Bush: investigations have created "background noise, chatter," but won’t distract him
WASHINGTON – President Bush, jarred by investigations of White House officials and congressional leaders and an uproar over his Supreme Court nomination, said Thursday there was “some background noise here, a lot of chatter” complicating the work of his administration.But he said, “The American people expect me to do my job, and I’m going to.”Bush’s comments, at a Rose Garden news conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, reflected the administration’s argument that its agenda is moving forward despite a growing list of problems.The president promised to remain focused on seeking peace in the Mideast, invigorating the economy, rebuilding the hurricane-shattered Gulf Coast and protecting it from the new storm approaching this weekend. At the same time, he said, “There’s some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining.”White House officials are quietly anxious about the outcome of events over which they have little control. It’s an uncomfortable position for an administration that likes to steer the agenda and has a reputation for protecting its secrets. Now, administration officials are asking reporters what they’re hearing.The most immediate problem is the investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to determine whether there was a concerted administration effort to illegally divulge Valerie Plame’s CIA identity because her husband publicly questioned Bush on the Iraq war. The central figures in the investigation are White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Both Rove and Libby talked to reporters before Plame was unmasked.”We don’t know what all the facts are,” said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. “All of us would like to know what they are and get to the bottom of this.”While Bush asserted that his agenda was moving ahead, his most ambitious domestic proposals on Social Security and taxes already have been shelved. GOP congressional leaders huddled with the president this week on a legislative agenda that had been pared to only the must-do items of the federal budget, Katrina recovery, Patriot Act renewal and the Harriet Miers nomination.The conclusion of Fitzgerald’s two-year investigation, expected within days, bears down on the White House amid other troubles.Bush’s pick of Miers, the White House counsel, for the Supreme Court disappointed many of his longtime conservative allies and puzzled some Republicans in Congress. Also, the White House is still reeling from criticism of its slow reaction to the misery caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.Further complicating Bush’s plans are investigations of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on conspiracy and money-laundering charges in Texas, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for stock transactions.Weary of the CIA investigation and the uncertainty it has brought, presidential aides say they just wish it would end. Officials say they don’t talk about the investigation or its outcome at meetings because they don’t want to give the appearance of colluding against Fitzgerald. They acknowledge there is an expectation that if any White House official is indicted, he will resign.Indeed, officials have been speculating about who would move in to replace Rove or Libby if they were forced out. The consulting firm jointly headed by one possible Rove replacement, GOP strategist Ed Gillespie, has begun considering how Gillespie’s clients might be reassigned if he were tapped for a White House assignment and how to handle the other ramifications of a White House move.Others close to the White House defend it as a place filled with professionals who are getting on with the business of governing amid the distractions. Veteran Republican strategist Charles Black said Rove has taken some time away to prepare for grand jury testimony but otherwise has been as engaged as ever on issues ranging from spending cuts to Miers.”I haven’t noticed, for the most part, anything unusual going on,” Black said.