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Issue Date: November 14-20, 2005, Posted On: 11/11/2005

Bush in the bunker:
Reduces access, rarely speaks to father

A happier day: Following the inaugural parade, former President George H.W. Bush greets his son, the new president, in the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2001. (White House Photo by Eric Draper)


President Bush feels betrayed by several of his most senior aides and advisors and has severely restricted access to the Oval Office, administration sources say.

The president's reclusiveness in the face of relentless public scrutiny of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and White House leaks regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame has become so extreme that Mr. Bush has also reduced contact with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, administration sources said on the condition of anonymity.

"The atmosphere in the Oval Office has become unbearable," a source said. "Even the family is split."


Mr. Bush has sought to stem the drop in public support by going on the political offensive last Friday with a major address on Veterans Day, in which he chastised anti-war Democrats for "rewriting the history" of the Iraq war's origins.

But sources close to the White House say that Mr. Bush has become isolated and feels betrayed by key officials in the wake of plunging domestic support, the continued insurgency in Iraq and the CIA-leak investigation that has resulted in the indictment and resignation of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.

The sources said Mr. Bush maintains daily contact with only four people: first lady Laura Bush, his mother, Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes. The sources also say that Mr. Bush has stopped talking with his father, except on family occasions.

For the president, what triggered the break with his father was the interview given to the New Yorker magazine in October by Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security advisor in the first Bush presidency. In the interview, Mr. Scowcroft criticized the administration's handling of Iraq. The sources said the president is convinced that Mr. Scowcroft consulted with Mr. Bush's father prior to delivering the devastating critique of the president's Iraq policy.

The interview sparked a series of high-level criticism that Mr. Bush believes was coordinated by circles close to his father. Mr. Scowcroft and Mr. Bush's father have been regarded as being best friends.

Relations between Mr. Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, had also become tense in the build-up to the indictment of Mr. Libby. This is due to the fact the president believed his chief aide when Mr. Rove said that he had nothing to do with the leak of Mrs. Plame's identity. The prospect that Mr. Libby will turn state evidence in the Plame case is even more alarming for the White House.

"Bush is living from hour to hour," said a senior Republican source who visits the White House frequently.

The result is that Mr. Bush has become obsessive about leaks. Last week the White House held mandatory briefings on how to handle classified material.

Mr. Bush has also come under pressure to revoke Mr. Rove's security clearance.

"We're going through a very serious investigation," Mr. Bush said recently in response to questions from reporters. "I'm not going to discuss the investigation until it's completed."

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