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In tough times, is Bush tightening his circle?

Writer says that the president has narrowed his group of advisers
/ Source:

Beyond the Iraq debate, the leak investigation, the poll numbers, are new reports of a strange rift between not just the president and the vice president but even the president and his own father.

According to administration sources cited by Jeff Kuhner of "The Washington Times" and "Inside on the News," the break with former President George Bush was spurred by an October interview with the "New Yorker Magazine," by Brent Scowcroft who was national security advisor in the first Bush administration.  "The president is convinced Mr.  Scowcroft consulted with Mr. Bush's father prior to delivering the devastating critique of the president's Iraq policy," according to the article.

The president's relationship with Karl Rove is not much better.  Mr. Bush had believed Rove's claim that he played no part in the leak of Valerie Plame's identity.  When facts suggested otherwise in the ramp up to Scooter Libby's indictment, the Rove/Bush relationship became tense.  Now, according to Mr. Kuhner's column, the president maintains daily contact with only four people.  His wife, his mother, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes.

Kuhner joined MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Thursday's 'Countdown' to discuss the article and the reported rift.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

KEITH OLBERMANN:  You write about the practical effect of the president's isolation.  But what about the isolation itself?  How severe are you being told it is?

JEFFREY KUHNER, "INSIGHT ON THE NEWS":   Well, what my sources are basically telling me is that the president is pretty much hunkered down in a bunker.  He feels profoundly betrayed by advisors and aides close to him.

As you mentioned on the CIA leak case, and also frankly on the war in Iraq.  What I found just surprising in talking to people at the White House, was just how deep that distrust went with the president.  Not just with Karl Rove but obviously with his father who, he's relied on quite extensively the past four to five years in terms of giving him domestic and foreign policy advice.

OLBERMANN:  The president had never, the knowledge of the general media, I suppose, sought the counsel of his father before going to war.  But I take it that it is no longer limited to that region in which they're no longer conferring.

KUHNER:  Well, that's, I think, one of the misconceptions from the article that came out on "Insight."  The president and the father still have a good personal relationship.  They talk to one another at family functions and so forth.  But what has changed is their professional relationship.

And that is sort of philosophical divide between Bush 41 and Bush, the current president, was really always there.

Keith, as you probably know, many conservatives, myself included, were very critical of Bush 41's policies.  We thought he made a tragic mistake in not standing up to Slobodan Milosevic when he was rampaging through Croatia and Slovenia.

We thought he had turned hit back on the democracy protestors in China and Tiananmen Square.  And we felt certain he made a key mistake in not toppling Saddam Hussein after expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

And I think George Bush, for the most part, agrees with that sort of conservative critique of his father and Jim Baker and Brent Scowcroft.  So this philosophical distance wasn't so spraying.  I think what has angered the president is that Brent Scowcroft would go out in public and give an interview to the "New Yorker" and attack the president in such a public and forceful way.  And obviously, he felt that this had to have the tacit approval of his father.

OLBERMANN:  Returning to this president and his river with Karl Rove, you describe it as tense.  But the president is still seen as regularly seeking Mr. Rove's advice.  That must be an extraordinary balance.  How is that working?

KUHNER:  Yeah, what my sources have been telling me is that about three or four weeks ago, when the really, the whole story really broke in terms of the CIA leak case and Libby was under, you've been indicted, and the frenzy in the press about whether Karl Rove would be indicted.  That the president felt profoundly betrayed by Rove.  He felt that Rove had sort of misled him.  In terms of not having spoken with Valerie Plame.

And apparently, he had taken Rove to the woodshed.  Really just reamed him out.  So personally, things have been tense between them over the last couple weeks.  But as another item "Insight" mentions, Rove really though is now back in the saddle.  The president and the White House people feel that as this investigation goes on, day by day, and they feel that although things with Woodward may have changed things now.

But at least until a couple days ago, the indictment of Libby was pretty much where Fitzgerald had fired his bolt.  I think now, people in the White House are saying that Rove has to get back to doing what he does best which is win elections.

And last week or so, he's been back actively plotting the GOP comeback in '06.