GWEN IFILL: A federal court rules against the NSA, 2016 politics picks up speed and brand-new Attorney General Lynch dives into the deep end, tonight on Washington Week.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From video.) Not only have these tools kept us safe, there has not been a single incident – not one – of intentional abuse of them.
MS. IFILL: But a federal appeals court disagrees, declaring a post-9/11 government data collection program to be illegal, adding another major issue to new Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s already crowded plate as she launches a Justice Department investigation into the Baltimore Police.
ATTORNEY GENERAL LORETTA LYNCH: (From video.) None of us have any illusions that reform is easy. The challenges that we face and that Baltimore faces now did not arise in a day and change will not come overnight.
MS. IFILL: On the campaign trail, three new hats in the ring. Carson –
DR. BEN CARSON: (From video.) I’m probably never going to be politically correct because I’m not a politician.
MS. IFILL: – Fiorina –
CARLY FIORINA: (From video.) We know the only way to reimagine our government is to reimagine who is leading it.
MS. IFILL: – and Huckabee.
FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE (R): (From video.) Government in Washington is dysfunctional because it’s become the roach motel – people go in, but they never come out.
MS. IFILL: While the leading Democrat weighs in on immigration –
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) We can’t wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship.
MS. IFILL: – leaving her husband and daughter to defend the work of their family foundation.
Covering the week, Pete Williams, justice correspondent for NBC News; Pierre Thomas, senior justice correspondent for ABC News; Jeff Zeleny, senior Washington correspondent for CNN; and Laura Meckler, political reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. A key provision of the Patriot Act, which was designed to tip the balance in favor of a more secure post-9/11 nation is scheduled to expire June 1st. That’s Section 215, which allows the government to gather phone records en masse and store them for later search. A federal court says it’s illegal. But is it?
SENATOR RICHARD BURR (R-NC): (From video.) Here are the facts: Your grocery store collects 10 times the amount of data that the NSA ever thought about collecting on you. There is a big difference between the NSA and your grocery store. The NSA doesn't sell data. Your grocery store does.
MS. IFILL: Now, what Congress thinks is important because that’s where this will end up. But first, what was the court’s reasoning?
PETE WILLIAMS: Well, this is Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. And it’s talking about this authority to gather all this bulk data. Now, remember, we’re talking about what they call metadata. This is the number you call and how long the call lasts. It’s not the actual content of the call itself. And what the court said is that NSA’s given this power under the Patriot Act to basically sort of act like a grand jury, to investigate. But it has to be investigating something, the court said, and it has to be going after data that’s relevant to the investigation.
Now, the government says, well, we are. We’re investigating the war on terror. And these phone numbers are relevant. We need to store them now so we can go back and look at them later. But the court said it doesn’t work like that, that the federal law, the Patriot Act just doesn’t give the NSA the authority to do this, that what the NSA is trying to do is beyond the scope of the law. Now, the court did say, you know, maybe the government’s right. Maybe they ought to be able to do this. But if that’s the case, Congress has to give the authority to do that.
MS. IFILL: Well, exactly. So if the federal law’s a problem, then the option – then this lands in Congress’ lap?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, it’s definitely in Congress’ lap because, as you mentioned, this authority for the Patriot Act expires June 1st. And the court did a very interesting thing here. It said: We’re not going to blow the whistle on this program even though we think it’s illegal. We’ll go ahead and let you continue to do it because we’ll send it back to the district court and then we’ll see what Congress does.
JEFF ZELENY: So the court did not shut it down? It’s –
MR. WILLIAMS: Right, it didn’t shut it down. It said it’s definitely illegal and something has got to be fixed, but it basically threw it back into Congress’ face. They said, we know you’re debating it now; you fix it.
LAURA MECKLER: So what are we expecting from Congress now? I mean, there’s such an odd collection of people on this issue and unusual coalitions. Where do you think this is going to land?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, unusual coalition within the parties and a real division between the House and the Senate. Senator McConnell, you saw earlier, would just like to just flat re-up it. Just turn it back on again with no changes for five years, he says. Now, that seems pretty unrealistic. He’s willing to entertain just a short term so they can maybe debate something later.
The House has a much different version. The House Judiciary Committee has passed a version that basically says the government can’t collect anything. The phone companies would collect it. And then when the government wants to go diving in for data, it has to have a specific court order for it. So, all this is going to have to be resolved, and before June 1st, if the program is going to continue.
PIERRE THOMAS: But, Pete, if it disappeared, what would happen?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, the government would not be able to search and – you know, what they do is they find a terrorist somewhere – in London or anywhere, as you so well know. And they get the guy’s cell phone. And then they look through it and say, OK, these are the numbers that were called. Let’s dip into the data and see who’s calling those numbers. And they can go one more hop and they develop this sort of network that they then go investigate.
You were there. We were talking to the FBI director this week, James Comey. And we said, what happens if you lose this? And he said, well, it’s a tool. We like to have all the tools we can. But if we don’t have it, we’ll continue right on. I think the fact is that the intelligence community, given the choice of which thing to throw overboard, this would be the thing. They want to keep the authority to do emails and texts and that kind of thing.
MS. IFILL: Now maybe this is classified, maybe they can’t say this, but wouldn’t the simple defense be to say here is how it helped, here are the number of cases we intercepted, here is how it was successful. Do they have any kind of data to back that up?
MR. WILLIAMS: (Chuckles.) Well, you may remember, this didn’t work so well the last time when the NSA director came up to the Hill and then the story kept changing. It is a difficult thing to quantify because you never know precisely how important it was. It – you know, it doesn’t appear to have been hugely successful, but again in the war on terror they want to have every tool they can possibly have.
And by the way, even if Congress does come up with a fix, what the court said this week is even if the Congress gives the NSA an authority to do this, that’s only half the battle because then we’ll decide whether even with a law it’s constitutional or not.
MS. IFILL: It sounded to me, listening to what the president’s had to say, what the new attorney general has had to say, that they’re kind of backing down on it too.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, the president has already said it should – it should not be re-upped the way it works now.
MS. IFILL: OK. Thanks, Pete.
MR. WILLIAMS: You bet.
MS. IFILL: Well, first they delayed her nomination, then they confirmed her, then the hard part began. Just days into the job, speaking of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, she has been confronted with national security challenges and domestic unrest just up the road in Baltimore. Today she announced she would launch a federal civil rights probe of the Baltimore Police Department.
ATTY GEN. LYNCH: (From video.) It was clear to a number of people looking at this situation that the community’s rather frayed trust, to use an understatement, was even worse and has in effect been severed in terms of the relationship with the police department.
MS. IFILL: The Justice Department has also investigated police practices in places like Ferguson, Philadelphia and Cleveland. What does this one look like, different or the same, Pierre?
MR. THOMAS: The same. They will look at does there exist a pattern and practice of excessive force? Do they do illegal search and seizures? So they will be looking at how the police department conducts business. That will be an investigation that will go probably weeks if not months. The investigation will also look at the nature and the makeup of the leadership of the department, we’re told. Also, they will look at the department in terms of how it disciplines itself. So it’s a very sweeping investigation. And she knows that she’s got to get this right because that city, as you saw last week, is a tinderbox.
MS. IFILL: Did it make a difference that the mayor and the – you mentioned the police chief and being investigated himself, welcomed this, actually asked for this investigation?
MR. THOMAS: Yeah. Look, there’s a spirit of cooperation it seems between the police department, the mayor and the Justice Department. But once the Justice Department gets in there and starts digging around, they may find a few things, as we saw in Ferguson, that are unflattering. And then it becomes a question of, OK, will you agree with any reforms that the Justice Department recommends? Because if you don’t, under this particular investigative procedure, the can then go to a court and then force you to comply.
MR. WILLIAMS: You’re, of course – you both were reporters in Baltimore, in the Baltimore Sun. It did seem like the attorney general today was not, you know, arms akimbo, sort the way the Justice Department was in going into Ferguson, but very much with the hope that this thing will not only answer the civil rights question but also be something that she thinks will really be a healing thing.
MR. THOMAS: I think she does believe that this could help in the sense that the community is looking for someone outside of the city of Baltimore to resolve these issues. And I think that the feeling is that the Justice Department stepping in, sort of the way that it did in the ’60s, to deal with a controversial issue could be healing.
MS. MECKLER: But what’s going to happen? I mean, it’s easy to talk about healing when you’re at the front end of an investigation, but if they come out with, you know, all sorts of really unflattering things about the police, I mean, is that going to –
MS. IFILL: Or, say, these six police officers are not charged ultimately – or are not indicted ultimately –
MS. MECKLER: Convicted, yeah, right.
MS. IFILL: – or convicted.
MR. THOMAS: Well, she’s got two tiers going on right now. There’s a Justice Department investigation, civil rights investigation on what happened to Mr. Gray. That’s a criminal investigation, potentially. Now, this is, again, looking at the pattern and practice of the police department. So there are a couple avenues to resolve this. As you saw in Ferguson, they didn’t get a charge against the police officer, but the Justice Department went in and said, your department is pretty foul in the way it treats African-Americans. So you need to make some changes.
MR. ZELENY: Of course, this is just one of many things on her plate. I mean, she’s been waiting in the wings for so long. What are her other agenda items in the short time she has left in this administration? What are her other priorities?
MR. THOMAS: I think the biggest agenda item she has right now is terrorism. We heard from the FBI director this week how ISIS using social media in unprecedented ways to leverage people inside the United States. And he talked about how – the fact that they are not only recruiting people using social media, they’re also telling them to, quote, “kill, kill, kill.” It was a pretty somber moment in the interview yesterday when – again, small number of reporters meeting with the FBI director – when he started speaking in those terms. And the concern here is that people who are following them on Twitter, online, could suddenly act just in the way you saw in Texas last Sunday.
MR. WILLIAMS: Could I just ask one other question about the civil rights investigation? Don’t you get the impression sometime that police departments are happy to have the Justice Department come in, that they can end up making changes that perhaps they couldn’t sell to the police department on their own?
MR. THOMAS: Exactly. And also, I think police departments can use these kind of reforms to get rid of rogue officers. And the one thing that I’m picking up over and over when we talk to police officials around this country, is they now know, because so many people have cameras, that when the rogue officers do something, there’s a chance it’s going to get caught on tape. And we can now see what happens in communities when ugly activity gets caught on tape, by police officers.
MS. IFILL: Is too soon to see whether Congress or other stakeholders are more interested in cooperating with Attorney General Lynch than they were with her predecessor?
MR. THOMAS: Well, you know, it’s going to be very interesting. She’s got a bit of a honeymoon period, but –
MR. WILLIAMS: And when the honeymoon’s over, the administration will be over too.
MS. IFILL: Well, that’s true. Lame-duck status has its advantages.
MR. THOMAS: Exactly. And you know, one thing that will be very interesting is, it gets pretty hot and fiery on the Hill. And it’s going to be very interesting to see how she responds to that, because that is surely coming.
MS. IFILL: It sounds like she gets calmer and calmer. Her voice goes lower and lower the more she talks. We’ll see. Thank you.
As the Republican political field continues to take shape, it was generally agreed that this was long-shot week, where three new candidates – two of whom have never held elective office, decided why not? But are they really long shots? Each has a message he or she believes will work. Carly Fiorina: Not Hillary Clinton.
MS. FIORINA: (From video.) She’s a hard-working, intelligent woman, but she’s also a personification, honestly, of the professional political class. There are Republicans who are members of a professional political class. But Hillary Clinton will be the nominee for the Democratic Party. And she is who I, if I am the nominee of the Republican Party, will run against.
MS. IFILL: Mike Huckabee: Not from Washington.
MR. HUCKABEE: (From video.) I don’t have a global foundation or a taxpayer-funded paycheck to live off of. (Applause.) I don’t come from a family dynasty, but a working family. I grew up blue-collar, not blue-blood.
MS. IFILL: And Ben Carson: Not a politician.
DR. CARSON: (From video.) I don’t want to be a politician because – (applause) – politicians do what is politically expedient. And I want to do what’s right. We have to think about that once again in our country. (Cheers, applause.)
MS. IFILL: And then there were six. How does it feel looking now, Jeff?
MR. ZELENY: Well, it’s crowded.
MS. IFILL: Yeah. (Laughter.)
MR. ZELENY: And we’re only halfway there. I mean, there are so many more announcements to come. But let’s start with Mike Huckabee. I mean, among Republicans, he’s definitely the well-known of those three. He’s been on Fox News in people’s living room every night for the last six years or so as a host – or every weekend evening. And some people forget, he actually won the Iowa caucuses in 2008. So that – he’s – it’s always helpful to be running a second time, I think.
So the biggest question I think though is if he’ll be able to expand sort of, you know, the universe of people who supported him last time. He won because of social conservatives. And he was surprised that he won the Iowa caucuses. I remember it back then. He did not have any money. Mitt Romney just was spending all this money. And so the question is, is he able to expand this?
But he is a very good speaker. He went after everyone – every one of his Republicans rivals in there, and of course a few Democrats. I’m not a blue blood. I’m a, you know, blue-collar worker. Hmm, I wonder who he’s talking about? Maybe Jeb Bush? So I think he will be an interesting addition to the race. And Republicans do not write him off.
MS. IFILL: Carly Fiorina has run for office before, not successfully, and she has run a big business before, and some say not successfully. Where is her support?
MR. ZELENY: I’m not sure if we know exactly where her support’s going to be coming from. But she ran for Senate in California against Senator Barbara Boxer a couple years ago, unsuccessfully, as you said. But she was the CEO of HP, of Hewlett-Packard, and she had to lay off some 300,000 people in her tenure. And one of them happened to remember this, and he happened to take ownership of a website, CarlyFiorina.org, and he put out all of these sort of grievances that he has. So she was sort of dealing with that this week. But I think her entrance in the race may take gender off the table a little bit, and she’ll be an interesting figure in the race. But she just – she does not have the experience to be president.
MS. IFILL: Did she lay off 300,000 or 30,000?
MR. ZELENY: I believe 300,000, but we should check that.
MS. IFILL: Wow. OK, we should. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
MS. MECKLER: Well, going back to Huckabee for a second, because he does seem among the group to be perhaps the most viable, and he – do you think he can expand beyond that sort of Evangelical core/base? And also, does he – is that his group to even have this time, or does – is there more competition for those voters this time around?
MR. ZELENY: Great question. The lane is so crowded there. You know, Rick Santorum is in the lane as well, some other people. But one thing he has going for him is the primary calendar. If he would happen to win Iowa, with social conservatives, he goes on to South Carolina, a primary state, and then at the beginning of March there’s the so-called SEC primary, all these Southern states. He won some of those last time. He thinks that that’s his entryway into it. The question is, can he raise the money or not? I’m not sure about that.
MR. THOMAS: Are they talking about anybody other than Hillary?
MR. ZELENY: Not a lot. She, of course, is the best way for the Republicans to get on television, by distinguishing themselves, you know, through different lines of attack on her. So she definitely is the punching bag.
But he is one exception. Mike Huckabee is one exception. He was taking on some Republicans, and he is speaking this populist message. And that is what we’re hearing from both sides. But no, she is at the center of the debate from Democrats and Republicans alike.
MR. WILLIAMS: Other than Huckabee, are the other two – are they in it to win or are they –
MS. IFILL: Oh, we haven’t talked about Ben Carson yet.
MR. WILLIAMS: Yeah, are they in it to – like Carson, is he in it to win, or is he in it to change the focus of the issues?
MR. ZELENY: I think he’s in it to give speeches across the country.
MR. WILLIAMS: Or have fun.
MR. ZELENY: Why not? Why not run for president? He’s constitutionally eligible, I presume. (Laughter.)
MS. MECKLER: Why not?
MR. ZELENY: And he is the newest person to politics. He sort of came of age. He’s a brain surgeon by training, and he was speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013 – not that long ago. President Obama was a few feet away, and he gave some – you know, a very impressive speech. But he also says some pretty outlandish things: that Obamacare was worse than slavery. So he will be an interesting –
MS. IFILL: He likened the president to a psychopath at one point.
MR. ZELENY: A psychopath I believe, yes.
MS. IFILL: Right.
MS. MECKLER: Well, is he helpful in that he makes some of the other candidates seem more moderate, perhaps, to a larger, a greater audience? Is there any piece of that?
MR. ZELENY: Perhaps. But once they’re on a debate stage, you know, the fear from Republican establishment folks, people who really want to win by the White House, is what effect is he going to have on the rest of the field? Is everyone going to sort of, you know, follow after him by –
MS. MECKLER: I see.
MS. IFILL: Well, how is the rest of the field reacting? Are they watching these three and thinking – making decisions? We’re watching people like Rick Snyder deciding he’s not going to run, the governor of Michigan.
MR. ZELENY: Of Michigan, right.
MS. IFILL: We have seen John Kasich saying maybe he is going to run. Do they say, look, hey, if he can run, I can run? (Laughter.)
MR. ZELENY: Not necessarily, because the people that you mentioned are sitting governors and they have, you know, other things to do with their time. (Laughter.) Like, these people are generally just running for president.
So we had three others, the three senators, and we kind of group them like that: Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. So they’re very serious. But the others coming up – Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and a couple others – that’s probably what the field is going to look like.
MS. IFILL: It’s a very interesting point. I heard that Governor Jindal said this week he’s going to announce after his Louisiana General Assembly session is over – I think it’s called the General Assembly in Louisiana.
MR. ZELENY: It is.
MS. IFILL: And that’s because he’s got a job. OK.
MR. ZELENY: And also Rick Perry. We always forget Rick Perry.
MS. IFILL: Rick Perry.
MR. ZELENY: He is still looking at the race very aggressively.
MS. IFILL: And traveling to the early states, that’s true.
OK. On the Democratic side of the 2016 equation, so far, as we were mentioning, it’s all about Hillary Clinton as well. And no one appreciates that more than the former secretary of State. So she has talked about criminal justice reform and gay rights, and this week immigration reform.
MS. CLINTON: (From video.) Make no mistakes: Today, not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship, not one. When they talk about legal status, that is code for second-class status.
MS. IFILL: Much like the Republicans itching to run against her, Hillary Clinton is on fast-forward to the general election. But first, she has to compete against herself. Is there a method to her policy/strategy madness, Laura?
MS. MECKLER: I think there most certainly is. I think there’s both a primary strategy and a general election strategy. I mean, we saw this week her talking very, very strongly about immigration. Do you remember that executive action that President Obama put in place that was so controversial he’s being sued over it? She said, yeah, I’ll keep it going – not only will I keep it going, I’m going to look to expand it, I am doubling down on this policy. I will – she said she’ll fight for immigration reform in the strongest possible way with a path to citizenship.
She is wrong about there being no Republican who supports them. Lindsey Graham, who we didn’t mention before, has been a clear and consistent supporter of a path to citizenship. But putting that aside, she is absolutely positioning herself both to appeal to sort of Latino voters who have had some skepticism about her over the years and are used to kind of getting shafted when it comes to politics, truthfully – so she’s appealing to them. They’re very important in the Democratic primary, and of course very important come November ’16.
MR. ZELENY: I mean, with the changing demographics of the country, how will this help her in a general? And she was making that speech in Nevada, I believe, right?
MS. MECKLER: Yes, yes.
MR. ZELENY: Was that coincidence, or?
MS. MECKLER: I do not think that was a coincidence, actually. (Laughter.)
MR. ZELENY: I’m shocked.
MS. MECKLER: It’s interesting you should ask that. Yes, of course, Nevada has – 18 percent of its eligible voters are Latino. It is one of the states that has been competitive the last several times, and that the Hispanic vote really matters. She really is looking ahead to that.
And the Republicans are in such a mess over immigration. They know they have to improve their standing with Hispanic voters. Mitt Romney got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. He did very well with white voters, but it wasn’t enough to overcome how poorly he did with minorities. And the Republicans know they have to improve it, but there is so much hostility towards anything that is viewed as amnesty inside the Republican Party that they just don’t feel like they can really fully come out for it. So they’re all sort of in knots over this issue, and she’s trying to exploit it.
MR. WILLIAMS: She has to keep constantly asking – answering these questions about the foundation, the Clinton Foundation and the money. Is she lucky that this book came out now and that this issue is playing out now? Will anybody remember it in November?
MS. MECKLER: Well, I suppose on some level it’s better for it to come out now than to come out later. I’m not sure that they would view it as necessarily lucky, exactly. (Laughter.) I mean, I think the issue is that so far there’s been a lot of innuendo, that basically you have donors, a lot of donors, foreign donors, giving money to the Clinton Foundation and, of course, she’s secretary of State, she’s doing all sorts of things that relate to their interests. There hasn’t been any evidence of a sort of quid pro quo, and that’s what her campaign is emphasizing. But does it look good? You know, I’m not sure it looks real good. And we’ve got, you know, 18 months for this to germinate, for people to look around for things, and I don’t necessarily think this is an open-and-shut situation. And we saw this week Bill Clinton in Africa, you know, there, talking to reporters, hoping to highlight the good works that the foundation does, which he did do some of that. But he got some tough questions about his work at the foundation and stumbled a little bit as he tried to answer them, I think.
MR. THOMAS: Has she weathered the email controversy?
MS. MECKLER: I don’t think the email controversy is ever going to, you know, fully go away. I think, though, that at some point it just kind of gets baked into the cake. People are going to make their assessments about her.
MS. IFILL: But didn’t she announce this week that she’s actually going to testify about Benghazi and emails?
MS. MECKLER: Well, she is, and that’s about the – yes. She is going to have to answer questions about it before the special committee. That’s going to be later this month. So we’ll see what comes out there. It’s hard for me to imagine a lot of new information coming out at that hearing, either about the emails or about the underlying Benghazi issue.
MS. IFILL: Well, anything that the Clintons do will be news, we know that for sure.
MS. MECKLER: Yes, indeed.
MS. IFILL: Thank you all very much.
Before we go tonight, we have to send condolences to the family of Jim Wright, the former speaker of the House who passed away this week. Like many of the Texans who came to Washington, he was a larger-than-life presence. He was elected to the House 17 times before resigning under a cloud in 1989. Jim Wright was 92 years old.
We have to go now, but as always the conversation continues online. You can find the Washington Week Webcast Extra later tonight and all week long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek, where among other things we’ll talk a little bit more about how ISIS is using social media to recruit young Americans. Keep up with developments with me and Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour and we’ll see you here – right here – next week right here on Washington Week. Happy Mother’s Day! Good night.