WASHINGTON -- White House chief of staff John Sununu whose travel practices have made him the butt of comedian's jokes and created an "appearance problem" for President Bush, has indicated for the first time that he doesn't intend to remain in his post if Bush is re-elected.
Sununu, who in the past said he hoped to remain by the president's side for as long as he wanted him, said yesterday that he would leave his powerful position sometime after the next presidential inauguration in January 1993.
"I intend to get the president's agenda done and help him get re-elected and finish up after his second term begins," Sununu said, following a speech in suburban Arlington, Va.
But it wasn't clear from his brief comment whether the combative former New Hampshire governor was trying to signal his determination to survive the current controversy about his travel habits or was offering President Bush an opportunity to let him go without seeming to abandon a loyal aide.
The president again gave his embattled aide a public nod of support yesterday after the White House legal counsel ruled that Sununu didn'tbreak ethics rules when he solicited the use of a corporate jet to fly to Chicago for a Republican Governors' Association fund-raiser June 11.
"Yeah, I'm going to support him," Bush said, in response to questions from reporters as he left a Rose Garden ceremony. On Sunday, returning from a weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat, Bush had given a thumbs-up sign and answered "yes" when asked if Sununu would stay.
Nevertheless, Sununu seemed to be dying a death by a thousand cuts as he was put under a succession of travel rules restricting first his use of military aircraft, then his chauffeur-driven White House sedan, and over the weekend his use of private jets to travel out of town.
Under the latest restriction, Sununu must seek approval for his travel arrangements from White House officials several levels his junior after he incorrectly informed White House counsel C. Boyden Gray about the circumstances of his Chicago flight.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Sununu could keep his job for "as long as he wants." But that was before Fitzwater had a chance to ask Sununu about his latest comments.