WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush said he was unaware if, during his eight-year tenure, al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was ever close to being captured.
In a farewell interview of the presidential couple with CNN's Larry King, Bush said he was "absolutely" certain bin Laden will be caught sooner or later, "because we have a lot of people looking for him."
Asked whether the Sept. 11 mastermind ever came close to being captured since U.S. forces went into Afghanistan looking for him in 2002, Bush said: "I don't know. I can't answer that."
Pressed by King, Bush replied candidly: "I really don't know. I'm not trying to hide anything."
As in earlier encounters with the media, Bush attempted to whitewash his spotted presidency, which some have called one of the worst in U.S. history, saying his Iraq policy was not a failure and that the United States did not torture under his watch.
"I am comfortable with what we did and it was necessary to protect the country," he said.
Bush admitted, however that one of the worst moments of his presidency came in 2005, during Hurricane Katrina.
"I think being called a racist because of Katrina was a low point. I remember people saying George Bush is a racist because of the response," Bush said, referring to a perceived slow federal emergency response to help thousands of New Orleans flood victims, mostly blacks.
But Bush, unfazed, repeated his claim that the government's response to the disaster "was pretty darn quick."
Two days before his farewell address to the nation Thursday night, Bush suggested he might announce further pardons, in keeping with tradition in the waning days of a presidency.
Prodded by King about the likely decision, Bush offered no further details, saying, "You will find out about it in due course."
With the country steeped in economic turmoil, he said he is sure his own personal financial accounts had lost money. His funds are in a blind trust and Bush last spoke with the account's trustees eight years ago, he said.
Bush told King he has "no earthly idea" how much he and his wife may have lost during the economic downturn.
He defended his administration's decision to provide a $700-billion bailout to shore up the financial industry.
"I am confident the steps I had to take were necessary to make sure the financial system didn't seize up so bad that we could have been heading into a much worse situation than we are headed into," he said.
As for President-elect Barack Obama, a Democrat, the Republican Bush said: "I do like him."
"I have been looking forward to the inauguration of Barack Obama. I will have a front row seat in what is an historic moment for the country," he said.
The outgoing president said he did not take it personally when Obama attacked his policies during the presidential campaign.
But his wife, Laura, unexpectedly snapped: "I did."
Asked whether she felt angry, the first lady did not quibble.
"Sure. Sort of. George didn't really know about it. He didn't watch it that much, I don't think."
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