Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bush chief of staff urged Rumsfeld be fired: book

Bush chief of staff urged Rumsfeld be fired: book
By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's former chief of staff tried twice to persuade Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld but failed, according to a new book by investigative reporter Bob Woodward.

The book describes a White House divided by infighting over how to handle the unexpectedly tough Iraqi insurgency. It claims Bush resisted demands to increase the number of U.S. troops and is misleading Americans about the level of violence in Iraq, according to news accounts of "State of Denial."

Woodward wrote that White House chief of staff Andrew Card urged Bush to replace Rumsfeld with former Secretary of State James Baker following the 2004 election, The Washington Post reported on its Web site.

Bush decided not to do so after Vice President Dick Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove convinced him it would be seen as an expression of doubt about the direction of the war and expose him to criticism, according to the book.

Card, with the backing of first lady Laura Bush, tried a second time to persuade Bush to fire Rumsfeld around Thanksgiving 2005, the book says. But the president again refused to act.

But Card, in a telephone interview, denied pushing for Rumsfeld's resignation. He said he kept a list of potential Cabinet and staff changes for Bush to consider after the 2004 election as he did after other important dates.

"To say that it was a campaign or an orchestrated effort would be wrong," he said.

"But were there times that we talked about potential changes in the Cabinet? Yes. Did they center around Rumsfeld? Not necessarily. They were in a broader context."

The book raises many questions about the administration's handling of the Iraq war less than six weeks before November 7 congressional elections that Democrats hope will be a referendum on the unpopular war.

White House press secretary Tony Snow, besieged by questions about it at his daily briefing, said the book was similar to others critical of the war effort and that much of it was less than meets the eye.

"In a lot of ways, the books are like cotton candy. They kind of melt on contact," he said.

But Snow did not deny the account of Card's actions, saying he had not talked to either Card or the president about it. But he said Mrs. Bush had denied pushing for Rumsfeld's scalp.


A group of top Senate Democrats promptly renewed calls for Rumsfeld's resignation.

"We believe, many of us, that he has to go and we are going to be renewing our efforts in a number of ways to urge the president to find a new secretary of defense," Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said on Capitol Hill.

Snow could neither confirm nor deny a Woodward claim that there was an attack every 15 minutes against U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq, saying Woodward was referring to a report that remains classified.

Woodward reported that both Bush and Rumsfeld had resisted recommendations to increase troop levels in Iraq, which Snow said was not new. "Quite often in a book like this, you're going to see people who are on the losing side of arguments being especially outspoken about their opinions that nobody listened to them," he said.

"As a matter of fact, the average Washington memoir ought to be subtitled, 'If Only They'd Listened to Me,'" he said.

The book, written by the Post assistant managing editor well known for his role in forcing President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974 in the Watergate scandal, was tougher than the two others he has written about the Bush White House since the September 11 attacks. It is scheduled for release next week.

Some in the administration felt Woodward was trying to get his reputation back after he was accused of being too soft in his earlier works.

While the earlier books were criticized by some as painting Bush as a hero, the current work portrays senior administration officials as unable to face the consequences of their Iraq policy, the Post reported.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Caren Bohan)