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14 July 2003

Ari Fleischer Departs Job as White House Press Secretary

His number two, Scott McClellan, succeeds him

By Wendy S. Ross
Washington File White House Correspondent

Washington -- Ari Fleischer held his last briefing for White House correspondents July 14, after serving two and a half years as White House Press Secretary, and before that working with the Bush presidential campaign.

Fleischer will now join the private sector after serving more than 21 years in government and politics, mostly on Capitol Hill.

Reports say he plans to go on the lecture circuit, form his own communications company, write a book about his White House experience, and do some fundraising for President Bush's reelection campaign.

In the briefing room packed with reporters, Fleischer thanked the people who help make the White House work -- stenographers, telephone operaters, military aides, the Secret Service, senior staff, the press staff -- as well as President Bush.

"The final person I want to thank is, of course, the president, the person who gave me this opportunity to serve my country, the person in whom I believe so deeply, both on policy and as a person, as a leader, and as somebody I've come to be very close to."

"Thank you, everybody. Thank you for letting me serve. Thank you. Thank you," Fleischer said.

Taking Fleischer's job as Press Secretary is Scott McClellan, from Texas, who has been serving under Fleischer as number two in the White House Press Office.

Discussing the relationship between the press secretary and the press corps, Fleischer said it "is designed to be a relationship that has some levels of tension built into it. It is the press's job to ask anything about everything.

"I always do my best to give you the fullest answers from the president that I possibly can, and I hope that I've endeavored to do that and do it well, in the course of our interaction.

"But one thing's for sure. Sometimes as messy as it can be, in the 225-year history of our country, the fact that there is a free press who can ask whatever it wants and a government that is accountable has kept our nation strong and free. And it will forevermore."

Fleischer's immediate plans are to take a vacation with his wife Becky, who he met and married while working at the White House.

"There's one other thing that the president did by putting me here that I will always remember and take with me from the White House, and that is, thanks to the president, I met my wife here, because she worked at the White House, too. Becky's with us today. She's with us today. Becky, I can't wait to see you at regular hours," Fleischer said.

Asked how he wants to be remembered by the press, Fleischer responded, "Fondly."

Asked if he was leaving any legacy behind, Fleischer said "Bob", referring to Bob Deans, the President of the White House Press Corps.

Speaking on behalf of the press corps, Deans thanked Fleischer "for all you did for us, thank you for the long hours, the red-eyes we'll miss, and thank you for the times you advocated on behalf of open access behind the scenes."

The Press Corps then feted him with a good-bye party complete with a cake.

Deans said "We've received assurances that it's not yellow cake," referring to the name for uranium ore so much in the news of late. "But that doesn't prove that it's not yellow cake," to which Fleischer jokingly said, "Well, if it is, I'm sure we'll find it."

On July 12, after President Bush had returned to Andrews Air Force Base from his trip to five nations in Africa, Fleischer, who had accompanied the President, thought he was only posing for pictures when he was asked to come to the nose of Air Force One.

What he didn't know was his staff had enlisted a base fire engine to help mark the end of his tenure as Bush's chief spokesman.

He quickly realized what was up when the mist from the engine's hose blew his way.

Fleischer fled, with firefighters in pursuit.

But finally he indulged his staff and reporters gathered on the tarmac by walking into the spray and getting a thorough drenching.

"This is what happens to me at the end of a typical briefing," Fleischer joked, referring to his daily encounters with the White House press corps.

"That's a pool spray."

Pool spray is White House jargon for when a small group of reporters is given brief access to meetings between the president and his Cabinet or foreign officials.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)