As President Bush enters the final year of his presidency, he granted me and FOX News Channel’s Documentary Unit unprecedented access to his day-to-day world. The documentary will air this Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET.
I’ve really enjoyed working on this program. For starters, the footage you will see in this hour is historic and fascinating. We were given access to the president at his ranch in Texas, in the Oval Office during meetings, aboard Air Force One during his historic trip to the Mideast and in the White House residence that is rarely seen.
We visited the president’s ranch multiple times. With our cameras rolling, he drove me around for more than an hour, giving me a guided tour of landscape while he shared his thoughts on the war, the presidential race, immigration, family and faith. We started with a long interview outside of his office on the ranch and thought that might be all we would get. But, the president asked us to hop in his pickup truck and proceeded to drive me and one cameraman all over his 1,600 acre ranch.
He also took me on the same rugged hike that he walks with world leaders when he’s looking for a diplomatic breakthrough. It winds through the woods — over a few streams — until it reveals a huge dramatic canyon carved out of the limestone. The amazing thing is how quiet it is there. The president told me he’s had some of his most poignant moments — alone and with various world leaders in that very spot.
Our series of in-depth interviews with the president and his inner circle is generating a lot of news, too:
• Former Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend told me that the president has made abundantly clear that he wants Usama Bin Laden killed or captured before he leaves office … and describes, in detail, the president’s daily brief in the Oval Office.
“Once a week he's — he's getting an update on the hunt for Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda leadership,” Townsend, who left her position at the beginning of January, told me. “The president has made perfectly clear that he wants Bin Laden brought to justice before he leaves office.”
• Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice linked the Operation Iraqi Freedom to Iran’s decision to end part of its nuclear program involving the weaponization of nuclear material. She is the first Administration official to make that connection
“It's hard for me to believe that the Iranians were unaware of the fact that we'd overthrown Saddam Hussein because of an issue of weapons of mass destruction,” Rice told me. “I were teaching this in a political science course, I would have to say I think the Iranians — had to take those things into account in their decision making.”
Rice’s statement runs contrary to the National Intelligence Estimate which, President Bush told me, specifically credited only diplomatic pressure for Iran’s action. If Rice is right, it would arguably be a significant win of the President’s strategy for Iraq, and the Global War on Terror.
• White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten revealed to me that the NIE’s conclusions on Iran cause great concern among the leaders the President met with on his Mideast trip.
“I think pretty much almost every one of the foreign leaders with whom the president met in the Middle East raised concerns about Iran and about the NIE intelligence report that many had misinterpreted to mean that the United States thinks Iran is not dangerous.”
• President Bush conceded to me that he failed in his goal to be a “uniter and not a divider.” The president told me, “I'd say that I worked to be a uniter and it didn't work.”
• In a series of revealing and personal interviews, President Bush told me that as he enters his final year in office, the past President he thinks about most is Abraham Lincoln. And while the president says he doesn’t want people to think that he believes he’s “another Lincoln” he does likens his liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq to Lincoln's emancipation of America’s slaves during the Civil War.
• In a television first, we also sat in on a series speechwriting sessions for the State of the Union Address, which the president will deliver Monday night. In the documentary the president’s chief speechwriter, Bill McGurn, explains why the address is “the most edited 15 pages in America.”
• McGurn, a veteran of the Wall Street Journal and National Review, also told us that President Bush is the most exacting editor he’s every had.
“I've been edited by Bob Bartley [of the Wall Street Journal] and Bill Buckley [of National Review] and the president is by far the most thorough and sharp editor.”
It’s an hour that really captures the behind the scenes of the president’s day to day life — and looks ahead at his final year in office. I think, as someone who covers the White House everyday, it’s extremely interesting — and is definitely worth watching.