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Inside Politics

Wolfowitz interview goes nowhere fast

Story Highlights

• Reporter tries to reach embattled World Bank chief's attorney
• He gets hold of lawyer, but call goes through two others first
• Attorney says Wolfowitz will not resign "under a cloud"
From Ed Henry
CNN White House correspondent
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In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- I was the only reporter in the world to talk to embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz on Wednesday. But it was the briefest "exclusive interview" I've ever had -- and I sort of dropped the ball.

Let me explain.

I was at my post at the White House working the story about how Wolfowitz, one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, is likely to resign because of the international furor over his decision to arrange a quite-generous pay package for his girlfriend.

A key source close to the negotiations told me the White House has concluded that Wolfowitz can no longer serve effectively and the administration is now looking for an exit strategy.(Watch how internal World Bank report slams Wolfowitz Video)

So I quickly dialed up Wolfowitz's attorney, Bob Bennett, and that's when things got interesting.

Bennett's assistant answered the phone, I identified myself as being with CNN and asked to speak to the attorney. Just then I heard a gruff voice pick up another extension on the phone line and say abruptly, "This is Paul Wolfowitz."

I stuttered and stammered -- wait, was this really him?! And when I heard the familiar voice say, "Hello?" I knew it was indeed Wolfowitz.

But before I could get in a question, Bennett's assistant -- sensing a mini-public relations crisis from a drive-by interview -- interrupted and made clear Wolfowitz had picked up the wrong line. So the World Bank president handed the phone to his attorney, who blurted, "This is Bob Bennett."

I quickly identified myself and asked Bennett how he was. "Um, as you can tell, I'm a little busy," Bennett said in a dramatic understatement.

But I pressed ahead: Was his client about to resign? "Premature -- he's not going to resign under a cloud," Bennett said before saying he had to hang up.

So I guess I missed my chance at an "exclusive" with Wolfowitz -- a comical moment in the middle of a serious story.

But the encounter did provide an important clue: It showed that Wolfowitz was in fact holed up in his lawyer's office for much of Wednesday negotiating his departure with a big condition. He wants the ethics committee at the World Bank to admit some culpability in this mess, hence Bennett's comment about not resigning "under a cloud."

The pivotal turn in all of this came when the White House decided to essentially drop its support for Wolfowitz, with one senior administration official telling me the situation looks grim. "We want it over -- one way or the other."

A board meeting at the World Bank wrapped up Wednesday night with no resolution. But there will be another board meeting Thursday, so stay tuned.


CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry

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