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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Fleischer to Leave Administration

Aired May 19, 2003 - 09:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Watching the White House right now. Want to take you there live right now, the U.S. president, President Bush greeting the president from the Philippines right now. The first lady is out there as well. They will continue their meetings today on a Monday morning.
John King is standing by live as well. John, good morning there.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Bill. In the midst of all this ceremony on the south grounds of the White House, breaking news here on the personnel front. CNN has learned that the White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, will announce later today that he is leaving the administration some time this summer. Ari Fleischer has been the president's press secretary since day one. He also had a role in the Bush presidential campaign. Back in the early primaries, he worked for Elizabeth Dole when she had a brief campaign for the Republican nomination, but Ari Fleischer, a man who has spoken for this president throughout the campaign, throughout the transition, and throughout 28 months in office, pushing the Bush tax cut plan, working with the president and defending the administration's positions in the war on terrorism, a face known not only across the United States but around the world because of all the international episodes in this administration will be stepping down, he will announce that publicly later today.

CNN is told he informed the president of his plans late last week, informed senior staff members here at the White House this morning. A public announcement later today.

Again, Ari Fleischer to step down some time this summer. White House officials say no word yet on who his replacement would be -- Bill.

HEMMER: John, as you well know, he is a newlywed, getting married a few months ago to a woman from Indianapolis, his parents quite close with him as well, living in Connecticut. Ari Fleischer, this is not an easy decision for anyone to make. Was there any chance the administration tried to talk him out of this and keep him on for some time?

KING: We are told by senior administration officials that this was his decision. You are right, he is recently married. He has an opportunity, of course, to make a great deal more money in the public sector than he would working here at the White House. There also has been, though, make no mistake about it, some contention of late in media relations with this White House. You had the dust up just last week when Ari Fleischer from the podium was saying everything is fine in the relationship with Saudi Arabia. We find out hours later that one of the president's top national security aides, Steve Hadley, the deputy to Condoleezza Rice, traveled to Saudi Arabia to have an urgent meeting to appeal for help. There was a controversy, of course, over Ari Fleischer saying, even on the morning when the president landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln that the ship was too far out at sea for president to take a helicopter. That is why he made that dramatic landing by jet. It turned out that was not the case, that the carrier had made it close enough for Mr. Bush to take a helicopter ride if necessary.

Officials say, though, that this was Ari Fleischer's decision, and that he had the full support of the president and could have stayed as long as he wanted to. He simply decided this was a good time to move on. There will, of course, be a great deal of debate about this and there will, of course, be a great deal of speculation here in Washington as to who will take on that very difficult, very critical job of standing in the briefing room every day and speaking for the president of the United States.

HEMMER: John, if you think about it, this is truly the person who is the face of the White House, who stands in front of reporters like yourself and takes the heat for all the questions and all the issues on a daily basis. Often times we see it live, but often times is done behind in the press room of the White House. You mentioned the possibilities of someone coming in next. Is there a short list out there?

KING: Well, there has been speculation that includes a short list. One would be Ari Fleischer's top deputy, Scott McClellan. He is somebody who worked for then Governor Bush in Texas. He is very well regarded by the president and by the president's senior staff. Outside of this building, there has been discussion from time to time that, perhaps, Ed Gillespie would come in. He is a veteran Republican operative, but there have been source accounts in recent days suggesting he's in line for an even bigger job heading into the reelection campaign as the head of the Republican National Committee. Another person who gets mentioned quite a bit is Torie Clarke. She is Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's press secretary at the moment. She has a long relationship with the Bush family. She was once the campaign spokeswoman for George Bush, the former president. She has close relations with people on the senior staff of this White House as well.

These are names that immediately come to mind and have been mentioned in some speculation as they factor who will come into the White House to replace Ari Fleischer, one big consideration will be, who do they want on the plane every day with the president as a campaign spokesman, because we are heading into a reelection campaign, and of course, who do they think can step in for Ari Fleischer, and on day one have to deal with tough questions about the president selling his tax cut plan, about the state of the U.S. economy, about the ongoing transition in Iraq, about the war on terrorism and other issues the president is discussing today with the president of the Philippines. It is not an easy job.

HEMMER: John King, our senior White House correspondent. Not an easy job at all. Ari Fleischer, again, as John breaks the news there, set to resign from his post as White House spokesperson later this summer.

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