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A Man of Many Beliefs Gives a News Conference With Few Answers
"I'm not going to talk about it --," Bush said before the question was finished. "I'm not going to talk about any of it."
"They're not under investigation, though," Baker pointed out.
"Peter," Bush said, reproachfully. "I'm not going to talk about any of it."
Baker asked whether Bush might offer pardons in the case. Bush arched his eyebrows and said, as if handling a recalcitrant child: "Not going to talk about it, Peter."
The president even announced that he was not going to answer a question he hadn't been asked. ABC's Ann Compton asked about possible briefings on Iraq for presidential candidates. "I thought for a minute you were going to try to get me to comment on the presidential race," Bush said. "I will resist all temptation to become the pundit in chief." He must have liked the pundit-in-chief line, because he repeated it twice more.
The president seemed petulant in his refusal to answer questions; he was, after all, the one who summoned reporters to the White House for the purpose of questioning him. Probably, it was the tone of the questions that set him off: While Bush freely voiced his beliefs, the reporters seemed disinclined to accept his statements of faith.
Steve Holland of Reuters asked about Iranian weapons in Iraq. "What makes you so certain that the highest levels of Tehran's government is responsible?"
Bush admitted he doesn't know "whether or not the head leaders of Iran" were involved. "But here's my point: Either they knew or didn't know."
NBC's David Gregory wasn't buying. "Critics say that you are using the same quality of intelligence about Iran that you used to make the case for war in Iraq," he noted.
Bush said he is "confident" Iran's Quds force was involved in sending weapons to Iraq.
But CNN's Ed Henry still didn't share Bush's confidence. "What assurances can you give the American people that the intelligence this time will be accurate?" he asked.
"Ed," Bush vouched, "we know they're there."
The skepticism about Bush's beliefs was not confined to Iran. The AP's Terry Hunt asked Bush whether the increasingly autocratic Russian president is "the same Vladimir Putin whose soul you looked into and found to be trustworthy."
Bush acknowledged that "it's a complicated relationship."
The president's discomfort was evident in his verbal tics. Asked about Iran, he stated that "we have a comprehensive strategy to deal with Iraq." Eleven times he used the phrase "in other words" to magnify his points ("Money trumps peace sometimes; in other words, commercial interests are very powerful").
Ultimately, Bush found it more comfortable to ask the reporters questions. CBS's Jim Axelrod dropped his BlackBerry. "You dropped?" the commander in chief asked. NBC's Gregory consulted his watch. "What are you looking at?" the president inquired. "Checking the time?"
Late in the hour-long session, he turned to White House reporter Mike Allen, who had just started his sixth job in a decade, joining a Capitol Hill newspaper and Web site.
"Michael, who do you work for?" Bush needled.
"Mr. President, I work for Politico.com," Allen reported.
"Pardon me? Politico.com?"
"Yes, sir -- today," Allen quipped.
"You want a moment to explain to the American people exactly what --"
Allen did not. "Thank you for the question," he demurred.
"Quit being so evasive," Bush said.