WASHINGTON – Administration officials are keeping pretty much silent about reports that Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) has informed the White House that he will not serve in a second term Bush administration.
The Washington Post reported Monday that Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage (search) have served notice that they will leave their posts on January 21, 2005, assuming that President Bush is re-elected to office.
Bush is not expected to comment on the story while he is on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and he does not have a public schedule until a political appearance in Denver next Monday. But White House officials say they don't think much of the story. One official called it a "non-decision" that is a year and a half away.
The deputy State Department spokesman also vigorously denied the story on Monday.
"There's no basis to the story at all," said Philip T. Reeker. "There was no such conversation. It must be August."
At the White House, Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said, "The conversation didn't happen."
Powell has refused to discuss his political future. The secretary's standard response is that he serves at the "pleasure of the president," even though he is widely known to have interests other than government service.
"I serve at the pleasure of the president," Powell said last month. "That's the only answer I've ever given to that question, no matter what form it comes in."
A source within the White House said that all the members of the president's national security team are likely to offer their resignations at the end of the current term, not just because it's traditional -- giving the president a chance to pick new people without having to ask current officeholders to leave -- but because this team has worked as hard as any since World War II, given the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the war on terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
If Powell were to leave at the beginning of a second term, it would not be unusual. Only George Shultz (search) under President Reagan has served more than one term in recent decades. He took office midway through Reagan's first term and then stayed on for the second.
The Post reports that Powell's departure is not the result of foreign policy disagreements with other administration officials, but because he promised his wife he would leave the high pressure job after one term. Alma Powell's reluctance to give up her husband to public service is thought to be a big reason Powell, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff (search) chairman who gained wide popularity during the Persian Gulf War, never ran for president.
The Post also wrote that National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) is the leading contender to replace Powell at the State Department should he leave. However, Rice has put in such long hours and taken so little time off, real questions are being asked about her serving a second term.
Rice recently took on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East that was seen by some as an audition for the secretary of state's job. But any candidacy may have been jeopardized by her hand in letting the president use shaky intelligence in his State of the Union address to blame Iraq with shopping for nuclear material. She took personal responsibility for the diplomatic and political blunder last week.
Rice's aides won't talk about the prospect of her changing administration jobs, adding that reports of Powell's departure are speculation.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (search) is also mentioned as a possible Powell successor. Putting him in the position would likely end the conflicts between the State Department and the Pentagon that reporters have talked about for the past couple of years.
With Rice and Wolfowitz as the top contenders, the post would certainly be headed in a more conservative direction. Wolfowitz joined Vice President Cheney in pushing for war in Iraq long before Powell concluded diplomatic efforts had failed.
Some reports had the two officials talking about taking out deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.