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US, Britain relationship a 'bust'? White House tries to deflect controversy over Churchill statue

After a day of charges and countercharges about whether President Obama hurt the U.S.'s "special relationship" with the United Kingdom by removing a bust from the Oval Office in 2009, the White House is backpedaling a bit on what might be dubbed "Bust-gate".

With presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney in London this week, the flap was reignited when Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer wrote a column in Friday's edition of The Washington Post charging Obama "started his presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office."

White House Communication Director Dan Pfeiffer later wrote a harshly worded post on the White House blog saying that while he does not bother dealing with "a rumor that's so patently false" he felt compelled to issue a "fact check" on Krauthammer's "ridiculous" charge in the column.

"This is 100% false," Pfeiffer wrote. "The bust still(sic) in the Whtie House. In the Residence. Outside the Treaty Room."

In order to hit Krauthammer just a little harder, Pfeiffer attached an official White House photo depicting Obama in the residence showing British Prime Minister David Cameron the Churchill bust -- or actually a Churchill bust.

Within hours, Pfeiffer's post went -- well -- bust as the British Embassy in Washington released a statement revealing there are actually two busts that had been in the White House. There's the first bust that was the source of controversy, which was loaned to then-President George W. Bush after 9-11 that was in the Oval Office, which Krauthammer had referenced 

That bust was in fact returned to the British Embassy after the Bush administration ended and now resides at the Washington residence of the British ambassador.

For decades, however, the White House has had a second bust of Churchill. That's the one in the residence, which Pfeiffer had reference from that official White House photo.

Pfeiffer updated his blog post noting the British Embassy is correct, there are two busts. He stressed that on Jan. 20, 2009, "all of the art lent specifically for President Bush's Oval office was removed by the curator's office" which is common at the end of every presidency.

While it turns out that Krauthammer was correct then that the bust in question was removed from the Oval Office, Pfeiffer would not back down: "The idea put forward by Charles Krauthammer and others that President Obama returned the Churchill bust or refused to display the bust because of antipathy towards the British is completely false and an urban legend that continues to circulate to this day."  

Appearing on “Special Report with Bret Baier”, Krauthammer said Pfeiffer should just admit a mistake, charging the White House still “pretends that it never happened.” 

The contributor insisted he never suggested in his column that there was “antipathy” and added of Pfeiffer: “It’s astonishing, he doubled down.”

Ed Henry currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief White House correspondent. He joined the network in June 2011.

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