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Fleischer cites burnout as one reason for departure

'It is a very long and hard job'

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer smiles during Monday's briefing.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer smiles during Monday's briefing.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told President Bush he was resigning, the president looked at him and asked, "Burnout?"

"That's a big part of it," Fleischer said he replied, recounting for CNN's American Morning the moment this past Friday when he told Bush of his decision. Fleischer announced on Monday that he was leaving the high-profile post.(Full story)

"Well, there's no question about it," Fleischer said Tuesday. "The hours are long. Dealing with the White House press corps is both an honor and a fascinating experience and a hard thing to do at all times.

"So you have to examine whether or not you want to do it for all four years. And in this modern environment, no press secretary has lasted four years -- Marlin (Fitzwater) was the last -- and there's a reason for that," Fleischer said. "It is a very long and hard job. And you just have to know when it's time to be willing to pursue other endeavors."

Fitzwater worked as press secretary for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush from 1987 to 1992

By all accounts, Fleischer's decision to leave is voluntary.

The 42-year-old said he came to Washington after college to work for a few years and never intended to be a "government-for-life type."

He also said getting married six months ago was a factor. He expects to leave the White House in July.

"It can be a very grueling job at times," Fleischer said. "The hours are long and you have to look in your heart sometimes and say 'Do I have it in me to do another year-and-a-half?' And that's what makes it hard. I don't like to leave a man in whom I believe."

Fleischer said he would seek paid speaking engagements, write and do what he could to assist the president's re-election campaign. Eventually, Fleischer said, he would like to return to New York for a private-sector communications job.

Capitol Hill veteran

Born October 13, 1960 in Pound Ridge, New York

Graduated from Middlebury College, Vermont

Served as press secretary for Sen. Pete Dominici 1989-1994

Worked as House Ways and Means Committee spokesman

Fleischer was a veteran Capitol Hill spokesman when he signed on with the short-lived presidential campaign of Elizabeth Dole, now a U.S. Senator from North Carolina. He signed on with the Bush campaign after Dole quit the race, and served as chief spokesman for the Bush campaign and presidential transition.

In 28 months as White House press secretary, Fleischer has had generally positive relations with reporters, but there also have been periods of contention about access to the president and the credibility of some White House statements.

Asked Tuesday to cite his biggest mistake, Fleischer said there have been a few, but said he would leave it to the media to tell them.

"You know, it's a hard job. The press is great at trying to lure you out on to a platform that they can saw off underneath you," he said. "Being the briefer is kind of like playing intellectual chess ... That's part of the attraction of the job too, though."

Senior administration sources said Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan is the overwhelming favorite to step into the top job.

McClellan has been Fleischer's top deputy and is one of a handful of senior White House officials whose service to Bush dates back to his days as Texas governor.

-- CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.

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