|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
June 3, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
route Rome, Italy
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon. I'm going to bring a senior administration official back a little bit later in the flight to give an overview of the upcoming trip to Europe, we're going to answer your questions that might be related to that, but I know you all are interested in today's announcement by Director Tenet, so I'm here to answer whatever questions you have right now on that subject.
Q Did the President ask for his resignation?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. Director Tenet had requested a meeting with the President. And as the President said, the Director resigned for personal reasons.
Q You cannot elaborate on those reasons at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that would -- those questions would best be directed to Director Tenet, and if he wants to expand on that further, then we will leave it to him to do so. But the President made it very clear that he's sorry to see him leave. Director Tenet has been a strong and very capable public servant who has served the nation for nearly nine years now. It is my understanding that the CIA will be making his letter of resignation available publicly. We'll see if we can't get that here for you all, as well, and give that to you all.
Q When did Director Tenet first suggest to the President he was going to be resigning? Was it in this letter, or before that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Last night. Let me go back through a little bit of yesterday, I guess, and hopefully that will help you with your stories.
Director Tenet called Andy Card yesterday afternoon, when we were at the Air Force Academy, and requested to meet with Secretary Card and then the President. And Director Tenet was at the White House when we arrived last night. I think we arrived a little bit after 7:00 p.m. And the Director and Secretary Card met briefly in Secretary Card's office. And then Director Tenet went over to the residence and met with the President for approximately 45 minutes. And that's when Director Tenet informed him that he had -- that he would be leaving, I believe it's effective July 11th. And it was for personal reasons that he was leaving.
Q The President had no advance warning before that, that he was going to do this?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. That's when the President was told about this.
Q But not even a suggestion or a hint there beforehand that this was coming?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, as I said, Director Tenet contacted Secretary Card when we were on the road in Colorado and just said that he needed to meet with Secretary Card later, when they were back in Washington, and then the President.
Q But, Scott, I mean, the Director has been Director for seven years, the President is running for reelection -- it's a natural time for a DCI to talk to a President about future plans. Had Director Tenet given no hint that this was coming?
MR. McCLELLAN: He made it known to the President yesterday that he had made a decision to resign. And I think in his letter he talks about how he had been talking with his family for the past several months. And, again, it was a decision based on personal reasons.
Q Did the President try and talk him out of it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President understood his reasons for leaving. The President greatly appreciates his service and his leadership.
Q Are you saying after all of the intelligence failures of the past year that the President was still satisfied with him, and that he didn't want him out?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President made it very clear in his remarks, if you look at what the President said, that the President believed he was a very strong and capable leader. And the President, as I said, has great appreciation for his service. So, yes, I reject that.
Q Why would a Director of the Central Intelligence Agency pull the plug on a President as he's heading into an election?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think that those are questions you can direct to Director Tenet, if he wants to expand further on the personal reasons that he stated to the President that he was leaving --
Q He wasn't pushed --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that it was based on personal reasons and it was Director Tenet's decision.
Q He wasn't pushed out?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I said. It was Director Tenet's decision.
Q Did I hear you say the word "family"? Was this about more family time for the Director?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'll leave it to the Director, if he wants to expand further on the personal reasons that he told the President he was resigning. But in his letter he does talk about how he had been talking with his family for the past several months.
Q Did the President at any time pass a signal or suggest indirectly to Director Tenet that now would be a good time to spend more time with your family?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. Look, I understand there's going to be a lot of speculation related to the Director's decision, but this was a decision he made based on personal reasons. And that's what it is. And the President was very clear in saying he is sorry to see him leave. And the President meant that.
Q So that's a "no" to my specific --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q -- question? "No" to a direct signal --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that's right. That's correct.
Q -- no hint, we'd like you to go?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I just said.
Q Was the President completely surprised by this yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the first time he was told about this was last night, when he met with the Director.
Q Was he surprised, though?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if I'd look at it that way. I think he understood the reasons why the Director had made the decision to resign. And, again, he appreciates his service very much.
Q Where does the search stand? Will this go past the election, do you expect?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard the President in his remarks. The President said that Deputy Director McLaughlin would serve in an acting capacity once Director Tenet leaves. He is certainly a strong and capable leader, himself, and the President has a lot of confidence in his abilities. But, again, this is a decision that the President was just informed about and we'll go through the process of beginning to look at who should fill that position permanently. The process is really just getting -- just now going to get underway.
Q It's a difficult process. Do you expect it to extend pass the election?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to predict the timing on that. But as I said, there is certainly a strong and capable leader in Deputy Director McLaughlin, who will assume the responsibilities of the Director once he leaves on July 11th.
Q The President said he was a strong and capable leader. Is that the same thing as saying that he had full confidence in his ability to lead the CIA --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And, in fact, I think we've made that clear previously, when asked over the last few months. Absolutely.
Q So you would have been happy -- the President would have been happy for him to stay? MR. McCLELLAN: Look, we can speculate all you want. That's getting into a hypothetical. He's come to a decision that for personal reasons he is leaving. But the President was very clear in his remarks. I think that you saw that in his remarks.
Q But if Director Tenet had not come to this decision, the President would have been quite happy for him to remain?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, the President appreciates his service; he had great confidence in the job that he was doing. And that's getting into a complete hypothetical. The decision has been made.
Q That's not a "yes," though.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think I answered your question. I mean, it's a complete hypothetical at this point. The decision was made that he was leaving. The President made it very clear that he was sorry to see him leave. So I think that that answers the question. We can speculate all we want, but I think we should look at the facts of what occurred.
Q Is there any connection between this resignation and the President consulting a lawyer in the CIA investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. This was a decision made by Director Tenet for personal reasons, and I would not connect it to anything else. Like I said, I understand there is going to be a lot of speculation and that's why I came back here to let you know what exactly occurred. And the President also made it very clear in his remarks how sorry he was to see him leave.
Q What about a connection to Chalabi?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. I just said in answer to Scott's question, that I understand there is going to be a lot of speculation. I would not make a connection to anything else, other than this was a decision made by Director Tenet for personal reasons.
Q Was there any concern about the timing of this announcement, when they had their discussion about when the announcement would be made? I mean, the President is going over to Europe and there's a possibility that this could overshadow some of the themes that he wants to emphasize.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I don't think that anyone was looking at it in that context. Director Tenet made the decision that he wanted to meet with the President last night and inform him about his decision, and that's what the timing was based on. I wouldn't look at it in connection with anything else.
Q Thank you very much.
END 12:52 P.M. EDT