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President Supports Rumsfeld

April 18, 2006 at 12:00 AM EST

TRANSCRIPT

KWAME HOLMAN: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged today that he’s heard the criticisms of a group of retired generals who have called for his resignation.

JOURNALIST: Do you see validity in any of those criticisms? And is it appropriate for these to be aired publicly by retired generals?

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. Secretary of Defense: Well, you know, I’ve been hearing about all of this, and I kind of would prefer to let a little time walk over it. There are important issues that are involved; there’s no question about that.

Change is difficult. It also happens to be urgently necessary. Transforming this department is important.

I think that, because of the importance of these matters that are being discussed, I’d like to reflect on them a bit. And I’m a little reluctant to start taking each piece of what people talk about or the individuals involved. And I just am not inclined to be instantaneously judgmental about them.

KWAME HOLMAN: That on the same day the president was asked again if he stood by his secretary of defense.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: On Friday, I stood up and said I don’t appreciate the speculation about Don Rumsfeld. He’s done a fine job. I strongly support him.

QUESTION: But what do you say to critics who believe that you’re ignoring the advice of retired generals, military commanders who say that there needs to be a change?

GEORGE W. BUSH: I say I listen to all voices, but mine is the final decision. And Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job. He’s not only transforming the military, he’s fighting a war on terror. He’s helping us fight a war on terror.

I have strong confidence in Don Rumsfeld. I hear the voices, and I read the front page. And I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best. And what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.

KWAME HOLMAN: Later this afternoon, Rumsfeld and senior military commanders met behind closed doors with a group of retired officers and civilian analysts, who often appear as consultants on television programs. The meeting was seen as part of a Pentagon effort to tamp down criticism of Rumsfeld’s handling of the Iraq war and the generals’ calling for him to step down.

Among them, former commander of CENTCOM, retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, Marine Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, and four retired Army major generals, Charles Swannack, former commander of the 82nd Airborne, John Riggs, who publicly tangled with Rumsfeld in 2002, Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi army troops, and John Batiste, who commanded an Army division in Iraq.

On the NewsHour last week, Batiste detailed his criticism.

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE, Retired: I think the current administration repeatedly ignored sound military advice and counsel, with respect to the war plans. I think that the principles of war are fundamental, and we violate those at our own peril. And military leaders of all ranks, particularly the senior military, have an obligation in a democracy to say something about it.

KWAME HOLMAN: As recently as yesterday, Rumsfeld fought back on conservative Rush Limbaugh’s radio talk show.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, you know, this, too, will pass. I think about it, and I must say, there’s always two sides to these things. And the sharper the criticism comes, sometimes the sharper the defense comes.

KWAME HOLMAN: And over the weekend, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, stood by Rumsfeld.

GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman: It’s inappropriate, because it’s not the military that judges our civilian bosses. That would be a — we’d be in a horrible state in this country, in my opinion, if the military was left to judge the civilian bosses. Because when you judge Secretary Rumsfeld, you’re also judging the commander in chief, because that’s the chain of command. And that’s just not appropriate.

KWAME HOLMAN: At today’s news conference, Rumsfeld offered a strong defense of his five-year tenure and was asked if he’s considering stepping down.

DONALD RUMSFELD: The president knows, as I know, that there are no indispensable men. He knows that I serve at his pleasure, and that’s that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Twice during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Rumsfeld did offer his resignation, but the president refused to accept it.