Bush Charts Course With Instincts, Advisers

ByABC News

Dec. 13, 2002 -- Below are excerpts from Barbara Walters' interview with President and Mrs. Bush, airing on 20/20. Click here to read more excerpts.

WALTERS: You have recently assigned Henry Kissinger to look into what conditions led to 9/11. And I had read that at one point you said to your wife, "Was I responsible for any of this? Should I have known more?"

PRESIDENT BUSH: I don't think whoever wrote that obviously hadn't talked to Laura and me, but look, first of all, I'm honored that Henry Kissinger, one of the great public servants of our country, has agreed to take on this assignment, which is to analyze, what was known, why other evidence wasn't known on the roughly decade leading up to September 11th, so that we can learn lessons from the past and better prepare for the future. That's what the commissioner is meant to do.

WALTERS:: You didn't feel that maybe there was more you could have done? …

PRESIDENT BUSH: Listen, if I'd have known al Qaeda was going to use an airplane to murder Americans, you can bet I'd have acted. And I would have done everything in my power, used every asset available to me to have prevented the attacks. Book it.

WALTERS: Is that the way he talks to you?

MRS. BUSH: Every once in a while.

Going With His Gut

WALTERS: You know you've talked in the Bob Woodward book, you said, "I'm not a textbook player. I'm a gut player. I rely on my instincts." Can you give us an example of where your insights were right or where they were wrong?

PRESIDENT BUSH: My instincts are that … here's my instincts … and they're consistent. If people, if a person does not respect freedom, if somebody is repressive, if somebody doesn't understand the value of freedom, that person is a failed leader right off the bat. That's an instinct. And so I make judgments based upon, many times based upon on a value system that I believe is true and universal.

WALTERS: Are you a gut player, an instinct player?

MRS. BUSH: Sort of, I guess. Slightly. Maybe not as much as he is, but you know, I think he has really good judgment, and nearly every time in our whole 25 years of marriage, when he's made a decision it's been right, and I know it. When you talk about instincts or that judgment, what you're really talking about is somebody who knows people and who understands people and who can really read people when he's with them, and he certainly can do that.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Let me clarify the decision-making process here. It might help answer your question as well. First of all, a president has got to have really good people around, and I do.

WALTERS: Even if they disagree.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Absolutely. I want them to disagree. And, you know, there would be nothing worse than to have everybody think the same thing about every issue. As a matter of fact, I'm the kind of person that stirs it up a little bit to try to get discourse. But I think the best decisions are those in which everybody feels very comfortable about expressing their opinions. So, I mean, when you say gut instincts, it is very important, though, when decisions are made that there be input from very capable people who are, who are encouraged to speak freely, and that's what happens in this White House. But a president is a decision maker, and once I receive input, I make up my mind. And I am not afraid to decide. And I listen carefully to facts, but as Bob Woodward reflected, if you'd asked I do have, I mean, I've got basic instincts that I trust, trust my judgment.

Advice and Comfort

WALTERS: Are you one of his most trusted advisers?

MRS. BUSH: Well, certainly not in foreign affairs or domestic adviser. I mean, that's not my expertise.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, she is one of my most trusted advisers.

MRS. BUSH: But of course we talk you know, our relationship is such that we are each other's advisers. Although I will have to say, neither one of us really wants to get a lot of advice from the other one.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Laura is a trusted adviser. She's got fantastic instincts. She's got great judgment. And she's not afraid to express her opinion, which I value. We've got a great marriage, and one of the reasons it's great is because we both can speak our mind in a way that's not offensive to the other.

WALTERS: Mrs. Bush, you have comforted so many people in this country in the last few years. If there should be a war, and your husband talks how about the decision is his, what would you say to the, the mothers, the fathers, the husbands, the wives?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I see military men and women everywhere all the time. I see the parents whose children have enlisted or serving already. I visited military bases in Aviano, Italy, and in Bosnia and here across the United States to talk about a "Troops to Teachers" program, about retiring military teaching. And every single military person I see around the country is very devoted to their job. And they know that when they signed up, that they are taking the chance that they'll sacrifice, and their family members are very, very proud of them. What I say to those people is that I'm so proud of them. They make me really proud to be an American.

WALTERS: Do you still have worries? Do you still have fears?

MRS. BUSH: Sure. I mean, you know, we have a lot of challenges in our country. We're facing something we've never faced before, something very different from anything Americans have faced. I have a lot of confidence. I have a lot of confidence in my husband, I have a lot of confidence in the American people; but, you know, there are moments when you wake up at night and say a little prayer.

WALTERS: You comfort each other?

PRESIDENT BUSH: You bet.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events