majoritarian government, which is important in terms of political correctness. But yes --

CLIFT: Most people’s minds it’s about -- it’s about the preservation of slavery.


ROGAN: OK. But, you know --

CLIFT: And so, we need to acknowledge that.

ROGAN: OK. But in the private domain, we still have to I think respect people that want to fly that. They’re not --

MCLAUGHLIN: Do history books be purged of any discussion of the Confederacy for fear of committing micro aggressions?

CLIFT: No, of course not.

ZUCKERMAN: No, no. Absolutely not.

But this is a public symbol frankly that is seen by a lot of people as reinforcing segregation.

PAGE: Right.

ZUCKERMAN: I mean, that’s something that it seems to me is time to put away for the moment.

PAGE: Yes, there’s a second history of this flag, like Eleanor mentioned, the early 1960s, states across the South who wanted to resist desegregation laws and rulings began to make a banner out of the old battle flag. This is the Confederate battle flag we’re talking about.


PAGE: So, now, it’s got a special racistmeaning to it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Should Walmart and Amazon and other retailers ban any merchandise that displays the Texas Lone Star emblem?


PAGE: It’s up to them. It’s up to them, isn’t it?

CLIFT: Right. It’s up to them. They’re making their decision.

MCLAUGHLIN: Prediction, Clarence?

PAGE: Look for the current display of the Confederate battle flag to be replaced in many locations by the official Confederate government flag, which is the stars and bars and it’s not nearly as inflammatory because hardly anybody knows what it looks like.

MCLAUGHLIN: Great idea.


CLIFT: Donald Trump will lose money in his presidential campaign because he’s going to lose advertisers because he insults just about everybody.


ROGAN: I think in the coming months, you should expect to getting blowback in the United States against the perception of the more politically correct restriction on free speech.


ZUCKERMAN: I’m changing my prediction. I actually don’t think Donald Trump is going to lose money on any of this, though.


CLIFT: The Miss Universe, they’re pulling it.

MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, that’s your prediction?



MCLAUGHLIN: That’s Mort’s prediction.

I predict that the American motorists will surpass past records of the number of miles during this summer, fueled by the most affordable gasoline in years.