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Bush Backs Rove, Palmeiro, 'Intelligent Design'

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 2, 2005 2:15 PM

In a high-spirited and free-wheeling interview with a handful of Texas print reporters yesterday, President Bush:

· Expressed "complete confidence" in top aide Karl Rove -- while stubbornly refusing to say anything more about what he knows about the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity.

· Said he still believes his friend, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, has never used steroids -- in spite of the player's suspension Monday for violating baseball's anti-drug policy.

· Endorsed efforts by Christian conservatives to include the teaching of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes.

The Full Transcript

I've just Web-published the complete transcript of the 30-minute interview in the Roosevelt Room -- another White House Briefing exclusive.

Bush spoke with Gary Martin of the San Antonio Express-News, Julie Mason of the Houston Chronicle, David Jackson of the Dallas Morning News, Ron Hutcheson of Knight-Ridder (representing the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) and Ken Herman of Cox News Service (representing the Austin American-Statesman and other Cox papers in Texas).

Bush is often less guarded when talking to a bunch of reporters around a table than when he is giving a news conference, and this was no exception. He also tends to be more casual with reporters he knows well -- and at least two of the Texas crew have been covering Bush for many years.

On Karl Rove

Ken Herman writes for Cox News Service: "President Bush, saying he is temporarily muzzled by a special prosecutor, declined Monday to say how or when he found out that top aide Karl Rove had talked with a reporter about a CIA operative's identity.

"And, while indicating that all he knows is what he has read in newspapers, Bush gave Rove a ringing endorsement.

" 'Karl's got my complete confidence. He's a valuable member of my team,' Bush said, adding that internal fact-finding has been hampered by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's request that the White House not discuss the inquiry."

As the transcript shows, reporters pursued Bush aggressively on Rove and the CIA leak, but the president stubbornly refused to say anything more.

Here's the full exchange:

"Q On another Texas-related subject, when did you first know and how did you find out that Karl Rove had discussed Joseph Wilson's wife with a reporter?

"THE PRESIDENT: We're in the midst of a serious investigation. There is a very fine lawyer looking into all this, all the allegations. I caution the media not to prejudge. I will be glad to comment on the particulars of this investigation once it's finished. Karl has got my complete confidence. He's a valuable member of my team. And Mr. Fitzgerald will complete his work, and when he does we will all know the facts.

"Q You have said [if] anyone violated the law, they would be out of your administration. Are there measures lower than the law that would force you to ask someone to leave your administration?

"THE PRESIDENT: See, what's happened here in this case is that many have started to prejudge the outcome of Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation in the newspapers. And I've asked people to wait until he puts out his report. And I'll be more than happy to comment upon that when I find out the facts.

"Q Without telling us the facts, which clearly you won't, do you at this point --

"THE PRESIDENT: Well, how do -- I mean, how do you know --

"Q -- do you feel like you know the facts about what happened involving your staff members?

"THE PRESIDENT: We have been -- we have been cautioned about talking about this issue.

"Q Even amongst yourselves and amongst the staff?

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

"Q Okay. So you don't know the facts on what Mr. Rove may or may not have said?

"THE PRESIDENT: As you know, I occasionally read the newspapers. It depends on who the writer is, in your case --

"Q Daily basis --

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes. (Laughter.)

"Q The Morning News has a great sports page. (Laughter.)

"Q Well, but --

"THE PRESIDENT: I've said as clearly as I can. Why don't you wait and see what the true facts are. And Mr. Fitzgerald's job is to talk to a lot of people, and he has done so. And then we'll lay out his findings for us all to see.

"Q But you know of nothing at this point that would lead you to ask someone to leave your staff?

"THE PRESIDENT: I'm much more disciplined now than I used to be, Herman.

"Q I hate when that happens. (Laughter.)

"THE PRESIDENT: I've answered this question 17 different times.

"Q Except when you shoot the thumb at us. (Laughter.)

"Q Well, you can talk about what you told Mr. Fitzgerald?

"THE PRESIDENT: It's a new gesture.

"Q I pass. (Laughter.)

"Q You can talk about what you told the special prosecutor."

(What's that about the thumb? See "Finger Watch" in Friday's column.)

On Palmeiro

David Jackson writes in the Dallas Morning News: "Little more than an hour after word of Rafael Palmeiro's suspension for violating Major League Baseball's steroid policy, President Bush defended the former Texas Ranger.

" 'He's a friend,' the president said in a White House roundtable interview with several Texas reporters. 'He's testified in public, and I believe him.'

"Citing Mr. Palmeiro's previous statements under the 'klieg lights' that he had not used steroids, the former Texas Rangers part-owner said: 'I believe him -- still do.' . . .

"Mr. Bush, who was part of the Rangers' majority ownership group from 1989 to 1998, has often spoken out against steroid use."

On Intelligent Design

Ron Hutcheson writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "President Bush waded into the debate over evolution and 'intelligent design' Monday, saying schools should teach both theories on the creation and complexity of life. . .

"Scientists concede that evolution doesn't answer every question about the creation of life, but most consider intelligent design an attempt to inject religion into science courses.

"Bush compared the current debate to earlier disputes over 'creationism,' a related view that adheres more closely to biblical explanations. As governor of Texas, Bush said students should be exposed to both creationism and evolution.

"On Monday the president said he favors the same approach for intelligent design 'so people can understand what the debate is about.' "

Hutcheson writes that Bush "didn't seem eager to talk about the topic."

Here, in fact, is the entire exchange, prompted by Hutcheson's question:

"Q I wanted to ask you about the -- what seems to be a growing debate over evolution versus intelligent design. What are your personal views on that, and do you think both should be taught in public schools?

"THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I said, harking back to my days as my governor . . . Then, I said that, first of all, that decision should be made to local school districts, but I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.

"Q Both sides should be properly taught?

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes, people -- so people can understand what the debate is about.

"Q So the answer accepts the validity of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution?

"THE PRESIDENT: I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought, and I'm not suggesting -- you're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes."

On Immigration

Gary Martin writes in the San Antonio Express-News: "President Bush said Monday he will work with congressional leaders this fall to pass an immigration reform bill that includes a guest-worker program and measures to tighten security along the U.S.-Mexico border.

" 'I think we can get immigration reform done,' Bush told Texas newspaper reporters during a White House interview in the Roosevelt Room."

On Abortion

Just yesterday morning, Herman wrote for Cox News about how guarded Bush has been in talking about abortion.

"Bush has never publicly called for overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for legal abortion," Herman wrote.

"It's not easy to talk about abortion without talking about Roe v. Wade, but Bush has done so for years, walking a careful semantic line allowing him to state his anti-abortion views without using the anti-Roe v. Wade words that can inflame the moderates, especially women, he has needed on election days.

"Abortion rights advocates say it's part of a carefully scripted stealth campaign targeted at overturning the decision."

Herman has been covering Bush for a dozen years, and was once invited along for one of Bush's famous bike rides. Watch as he tries cunningly, persistently -- but ultimately vainly -- to get Bush to clarify his stand during yesterday's interview.

"Q On the campaign trail last year --

"THE PRESIDENT: This worries me. (Laughter.)

"Q No, no. (Laughter.)

"THE PRESIDENT: This is a frightening moment. (Laughter.) By the way, you're looking fit. Are you still riding your bike?

"Q Yes. Not as fast as you. I hope to get a second shot at you this summer; I am training.

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes, absolutely. Are you interested?

"Q Sure. Embarrass myself again, but nonetheless. Last year on the campaign trail --

"THE PRESIDENT: You did embarrass yourself. (Laughter.)

"Q -- you said many times, at all times, 'whether you agree with me or not, you know where I stand, what I believe and where I intend to lead.' And we've seen that on most issues. On issues like stem cell, you've taken a firm position, which might or might not agree with the polls, but it's what you believe. On the war, you've done what you believe is right despite polls indicating some opposition to it.

"THE PRESIDENT: This has got like a twist -- (laughter.)

"Q On abortion, you go a different way. When asked about abortion, you talk about abstinence, culture of life and adoption. But when asked about Roe v. Wade, you never fully address it. You say the country isn't ready for it -- which, to me, sounds like a politician saying --

"THE PRESIDENT: No, what I say when it comes to -- this is all in the context of the John Roberts nomination --

"Q No, this is in the context of whether you believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

"THE PRESIDENT: This is in the -- you're asking this question as my nominee for the Supreme Court goes up to the United States Senate. I have said there is no litmus test for my nominee, and that's the way -- and that's the case. And Mr. Roberts can answer questions thrown at him by the Senate, but I'm not going to get involved with the Roe v. Wade case in the midst of a judicial nomination.

"Q So you won't tell the nation whether you believe Roe v. Wade --

"THE PRESIDENT: I've told the nation I'm pro-life. I told the nation, as well, when it comes to judges and legal matters, I'll put somebody in the Court that will strictly interpret the Constitution. But this is your way, Herman, I know you well, of trying to weave in a story about John Roberts. You can play like it's not, but Roe v. Wade is a legal matter. John Roberts is going to be put on the Supreme Court, hopefully, in an expeditious manner, and he will answer the questions directed to him. But it is clear that if he were to answer those questions, he would have to recuse himself from future cases.

"Q You've always avoided that question, even when you didn't have appointees. For 12 years, you've not -- why do you not want to say whether you favor overturning Roe v. Wade?

"THE PRESIDENT: I am -- I told you I was pro-life. I've been very clear about my positions when it came to abortion. I have also made it clear the type of people I want to name to different courts."

On Presidential Power

Asked about continued political challenges such as Iraq and Social Security, Bush said he doesn't care about the polls.

"Q But power is perception.

"THE PRESIDENT: Power is being the President."

Banter Watch

Here's how Hutcheson described Bush during the interview: "Looking relaxed and upbeat, he sipped on cola and chewed ice as he answered, deflected or bantered his way through questions on a host of topics."

Another participant described Bush's affect to me as "saucy and jovial."

And as the transcript shows, the reporters also kept the tone light throughout the interview. Here's how it wrapped up:

Bush: "I've enjoyed this as much as you have. Do you want to go for a ride?

"Q Give me a call.

"THE PRESIDENT: Okay.

"Q This time, road bikes on pavement, on my turf. We'll play on my turf.

"THE PRESIDENT: No, we're not going to do road bikes.

"Q What are you, the President or something? (Laughter.)

"THE PRESIDENT: We're not going to do road bikes. I can't do road bikes.

"Q Why? It's easier.

"THE PRESIDENT: There's no distance. We have to do that lap, you know, 14 times. (Laughter.)

"Q Oh, that problem. The ankle bracelet.

"THE PRESIDENT: You look good, you're staying slim. I've become -- I really like to ride bikes, though.

"Q It's mind clearing, in a strange way, isn't it?

"THE PRESIDENT: It is. It is.

"Q Until you fall off, then it's mind numbing. (Laughter.)

"Q Your mind has been clear for a long time. (Laughter.)

"THE PRESIDENT: Got a little Scottish asphalt still embedded in my knuckles. (Laughter.)

"Q Have you checked back on the guy you almost killed over there? (Laughter.)

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Sent him some pictures the other day.

"Q Did you really?

"THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

"Q That's good.

"THE PRESIDENT: Enjoyed it."

The Bolton Appointment

Several hours before his interview, Bush used a recess appointment to install John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations.

Beyond the details of the appointment itself and the Democratic reaction, today's news reports also shed light on Vice President Cheney's important role -- and how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is apparently trying to keep Bolton contained.

Bob Deans and Scott Shepard write in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "While Bolton does not have Senate confirmation, he assumes the job with the firm backing of Vice President Dick Cheney and other key conservatives in the administration's foreign policy team. . . .

"Few members of the Bush administration have been more publicly supportive of Bolton than the vice president.

"After Bolton helped in the close Florida election five years ago, Cheney told a group of conservatives that Bolton deserved 'anything he wants' in the way of a job in the administration."

CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer asked Bill Plante last night: "Who exactly is his champion over there? Who pushed this thing, Bill?"

Plante replied: "Well, Bob, Vice President Cheney, for one, because Bolton is so clearly identified with the conservative wing of the party, the base of the party, and they wanted to find a job for him in this second term. . . . "

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times: "Though Mr. Bolton is a favorite of Vice President Dick Cheney, Congressional and administration officials say Ms. Rice declined to appoint him as deputy secretary of state, in part because Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Indiana Republican who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told her he did not think he could be confirmed.

"Ms. Rice now says sending Mr. Bolton to the United Nations was her idea, not anyone else's. But administration officials say one advantage for her was that Mr. Bolton will be executing policy at the United Nations, not necessarily formulating it."

In fact, Weisman writes: "Now that he is finally going to the United Nations as ambassador, John R. Bolton is supposed to 'provide clear American leadership for reform' there, President Bush said Monday. But American officials say much of their reform agenda at the United Nations has been accomplished during the months while Mr. Bolton's nomination languished."

Jim VandeHei and Colum Lynch write in The Washington Post: "Bolton could face some of the toughest challenges to his authority from within the State Department, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has appointed career foreign policy professionals in the top policymaking positions. It was this class of career professionals with whom Bolton, as undersecretary of state, often clashed most acrimoniously during Bush's first term."

As for the details of a recess appointment: "Although ambassadors confirmed by the Senate serve as long as the president pleases, Bolton's term, by law, expires when the current Congress concludes on Jan. 3, 2007. Bolton thus has less than a year and half to implement changes at the United Nations -- unless he wins over Senate critics in the interim or gets another recess appointment, which by law would require him to work without pay for the final two years."

Elisabeth Bumiller and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write in the New York Times: "Senior administration officials said there had been some misgivings in their ranks because Mr. Bolton might be seen as weakened with a recess appointment after months of battering in Congress, and a short term in the job. But other officials said Mr. Bush was determined to stand up to Congress and make a show of force on Mr. Bolton, a favorite of conservatives. The president's reference to 'complete confidence' was a signal, they said, that he had the full support of the White House."

Bill Sammon writes in the Washington Times: "Some political analysts had expected Mr. Bush to make the recess appointment after yesterday's evening newscasts or issue a written statement today on his way out of town for a month long vacation in Crawford, Texas. But Mr. Bush decided over the weekend to announce his move in front of news cameras with the nominee at his side."

Here's the text of the remarks by Bush, and then Bolton. Neither took any questions.

Here's yesterday's press briefing by spokesman Scott McClellan.

Novak Writes

Nick Madigan writes in the Baltimore Sun: "In another installment of the cat-and-mouse game that the affair of the CIA spy's leaked name has become, conservative columnist Robert Novak gave an unexpected glimpse yesterday at his role in the matter, something he promised he would not do until it was all over.

"Novak, widely criticized for his largely silent posture -- even as another reporter went to jail to protect a source in the case -- broke his silence yesterday in his Chicago Sun-Times column to defend himself against allegations that he had 'deliberately disregarded' advice not to reveal the identity or activities of CIA agent Valerie Plame. . . .

"But Novak's decision to address only partially the issue of his involvement, after many months of unanswered questions about it, did not sit well with some fellow journalists.

" 'It's sort of frustrating,' said Michael Hoyt, executive editor of Columbia Journalism Review. 'It's like the prairie dog who sticks his head up and goes back down again into the dark, where you can't ask him any more questions.'

"In Novak's column yesterday, Hoyt said, 'he defends himself, but whether he's defending himself by splitting hairs is another question.' "

Tim Grieve writes in Salon that it's "fair to ask about Novak's rather selective sense of outrage. He'll ignore his lawyers' advice in order to come to his own defense, but what does he have to say about Karl Rove? About the other 'senior administration official' who leaked Plame's identity to him? About Judith Miller, who is sitting in a Virginia jail while Novak is free to pontificate on air and in print?

"You can't get away with testifying so selectively on the witness stand, and Novak's editors and colleagues in the mainstream press shouldn't let him get away with it here. If Novak wants to talk about his role in the Plame case, he ought to be prepared to answer some questions about it, too."

Robert Parry writes on the alternative consortiumnews.com: "Right-wing columnist Robert Novak's new attack on former Ambassador Joseph Wilson -- that he was 'discarded a year ago by the Kerry presidential campaign' -- recycled a disputed report from Talon News correspondent Jeff Gannon, who was unmasked earlier this year as a pro-Republican operative working under an assumed name."

Trying to wring some news from the column, Anne E. Kornblut writes speculatively in the New York Times: "One of the most puzzling aspects of the C.I.A. leak case has had to do with the name of the exposed officer. Why did the syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak identify her as Valerie Plame in exposing her link to the C.I.A. in July 2003 when she had been known for years both at the agency and in her personal life by her married name, Valerie Wilson?

"Mr. Novak offered a possible explanation for the disconnect on Monday, suggesting in his column that he could have obtained Ms. Wilson's maiden name from the directory Who's Who in America, which used that name in identifying her as the wife of Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador."

Executive Privilege

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "At the heart of battles over President Bush's nominations to the Supreme Court and United Nations is a broader -- and largely successful -- campaign to reassert executive prerogatives lost under his predecessor and limit public access to the internal workings of government.

"In the case of both nominations, Democratic senators demanded certain documents from executive branch deliberations to help them evaluate Bush's choices, and he refused. The president got around Democratic opposition to John R. Bolton yesterday by giving him a 17-month recess appointment as ambassador to the United Nations. Now the two sides face a weeks-long stare-down over John G. Roberts Jr. heading into confirmation hearings after Labor Day."

Grand Jury Stakeout

ABC News's The Note reports: "Based on ABC News sources (and our own video camera) it appears that at least two witnesses testified before the grand jury last Friday, both close associates of Karl Rove.

"ABC News has learned that one was Susan Ralston, Rove's long-time right hand. The other, per ABC News' Jake Tapper, was Israel 'Izzy' Hernandez, Rove's former left hand (and now a top Commerce Department official). It isn't clear if either had been asked to testify before last week."

Today's Calendar

After signing the Central America Free Trade Agreement, Bush is off to Crawford for a month-long vacation.

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