By TERENCE HUNT
AP White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) - Dan Bartlett, one of President Bush's most trusted advisers and his longest-serving aide, said Friday he is resigning to begin a career outside of government.
The move was announced on Bartlett's 36th birthday. He has been with Bush for nearly 14 years, from Bush's first campaign as governor of Texas, through two races for the White House and more than six years of a presidency marked by costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an ongoing battle against terrorism.
"His contribution has been immeasurable. I value his judgment and I treasure his friendship," Bush said in a statement. "Since coming to work for me fourteen years ago as I prepared to run for governor, Dan has become a husband and a father. I understand his decision to make his young family his first priority."
As counselor to the president, Bartlett has been at the center of White House decision-making, stepping into the public eye in times of trouble to defend Bush on everything from the unpopular war in Iraq to the government's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina and the Republicans' loss of Congress.
He is known as someone who has Bush's ear, one of few people who can give the president bad news or tease him about wearing a brown suit disliked by the White House staff and nicknamed Big Brown.
"He can talk to the president in a candid way, in sort of a family way, that almost nobody else can," White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten told The Associated Press. "He can talk to him about Big Brown, he can joke with him. He's got the Texas roots that make it possible for them to talk about characters in Texas politics or Longhorn football or Texas Rangers' baseball. He's been a good friend of the president as well as a counselor."
With the exception of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld'sresignation last November, Bartlett's departure marks the first major turnover in Bush's senior staff since a major reshuffling a year ago to reinvigorate the administration and overcome low poll ratings. Within a period of weeks, Bush had named a new chief of staff, treasury secretary, press secretary, CIA chief, budget director, and trade representative. Despite the changes, Bush a year later still remains near record lows in the polls.
Bolten said Bartlett's resignation, effective around July 4, did not signal a new round of changes as Bush moves into the final 600 days of his presidency.
With twin, 3-year-old boys and another son born in January, Bartlett said it was time to pursue a new chapter of his life and "reacquaint myself with my family." His wife, Allyson, had joked that they should name their newborn "Exit Strategy."
Bartlett said he was open to job opportunities and had retained Washington attorney Bob Barnett to help him in the search.
It is a point of pride with Bartlett that he is Bush's longest serving staffer - longer than even political strategist Karl Rove, another Bush confidant whose tenure was interrupted by work as a political consultant. Before teaming up with Bush, Bartlett worked for Rove's Austin-based consulting firm.
Bartlett said he would not write a book about his experiences, would not seek a political career in Texas and would not align himself with any Republican candidate in the 2008 presidential election.
"It's been a roller coaster that seems always to go up," Bartlett said of his White House years. "There have been extremely proud moments to see our country rise up during a time of national challenge."
He said he had no regrets about the Iraq war and he believes Bush's low approval ratings were the result of making tough decisions.
"Sometimes when you lead the country you do difficult things, that you're going to experience periods that are going to be rocky, particularly when it has to do with war and loss of life," Bartlett said.
"It will be one of those things, when I hang up the spurs for the last time, I'll be able to look in the mirror and say, `I know this president and this White House did what they thought was right.' And at the end of the day, that's all you can do."
Bolten said Bartlett had made "a big contribution on almost everything that's important. He's one of the two or three people under 40 whose judgment, I think, rivals anybody else's judgment in government today. The president has a lot of confidence in him, and everybody else around here does, too."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)