White House chief of staff on Saddam: 'I think he is dead'
Spokesman says U.S. has no definitive proof
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said he thinks Saddam Hussein is dead, an assessment that an administration spokesman quickly described as speculation amid no hard evidence of what has become of the former Iraqi leader .
Card delivered his opinion Wednesday night during an online discussion on the White House's official Web site. He was the first administration official to take part in the "Ask the White House" interactive feature, and he generated headlines with his response to one question from "Casey" in Quincy, Massachusetts.
According to the transcript, Casey asked: "Is there any new information on the location of Saddam Hussein? And can the war be deemed successful in terms of eliminating the security threat to the United States and other countries if Saddam is not killed or captured?"
Card responded, "He is not likely to be in Quincy, Braintree, or my hometown of Holbrook. I think he is dead. The good news is that his regime is no longer a threat to the people of Iraq nor to the U.S. or our allies."
Card is a former U.S. transportation secretary and a native of Holbrook, Massachusetts.
An administration spokesman said Card was speculating, and that while many senior administration officials believe the Iraqi leader was killed during the war in Iraq, the United States has no definitive proof.
President Bush has said that he does not know what's become of Saddam. "I don't know the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein," Bush told reporters on Friday. "I don't know if he's dead or alive. I do know he's no longer in power."
Bush administration officials sought to downplay the significance of Card's remarks, emphasizing instead the fact that Saddam's regime had toppled and that a new government in Iraq would be forming.
White House spokesman Adam Levine said Card, who attends the president's daily national security briefings, was offering his honest opinion "that he thinks, he believes, he is dead."
Levine said, however, that the administration has no evidence that the Iraqi leader is dead.
During Wednesday night's online discussion on the White House Web site, Card took 17 questions. Many of them dealt with the war in Iraq, but some questioners wanted to know about Card's job, terrorism and life inside the White House.
On the last point, Card said, "The WH staff is not like the TV show -- running and bumping into each other all day. We do our work, enjoy being around each other and love serving this president. Long hours are NOT a challenge, but an opportunity."
And Card also made it clear that the economy was a priority for the administration. Asked to name the "biggest challenges" facing the White House in the wake of the apparent success in Iraq, Card responded, "Jobs, jobs, jobs and a continued focus on winning the war against terror."
--Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.