Rumsfeld Surprised by O'Neill Depictions of Bush
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that his experience in the Bush administration is "night and day" different from the one described in a new book former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (search) helped to inform.
Speaking at an afternoon Pentagon briefing on U.S. military operations that turned out to be in part a book review, Rumsfeld weighed in on the controversial new book that relies on hours of interviews with O'Neill, who left office a little more than a year ago.
In the book, "The Price of Loyalty," written by journalist Ron Suskind (search), O'Neill characterized President Bush as not being engaged during National Security Council meetings, calling him "a blind man in a roomful of deaf people."
Rumsfeld said he hasn't read the book, but he has worked with the president almost daily, and disagrees with comments by O'Neill reported in the media.
"What I've been reading about the book is so different from my experience in this administration. It's just dramatic. It's night and day," Rumsfeld said. "The perspective I have of this president, whom I have enormous respect for — his brain, his engagement, his interest, his probing questions, his constructive positive approach to issues — I see every day a totally different picture than the one being characterized in the press."
Rumsfeld worked by O'Neill's side in the president's Cabinet for 23 months, but the two have known one another for more than 30 years. Rumsfeld said he spoke with O'Neill twice — once to ask him about a possible tell-all book and another to express surprise that a new book was coming out.
"[O'Neill] said 'No, no, no, I'm going to write a book about policy and substance.' And I said 'Well, I'm relieved,'" Rumsfeld said recounting the first conversation.
During the second call, Rumsfeld said that he told O'Neill that he could not believe he was writing a tell-all book. But Rumsfeld added that he did not try to discourage him.
"I didn't ask him not to write a book. I didn't ask him to do anything," Rumsfeld said.
In a morning television interview on Tuesday, O'Neill said it was not his intention to be personally critical of the president in the book.
"I used some vivid language that if I could take it back I'd take it back," he said.
He also complained that the press had misreported many quotes from the book. Many questions have arisen about whether O'Neill's claims in the book are accurate.
For instance, in one episode described in the book, O'Neill claims to have attended a White House meeting in November 2002 in which Bush questioned whether to propose another round of tax cuts, asking his staff, "Haven't we already given money to rich people? Why are we doing it again?"
But former Council of Economic Advisers chairman R. Glenn Hubbard (search) and Vice President Dick Cheney's domestic policy adviser Cesar Conda, both present at the meeting, flatly deny that Bush ever made those comments, and Conda said his own notes from the meeting show that tax cuts weren't even on the agenda.
In the morning interview, O'Neill made clear that he is not the author nor the publisher of the book. He didn't write it and he has no economic interest in it, he said. However, he did review and fact check the book before publication.
The former treasury secretary concluded by saying that he would "probably" vote for the president in the next election.
"I don't see anybody that strikes me as better prepared and more capable," he said.
Fox News' Bret Baier contributed to this report.