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Correction to This Article
An Aug. 16 article in the A-section about former defense secretary Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation letter should have said that the Reuters news agency, which broke the story about the letter, had sought the document under the Freedom of Information Act.

Rumsfeld Resigned as Defense Secretary on Day Before Elections

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By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007

CRAWFORD, Tex., Aug. 15 -- Donald H. Rumsfeld, who came to symbolize the Bush administration's problems in the war in Iraq, resigned as secretary of defense one day before last fall's elections, although President Bush did not announce the move until the day after the elections.

The White House confirmed on Wednesday that Rumsfeld's letter of resignation was dated Nov. 6, 2006, the day before voters -- many of them furious about the war in Iraq -- evicted Republicans from the leadership of the House and Senate.

Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said that Bush received the letter and accepted Rumsfeld's resignation on Election Day. The president waited until the next day to announce that he was replacing Rumsfeld with former CIA chief Robert M. Gates.

Bush said that the decision to oust Rumsfeld had come after a series of conversations with the then-defense secretary. That revelation angered many Republicans who thought GOP electoral losses would have been reduced if Rumsfeld had been removed earlier.

"If Rumsfeld had been out, you bet it would have made a difference," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said at the time. "I'd still be chairman of the Judiciary Committee."

Not only did Bush not telegraph his intention to replace Rumsfeld, but he also publicly stated in the days before the elections that he envisioned Rumsfeld serving in his administration for the foreseeable future.

"I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign," Bush said when asked about the statement by reporters. "And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer."

In his four-paragraph resignation letter, which emerged after multiple Freedom of Information requests by the Associated Press, Rumsfeld does not mention the war in Iraq. The letter salutes Bush for his leadership and praises the troops for their courage.

"I leave with great respect for you and for the leadership you have provided during a challenging time for our country," Rumsfeld wrote to Bush.

"It is time to conclude my service," Rumsfeld wrote at the end of his letter. "As I do so, I want you to know that you have my continuing and heartfelt support as you enter the final two years of your presidency."

At the foot of the letter, the stamp "The President Has Seen" is visible, along with the handwritten date "11/7/06."

Asked why the president did not announce Rumsfeld's resignation as soon as he learned of it, Perino said that Bush was wary of influencing the ongoing vote.

"I know that one of the things that the president wanted to avoid was the appearance of trying to make this a political decision," she said. "And that was very important to him, and I think that the American people can appreciate not playing politics with such an important decision."

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.


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