July 14, 2003 | Broadcast

The Early Show

Donna Brazile is a Democratic Party strategist who was Al Gore’s campaign manager in 2000. Clifford May is a former Republican spokesman who heads the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Good morning to both of you.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic Strategist): Good morning.

Mr. CLIFFORD MAY (Foundation of the Defense of Democracies): Good morning.

MITCHELL: Ms. Brazile, I’ll begin with you. In your mind, did the president mislead the public?

Ms. BRAZILE: I think it’s clear now that the administration tried to overhype some information and perhaps didn’t give the American people a full picture when he made his case for war. I think it’s important at this stage right now because it is a national security issue to get to the bottom of it and find out why there were intelligence failures in the first place. After all, our troops deserve high-quality intelligence.

MITCHELL: Mr. May, you have said that Democrats are lying about this issue. What do you mean by that?

Mr. MAY: Well, not all of them are. Donna Brazile is not. But what we have to understand is that what the president said was absolutely accurate. The only thing he did was he utilized British intelligence rather than American intelligence, which is kind of like you, Russ, coming on in the morning and saying, ‘Today ABC News reported.’ But we know Saddam Hussein had a weapons of mass destruction program. We know that he had a nuclear weapons program. The question is: Was he actively trying to seek uranium from Africa for that program? The British said he was. The British still say they believe he was. I think those who have made this into something more than that–and some have; Howard Dean comes to mind particularly–are trying to politicize something that shouldn’t be politicized. What Donna is doing is not that. I believe Donna believes that the war was the right thing to do, that it was right to secure a regime change in Iraq. I don’t think she has changed her mind on that one. But I think it is wrong of the Democrats to say that something was untruthful when it wasn’t.


MITCHELL: Ms. Brazile, let me ask you, what do you think were the president’s motives in this?

Ms. BRAZILE: Look, I don’t think it’s about the president’s motive. It’s about our intelligence and making sure–John Kerry said it best this weekend. What happens next time when the administration says we have some intelligence on–on Iran or intelligence on Syria, intelligence on North Korea? Are we to believe him? I think we need to get to the bottom of it and find out why this information was inserted into the president’s speech when it wasn’t properly vetted by the CIA. And the CIA suggested several months ago that the information was inaccurate. I think those are questions that Congress should answer and the American people clearly want to know now that we’re in there, we’re spending $200 million a day trying to restore order in Iraq, and I think the American people and the troops over there who are basically on the front line right now. They need to know what happened.

MITCHELL: Well, Mr. May, do you think it’s a little contradictory for people like Senator John Kerry, who once supported the war, to now come out and blast the president?

Mr. MAY: I guess I do. Look, I think it’s perfectly OK to have a debate over the best way to fight the war against terrorism and the role that Iraq plays. I don’t think it’s a good idea to politicize that. I think some candidates have done that; others have tried to walk a very careful line. We know–and I agree with Donna on this–that our intelligence capabilities need to be substantially upgraded. Our intelligence capabilities didn’t warn us about 9/11. They didn’t know that while we were paying the North Koreans billions of dollars, they were developing nuclear weapons. And the president did rely on British intelligence. Again, that’s not like relying on the intelligence service of Fiji. Nonetheless, I can see a criticism that US intelligence was unable to verify what British intelligence had learned. But I think to try to turn this into another Watergate, to use Howard Dean’s words, that’s politicizing beyond the pale.

MITCHELL: Mr. May, the polls show the president’s support for the war seems to be dropping. How long do you think the polls will show that so far that most Americans do support the war given the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found?

Mr. MAY: I think most Americans recognize that Saddam Hussein was a threat to us, a butcher of his own people, a threat to the region, and they do support our securing regime change in that country. I think in order to get support down the road for what’s going to be a very difficult task of nation building in Iraq, I think the president needs to explain more and over time why this is an important task, what we’re going to invest in it and why it’s worth it. There can be a debate. Maybe we should cut and run. I don’t happen to think so. I think to create the first Arab democracy is an important mission and one that will change the world in very important ways.

MITCHELL: Donna Brazile…

Mr. MAY: But I do think that has to be explained.

MITCHELL: Donna Brazile, 15 seconds left. How much support politically can the president keep here?

Ms. BRAZILE: I don’t think the American people want us to cut and run, but they would like to know how long and if we will have some helping hands from perhaps the United Nations, NATO, to help us to restore that country and to rebuild it and get the hell out.

MITCHELL: OK. Donna Brazile; Clifford May, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Mr. MAY: Thank you, Russ.

Ms. BRAZILE: Thank you.