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White House spokesman Fleischer to leave

By RICHARD TOMKINS, UPI White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON, May 19 (UPI) -- White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday he is resigning his position and would eventually enter the private sector.

Fleischer, known for his always-controlled responses to reporters' sometimes hectoring questioning, said he informed President George W. Bush on Friday of his decision, which appeared to be prompted by the desire to spend more time with his wife of 6 months, Becky.

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"My time has come to head into the private sector to pursue more relaxing endeavors and see more of my wife," he said.

Fleischer, who has spent some 21 years in politics and government-connected work, said the decision was a difficult one.

"It's a very hard thing to do," he said. "Leaving a man you deeply believe in is not easy; leaving the White House is hard, but I think in this business you really have to be guided by what s in your heart and know when the time is right, when the time has come.

"I never meant to be a government type."

He told United Press International it was a "happy-sad moment."

Later at a news briefing, he said his priorities had changed after his wedding.

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"You really do reach that point where your priorities really refocus and a wonderful part of my refocusing and priorities now is to see more of my wife," he said.

Before joining the Bush team, Fleischer was the spokesman for Elizabeth Dole during her 2000 bid for the Republican candidacy to challenge Vice President Al Gore. Before that he worked as a staff member on Capitol Hill.

Fleischer, 42, said his time in the White House was momentous given the events that have transpired since the 2000 election -- the balloting conundrum: the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and two wars. But he had no regrets, especially working for a president he admires.

Fleischer said the exact timing of his departure had not yet been set, but it would probably be in July.

"Whatever works best for the president," he said.

While planning to hit the speakers' circuit and write before finding work in the private sector, Fleischer said he plans to help in the president's re-election effort.

He told UPI he had meant to make the announcement to the media earlier in the day and had gone out to the South Lawn, where people were gathered in preparation for the arrival ceremony for Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, "but there was no one there."

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As word spread, his phone began to ring incessantly.

"Are you really leaving, Ari?" he was asked.

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm going to do," he replied.

Fleischer said he had not spoken to anyone outside the White House about future employment. He declined to comment on speculation about a probable successor.

Notice of his intent was given in the Oval Office, he said. The president, he added, knew something was up when Fleischer for the first time closed the door behind him after entering the office.

"He knew; he knew," Fleischer said.

He described the president's reaction as "sweet."

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