J Walking

I got back home tonight and went to what I thought was just a small book signing in DC. It was–with the exception that C-SPAN was filming it. It was fun to have a stage to myself and be able to read from parts of the book so important to me–the extraordinary encounter with Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady, for instance. It was also fun to answer questions from readers. As things progressed, I noticed a man walk in wearing a union t-shirt and a big “Teamsters” hat. He listened and leaned against one of the book aisles and raised his hand for a question. He wandered around for a bit but ended up asking, “Weren’t you fired from the White House?”

It was as if he asked me whether I was actually a cross-dressing Swedish bodybuilder (I’m not). I said no and he asked me if I was sure. I don’t think I could be more sure. I left because I’d lost heart for my job and needed out–besides, what White House would try to fire a guy who had just returned from having a brain tumor?

Let’s talk about this issue a bit more thoroughly. As I recount in the book, after returning from the car crash, the 9 1/2 hours of brain surgery, and the weeks of recovery, I was far less tolerant of the compassion charade we were perpetuating. The Oval Office account with Karl and the president (that no one has refuted), where the latter is comfortable telling an assembled group of African-American pastors a half-truth (at best), was a tipping point. Another tipping point was a program we were to launch on behalf of prisoners reentering society. The amount of money the White House wanted to propose (let alone what they would fight with Congress to actually get) would have spent about as much on each reentering prisoner as a kid spends on a Happy Meal. Jim Towey and I fought and didn’t get along–I recount that briefly but clearly in the book. But no one in the White House ever tried to fire me, and indeed, Towey’s boss, John Bridgeland, assured me in the fall of 2003 that I was wanted at the White House as long as I wanted to stay.

Let me quote from a few of the letters I received when I left. Karl Rove: I served “with grace and focus and terrific integrity.” WH Chief of Staff Andy Card: “Thank you for your great service…. It has been a joy to work with you in The White House.”

It was from Jim Towey that I got the most over the top letter: “The events of April [the crash, diagnosis, and surgery]… reminded me of the life of another 35-year-old man who was in full stride professionally when a health catastrophe engulfed him. He was told he had 3 (sic.) weeks to live, and his only hope was extreme radiation. He learned this sad news in late December and wrote to a friend as he headed to the hospital that he was off ‘to meet the New Year and to die.’ Well, he didn’t die, or we wouldn’t have otherwise known who Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn is….”

Later today, I will reprint a copy of my resignation letter in full so people can see the totality of what I said, and also what I purposefully did not say.

Let me get back to my “Teamster” for a moment. When I challenged the guy to tell me who told him I was fired, he said it was a “source.” Odd, I thought, but oh well. The rest of the conversation was great and I’m thrilled I did it–you can watch it on C-SPAN this weekend.

After all was said and done, “Bob” with the big “Teamsters” hat and I talked. He said he had been told about my “firing” by VP Cheney’s Chief of Staff. I’m thinking that maybe that Teamster’s hat was a not very good disguise! After all, the White House is known for many things–hanging with Teamsters isn’t one of them.

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