WASHINGTON – President Bush first learned that Saddam Hussein (search) may have been captured on Saturday afternoon, and was given confirmation of the most sought-after prize in the Iraq war early Sunday, senior administration officials said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) called the president, who was spending part of the weekend at Camp David, around midday Saturday to deliver the news of the raid's possible success.
Just after 5 a.m. Sunday in Washington, the U.S. administrator in Iraq called national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) to confirm that the person in custody had been confirmed to be Hussein. Rice immediately took the information to Bush — by now back at the White House, one official said.
The president had returned to Washington late Saturday to be back in town before a snowstorm that hit Sunday could prevent him from attending the taping of a television Christmas special later in the day.
Bush had planned to attend church Sunday morning across the street from the White House, but decided not to make the trek through the snow.
The president was ensconced in the Oval Office and senior aides rushed in from miles away to staff a White House usually empty on an early Sunday morning.
But hours after the news of Saddam's capture spread and was confirmed by a news conference in Baghdad there still was no official reaction from the White House. Aides even declined to describe Bush's reaction at the news, despite the long-sought development that could bring significant vindication for the war the president started nine months ago.
Dramatic military strikes came up empty in their efforts to kill Saddam at the start of the war. Since then, he has appeared in both video and audio tapes. U.S. officials named him No. 1 on their list of 55 most-wanted Iraqis, the lead card in a special deck of most-wanted cards.
U.S. officials scored another major victory earlier this year when they killed Saddam's two sons during a raid.