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Transcript: Bush Talks With Brit

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Dec. 14, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Mr. President, thank you for doing this.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, thanks.

HUME: Good to see you, sir.

BUSH: Yes, sir.

HUME: I want to ask you about some of the people around you and your relationship with them and how they stand with you.

BUSH: Sure.

HUME: Secretary Rumsfeld, how does he stand with you?

BUSH: Good. He's done a heck of a job. He's conducted two wars, and at the same time is out to transfer my military from a military that was constructed for the post-Cold War to one that is going to be constructed to fight terrorism.

HUME: Is he here to stay, as far as you're concerned, until the end of your term?

BUSH: Yes. Well, the end of my term is a long time, but I'll tell you, he's doing a heck of a good job. I have no intention of changing him.

HUME: Vice President Cheney. There's been some thought that the relationship with him while on the surface remains fine, that he isn't quite the respected advisor he might once have been to you.

BUSH: You know, the vice president goes through I guess what all people in Washington go through at some time or another. He's got a nasty speculation about whether he's running the government or not running the government, whether I like him or don't like him.

The truth of the matter is, our relationship hasn't changed hardly at all. He's a very close advisor. I view him as a good friend. I had lunch with him today. We discussed a wide variety of topics.

And the good thing about Dick Cheney is when he discusses a topic with me and he gives me his advice, I never read about it in the newspaper the next day. And that's why our relationship is so close and his advice is so valued.

HUME: So it's unchanged?

BUSH: Yes, I'd say our relationship — I mean, it's only gotten better. We didn't know each other that well when we first came to Washington, D.C., and my respect for him has grown immensely. I knew he'd be a great vice president, he is a great vice president. And yet, the relationship is a deeper relationship than initially, which is only normal given the amount of time we spent with each other.

HUME: How about Karl Rove, the man you once called the architect.

He went through some trials and tribulations — and they appear largely to be over now. There has been some thought that perhaps your relationship with him is more distant than once it was. What about that?

BUSH: Somebody said that was recent speculation, and we're still as close as we've ever been. We've been through a lot. When I look back at the presidency and my time in politics, uh, no question Karl had a lot to do with me getting here. And I value his friendship. We're very close.

HUME: Turning to politics here, Democrats say that there is a culture of corruption among Republicans in Congress. Now, we've had the DeLay indictment, part of which has since been dismissed. You had — you've got this Abramoff investigation going on up there, and whatever the outcome, it isn't pretty.

And then you have the Duke Cunningham case, with which I know you're familiar, and we've now seen some of the details of that case. They're quite striking: rugs and goodies of all kinds and large sums of money. What about that allegation, that there's a culture of corruption on Capitol Hill among Republicans? How do you feel about that?

BUSH: Well, first of all, I feel Duke Cunningham was wrong and should be punished for what he did. And I think anybody who does what he did should be punished, Republican or Democrat. Secondly, I'm — you know, the Abramoff — I'm frankly, not all that familiar with a lot that's going on up there on Capitol Hill. But it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties. Yes, I mean, it's really important for all of us in public life to have the highest of ethics. So we can only trust the American people.

HUME: Do you home and expect that Tom DeLay will return to be majority leader?

BUSH: Yes. At least, I don't know whether I'm expecting it. I hope that he will.

HUME: Why?

BUSH: Well, I like him. When he's over there, we get our votes through the House. We had a remarkable success of legislative victories. A remarkable string of legislative victories. We've cut the taxes and delivered strong economic growth and vitality. We've had an energy bill that began to put American on its way to independence.

HUME: You know a thing or two about Texas politics. What is your judgment of the prosecutor in the case, Ronnie Earle?

BUSH: I'm not going to go there, simply because I want — I want this trial to be conducted as fairly as possible. And the more politics that are in it, the less likely it's going to be fair.

HUME: Do you just — do you believe he's innocent?

BUSH: Do I? Yes, I do.

HUME: It was an evident decision after the election to try to be above the political fray. You came under a grueling attack on the use of pre-war intelligence, on the Iraq policy itself. And the response that — the administration was remarkably passive for a long time. Why was that?

BUSH: I just came off an election, and we're trying to elevate the debate and put politics behind and see if that couldn't happen. It didn't happen. But I've always felt like one of my jobs is to try to change the tone in Washington, D.C., to bring people together for the common good. To the best of my ability, it was just that dragging the presidency in the name-calling and the finger-pointing and the blaming — but no, you're right.

And we took a blasting and have begun recently to make the case in a more forceful way to the American people, first of all rejecting this notion that, you know, we lied about intelligence, reminding people that some of those people making those accusations looked at the same intelligence I looked at and voted for use of force in Iraq.

HUME: Tell me about the decision that was made to change all that, to make this set of speeches that you concluded today, and to fire back in the ways that you and others in the administration have been shooting back. How is that decision made, by whom, and what triggered it?

BUSH: Well, I think — first of all, I was ready to make the case for Iraq coming out of the summer because I'm fully aware that in a time of war, particularly when the enemy has got the capacity to confuse the American people and to frighten the American people through their brutality that I need to remind people about that stakes and the strategy to achieve victory on a regular basis. And the problem was that that strategy was derailed by Katrina. During Katrina, it made it very difficult to talk about anything other than Katrina.

And so it's like anything else in the public arena, you've got to understand the timing of how to take a message. And so the decision was made after my foreign trips — and remember, I was gone for quite a while in the month of November, as well — to come back here and to start laying out the case as clearly as possible, not only in a series of speeches, but punching back when we're being treated unfairly.

And one unfair treatment was this notion that we had misused intelligence, particularly by the people that looked at the same intelligence I had. Another moment during this debate came when some advocated a clearer timetable for withdrawal of our troops, which I think was wrong. And to me, it's been a very useful policy, a debate of honest difference.

HUME: You took a question the other day about Iraqi casualties.

And you used the number 30,000. First of all, why did you decide to take those questions after you made a speech, which presumably you were hoping might be the news of the day? And the second thing is, where'd you get the number 30,000?

BUSH: I thought about — the morning of the trip, I thought it would be kind of an interesting diversion, in a sense. In other words, people expect one thing, and sometimes to do the unexpected in the public arena helps draw attention to a speech that might — I can't say would've been ignored, but sometimes it's hard for me to burn through the filter.

Secondly, that was a number that's been floating around the public. You know, it was a number that was in the press. The 30,000 Iraqis, I must tell you, it's speculative. I don't think anybody knows the exact number. What's important for the American people to know is that our mission in Iraq is to target the guilty and protect the innocent. That's what you go over with precision weapons and good intelligence. The terrorists' mission in Iraq is to target the innocent.

HUME: It is widely said that there were some critical errors made in the early going, one of them being the disbanding of the military, the de-Baathification of the power structure over there. Do you regard those measures as having been a mistake?

BUSH: No question we made some, I would call them, tactical mistakes. For example, training up — I mentioned the training early, that we trained one group of people to fight external threats and one to fight internal threats, and the internal threats weren't trained enough to fight the threats that actually existed. On reconstruction, we wanted big projects right off the bat, as opposed to focusing projects on a regional basis that could have immediate impact on the lives of the people.

On the political front, we started out with a CPA we felt that should be there for 18 months, and basically tell the Iraqis what to do at the time and yet change, because it was apparent that the Iraqis wanted sovereignty sooner and that they wanted to run their own government with elected officials. And so our strategy has been the same. Remove Saddam Hussein, remove the threat and establish a democracy. Our tactics have changed, depending upon the conditions on the ground.

HUME: Can you say today that if you had known then what you know now about the weapons, that you would have made the same decision.

BUSH: I said it today, and I said it at the last speech I gave.

And I've said it throughout the campaign to the American people. I said I made the right decision. Knowing what I know today, I would have still made that decision.

HUME: Now if you had this — if the weapons had been out of the equation, because the intelligence did not conclude that he had them, it was still the right call?

BUSH: Absolutely.

HUME: What worries you most about Iraq and the potential outcome?

BUSH: That we lose our nerve. We can't — we can't be defeated militarily. And that the enemy has got the capacity to, and the willingness to kill innocent people and those pictures get on our TV screens.

And Americans say, "Well, we're not making any progress. We can't get there. Let's get the boys out before we complete the mission." It's not what will happen, so long as I'm the president. But that's what worries me the most, that we forget the stakes of the war on terror and that we lose our nerve.

HUME: And one last country, Iran.

BUSH: Yes. Well, it's a real threat. You might remember, I called it an axis — part of the Axis of Evil for a reason. I'm concerned about theocracy that has got little transparency, a country whose president has declared the destruction of Israel as part of their foreign policy and a country that will not listen to the demands of the free world to get rid of its ambitions to have a nuclear weapon.

HUME: So what do you do?

BUSH: Well, we continue to work the diplomatic front.

HUME: What's your objective?

BUSH: My objective is to, like it is elsewhere in the world — let me just start over. My objective is what I said in my second inaugural address: to end tyranny. And my view of a peaceful world is one in which democracies live side by side. Democracies are peaceful countries. And I also believe in the universality of freedom and therefore...

HUME: So for the current rulers of that country?

BUSH: I would hope they'd be wise enough to begin to listen to the people and allow the people to participate in their government.

HUME: Tell me about this room and how you use it, when you use it.

BUSH: Well, it's the Treaty Room — we're on the second floor of the White House. Right down the hall is Laura and my bedroom. On the other way, the other end of the hall is the Lincoln Bedroom and what's called the Queen's Room. This is an upstairs office. And I'll come up here to read my paperwork or to read a book or to make phone calls. I spend a lot of time in here. I'm either here or in the Oval Office.

HUME: So you're up here not only in the evenings, but in the daytime?

BUSH: Not during the day very often. You know, sometimes I'll come over here — say I get through nothing scheduled, say, at 4:00, I'll come over here between 4:00 and 5:00, 4:00 and 5:30, work on tomorrow's speech, for example, or tomorrow's policy initiative that I'm going to have to be prepared for, and then run upstairs and exercise before dinner.

HUME: And talk to me a little bit about — this room is redolent of past presidents. Are there any in particular these days, whether they're depicted in this room or not, that you think about a lot?

BUSH: Well actually, one of them is depicted here in this room and that's Abraham Lincoln. I think about Abraham Lincoln because — you know, some of my friends from Texas say, "Gosh, it must be a stressful time for you."

And if you really put my life in perspective, one, it's not stressful, but it's certainly not stressful to what a president like Lincoln went through. This was a man who was president during a Civil War in which Americans were killing Americans. And yet, during that time, his writings and his speeches reflected a man of great faith and clear vision. And so I think about him. I really do. My presidency's nothing compared to his.

HUME: What about your faith, sir? How is that a factor in your life now? The last time we talked, you indicated it was major central. Is it less so, more so? What's on your mind?

BUSH: I think once faith is central in your life, it stays central in your life. I read the Bible every day. The last time I think you and I talked, you said, "How often do you pray" and I guess my answer was, "As much as necessary," or several times a day, which is still the case.

People pray in different ways, as you know. There's structured prayer at a church service, there's prayer sitting behind this desk. I am uplifted by the prayers of our fellow citizens all the time, and that gives me great strength. People, I guess, speculate about the burden of the office. I feel my burden is lightened by relying upon a higher being.

Another interesting thing about the discussion of religion is that there's a difference between a personal relationship with an almighty and kind of this notion in some quarters of the world that some have God as directing policy out of the White House. And I just — I don't know what I brought it up, but it amazes me that it's even a point of conversation. And frankly...

HUME: Well there are people, Mr. President, that think that you believe that you are personally chosen for this office and this time to do these things. What about that?

BUSH: I think I was chosen by the American people, and I knocked on their doors an awful lot in 2000 and 2004. I believe that — you know, there's some people who believe in pre-destiny. My own personal faith is such that a personal relationship with the Lord is strengthens the soul, lifts the spirit. And I do pray that I, to the best extent possible, that God's will shines through me as an individual. But I don't subscribe to that God picked me over somebody else.

HUME: Let me get your thoughts, Mr. President, on — on how you think or hope you'll be remembered.

BUSH: You mean, just kind of a blanket statement?

HUME: Yes.

BUSH: I hope that first, as a person, I'll be remembered as a fellow who had his priorities straight: his faith, his family and his friends are a central part of his life.

Secondly, I hope to be remembered, from a personal perspective, as a fellow who had lived life to the fullest and gave it his all. And thirdly, I'd like to be remembered as the president who used American influence for the good of the world: bastioning freedom and fighting disease and poverty, by recognizing to whom much is given, much is required and that — that I wasn't afraid to make a decision.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EST.

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