November 17, 2004 | Broadcast

American Morning

Nice to see you, Julian. Thanks for being with us.

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thanks for having me, Soledad.

COLLINS: My pleasure.

Cliff May is the former RNC communications director. He is now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Nice to see you, Cliff. Thanks for being with us.

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

COLLINS: We’re going to begin with you. Let’s talk about these cabinet changes. They’re being read as big victory for the neocons and the hardliners. There are many people who would say not a lot of debate in these cabinet meetings now the way the president is stocking the cabinet. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

MAY: No, I really don’t. I think the president, from what we know, welcomes a very open debate. But at the end of the day, he’s going to make a decision, and when he makes that decision, he would like those in his cabinet, those who advise him, to say, OK, we’ll do it your way, rather than we’ll do it our way. I think that’s very important that it be like that.

But sure, after four years, the president knows who he likes to work with and who he wants to work with and what policies he wants to implement. There’s no confusion about that. I think it’s natural, and normal and exactly what he should be doing in the second term.

O’BRIEN: Julian, is it natural, is it normal?

EPSTEIN: Well, I thank Cliff for the humor with my morning coffee. I mean, you know, the president likes debate inside the administration? Ask Paul O’Neill, ask Richard Clarke, ask the CIA senior staff who are now leaving in droves, ask all of the moderates in this administration, from Colin Powell on down, who seem to be headed for the hills.

No, even the administration officials are saying to reporters that the president doesn’t really want a lot of debate. He wants mostly yes people in this administration, and that’s because — and I think this is the rap on this president, is that he really makes a lot of decisions based on blind faith. And that’s OK in a lot of situations, but it’s not really a great idea when you’re the leader of the free world. And if you want an example of that, all you have to do is look at the decision making behind the number of troops that we have in Iraq. The administration was repeatedly warned that they were going to need three times the amount of troops. They blew off those warnings, and now we find ourselves in a mess because we haven’t had the troop strength and proper preparation. So it’s a problem.

O’BRIEN: Cliff is shaking his head, no, no, no.

MAY: Look, there’s a couple of things you got to understand. One, Don Rumsfeld has strong opinions, and he voices them. Colin Powell has strong opinions, for four years as secretary of state, he has strong opinions, he voices them.

There’s another problem here that we’re missing, and it goes back to what’s happening at the CIA. The CIA is meant to provide intelligence to the president, who is elected to make policy. The CIA is not in the business of making policy.

And by the way, when people have disagreements with the president on policy, and they don’t support his policy, they have a choice. They can say, hey, I put my two cents in, now I follow the president’s plan, or I guess I have to do something else.

MAY: It’s an interesting segue.

(CROSSTALK)

O’BRIEN: Thank you, Julian, because I’m going to pick up there. Let’s talk a little bit about the CIA and this memo from the new chief, Porter Goss, and here’s what it says — here’s part at least: “As agency employees, we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies.”

O’BRIEN: Isn’t that kind of partisan, considering…

MAY: Not at all. The job of the intelligence agencies is to provide intelligence to the president. The job is not to say, here’s the policies we prefer, please adopt them. It’s very important we understand that distinction.

What’s more, we’ve seen something unprecedented, scandalous over the past months, which is that the CIA was out there leaking stories meant to damage the president. And a top CIA analyst on the payroll was writing a book attacking the president. It’s a never happened before in American history. We need an intelligence agency. And if the CIA doesn’t want to do it, we’re going to have to find some other one.

O’BRIEN: So what you’re saying is, the memo says, the memo then, doesn’t it essentially say, get with the program, agree with this president, or get out of here.

MAY: No, it says get with the program, which go out and get the best possible intelligence you can, don’t try to be a policymaking shop.

EPSTEIN: No, that’s not really what the memo says.

MAY: That’s exactly what it says.

EPSTEIN: The memo says much more than that, Cliff, and you know it. The memo says that your job as CIA employees is to support this administration. And look…

MAY: Support the president’s policies.

O’BRIEN: Cliff, let Julian finish.

EPSTEIN: It’s fine to say, look, to the OMB, or the Department of Treasury, you need to fall in line and salute the flag, but the job of the CIA is not be a cheerleader for the administration; the job of the CIA is to help us prevent from having a dirty bomb exploded in Time Square in New York.

MAY: And they’re not doing that. They’re not doing that. They’re working on policy instead of intelligence.

EPSTEIN: Can I finish my point.

MAY: Go ahead.

EPSTEIN: OK, the mere virtue of the fact this memo is in “The New York Times” today means that the senior staff inside the CIA, who I assume leaked this, means they interpret this memo as a shot over the bow from the new director, Porter Goss, a close ally of this president, to say, look, you guys fall into line. When then there’s intelligence information that conflicts with the administration policy, we don’t want to hear about it, we don’t want any information that’s going to conflict with what this administration wants to do. This is a very clear direction of the CIA — you fall in line and forgot about the independence thing.

MAY: Julian, if you and I are running a company, we expect people in that company to provide advice…

EPSTEIN: This is different.

MAY: And to provide alternatives.

No, the CIA is not supposed to be the opposition.

(CROSSTALK)

O’BRIEN: Gentlemen, we’re obviously not going to resolve this morning.

You know you all, we’re out of time, which means you two, we’ll hook you up, and you can fight about it by yourselves.

MAY: We’re going to do that right after the show, we’re going to go fight.

O’BRIEN: You guys, as always, thanks, appreciate the debate — Bill.