WASHINGTON -- President Bush's then-chief of staff tried to persuade the president to fire Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on at least two occasions in the past two years, once with the support of first lady Laura Bush, according to a new book by author and journalist Bob Woodward.
The first of the attempts by Andrew H. Card Jr., made in November 2004, was thwarted by Vice President Dick Cheney, a longtime friend of Rumsfeld's, and Karl Rove, the White House political chief, who felt that any move against Rumsfeld would be seen as an acknowledgment that the Iraq war was on the wrong course. The second effort, made a year later, came with Laura Bush's backing, the book claims.
Some of the findings in the book, State of Denial, were made public yesterday by Woodward's newspaper, The Washington Post, after other news organizations acquired copies of the book before the official publication date. A spokesman for Simon & Schuster, the publisher, said its release had been moved up to today because of the pre-publication disclosures.
Yesterday, the White House did not contradict Woodward's account of Card's efforts to oust Rumsfeld. But Tony Snow, Bush's spokesman, denied that either of the efforts was supported by the first lady, saying her office dubbed the suggestion "flatly not true."
Card "was asked to take a look at everybody, including himself," Snow said at a White House news conference. "It's typical - as a matter of fact, quite often in administrations at this point, people are asked to submit their resignations. The president's commander in chief. He picks."
Asked about the book's contents by reporters traveling with him at a NATO meeting in Slovenia, Rumsfeld said he had not read the account - or Woodward's previous books on the war.
Another forthcoming book on the Bush administration, a biography of former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell by Washington Post editor Karen DeYoung, will report that Powell was forced out of his job.
The account contradicts statements by the White House at the time - as well as Powell's resignation letter - which made it appear that the decision for him to leave was mutual. The excerpt from the book, Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell, obtained by the Los Angeles Times ahead of next week's publication, recounts how Card broke the news to an unsuspecting Powell.
"`The president would like to make a change,' [Card] said, using a time-honored formulation that avoided the words `resign' or `fire,'" the book says. Taken together, the two books add to a growing chorus of former administration officials, retired generals, and one-time war supporters who have begun to speak out against a White House once known for its tight lips and reverence for loyalty.
Indeed, the White House attempted yesterday to dismiss the book as a repeat of old allegations, arguments over troop levels and bitter recriminations from former officials whose advice was not taken.
"We've read this book before," Snow said at a White House press briefing. "As a matter of fact, the average Washington memoir ought to be subtitled If Only They'd Listened to Me."
Despite White House efforts, however, Woodward's book, like his two preceding books on Bush's stewardship of the war in Iraq, Bush at War and Plan of Attack, hit Washington like a major movie opening, with details spilling out in advance and interviews scheduled by CBS' 60 Minutes and CNN's Larry King, possibly among others.
Woodward's previous two books were so laudatory that White House aides gave them to one another as Christmas gifts, and one of them, Plan of Attack, was listed on the Bush campaign's re-election Web site as recommended reading. However, Woodward's newest book prompted furious backpedaling by the White House and gleeful embrace by congressional Democrats, who cited it as further evidence of the administration's mismanagement of the war effort.
Among famous names in the book is that of Henry A. Kissinger, who was President Richard M. Nixon's secretary of state during the Vietnam War and who Woodward reports has been a frequent visitor at the White House, offering Bush advice on Iraq.
"Now, what's Kissinger's advice?" Woodward said in his 60 Minutes interview. "In Iraq, he declared very simply, `Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy.' This is so fascinating. Kissinger's fighting the Vietnam war again, because in his view, the problem in Vietnam is we lost our will, that we didn't stick to it."
Woodward's account of the widening divisions within the administration over Iraq policy relies on at least four separate, private written assessments that were submitted to senior administration officials detailing dire predictions for Iraq if the White House did not change course.