See news analysis on A18.WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush, besieged by press accounts of his chief of staff's wide use of government aircraft, is looking into whether the White House travel policy should be changed.
Bush said his chief of staff, John Sununu, did nothing to violate the current policy on travel aboard government jets, but due to perceptions he wants the policy reviewed."It is appropriate to take another look at the policy because I want our administration to be above even the perception of impropriety," Bush told reporters Wednesday after the festering Sununu matter had refused to die for four days.
Bush said the review would be conducted by White House legal counsel Boyden Gray. Gray told reporters it was "very informal" and "won't take very long."
Bush, in his first public comments on Sununu's extensive use of government planes for personal, political and official travel, stood by his chief aide.
"I don't like this jumping all over Governor Sununu, when he has complied with the policy and he's made full disclosure. What more can you ask for?" Bush said. "He has my full confidence."
The Sununu controversy has plagued the White House since The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report magazine reported over the weekend that the official and his family had taken ski vacations and trips to their home state of New Hampshire as well as using the aircraft for official business.
The White House maintains Sununu did nothing wrong, that he was authorized to fly on government planes under regulations requiring him and the president's national security adviser to use military aircraft for reasons of communications and security.
For four trips Sununu considered to be personal, he has reimbursed the government at a rate equal to commercial flight costs plus $1, the White House said.
Sununu and the Republican Party reimbursed the government $47,044 overall.
But it costs $3,945 an hour to operate the 12-passenger C-20 plane that Sununu usually uses. Because of that cost, it has been estimated Sununu's trips have cost taxpayers more than $500,000.
Documents released by the White House showed Sununu had taken 77 trips on military planes from the spring of 1989 until last weekend.
Most of the trips, including visits to Colorado ski resorts and repeated visits to his home state of New Hampshire, were listed as official business.
Asked if Sununu had gotten a bum rap in news accounts of the travel, Bush said "I'm not saying what the rap is. But as one who's vowed to stay above even the appearance of impropriety, perhaps it is appropriate to review the policy."
He said he would "see whether it should be altered in any way."
Sununu, who has kept a low profile this week and has refused interviews, laughed off the matter in a brief encounter with reporters Wednesday.
"Anybody with a warm personality like I have has to go through these in life," Sununu said.