WASHINGTON — A week ago, President Bush said in an interview with news service reporters that he wanted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to remain at the Pentagon for the administration's final two years.
On Wednesday, he said Rumsfeld was leaving, and he made it clear that he agreed there was a need for a "fresh perspective" at the Defense Department.
Challenged at a White House news conference about his show of support for Rumsfeld last week, Bush said he had given that answer because he had not had a "final conversation" with the secretary about the need for a "fresh perspective," though he as much as knew that a shift was coming.
Explaining his apparent dissembling, the president said he did not want to inject "a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign."
"The only way to answer that question and to get you onto another question was to give you that answer," he said to a reporter who took part in the interview.
Bush also said a week ago that the position of Vice President Dick Cheney -- who, with Rumsfeld, has been a leading architect of war policy -- was secure. "Both those men are doing fantastic jobs," he said then.
Before a reporter could finish asking Wednesday whether Cheney would be vice president for the next two years, Bush cut him off. "Yes, he will," he said.