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Ex-treasury chief takes aim at Bush in new book

WASHINGTON -- Former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, pushed out of the administration for not being a team player, says President Bush was so disengaged during Cabinet meetings that he was like a "blind man in a roomful of deaf people."

O'Neill, who has kept silent about the circumstances surrounding his ouster from the Cabinet 13 months ago, is now ready to give his side of the story in a tell-all book that paints Bush as a disengaged president who didn't encourage debate either at Cabinet meetings or in one-on-one meetings with his Cabinet secretaries.

To promote the book, which will be out Tuesday, O'Neill will appear tomorrow on CBS's "60 Minutes" in an interview with correspondent Lesley Stahl.

In an excerpt released by CBS, O'Neill said that a lack of real dialogue characterized the Cabinet meetings he attended in the administration's first two years.

O'Neill said that the atmosphere was similar during the one-on-one meetings he had with Bush.

Of his first meeting with the president, O'Neill said, "I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [Bush] on. . . . I was surprised it turned out me talking and the president just listening. It was mostly a monologue."

O'Neill is described as the principal source for the book, "The Price of Loyalty," being published by Simon and Schuster and written by Ron Suskind, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

In addition to interviews with O'Neill, Suskind drew on 19,000 documents O'Neill provided, according to CBS, which said Suskind also interviewed dozens of Bush insiders to flesh out his account of the administration's first two years.

In response, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters yesterday, "I think it's well known the way the president approaches governing. . . . The president is someone that leads and acts decisively on our biggest priorities and that is exactly what he'll continue to do."

Asked about the administration's opinion of the upcoming book, McClellan said, "I don't do book reviews."

O'Neill, the former head of aluminum giant Alcoa, did not immediately respond to phone messages left at his office in Pittsburgh. But in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, O'Neill said he hoped his inflammatory comments did not overshadow the substantive issues he discusses in the book.

"If the `red meat,' taken out of context, is all that people get out of this book, it will be a huge disappointment to me," he said. "Ideally, this book will cause people to stop and think about the current state of our political process and raise our expectations for what is possible."

O'Neill gained a reputation during his two years in the Bush Cabinet for frequently shooting from the lip with incendiary comments that shook up financial markets and antagonized Wall Street. O'Neill said he was just trying to discuss complicated public policy issues in greater depth than the television sound bites so often used by the typical Washington politicians.

O'Neill was fired in December 2002 when Bush shook up his economic team in search of better salesmen for a new round of tax cuts the president hoped would stimulate the economy.

O'Neill had publicly questioned the need for the cuts in light of growing budget deficits. He was replaced by John Snow, former head of CSX Corp., who became a staunch advocate for new tax cuts, which Bush signed into law in May.

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