WASHINGTON Dan Bartlett, a member of President George W. Bush's Texas inner circle and an aide for more than 13 years, announced on Friday he is resigning as White House counselor effective July 4.
The most important White House insider to leave Bush's side since the resignation last November of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bartlett said he had decided to get a less demanding job so he could concentrate on helping raise his three young children all under the age of 4.
For the tall, prematurely gray Bartlett, who turned 36 on Friday, it has been more than six White House years of long days and weekend work. On vacations, he had to take along a device in order to hold a secure videoconference if needed.
The work is so relentless, he said, that his wife, Allyson, observed the other day that she was "one of the few people in America who wakes up to the tapping of a Blackberry."
Bartlett, who said he had been pondering his departure for months, started working for Bush in October 1993 in the future president's first race for Texas governor. One of his first communications crises was to handle the fallout when Bush accidentally shot an endangered bird on a hunting trip.
He stayed with Bush through another gubernatorial campaign and two presidential elections. As counselor, he was a key strategist on selling Bush's policy messages as well as an advisor to the president.
"His contribution has been immeasurable. I value his judgment and I treasure his friendship," Bush said in a statement.
"I understand his decision to make his young family his first priority. His most important job is to be a loving husband and father of three young sons. We wish him all the best," he said.
Bartlett's pending departure will follow that of some other aides such as deputy national security adviser J.D. Crouch, who chose to leave rather than ride out the rest of the president's term, which ends in January 2009.
"HELL OF A RIDE"
Bartlett has been so close to Bush that he is one of the few aides able to tease the president. Whenever Bush wears his brown suit, Bartlett would tell him "So you got Big Brown out today."
"It's been a hell of a ride," said Bartlett, who was at Bush's side on September 11, 2001, when al Qaeda attacks transformed his presidency.
Bartlett said he was leaving for no other reason than to get a job in the private sector and concentrate more on his family. He has retained Washington lawyer Robert Barnett to help him in his search.
"I've had competing families. And unfortunately, the Bush family has prevailed too many times, and it's high time for the Bartlett family to finally prevail," Bartlett said.
After a tenure dominated by the Iraq war, and with Bush under pressure to change course, the rest of Bush's presidency could be difficult.
Asked if he had any regrets about his time in the White House, Bartlett demurred. "A lot of us will have time to look back and look at decisions. I'm not going to spend a lot of time thinking about that right now."
His wife had given him a nudge back when their third son was born four months ago by suggesting the baby be named "Exit Strategy."
"I figured after 13 years and a lot of experience under our belt, this was a time to turn a new chapter in my life," Bartlett said.
White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten said he would search for a replacement for Bartlett, who has had unrivaled access to the Oval Office, and had already identified some candidates.