Did the president of the United States make a rare admission on national television that he had told an untruth?
Or had he merely engaged in a dodge of the sort that is common in politics?
Journalists by nature shy from pinning the "liar" label on any political leader, but President Bush's acknowledgments that he had not been forthcoming about his plans to dump Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have kicked up a fuss at the White House and sparked a debate about the limits of presidential evasion.
Six days before the election, Bush told three wire-service reporters in an interview that Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney were doing "fantastic" jobs.
"You see them staying with you until the end?" asked Terence Hunt of the Associated Press.
"I do," Bush replied.
"So you're expecting Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld, to stay on the rest of your time here?" asked Steve Holland of Reuters.
"Yes, I am," the president said.
On Wednesday, the day after the election, Bush at a news conference said that "that kind of question, a wise question by a seasoned reporter, is the kind of thing that causes one to either inject major military decisions at the end of a campaign, or not. And I have made the decision that I wasn't going to be talking about hypothetical troop levels or changes in command structure coming down the stretch."
The president added that he had not made a definitive decision because he had not held his "last" conversation with Rumsfeld and had not yet spoken to Robert Gates, his nominee to take over the Pentagon.
Either way, the president lied. There are only two scenarios:
1. The president dumped Rummy post-haste post-election because of the national repudiation of the Administration's war policies and Bush lied when he said it was planned before the election, or
2. Bush planned to dump Rummy before the election and lied about it when asked specific questions by a reporter.
Either way, Bush lied.