"In addition to previous honorees Gen. Tommy Franks, CIA director George Tenet and Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer, nobody has been more responsible for the successful policies of this Administration, both here and abroad, than these fine, dedicated public servants," Bush told a hastily-called news conference. "In all my years in office, I have never seen so many people work so hard to bring us to where we are today -- a respected leader in the world, and a country where all citizens are happily supportive of our policies.
"Well, yes, there were a few carpers and critics out there who called our military/foreign policy a failure, and accused us of going outside the Constitution to protect the lives and property of all American citizens from the Islamic fascists who are trying to kill us. But most of those terrorist-supporting nay-sayers have now been moved into FEMA's re-education camps, and we expect and hope they will rejoin their normal, law-abiding fellow citizens with a new, positive attitude.
"Naming myself as an honoree may seem self-serving to some, but I take this action to demonstrate to the public my confidence in my policies. Further, today I have ordered myself to conduct a thorough investigation of any possible mistakes or wrongdoing that I may have committed; a report has been submitted by me and is now on my desk, and without giving away too much, I was delighted to read that it completely exonerates me."
LIBBY & ROVE GET A WALK
Bush also announced that he had granted a full pardon to I. Lewis ("Scooter") Libby, whose trial was scheduled to begin early next year.
Libby -- Cheney's former chief of staff and national security advisor, and special assistant to the President -- was indicted by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the case of Valerie Plame Wilson. The covert CIA agent's identity was made public by White House officials (widely believed to include Libby and Rove) when her husband publicly said Bush had twisted intelligence to support going to war against Iraq. Libby was facing charges of lying and obstructing justice in the case; Rove may still be under investigation, but Bush said he pardoned him pre-emptively, "just in case."
"I took this action today," Bush said, "because both Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove are loyal patriots, who were only following orders from me to do everything possible to ensure that our war against the terrorists in Iraq went smoothly. As Commander-in-Chief, I am authorized to declassify information, and I did so and properly told Mr. Libby in particular to offer such information to the press as part of a national security operation.
"Ms. Plame and her husband, who attempted to obstruct our war aims and thus aided and abetted our enemies, have been detained and rendered to a secure location, where they will stay until the war on terrorism has been won.
"The pardon of Mr. Libby and of Mr. Rove will ensure that classified details about our war on terrorism will not make their way into the court record and the press. I must protect the secrets of this administration since they all touch on highly sensitive national-security matters. Mr. Libby will join my staff as a special national security adviser. Remember, this all has to do with national-security."
"I will now answer a few questions. David?"
VOTERS MOVING TO DEMOCRATS?
Question: Mr. President, the midterm elections are just a few months away. Are you worried that these aggressive moves against your political opponents may influence many middle-of-the-road voters to move toward the Democratic candidates rather than stick with your party, which many moderate conservatives find to be too extreme?
Bush: The American people have demonstrated, by not demonstrating, that they are behind our policies 100%. They understand that whatever actions I take are taken for the good of the country and all of our good citizens. They will not change buses in the middle of a stream of war, I mean not change horses in a time of great battle, during wartime. Everything changed on 9/11, except the Democrat Party, which continues to clearly demonstrate that they are on the side of al-Qaida.
Question: A follow-up first, if I may, Mr. President. Virtually all the polls in recent months indicate that it's not just the Democrats who believe Iraq is a disaster and was a terrible mistake -- about two-thirds of the American people believe that and are ready for some sort of plan for withdrawal. Are you saying that all those citizens are doing al-Qaida's work, that they all are un-American by speaking out?
Bush: Not at all, David. The terrorists hate us for our freedoms, you know, and one of the most important is freedom of speech. Everyone has the right to speak out. But you have to watch what you say, because the terrorists are listening and will act accordingly. So if you have something critical to say, I advise you to think twice before saying it, or anything. Loose lips sink boats; loose talk helps boats go aground -- you know what I mean. Helen?