June 10, 2003 | Broadcast

American Morning, CNN

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Critics say the credibility of the White House right now is on the line. Let’s talk about that and ask Cliff May, former Republican National Committee communications director, and also Democratic strategist Victor Kamber, both in D.C.

Good morning, men. Nice to see you today.

Cliff, what about the credibility issue at this point?

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC COMM. DIR.: I don’t see how there is. I think that it’s a terrible act of trying to partisize something that’s important to national security. There was no question, nobody disputes that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and the idea that he did was not new to the Bush administration. Clinton said so, Gore said so. Clinton bombed Iraq at one point when Saddam Hussein threw out the weapons inspectors in 1998. French intelligence, British intelligence, German intelligence and even Iranian intelligence know they did.

The mystery here, is what has topped Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction? Are they hidden? Have they been transferred to Syria, or Lebanon or some other place? Were they secretly destroyed, and was there an on-demand project to build new ones? We don’t know, but to try to turn this mystery into a scandal is a breathtaking act of partisanship which should be stopped.

HEMMER: You mentioned the word “politics.” What about it, Dick? Are Democrats just seizing on this for the moment right now?

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. The first hint of facts that came out of the intelligence community when they released a report last week that showed that we did not in fact have information that called for going to war. I think that there’s a serious question right now, and the question of Bush’s credibility that will only be resolved by some form of investigation.

President Bush on five separate occasions, from September 12th to March 12th, indicated what Cliff just said that there are weapons of mass destruction, they exist, they are the cause for us to go forward. He went to Congress. He went to the American people. If in fact he went with disingenuous information or with false information, I think there that is a very serious charge, as serious as we’ve had in the last 50 years of flagrant use of government issues and lies.

I hope it’s not true. I hope that there are for his sake, weapons of mass destruction. Since in the last two and a half months we’ve investigated over 300 sites in Iraq and have found nothing. The fact remains that as it stands, we do have not world credibility. We have mixed reports in this country of support. You know, I lived through eight years of Clinton bashing and Clinton investigations. I’m a believer in legislation, not investigations, but this is one time I think an investigation is vital and it’s important to rebuild the credibility of this administration.

HEMMER: There’s the punch. What’s the counterpunch, Cliff?

What you heard here is exactly right. This is a matter of payback by some Democrats, not most. Joe Lieberman long ago was talking about the weapons of mass destruction. Again, Clinton believed as well that there were these weapons of mass destruction, which there were. We not only know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he used them. He used them against the Kurds after all. He used chemical weapons.

As far as nuclear weapons go. This Israelis in ’81 destroyed his nuclear facility. We destroyed it in 1991 after the first Gulf War, and there have been reports in all of the papers of nuclear materials taken out of nuclear facilities that could be used as dirty bombs as well. We found mobile chemical labs also.

Now there are many theory, and some interesting ones, for example that Saddam Hussein — this was in “The L.A. Times” yesterday, to give credit — that Saddam Hussein had set up various clandestine cells to create weapons on demand, but he secretly and illegally destroyed the weapons he had. That’s not OK. I hope you’re not saying that Saddam Hussein didn’t have weapons of mass destruction.

KAMBER: I don’t know.

MAY: We don’t know? What about the chemical weapons used on the Kurds? Did that not happen?

KAMBER: That was 10 years ago.

MAY: No, we’re saying he had weapons of mass destruction.

KAMBER: Ten years ago. And he eliminated them.

MAY: Does it make sense that in 1998, the weapons inspectors were thrown out. In response to that, Clinton bombed Iraq, and he also passed the Iraq Liberation Act, which called for regime change.

KAMBER: All we know is the inspectors found nothing and we have found nothing. All I’m calling for is, let’s investigate. If the president’s right, we’ll give him cheers, if the president’s wrong, then he stands to…

MAY: Bill, Donald Rumsfeld called for an investigation back in October so we would know. But it’s not if the president was wrong, it’s if Clinton was wrong, Gore was wrong, Lieberman’s wrong, and by the way, they’re not wrong.

HEMMER: All right, last word to Victor.

MAY: Baghdad is going to…

HEMMER: Hang on one second, guys here, are almost out of time — Victor, final word?

KAMBER: Just think the investigation, the simplest and easiest way and most honest way to bring them to a resolve. If the president’s wrong, he deserves to suffer for it. If he’s right, then we will give him the applause and credit he’s due.

HEMMER: Victor Kamber, Cliff May, sorry, men, come back later in the week, and we’ll continue it, OK, because apparently, it’s not going away any time soon.