WASHINGTON — President Bush said Thursday that he won't give an opinion on the administration's destruction of CIA interrogation tapes until numerous investigations into the matter are finished.
"Let's wait and see what the facts are," Bush said during a year-end news conference at the White House. "Until these inquiries are complete, I will be rendering no opinion from the podium."
The tapes, showing harsh treatment of two terrorism suspects, were destroyed in 2005. The Justice Department is investigating the incident, as are the CIA and several congressional committees. Bush reasserted that he didn't know about the existence of the tapes or their destruction until CIA Director Michael Hayden briefed him earlier this month.
Bush covered a wide range of topics during his nearly hour-long news conference. He chided the Democratic-controlled Congress for passing a $555 billion spending bill Wednesday that he said contains 9,800 "earmarks," or pet projects that lawmakers seek for their districts or states.
He said that he instructed budget director Jim Nussle, a former member of the House of Representatives, to "review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill."
Bush was less forceful when he was asked about the status of democracy in Russia and outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin's apparent maneuvering to become the country's prime minister if, as expected, his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, is elected president.
"My hope, of course, is that Russia is a country which understands there needs to be checks and balances and free and fair elections and vibrant press, that they understand Western values based upon human rights and human dignity ...values that will lead to a better country," Bush said.
On the Iraq war, Bush said his military troop "surge" plan has succeeded in reducing violence. He challenged assertions that the central Iraqi government hasn't used the time to better organize itself.
"Are we satisfied with progress in Baghdad? No, but to say nothing is happening there is not the case," he said.
Bush steadfastly refused to engage in handicapping the 2008 presidential campaign, but he predicted that Republicans would retain the White House and add seats in the House and the Senate.
However, he couldn't resist getting in a good-natured dig at former President Bill Clinton's comment that one of the first things Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., would do if elected president is send her husband and former President George H.W. Bush around the world to help restore America's flagging image abroad.
"Well, 41 (the elder Bush) didn't think it's necessary," Bush said. "Sounds like it's going to be a one-man trip."