White House to Lose A Top Mouthpiece

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By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

White House communications director Nicolle Wallace, a voice for more openness with reporters in an often tight-lipped administration, will step down Friday.

The move, announced by the White House yesterday, was not part of the shake-up by new Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, but it has been anticipated since President Bush tapped her husband, Mark Wallace, in January to join the U.S. delegation at the United Nations. Nicolle Wallace has made no secret in recent months about her desire to join her husband in New York, although she said yesterday that she has not decided what she is going to do next professionally.

"I have been so fortunate to have been a spokesman for a man I believe in wholeheartedly," Wallace said. "It makes you choosy about" what to do next.

Press secretary Tony Snow said the White House had yet to choose a replacement for Wallace.

Although little known outside the White House, Wallace, 34, emerged in the second Bush term as part of a circle of younger advisers who pushed the administration to be less secretive and more aggressive in explaining its positions to the public. Along with White House counselor Dan Bartlett, Wallace urged the president to be more candid in acknowledging setbacks in Iraq as part of a new communications strategy aimed at regaining credibility with the public, Bush advisers have said.

"She injected a tremendous amount of realism" into the White House, said Wayne Berman, a longtime GOP strategist and Bush supporter. "Nicolle is someone who always saw very clearly what challenges the administration faced. She made those very clear and unambiguous. That made the deliberations and the communications strategy better."

Said Bartlett: "Its a sad day for me, and I know it's a sad day for the president. She's somebody who has the confidence and the moxie that the president wants in a top adviser. . . . She's been very persuasive in the halls of the West Wing."

Wallace has been with Bush from the beginning of his first term. She met many of her colleagues -- including her future husband -- during the 2000 election recount in Florida, where she served as press secretary to Gov. Jeb Bush (R). She oversaw regional media strategy in President Bush's first term before joining his reelection campaign as communications director. After the election, she was named assistant to the president for communications, which involved her in longer-term planning.

Despite criticism from outsiders that Bush brooks little dissent, Wallace said yesterday that the president has always insisted on an "honest assessment" from her and other members of his staff. "It's very hard to leave a president like this and a place like this," she said. "There was a feeling in some of the more challenging times that we were in it together, and I always sort of relished those sentiments."

She also challenged the common assessment that Bush has a poor relationship with the media, saying that despite "passionate disagreements" on certain issues, the basic relationship is cordial and productive. "There's a perception that there's more tension between the White House and the press than there really is," she said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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