WASHINGTON, D.C.—Ari Fleischer, the Bush administration’s chief spokesman for the past three years, will resign in July to pursue opportunities in the private sector. Fleischer, who was married six months ago, said he had decided he could not commit to serve an additional four years—if Bush is reelected—and that this was the right time to step down.
Fleischer said he might want to do some public speaking and writing.
“I’ve always made decisions, career decisions, based on what was in my heart and what was in my gut, and I approached this the same way,” he told reporters at a White House briefing. “You just have to have a sense of when the time is right to make your decision about to serve or to go. And I made mine.”
But at least one aide suggested Fleischer might have burned out, telling The New York Times, “Ari has been through a tough election campaign, a tough recount, two wars and the anthrax scare. That’s more than five press secretaries go through…. It’s not an easy job, and he is beginning to feel it.”
Fleischer attracted plenty of controversy during his tenure, for misleading, stonewalling, and bullying reporters on behalf of an administration widely regarded as the least communicative in recent history. Most recently, he was criticized for defending the president’s decision to fly by jet to the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, claiming the trip was necessary because the carrier was hundreds of miles offshore. It later transpired the Abraham Lincoln was just 30 miles offshore, well within helicopter range, fueling suspicion that the jet had been requisitioned for photo-op purposes.
“The job of anybody who is the White House press secretary is to faithfully articulate what the president is thinking and why he’s thinking it,” he said. “The job of the press corps is to try to find out everything you possibly can about everything under the sun.”
Those mentioned as possible replacements for Fleischer’s include Scott McClellan, the deputy press secretary, and Victoria Clarke, the former Hill & Knowlton executive who was chief Pentagon spokeswoman during the invasion of Iraq.
Fleischer joined the Bush team during the 2000 presidential primary race, after serving as an aide to one of the candidate’s rivals, Elizabeth Dole. After the election, he became press secretary.