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Bush defends Cheney over Halliburton

Democrats criticize comments

Vice President Dick Cheney
Vice President Dick Cheney  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In his first public comments about a federal investigation of Vice President Dick Cheney's former oil company, President Bush expressed confidence Wednesday that Cheney did nothing wrong and said the probe into the oil services giant "will run its course."

He's "doing a heck of a good job," Bush said. "When I picked him I knew he was a fine business leader and a fine, experienced man."

"The facts will come out at some point," Bush said.

The accounting practices at the Texas-based Halliburton Corp. are being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Democrats quickly questioned the appropriateness of the president commenting on an ongoing investigation.

"When the president of the United States stands at a podium and says, basically, there is nothing to this investigation, I think that could have a significant impact on the SEC's investigation," said Jennifer Palmieri, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.

Democrats argue that it is increasingly doubtful the SEC under Chairman Harvey Pitt can conduct an objective and impartial investigation of the vice president.

A senior administration official recently told CNN that Cheney would not comment until the SEC concluded its investigation, arguing that any comments by the vice president would be "inappropriate" before then.

"To some degree, President Bush has blown Cheney's cover," Palmieri said. "The White House has refused to answer any questions about Cheney's Halliburton past for fear of influencing the SEC investigation.

"The president has taken that excuse away by saying that he thinks Vice President Cheney did not do anything wrong."

Bush, answering questions at a press conference with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, also said he was "optimistic about the future of the economy."

"The key thing for the American people is to realize is that the fundamentals for economic vitality and growth are there -- low interest rates, good monetary policy, productivity increases, economic vitality and growth in the first quarter," he said.

Responding to a question regarding his own business practices years ago as a director of Harken Oil Corp., Bush said the issue was investigated by the SEC and said the head career investigator concluded "there's no case."

Key documents released due to requests under the Freedom of Information Act back that up, the president said. The SEC probed Bush on suspicion of insider trading in 1990, but the case was dropped.

-- CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.




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