February 5, 2004 | Broadcast

American Morning

Vic, good to have you. Good morning.


HEMMER: Clifford May, former RNC communications director, now with the foundation for the defense for Democracies.

Cliff, good morning to you also.

CLIFF MAY, FMR. RNC COMM. DIR.: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: Victor, I want to start with you. It’s 8:36 here in the east, the speech goes at 09:30 — where are we at 10:30 on this, or even after we hear George Tenet’s delivery.

KAMBER: Well, I think you’re going to hear a defense of the CIA, and we are going to be no more clearer about who knew what when than we did before his testimony. Everyone seems to be pointing the finger that someone else was to blame. Clearly, the buck has to stop somewhere. The only thing that the president has done at this point after much prodding, and pushing and twisting of arms, is to create a commission this will hopefully ultimately get to the bottom of this. Somewhere in this process, misinformation was given.

HEMMER: Do you think the picture is even muddier, as Victor is suggesting?

MAY: Yes, what I hope is that this is not a game of placing blame here and there. I hope that George Tenet is not overly defensive. I hope that what he does instead is say, look, here are the tools, here are the resources we need in order for the intelligence community to be up to the challenges of the 21st century in a global war on terrorism. That has not true up until now. What was 9/11, Bill, if not an alarm that the intelligence community is not doing all it has to do in a period like this?

Remember that President Clinton destroyed an Aspirin factory in Sudan. Remember that during the 1990s, we had thousands of terrorists being trained in camps in Afghanistan, and Iraq and Lebanon, and we didn’t understand the threat that was represented? So instead of saying, let’s see who key can blame, who we can pin this one, let’s figure out how we get an intelligence community…

HEMMER: Do you think people are going to buy that? Someone said earlier the week, the crystal ball isn’t a complete picture, or even a clearer picture. Is that where we go with this today, Vic?

KAMBER: I mean, before we come up with solutions, we have got to know what the problem is. I mean, we know there is a problem. And again, the problem is the problem, and I think for political reasons, Cliff would like to make sure that the intelligence division is the problem there, or is the problem in the White House.

MAY: We know what the problem is.

KAMBER: No, we don’t. I know what you think it is, or would like it to be, but we don’t know.

MAY: Well, let me give you at least part of the problem that we know. We know that at the end of the Cold War, a lot of people, both parties, thought we have no enemies in the world, therefore, we don’t need to let the CIA be in the business of spying. Bob Baer, who has been in this program many times, read his book, where he talks about being in London, knowing which mosques were being used to recruit terrorists, and he was forbidden from going in those mosques and finding out what was going on or sending in spies. If you can not spy, you do not have an intelligence operation that will succeed. It is that simple.

KAMBER: We need to know what happened on 9/11, what we knew, what information we gave to the White House so the decisions could be made. That has to made clear, then we need to solve the problems. Is the problem getting rid of the people who made the decisions, meaning the president and vice president, getting rid of the CIA, getting rid of analysts. We need to know what the problem is, and then we need to solve the problem.

MAY: If I could, gentlemen, just quickly, I’m going to go on to another topic here. Terry McAuliffe, in just about every interview in the past four days, has dropped this word AWOL, referring to President Bush’s service in the National Guard dating back to the early 1970s. Is this charge going to stick, Victor?

KAMBER: Well, no, I don’t think so. I think what’s Terry’s doing is, frankly, getting his pound of flesh. The Republicans for the last six months, had assumed that the nominee of the Democratic Party would be somebody that couldn’t stand up to the president in terms of foreign policy, defense, military. I think they were assuming it might have been Howard Dean or one of the other candidates. It looks like today — it’s not a slam dunk — but it looks today it’s John Kerry, who not only, you know, served, but served with distinction, three times wounded hero, et cetera. I think he’s saying that that issue is gone for the Republicans.

MAY: Terry McAuliffe is a great fund-raiser, but he’s a tin ear for issues like this. What is he saying? Is he questioning the president’s patriotism? Or is he questioning the president’s patriotism, or is he questioning the president’s work ethic. I think Americans, after three years of President Bush, have some indication of both. I think this is a crazy and muddy issue.

HEMMER: Where did this issue go when he ran against Ann Richards in the early ’90s, and again with Al Gore in 2000?

KAMBER: To my knowledge, wit Ann Richards, it didn’t go very far. I didn’t think it was an issue. You may — I’d have to go back and do research. It did get raised in the Gore-Bush election, and they never got proof one way or the other what he served, he didn’t service. He was in the Guard, but whether he showed up or didn’t show up, it just never played as a big issue.

HEMMER: We got to run.

MAY: He flew an airplane, remember.

KAMBER: We don’t know that.

MAY: We didn’t know he flew airplanes when he was in the Reserves.

KAMBER: He had one year of service in Alabama’s Guard, but we don’t really know if he showed up or not. The general of that guard said he never saw him, but no one made it a big issue.

MAY: I don’t question the patriotism of any of the Democrats running. When you say President Bush was AWOL, you’re questioning his patriotism. It’s a low blow.

HEMMER: Cliff May, thanks, Victor Kamber. We’ll talk again. Kamber and May in D.C.