HIATT: Well explain: What was it in this case and – yesterday the guy was selling CDs – how do you connect it to the war on drugs?
JOHNSON: Well, just that that’s where it started, the notion of “shoot first”, that it’s drug-related, that doors get broken down, that everybody’s a drug dealer or everybody’s a criminal. That’s where I believe that this all started. I don’t have all the answers for what happened.
WILLIAM WELD, LIBERTARIAN NOMINEE FOR VICE PRESIDENT: That’s the law enforcement context. I don’t know, my remarks at the National Press Club [Thursday afternoon] are going to be broader than that. I remember Gerry Ford after the Nixon pardon giving his first State of the Union address and his first words were, “The state of the union is not good.” Well, the state of the union is not good. The state of the polity is not good today. I think we’re wrestling with late-stage developments in the democracy and it’s very unattractive, partly because of the effort by Mr. Trump to fuel people, setting people off against each other. People’s teeth really are on edge, and I will say later that I think that to some extent, “our hearts are filled with anxiety and fear and rage.” I was just going over my remarks, and I penciled in “think 600 police shootings” right next to that.
HIATT: Well, I’m interested in your views on the state of the polity, but before we get to that, is there any role for government in lessening the frequency of this kind of shooting?
JOHNSON: Absolutely, and the role of government would be at the local level. And from a national standpoint: What’s working? What’s not working? What big communities in this country have the best incidence of police– the least incidence of police brutality, shooting, and what are they doing that others aren’t? What’s the consistency or what are the common threads in areas with the most shootings? And I am also coming from New Mexico, where Albuquerque has just had unbelievable incidents. They might be at the top of the list when it comes to shooting and size of community.
HIATT: And how about the role for the Justice Department civil rights division?
WELD: Yeah, I’m a veteran there of the Justice Department: a couple years down here in the criminal division, five years up in Boston as U.S. Attorney. The U.S. Attorney’s relationship with the local [district attorneys] is generally one of cooperation, but you have to be alert. I remember a case we prosecuted under Section 1983, which is the deprivation of civil rights. It was a police officer in Lynn, Massachusetts who – he didn’t shoot the guy, but there was this miserable old drunk down at the docks in Lynn, and the officer pushed him in the water – it was November, so it wasn’t freezing freezing, but it was not pleasant – and just watched him drown. We prosecuted him. And there were some local residents who thought it was funny, and we prosecuted it under the civil rights statute and got a sentence of 15 years. People were incredulous, and the officer said this is just anti-police hysteria run rampant. But the guy died. [The officer] was standing there looking at him, laughing. I didn’t feel bad about that case.
And I understand the department has already opened civil rights investigations in these cases, as is appropriate. I’m just saying: Follow through! And I’m sure they will.
HIATT: What does it say to you about the state of race relations in this country, and what role does the president have on that bigger issue?
JOHNSON: I come back to the drug issue and the roots of all this. If you’re arrested on drug-related crime, there’s four times more likelihood you’ll go to prison [if you’re not white] than if you’re white. I think at the heart of all this is the war on drugs.
HIATT: Let me ask about that. Of all the drugs that are illegal, the only you’re favoring legalizing is marijuana.
HIATT: Why is that?
JOHNSON: Well, in my lifetime, I don’t think heroin is going to be legal, and I think there’s a real misunderstanding if you talk about “legal heroin.” Perhaps there’s not a misunderstanding if you talk about “harm reduction strategies” that do work, reducing death, disease, crime, corruption, things that people really care about. And you can look at Zurich as an example, you can look at Vancouver as an example, but it’s a segue into talking about the issue as a health issue as opposed to a criminal justice issue, and there’s only so much that people can digest at one time. I think that legalization of marijuana is going to happen. I think that California this fall will be the tipping point, that Californians will vote to legalize recreational marijuana. Of course it happened here [though] I realize it hasn’t happened in any meaningful way. But that’s going to be a quantum leap forward for the whole country when it comes to understanding the issues surrounding drugs.
JACKSON DIEHL, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: What about regulation of opioids? Do you favor any of the steps that have been taken recently by the FDA and others to tighten the distribution of opioids and pain medication?
JOHNSON: Well, what it leads to is abuse. I mean, tightening leads to abuse. And having been involved in the marijuana industry for a year and a half as the CEO of Cannabis Sativa, marijuana products, as an example, directly compete with these opioids that statistically kill 100,000 people a year—now I’ve seen where that’s a lower number—but marijuana products don’t kill anybody. Statistically, they don’t kill anyone. So the tightening of these restrictions by the FDA ends up criminalizing the activity and these products do kill people.
WELD: You’re referring to trying to get less Oxycontin flooding the market?
WELD: That’s a good idea.
DIEHL: Do you agree that’s a good idea?
JOHNSON: Well, it’s a good idea, but the reality is, is that you end up depriving some people of the real need to relieve their pain so they have to go out into the black—I mean, it ends up criminalizing a lot of activity. I wish there were alternatives to the opioids, which marijuana does fill that role, and that would be a safer [way].
WELD: Maybe that’s your answer. I think what Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey have been working on in Massachusetts is a good model. It’s along those same lines.
HIATT: It sounds like you don’t think it’s a good idea as policy.
JOHNSON: A good idea as policy? Well I think it ends up criminalizing activity that’s going to take place anyway, and I wish there were alternatives to the opioids which are recognized, and right at the top of that list would be marijuana products.
HIATT: And just to circle back on the heroin —so philosophically you would be in favor of legalizing, but you’re saying as a pragmatic political matter, not going to happen, so let’s start with—
JOHNSON: I don’t even want to say, ‘Legalize,’ I just don’t, because people take–
JOHNSON: Well, because people misunderstand that. Harm reduction strategy – -if Washington, D.C., for example, wants to reduce heroin death due to overdose, what they would do is, they would open up clinics that would test heroin for anybody that came in with their dose of heroin. ‘Here, test it, tell me what the quality consistency of this is’ — and I guarantee you that death due to heroin overdose would decrease dramatically, if that’s a program that a community undertook. The problem would be, is to get people to actually come in with their black-market heroin. I mean, there are problems of course associated with everything, but if you look at Zurich as a model, Zurich has re-upped on their program to provide free heroin to anybody that comes in and registers, and the idea was to reduce death, disease, crime, corruption. Clean needles, so no more hepatitis C, no more HIV, no more overdose. And of course people will always commit suicide, that’ll always be a fact. No more prostitution, no more guns, no more violence associated with having to go out and get the money to pay for the habit in the first place. And this — by the way, what I just said came verbatim from the chief of police from Zurich, who was adamantly opposed to the program at the beginning, and was here in the United States saying that the program has been wildly successful, and he’s on board as is all law enforcement now in Zurich that were not on board prior to it taking place in the first place.
HIATT: So then I don’t follow why you don’t say you’re in favor of decriminalization.
JOHNSON: I think that those will be steps that we will take after marijuana.
RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: We started out talking about guns and violence from police. The other way guns have been in the news recently has to do with guns and terrorists. I’m wondering what if anything you think should be done in terms of measures to stem gun violence from terrorists, and in particular proposals on no-fly lists or terrorist watch lists.
JOHNSON: Well, I think we’re both open to—and by the way, we’re planning a partnership as president/vice-president—I think it’s exciting. Bill was a role model for me, becoming governor, our terms overlapping, so I hope in the context of these conversations you will see that perhaps we differ with regard to opinion, which is okay, that’s what it should be. For me personally, and this is something I really enjoyed being governor, was, I would love to sit down with the FBI and understand from them what transpired with regard to three conversations they had with [Omar] Mateen and what their recommendations are going forward. Certainly they’ve got to have those recommendations. I haven’t read anything in print on what, or haven’t seen anything with regard to what they might be suggesting, but that’s the power of being president, that’s the power of being executive, and it can lead to at least a path going forward. I’ll turn it over to Bill, Bill talked about establishing a task force, which I think really is a great idea.
WELD: So again, this is Department of Justice background, but in my time in the department, which was under Reagan, we had great success with specialized task forces, the most prominent example being the organized crime strike forces in various districts. And Giuliani and myself and a bunch of other U.S. attorneys really did succeed in taking out the top three echelons of the La Cosa Nostra organized crime families in the United States in the late ’80s. The guys who were running the families when we were done had been soldiers when we started, and they were just as dumb as they could possibly be, so we went on from there to the next threat which was the Asian triads, and then the Jamaican posses, which were guns not drugs – but again, specialized training.
So I suggested that on this one, the factoid that stuck in my craw was that Mateen had been interviewed twice, and after the second time when they concluded he was not an imminent threat because they couldn’t get a strong enough connection between him and the terrorist group he was boasting about, they said, “Okay, we’ve got to close this case.” And when they closed the case his name came off. I said, “No, no, that’s not how we did it with organized crime families.” So I suggested that a thousand FBI agents be hired with a supplemental budget and then a thousand people with terrorist training and backgrounds, specialists, would go to this new task force and a like number, you know, two hundred or however many prosecutors were required. And this is not to get Mateen. This is to get ISIS.
So it’s a big national priority. And then you would have a hotline encouraging any tips whatsoever, and you would have this database of ISIS tips and tips on lone wolves. And I remember Giuliani and myself working on the case that would become the commission case, which was Rudy’s theory that there was a commission consisting of the leaders of the five organized crime families, and they met a couple of times a year in Detroit and Miami and made decisions. And the existence of the commission had been long denied. But Rudy and I both read Joe Bonnano’s autobiography, which is “Man of Honor.” And Joe told a little bit too much in there. There was some stuff we thought didn’t quite fit with what we knew. And Rudy wound up making that case with a little bit of information from here, a little bit of information from there. And only people with a lot of familiarity with the fact base would be able to connect the dots. And eventually the legal relevance of that is you get enough predication or probable cause to get either a search warrant or wiretap, which is how long-running grand jury investigations are developed. And in terms of the lone wolves, of which I guess Mateen is the poster example, that would be how I’d get them. That’s essentially a domestic initiative.
MARCUS: So that’s all well and good, but is there a role for gun regulation measures? The homeland security secretary said the other day that it was time to start thinking of gun violence as a national security issue as we have lone wolves. So is there a role for gun regulation?
JOHNSON: There may be. I mean, keeping an open mind to this. I mean, how do you restrict guns from potential terrorists? How do you restrict guns from the mentally ill? I think we would be the first persons to recognize that that should be a debate and a discussion. I haven’t seen or heard any proposals that would actually address this, and then, just in the very forefront, the FBI interviewed Mateen three times, and why on Earth didn’t something come of that?
MARCUS: But what about the pending proposals to deny access to people on the no-fly list or, more broadly, on the terrorist watch list?
JOHNSON: Well, these government lists are subject to error. I think you can argue the 4 percent error rate, that active members of Congress are on that list. You may be on that list, and you’re seeking to get a weapon to defend yourself against your abusive husband. Now, I’m not saying you’re going to shoot your abusive husband, but your abusive husband knows now that you have a weapon, and that becomes a deterrent. I mean, but that’s your constitutional right to own that weapon. And no-fly lists. Really, do we care about no-fly lists? I mean, should it really matter when it comes to identity of anybody flying?
WELD: So it’s my –
HIATT: Wait, wait, wait. Explain that?
JOHNSON: Well, no-fly lists. I mean, security should exist at the airports, that identity really is not an issue. Now, I’m not saying do away with the no-fly list. But I’m just, you know – why are there no-fly lists in the beginning?
HIATT: So it sounds like you’re saying maybe we should do away with no-fly lists. [CROSSTALK] Well, you raised it, so do you think so or not?
JOHNSON: Well, no, I’m not suggesting that. I’m just pointing out that they are subject to error, and ideally you’d have a system that identity would be a non-factor, that everybody gets dealt with equally and that it’s safe to fly.
HIATT: So you started by saying that maybe there is a role in restricting guns from terrorists or the mentally ill. There have been specific proposals debated in the Senate, which it sounds like you reject, so –
JOHNSON: Well, nothing has come through Congress either.
HIATT: So, do you have a view on what might work, or you’re just saying –
JOHNSON: I don’t. Yeah, no, I don’t. Everything –
JO-ANN ARMAO, ASSOCIATE EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: What about assault-style weapons? Is there a place for them? Is there a constitutional right to that?
JOHNSON: Well, assault-style weapons, meaning semi-automatic-style rifles, you are talking about 30 million weapons, and I daresay that if you do that, I daresay half the owners of those weapons are not going to turn them in, and now you’re going to criminalize the ownership of those weapons.
HIATT: So, so it sounds to me like you’re saying, in theory, ‘Sure,’ but in fact there’s no proposal that would meet your test. You’ve been around long enough and it seems to me you’re smart enough – if there was something that would work, you’d know what it was, or you would have…
JOHNSON: Well, right! But I don’t want to for a second say that there might not be that proposal tomorrow.
HIATT: And you don’t have any interest in exploring for yourself what it might be, or…?
JOHNSON: Sure! [chuckles] I mean, let’s talk about it all day, if you’ve got an idea here.
WELD: I’ve got an idea. I think the Susan Collins stuff looks good. I mean, it’s hard for me, uh, having proposed this super-duper task force getting bits of information from all over to say, it wouldn’t lie with good grace in my mouth to say ‘no, don’t use the terrorist watch list as a source of such information.’ So I would go with that. And I’m not sure I’ve seen the latest iteration of how far Senator Collins has gone to try to attract the Democrats, but the latest thing I saw, which was a few days ago, looked good to me – looked promising. And I thought I read that people thought it was promising, that something might happen.
MARCUS: So you guys don’t necessarily agree on that?
WELD: Right, right.
HIATT: The hiring of a thousand new FBI agents is not a typical libertarian idea. Tell us, what is it, what does being libertarian, in a broad sense, mean to you?
JOHNSON: Oh, well, in a broad sense it is less government. If you’re talking about adding a thousand agents in this category, government is dynamic. Overall it should shrink in size. I do believe it tries to accomplish too much, it taxes too much, but government is dynamic and this is an issue that needs to be faced. If that’s a thousand new people, I daresay we’re gonna overall cut the size and scope of government.
STEPHEN STROMBERG, EDITORIAL WRITER: So what spending precisely would you eliminate to achieve your twin goals of cutting taxes and balancing the budget?
JOHNSON: Well, let’s talk specifically about the Pentagon itself, which says we could reduce twenty percent of US bases. That’s the Pentagon. But none of it has happened, because, uh, members of Congress won’t allow that to happen because it’s bases that exist in their own home states.
STROMBERG: How about military bases abroad?
JOHNSON: You’d have to think that that same number would apply to military bases abroad, although I have not heard the Pentagon comment on that, I have heard the Pentagon comment on US bases.
DIEHL: Do you support U.S. bases in places such as South Korea, Germany?
JOHNSON: That would be an analysis that… actually, we have a meeting tomorrow afternoon that I think we will actually get specific regarding where those bases… Where, where we might be able to actually reduce or what the Pentagon is saying regarding that. I don’t… I don’t want to misspeak.
STROMBERG: So you… You’d cut defense spending on domestic military bases. What else would you cut?
JOHNSON: Well, of course, neither of us is going to get elected as the dictator or the king of the United States, so we will make proposals – ultimately it’s Congress acting on those proposals or not acting on those proposals but count on this administration, the Johnson-Weld administration, to sign legislation that will reduce spending, and–
MARCUS: Okay, but tell us more about your proposal…
HIATT: You’re going to submit a balanced budget, you said–
JOHNSON: Yes, yes
HIATT: –so what would you cut to do that?
JOHNSON: Well, you’ve got to address the entitlements. You can’t do it if you don’t address the entitlements…
JOHNSON: Well, in my opinion, when it comes to Medicaid and Medicare, these services need to devolve to the states, something that is not currently happening. In my heart of hearts, as the governor of New Mexico, if the federal government would have block-granted the state of New Mexico a fixed amount of money, that I would have been able to draw new lines of eligibility, there would have been a health safety net; that those that were in need would not have gone without those needs being met. I think the Federal government, though, is incapable of drawing those new lines of eligibility, and I always say with 50 laboratories of innovation and best practice we will actually have some best practice that will get emulated, we’ll also have some horrible failure that will get avoided.
MARCUS: What is drawing new lines — Talk about Medicare for example. What does drawing new lines of eligibility mean? Does it mean you raise the eligibility age?
JOHNSON: Well it wouldn’t be — in the case of Social Security, I mean, there are some reforms to Social Security and that starts with raising the retirement age, something that neither party is talking about. Neither Trump or Clinton are talking about reforming the entitlements that happen—
MARCUS: Wait, so you raise the Social Security retirement age?
JOHNSON: I would, yes, I would make that proposal, yes.
MARCUS: And what would you raise it to?
JOHNSON: Well, um, for starters that it needs to go up.
JOHNSON: What is the exact age? I mean this ends up to be, you know, very dollars and cents and very accounting oriented, but it seems to me that it should be at least 70 years old.
MARCUS: And would you similarly raise the age of eligibility for Medicare?
JOHNSON: There is that, but there’s also who is eligible for Medicare and so much of time spent as, you know, administering Medicare — Medicaid — was, you know, the eligibility. Who’s eligible, who’s not and, you know, you get these lines drawn and somebody is ten cents below the line and somebody is ten cents over the line. And it’s hard, but that’s what government was all about. Well that line needs to be upped.
STROMBERG: So you would expand Medicaid?
JOHNSON: No, no I would not. No, I would be restricting Medicaid to a degree where it would actually be solvent going forward. That there’s a fiscal responsibility we have, in my opinion, regarding these programs that if we don’t address them at some point, we’re going to have horrible inflation that’s gonna go along with continuing to spend more money than what we take in.
HIATT: So some people who are now eligible for Medicaid should not be eligible?
JOHNSON: When you draw new lines of eligibility, that’s what you end up doing. Right.
HIATT: And isn’t that the working poor who you’re — how are they going to get health care?
JOHNSON: Well, you’re assuming that health care didn’t– health care has always existed. It’s never been an issue of people receiving healthcare. It’s been an issue of who pays for it.
HIATT: Really, who would pay for it if they’re not eligible?
JOHNSON: Well, it ends up to be municipal, it ends up to be local communities, something that local communities deal with, states do deal with, and then of course there’s the federal money match on all this. But we’ve had this escalation of increasing Medicaid benefits for year after year after year, the 300 percent of poverty, you know, states escalating that eligibility. Well, just dial back that eligibility.
HIATT: But if local communities or states are paying for it, government spending hasn’t gone down, just federal government spending has gone down.
JOHNSON: Federal government spending would have to go down.
HIATT: But total government spending would not have gone down.
JOHNSON: Not necessarily. No.
HIATT: That’s okay? But as a Libertarian, why is it better, you’re still spending 22 percent or whatever of GDP on…
JOHNSON: Well, if you’re talking about health care and the reforms needed for health care, the reforms needed for health care are genuine free-market approaches to healthcare. I reject the notion that we have insurance to cover ourselves for ongoing medical need. It’s really crazy. In a free-market approach to health care, we would have insurance to cover ourselves for catastrophic injury and illness, and we would pay as you go in a system that I’m going to guess would cost about one-fifth of what it costs right now. It would be cash and carry. It would be “Stitches R Us”, it would be “Gallbladders R Us”, “X-rays R Us”. It would be advertised pricing. It would be advertised outcomes. Something that today, you go to the doctor, you have no idea what it’s going to cost — you have no idea what the outcome’s going to be, and when you see the bill you know that nobody’s really going to pay the amount that’s on that bill.
MARCUS: So you don’t think that we should really have a Medicaid or Medicare system?
JOHNSON: Oh, yes, I do. Yes, I do. I do believe in a safety net.
HIATT: Governor Weld, do you agree health insurance only for catastrophic?
WELD: Well, you know, I’ve in the past thought that health savings accounts were a good idea so that’s getting more of the decision-making into the hands of the individual so to that extent I’m not thematically off this, off this truck.
JOHNSON: And I’m not thematically off health savings accounts. Yes.
WELD: But I think if you can introduce more competition, let people shop across state lines. I thought [former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich] wasn’t crazy when he proposed letting people shop in Canada. You know I spent a lot of time–
HIATT: But pay-as-you-go on health for all but emergencies, that’s pretty radical change.
WELD: Yes, stark pay-go is beyond what I’ve just said.
HIATT: Is there anywhere in the world where you’ve seen that work?
JOHNSON: Well, I think that that’s before we had an insurance model. Why don’t we have grocery insurance? I’m not trying to be flippant here. But we don’t have grocery insurance, and if we did, why would there be any pricing on any of the shelves? You’d just pick out filet mignon, you’d pick out, no regard with regard to pricing.
WELD: I see the headline now: “Let them eat filet.”
MARCUS: Can I…before we run out of time, I just wanted to ask you about something in the news?
HIATT: We’ve got plenty of time.
MARCUS: Before I run out of my time. Which has to do with the remarks by Director Comey and about Secretary Clinton’s emails. What did you make of his findings? What should be the consequences if any, and were his comments appropriate, to each of you?
JOHNSON: Well, you can let– I’m not a rock thrower in all this. I mean, so many others devote their lives to all this stuff and I’ll let them devote their lives to this stuff. Bill has said all along that he has never thought that Hillary Clinton was criminal in any of these actions. For me, like I say, it’s just, I’d rather be talking about grocery insurance.
WELD: So what Director Comey said was that no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case. I thought that was correct. I’ve been saying for a couple months I didn’t see any evidence of criminal intent on the part of Secretary Clinton, and there’s a book in the Justice Department called the “Principles of Federal Prosecution,” as you certainly, Ms. Marcus, know. And under the “Principles of Federal Prosecution,” prosecutors should not file charges unless he or she is persuaded that the admissible evidence is sufficient to obtain and to sustain on appeal a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt by a reasonable and unbiased jury, okay? I didn’t see that in all the verbiage that Mr. Comey put out there. I thought he did a very good job – what we did, what we found and what we’re going do about it. And, he’s right that ordinarily the bottom-line recommendation that he made, which was really a decision, no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case. Usually that’s made by the prosecutor, as he knows – he was deputy attorney general – and in this case, it was kind of a hybrid. I mean, there were two more officials between him and Loretta Lynch who could have weighed in but everybody sort of said, no, we’re going to go with the Bureau on this because among other things, we’ve got a former deputy attorney general who is head of the Bureau. So I thought justice was served.
MARCUS: Did you think that, based on your experience, that his comments as an FBI director were appropriate?
WELD: Yes, under the circumstances. It’s unusual, you know, Bill Webster was the head of the FBI, he might have said, this is my recommendation. But the AG had previously said, well, this recommendation is going to stick. So it was an unusual case.
MARCUS: And do you think there should be consequences in terms of security clearances for anybody involved, based on what you’ve read?
JOHNSON: Not me. Poor judgment, but I’m afraid we’re all subject to that.
STROMBERG: Speaking of security clearances, you’ve spoken about ending the NSA by executive order. Do you believe the government should not be spying on anybody, or just the NSA should be more limited when it comes to collecting Americans’ information?
JOHNSON: Well, limited, yes, so I’m not saying do away with the NSA, but turn the satellites away from U.S. citizens. And there is due process, which I do not think is exemplified by the FISA court saying that, yes, NSA, you can gather metadata on 110 million Verizon users.
HIATT: I thought you had said it was created by executive order and you would issue one–
JOHNSON: I would issue one to turn the satellites away from the United States.
HIATT: You’ve also said you would disrupt financing to terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere. How would you do that without—don’t you need some surveillance tools to do that?
JOHNSON: I would assume so, yes. I’m not saying that the NSA gets shut down, but that the satellites should be turned against our enemies — and enemies does not mean U.S. citizens — and that there is due process, or should be due process, for allowing that to occur here within the United States. But I don’t see due process currently with regard to the NSA – that it’s blanket surveillance of U.S. citizens.
JAMES DOWNIE, DIGITAL OPINIONS EDITOR: If I can follow up on that, you just said enemies are not U.S. citizens. I would just be curious as to how a Johnson-Weld administration would handle someone like Anwar al-Awlaki, who was a U.S. citizen, and how you would go about dealing with someone like that.
JOHNSON: Well I would not have issued an order to kill him. There is due process, and, in my opinion, that was not due process.
DOWNIE: So then it’s not just that it’s about U.S. citizens, it’s also about due process, and it’s about – so then the distinction, when you’re talking about turning satellites away from the United States, what if by due process, that you find [a case where] surveillance would be necessary? How would you then go about then bringing back the surveillance to the United States?
JOHNSON: Well, prior to Snowden, none of us had any idea about what this is, on an overall contextual basis. And right now, I don’t want to speak about something that I really don’t understand, and none of us, I don’t think, do. But as president of the United States I would think I would be able to understand that in a much better way and I’d be able to understand your question. Right now, I don’t want to misspeak here.
DIEHL: Would you pardon Snowden?
JOHNSON: Would I? Based on what I know – and initially, when the Snowden thing happened, my concern was, “Holy cow, has information been released that are going to put U.S. citizens – spies – in harm’s way? I mean, are people going to die as a result of this?” I don’t know how many of you watched the documentary “Citizenfour” – if you haven’t, watch it. It was incredibly informational for me. And that was that Snowden took all of this into account before he released this. Did he make it available to The Washington Post? Were you one of the recipients?
JOHNSON: Okay, he laid that in your hands. He put that in your hands. He didn’t have the resources to do it. Well, you know more about this than I do. So, yes, I would pardon Snowden, based on what I know. But what I know is that no one has had any harm done to them as a result of what was released by Snowden.
MARCUS: Governor Weld, do you feel the same way?
WELD: I probably know less than Gary does, but I was relieved when he said yes, he would pardon Snowden.
ARMAO: I had a question about D.C. You have expressed support for voting rights for the District of Columbia. Does that mean statehood? If not, how would you accomplish it?
JOHNSON: Based on what a – the notion of “taxation without representation,” I realize that’s on the license plates, I’d be interested to hear what Bill has said. I’ve said, yeah, I would look favorably at statehood for D.C.
ARMAO: Governor, what’s your feeling about that?
WELD: I just haven’t gotten there yet. I guess we divide up the territory, we’re each expert on different areas.
JOHNSON: I’m no expert here on anything.
ARMAO: A lot of the response is, well, I need to find out about this. I don’t know. So, why should people vote for you for president? Aren’t we taking an awful lot on faith?
JOHNSON: You do have two former governors here, Republican governors serving in heavily Democrat states, that were really successful, getting reelected, I think speaks to being successful. Being fiscally conservative and socially accepting, tolerant – that’s the mix here. Are you taking a lot on faith? Well, you’ve got to look at the résumés and you’ve got to consider that, in my opinion, these are two people that are really very thoughtful, and that there is a process, and that it’s a transparent process, and that it’s about honesty and telling the truth. And that’s history, that’s résumé, that’s prior work history. Going forward, that may — it’s not going to change going forward.
WELD: So, on the budget issues, you know, the tendency is almost inescapable to say, what are you going to cut? What are you going to cut? I think we proved that we know how to cut. It’s through what I call zero-based budgeting, which is you begin every year assuming each entry in the budget is zero. You don’t assume it’s the same as last year plus 5 percent, which used to be the approach in Washington. And that’s how you get your real savings. So you don’t slash 20 percent or 10 percent across the board. And you measure outcomes, not inputs. Inputs would be last year’s appropriation. So if the outcomes were very good in a health-care program, you might multiply that appropriation by five. And if there was another tired bureaucracy that just seemed to have been shuffling papers, and there were no outputs, you might abolish that altogether. But I think we’ve both showed that we can do that, because in the ‘90s, we were each rated the most fiscally conservative governor in the United States. In my case, by the Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute, and I think Gary a couple years after that, by Cato as well. So that’s not an accident.
And I just haven’t thought about statehood for D.C. Give me an afternoon and I’ll come back and tell you the pros and cons.
HIATT: What would you say is an appropriate share of GDP that the federal government should be spending?
JOHNSON: Well, whatever the current level is, that you prudently reduce that by a few percentage points. Something that’s never happened before— I mean if you just talk about a flat budget from one year to the next that’s unprecedented. That’s never happened. So there’s a realism to this that you can make—and then you’d factor in growth.
HIATT: Although you know there’s a realism, but it seems to me that the only real specifics we’ve heard are raising the social security age, and what we hear from many Republicans, which is oh, devolve Medicaid to the states and let them cut people from the rolls. How is that different from what any conservative Republican in the House wants to do and has wanted to do for a long time? And doesn’t it just leave vulnerable people more vulnerable?
JOHNSON: Well no, I would not argue that, and Libertarian, the case we are kind of making here, is that Libertarian is encompassing Democrats, it’s encompassing Republicans, it’s a mix.
WELD: You know, it’s what some people say they want to do but nothing happens. And this is my pet peeve of the day, it’s that duopoly and the fact that you don’t get these reasonably good ideas, many of which were proposed by Republican moderates. You don’t get it from Congress because everything is all jammed and gridlocked. And I do think that if we get in in the debates—I think if we can get in the debates we can win the whole thing, given the competition. And the case we can make that we are coming out of the middle of the pike, because we are fiscally responsible and socially liberal or open or tolerant, whatever word you want. And that doesn’t describe either of the other two parties. But we would be different for damn sure, and we would not be hiring people for the administration based on party loyalty, because you couldn’t staff the administration all with Libertarians. So we would go and try and find the very best people from the Democratic party and the very best people from the Democratic party [sic], and the touchstone would not be whether they were loyal to an image of what they thought their party wanted. So some stuff might actually get done.
HIATT: So you think you can win and you would be the best–
WELD: We’d be different. We’d be an icebreaker.
HIATT: But between the other two major party candidates, presumptive nominees, is one or the other, more or less dangerous or potentially beneficial to the country?
JOHNSON: I don’t think so.
HIATT: No difference between Trump and Clinton as far as you are concerned?
JOHNSON: There are big differences between the two.
HIATT: No, in terms of–
JOHNSON: In terms of being president, no.
HIATT: If you weren’t on the ballot you wouldn’t vote for one over the other.
JOHNSON: Well, Libertarians have been on the ballot since ’71. So I know there would be a Libertarian.
HIATT: How about you [Gov. Weld]?
WELD: You know, my answer to that would depend on to what extent Mr. Trump develops, and I am going to make it my mission to try and help him develop over the course of the next four months.
HIATT: Well you [Gov. Johnson] said he’s racist. Is he qualified to be president?
JOHNSON: I tell you, coming from New Mexico–
WELD: I don’t think so.
HIATT: Is she qualified?
WELD: Oh yeah.
HIATT: So there is a difference?
WELD: Yeah. That’s what I said. Or I said it before.
HIATT: But you [Gov. Johnson] don’t agree with that?
JOHNSON: Well, qualified — running for governor of New Mexico, never having been involved in politics before, I made the same pitch to New Mexico that Trump is making. Trump has gone way beyond this claim, but hey, I’m a successful business guy, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m going to apply these same common sense business principles to state government and just watch how well it works. Well I wish Trump were just saying that, and sticking to that, as opposed to deportation of 11 million undocumented workers, building a fence across the border, that they’re murderers, rapists. This is incendiary stuff coming from New Mexico, where…
WELD: You also didn’t propose that New Mexico abrogate all of its sovereign obligations, violate every agreement it had with every other counterparty, and threaten to go into bankruptcy unless the counterparties would renegotiate. It’s not that Mr. Trump comes out of the business world. It’s what he’s proposed. And it’s something that you can’t have, in my view, from a president of the United States or even a candidate for president of the United States. And that’s what I’ll be spelling out over the next four months.
HIATT: And [Gov. Johnson] what’s your objection to Hillary Clinton?
JOHNSON: I think it’s very establishment. I think it’s very status quo. I think that her answer to everything is “free,” that government will grow under Hillary Clinton, that taxes will go up, and I think that — and I’m not blaming her for foreign policy, it’s not intentional, but you know if you take Syria and Libya as an example, we go in, we back the moderates, who happen to be aligned with ISIS, and the Bin Laden-ites and jihadists — well, that wasn’t intentional but that’s what happened.
WELD: It absolutely is intentional, it absolutely is fair game. I am going to be the hawk now.
JOHNSON: By intentional, I don’t think she planned it, but that’s what’s happened. And that isn’t just her, that’s the Obama administration.
WELD: The action is intentional, maybe not the consequences. But there is a difference on the tendency to seek regime change. And one thing the Libertarian party — and I think I am onboard with this — there is a presumption of non-intervention where spilling U.S. blood on foreign soil, or sending U.S. boots into other countries is involved. That’s not to say we don’t need an absolutely invincible defense. That’s not to say that we don’t need to maintain air and naval supremacy and let the whole world know it. I travel a great deal around the world for business half of the last ten years, and everybody in the world is watching the U.S. and its military like a hawk. All the Arabs in the Middle East are terrified that the Fifth Fleet is going to steam out of Bahrain’s harbor and go back and sit at anchor in the Gulf of Mexico. And everybody in the Pacific, if the Pacific Fleet moves one carrier group ten feet, the dust is raised in China, Japan and every other country in the area. I think that’s part of the bedrock responsibility of government, even under the libertarian credo, which is to protect people from being injured, to protect citizens from being injured, and that’s where the invincible defense comes in. But I think there probably is a difference on regime change and being quick to pull the trigger. I think —
DIEHL: On that subject, President Obama leaves behind 8,400 troops in Afghanistan and 5,000 or so in Iraq, if you took office in January would you leave those troops there and, if not, what would you do to prevent the Taliban from regaining power in Afghanistan and [to overturn] the Islamic State?
JOHNSON: What I will be saying throughout this campaign, because that’s going to be a question that’s going to come up all the time is, is that I would get the troops out – that the consequence of getting the troops out, as horrible as that’s going to be – and I think that there has been precedent for, OK, we’re going to pull out of Afghanistan, how many Afghanis need citizenship within the United States because you’re going to lose your life having been allied with the United States? I mean, I think there are precautions here that there’s not a bloodbath. But as horrible as that’s going to be doing it in 2017, it’s going to be the same situation 20 years from now.
DIEHL: So you’re prepared to have the Taliban regain power in Afghanistan?
JOHNSON: Just like happens 20 years from now. Just like happens whenever we get out of Afghanistan.
WELD: I agree by the way, and —
DIEHL: Wait a minute, if the Islamic State – you’re prepared to have them consolidate power rather than leave U.S. troops there?
JOHNSON: Well this is a question that gets constantly asked. Let me ask you: How long should we be there? Forever?
WELD: You mean Afghanistan?
DIEHL: No, I’m talking about Iraq and Syria.
JOHNSON: Same, all of the above. I mean, libertarians – I reject the fact that libertarians are isolationist. We’re just noninterventionist. The fact that when you get involved in other countries’ affairs, you end up with the unintended consequence — without exception, and please point out an exception – you have the unintended consequence of making things worse, not better.
HIATT: South Korea.
JOHNSON: South Korea, right now we’ve got 40,000 troops in South Korea. Imagine if we had 40,000 troops – 40,000 Chinese troops — in Central America. I think the biggest threat in the world right now is North Korea, and that at some point these intercontinental ballistic missiles are going to work. And so, back to being non-isolationist, we should be – we’re not isolationists, we’re noninterventionists, so diplomacy to the hilt. Let’s join in hands with China to deal with North Korea, and as part of that, maybe we can get our troops out of South Korea.
There is absolutely no threat from North Korea invading South Korea conventionally. There is nuclear, but we’ve got them covered with that umbrella and that’s the issue that we’re facing.
HIATT: I’m sorry, doesn’t North Korea have a very large conventional army on the border with South Korea?
JOHNSON: I do not believe that it is in any way a real threat.
HIATT: On what basis are you, do you feel confident of that?
JOHNSON: Well, the fact that we did have a defense briefing the other day and we’re having five hours of briefings tomorrow, everything from military to health care, but that was coming from the Cato Institute, and that there is absolutely no – nothing to say, or zero threat, of invasion by North Korea to South Korea conventionally.
HIATT: Do you see any next threats to U.S. national security, and what are they in your vision?
JOHNSON: Well, sure, that, like I say, at some point these intercontinental ballistic missiles work, and then what’s the threat to South Korea from a nuclear standpoint? And really, this is –
HIATT: I mean, more globally – I think you’ve said the Islamic State is not a existential threat to the U.S. What would your – as you look at the world, if you become president, what are the top three things you worry about?
JOHNSON: Well, that ISIS is a very real threat, but I think their days are numbered, they are regional, but of course philosophically they’ve put out their – they’ve broadcast to the world, die in the name of ISIS and you will help our cause. So, look, if we’re attacked we’re going to attack back, make no –
WELD: So my No. 1 would be nuclear proliferation, which is why I think it’s unbelievable that Donald Trump has suggested that the South Koreans and the Japanese perhaps should have access to nuclear weapons. I attend the annual meetings – I’m actually an associate member of a group called the InterAction Council, which is former world leaders, and they made me a member because Bill Clinton is the U.S. member and he often is unable to attend, and they want to have an American at the table.
Nuclear proliferation is No. 1. Religious sectarianism, the Sunni-Shia schism around the world is pretty high on the list, as well. We don’t think about it here every day, but, you know, when you’re considering actions like Iraq, actions that we’ve taken in the Middle East and North Africa, you’ve got to think about things like that as well that have rippling effects in a number of different countries, all across the top of Africa, for example.
HIATT: Would you maintain a nuclear deterrent, and if so would it be the same size, different composition of what we have now?
JOHNSON: Well, just philosophically speaking, do we need to blow up the world, and I don’t know the exact – I don’t know the exact number here, but do we need the capability of blowing up the world 18 times? It doesn’t seem to me –
WELD: No, we don’t. There’s a guy at the University of Toronto, very brilliant guy, he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, his name is John Polanyi … and he’s written a lot on this topic and there are agreements underway among the existing powers to phase that down. This is certain amount of resistance, which I would call rearguard resistance, but I’m interested in the topic and would put my shoulder behind efforts to reduce the stockpile.
STROMBERG: Do you accept that –
HIATT: But a triad? [Do] you think we need?
MARCUS: A nuclear triad.
HIATT: Missiles, submarines and airplanes.
JOHNSON: Yeah. Yeah.
WELD: I thought the question was how many, and I’m saying reduce the number.
STROMBERG: Do you accept that the planet is warming, that humans have greatly contributed to the warming and that it poses a large risk to human society?
JOHNSON: Yeah, I do. But back to the large risk to human society, we’re what, 16 percent of the world’s population, we’re 16 percent contributor to global warming, and I think that the free market has really addressed this in a big way, that we as consumers are demanding less carbon emission. And if you look at coal, coal has been bankrupted. All the marginal coal assets in this country are bankrupted; they’re not being utilized. Thirty-seven percent of the U.S. load is – I mean, that’s the number one contributor to CO-2 is coal, and as low as the prices for coal today, natural gas is even less, so there are just no new coal facilities that are going to be built, and then this boondoggle in Mississippi, clean coal, and it rages on. What is the cost of that facility up to now, 6 billion dollars?
STROMBERG: So you can certainly do a lot by eliminating coal use, but scientists warn you have to do a lot more than that. Eventually you have to stop burning oil, you have to stop burning natural gas –
JOHNSON: And I think these things are in the cards and that from a consumer standpoint we are driving that way beyond government regulation, and I would not be – I would not be supporting government regulation that ends up with us losing jobs. And I say that there’s also the rest of the world. Yeah, we lead by example, but do we get ahead of the world to the point that we lose jobs here in this country as a result of it?
WELD: It moves pretty quickly. Five years ago natural gas was everybody’s darling because it wasn’t oil and it wasn’t coal. Now, natural gas is under the gun from the environmentalists because it’s a member of the fossil-fuel family and they hate fossil fuels. I consider the remedy a matter of degree. I’m kind of skeptical that renewables are going to be 75 percent of the base in terms of electricity by the year 2045, which some extreme environmentalists would say that should be the goal and we should predicate our policy on that. Well, if it’s not gonna be the case, let’s not predicate our policy. But I think there’s a lot we could do. Technology could get us out of this. The last time I was deeply into this was a couple years ago, but my memory is that the missing piece was carbon capture and sequestration, and if somebody figured out a way to sequester CO2 in the ocean in a way that was safe and that it wouldn’t come back, that would be a breakthrough, meaning that those figures that were 2050 would be coming down to 2035 in terms of the goal for achieving milestones. I thought that Paris was kind of a breakthrough. I’m kind of – I like doing our part here. In a way we’re saying to the south, using the south as a generalization for the less developed part of the world, you know, “We’ve had our fun.” Or, the south is saying to us, “You’re telling us you’ve had your fun, but we can’t have any fun?” There’s some justice in that. So I think we should try to beat them. But I thought Paris was –
HIATT: But Paris doesn’t happen unless there’s some U.S. government policy to make it happen. Do you agree that –
WELD: Yeah, no, I’m saying –
HIATT: So you disagree with Governor Johnson on that point?
WELD: Did [he] speak to Paris? I don’t know –
HIATT: He spoke not wanting, as I heard it, any government policy to affect carbon use.
HIATT: Well, do you favor a carbon tax?
JOHNSON: Uh, no, I think it’s an interesting idea, but I’m so indelibly a no-new-taxes guy.
HIATT: So how would you meet your – how would you have the U.S. government meet its Paris obligations?
WELD: It could be trading, trading credits.
HIATT: Which requires setting a price on carbon, right?
WELD: Yeah, but not through a tax.
DOWNIE: I know we’re running short on time, but I just want to ask one more question, just about – obviously both of you came to prominence as Republican governors and are now running on a libertarian ticket. I was wondering if you could talk about what you see as the difference, as the key differences, between being a conservative and being a libertarian, and also what were some – what was the key moment for you that led you to change your party affiliation?
JOHNSON: I’ve been philosophically a libertarian since ’71. I remember getting a book in ’71 – it might have been ’72, but in that time frame. And the book basically was very short, and it just laid out what it was to be a libertarian. And I read it – it was very short – and from that point on I basically have identified myself philosophically as a libertarian.
DOWNIE: But, let me ask, what did the book say it means to be a libertarian?
JOHNSON: Well, the non-aggression principle, less government, people being able to make choices – you know, always coming down on the side of choice, as long as that choice didn’t adversely affect others. But that stuck with me since that time. Now, that has not been reflected in my registration. I think Bill had the same sense that I did when I changed my party registration to – actually became registered as a libertarian in 2012, and I think that was a sense of relief that I no longer had to defend the Republican social dogma that I always found myself in a position of having to defend, and I never really did defend it. Look, I’m not one of those. I’m one of the majority of Republicans, I would always say, that believes in smaller government. So, for me, being – the ideal political label is “independent.” So that everything that you say really is independent. That’s who you are; you’re independent. But as a libertarian – man, I feel good in my own skin declaring myself as a libertarian, and that’s that mix that I think encompasses most of America.
WELD: By the way, me too. I said at the Libertarian convention when I changed my registration two weeks before I said free, free at last. That I had been carrying around the movement conservative orthodoxy of the Republican party on social issues on my back for thirty years and really did not like it.
You know, when Reagan was president and I was in the Justice Department down here about half of the people were self-described libertarians and half were self-described movement conservatives and we joked about it and then went out to get the boss’s work done and nobody thought very hard about it. But beginning with the election of ’94 things started to get calcified in this town and it really has not been the same since, but I have the same sort of experience as Gary; in law school I read a lot of Friedrich Hayek who is one of the founding fountains of libertarian thinking. My first press conference as governor back in 1991 I said “fellow libertarians!” to the press and the ones who knew me best knew that I really wasn’t joking. I was making a statement. I even voted for a couple of libertarians for state representative in Massachusetts along the way. I am not sure that I think independent is a better title than libertarian. I love the idea of liberty and as you can tell from the areas where we’re not exactly on the same page it’s a process here and I am not yet willing to go logically to where you know a libertarian principle might bring you – particularly in areas where I have a lot of background but as a general principle I—
HIATT: Do you favor a minimum wage?
JOHNSON: Yeah. But I just think it should be 75 bucks an hour. I mean let’s just go straight to prosperity.
WELD: You’re kidding, right?
JOHNSON: I am totally kidding. I mean, but I think people when you say 75 bucks, I think people get it. Well, gee, you can’t afford 75. Well, my question is how can you afford 15? It’s minimum wage; that’s the definition. Government setting a minimum wage. Come on.
HIATT: Meaning government shouldn’t
JOHNSON: Shouldn’t. Yeah. Shouldn’t. It’s minimum wage. .
ARMAO: You said that if you get into the debates, you win. If you don’t get into the debates, you lose. So what role do you two play in this election?
WELD: We’ll make a lot of noise.
ARMAO: Who do you take–
WELD: If we don’t, but we plan to.
ARMAO: Do you help Trump get elected. Do you help Clinton get elected?
WELD: I think that’s impossible to say. I mean I am going to be calling attention to what I think are untenable aspects of Mr. Trump’s proposals. We do think that the Democratic Party is likely to raise taxes and do not represent fiscal responsibility and we’ll say so. But the stuff that Mr. Trump has said and proposed has grabbed my attention so much that that’s going to be my initial focus.
ARMAO: And so if you wake up the day after the election and your votes is the difference and he gets elected, how would you feel?
WELD: Well, we’re going to do the best we can. And if we’re in the thick of the fight, then I think we’re going to probably lose sight of the question who we prefer, quote unquote of the other two. You know if we are at some remove maybe we’ll have the luxury of thinking about that.
JOHNSON: I am not going to lose any sleep.
HIATT: Thank you so much.
JOHNSON: Thank you so much.
WELD: Thank you.