White House Rebuts Chertoff Exit Story

In two strongly-worded statements over the past three days, the White House denied my report from Administration sources that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff would be leaving his position in a short time.

Hours after posting my report about Chertoff on Friday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Trent Duffy sent me an e-mail titled, “You’re wrong on Chertoff!” According to Duffy’s response, “That nasty rumor is simply not true and it’s not fair. President Bush is glad Chertoff is a valued member of his team. The Secretary is doing terrific work at DHS in helping to make America safer and stronger.”

This morning at the regular early press briefing at the White House, I reminded Press Secretary Scott McClellan of his response to me in February when I asked whether the President had confidence in Chertoff and if he would remain in the Cabinet. (To that question, McClellan had replied: “Absolutely.”) When I asked if he would reply today in the same way about Chertoff and his continued tenure, the President’s top spokesman said: “Absolutely.”

Although such statements appear to put the question of a Chertoff exit off the table, there are many in the White House press corps who are not so sure. They note that last year, at a morning briefing, McClellan expressed confidence in another presidential appointee who was under fire and, at the afternoon session with reporters, he announced the same appointee’s resignation. His name was Michael Brown.