Press Gaggle by Scott Stanzel
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Albuquerque, New Mexico
12:03 P.M. CDT
MR. STANZEL: Good morning, everyone. I'll go through the President's schedule and then I have a bit of an announcement. The President had his normal briefings this morning. Obviously, you saw upon departure his comments about the Attorney General. You should have that transcript now. We're on our way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the President will participate in a Domenici Victory Fund reception. That's closed press. Then the President will travel on to Bellevue, Washington, and make remarks at a Friends of Dave Reichert and Washington State Republican Party reception. That's at 4:35 p.m. Pacific Time, and that's expanded pool coverage. And the President then will travel on to Reno, Nevada, this evening, where he will reside overnight.
On the plane today, the President made some phone calls to Iraqi leaders. He made five phone calls to President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister al-Maliki, Vice President Hashimi, Vice President Abd al-Mahdi, and President Barzani -- and he talked with them, he congratulated them on the progress that they announced yesterday. He reiterated his strong support for their work, congratulated them for the good things that they were doing for the Iraqi people, and talked about the announcement yesterday was a step in the right direction and there's more work to do. Those calls took place over approximately a 45-minute period.
Q: All separate, not --
MR. STANZEL: All separate calls, five different phone calls in the order that I announced them.
The President, on that note, will make a statement upon arrival in New Mexico, and talk about the agreement that was reached yesterday and announced yesterday. So you'll have another statement from the President.
MR. STANZEL: I believe so, yes.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q: Can you talk about whether the President was surprised by Gonzales's decision to resign, and if the White House was involved in helping him to make that decision?
MR. STANZEL: No, the Attorney General has spent some time this month talking with his wife, Becky. They came to Texas and they've had conversations over a period of months -- the Attorney General and his wife -- about his tenure at the Department of Justice. The Attorney General came to the conclusion that it was in the best interests of the department that he resign. He called the President on Friday evening* and offered his resignation, and the President very reluctantly accepted it and, at that time, invited he and his wife to the ranch so they could talk as friends over lunch yesterday.
So it was a process that the Attorney General was going through over a period of time, and he had come to that conclusion that it was in -- he put the interests of the department over his own.
Q: Can you say whether the White House had any input, like suggesting or encouraging the notion that it was not helpful for the department?
MR. STANZEL: No, this is a decision that the Attorney General came to on his own. And it was -- the President, in their conversation yesterday over lunch, he indicated that -- he has known the Attorney General for a long time, they're close friends, and it was a hard thing for the President to accept. He appreciates the Attorney General's service, but respects his judgment. And it was the judgment of the Attorney General that it was in the best interest of the department to put this period behind us and move on.
Q: This conversation started a month ago?
MR. STANZEL: I said the Attorney General has had conversations with his wife over a period of time about his tenure there.
Q: But Friday was the first that the White House had heard of it?
MR. STANZEL: Friday was the first time that he had called the President about it.
Q: Did he talk to other people in the White House before that?
MR. STANZEL: I'm not going to talk about internal discussions that occur, but this was a decision that the Attorney General came to.
Q: Scott, two questions. One, as I recall, Rumsfeld had previously offered his resignation, the President refused that. Was that the case at any time during Gonzales's tenure?
MR. STANZEL: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: And secondly, are you expecting days or weeks for a nominee?
MR. STANZEL: I'm not going to put a time frame on it, but the President is considering potential nominees. He will certainly select someone who is high caliber, a talented official who will serve the department well. And we hope that that person would move forward -- the Senate Judiciary Committee would move forward with their -- that nomination expeditiously.
Q: Did the President try to talk him out of resigning?
MR. STANZEL: He did not. He respects the Attorney General's judgments and he knew that the Attorney General had given this thoughtful consideration and had come to the conclusion that it was in the best interest of the Department of Justice for him to step down.
Q: If the President is so insistent that there was no wrongdoing, then why would he accept his resignation?
MR. STANZEL: Well, like I said, he does respect the Attorney General's judgment. And unfortunately, because of the very much political show trials that we've seen, it had an impact, an unfortunate impact on the Department of Justice, and it had an impact on the morale of officials there. And the Attorney General came to the conclusion that it was in the department's best interests that he step down -- and the President accepted that.
Q: The resignation, is this an admission that his critics were right, that after all this time that he would no longer be effective as Attorney General?
MR. STANZEL: No, I think this is a recognition by the Attorney General that it was in the department's best interest for him to move on. But I would say that, as the President indicated today, it's very unfortunate that we live in a time where talented, honorable people like Alberto Gonzales are impeded from doing their work, or refuse to take on assignments like this because of the risk of having their name dragged through the political mud, and public service has gotten to the point where it's not just a sacrifice, but you're punished for that public service. And that's an unfortunate thing. And I think it's safe to say that a lot of people throughout the country are tired of the political infighting in Washington and it's time to put this unfortunate --
Q: As a result of that, how hard is it going to be to find a replacement for Judge Gonzales, and especially given the fact that you've got 15, 16 months left?
MR. STANZEL: Well, we -- like I said, the President will look for a very high caliber candidate that he believes will serve the best interest of the country in this position. He -- certainly we hope that the Senate Judiciary Committee would put the interests of the nation, and the law enforcement and security of our country before partisan politics.
Q: With all the talk about resignation, about Gonzales -- people wanting him to go, and that sort of thing, you have to assume that the White House had a list of people that it would consider as his replacement -- is that right?
MR. STANZEL: I'm not going to talk about -- as you know, when there are personnel matters to announce we'll go ahead and announce them. But it's our longstanding practice to not discuss who may or may not be under consideration.
Q: On Iraq, was there really that much progress in those meetings yesterday, or is it sort of as good as it gets these days?
MR. STANZEL: I think you'll hear from the President here in just a few minutes when we land, but it's important that all of the groups are working together on behalf of the Iraqi people. We have seen progress from the bottom up, and we hope that we can -- that the Iraqi government can solidify that progress that's occurring at the local level, albeit security or politics progress.
And so we think it's a step in the right direction, but it is a step, and much more work needs to be done.
Q: On the phone call to Maliki, did the President assure the Prime Minister that he has his full support?
MR. STANZEL: The President assured all of the leaders that he supports them and he supports the work that they're doing.
Q: Did Allawi come up at all? Did any conversation about --
MR. STANZEL: I don't know. I didn't get that information so I can't say, yes or no.
Q: Can you preview the speech a little tomorrow?
MR. STANZEL: I'll try to get some more for you on that, but it is a speech, obviously, continuing on the speech that he gave last week about the challenges we face in Iraq. It will take a broader look at the Middle East and the impact of what we are doing in Iraq and how that can shape the future of the Middle East.
Q: Thank you.
END 12:13 P.M. CDT
*The call from the Attorney General on Friday took place at approximately 1 pm CT (2 pm ET).
George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by Scott Stanzel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/276293