WASHINGTON Fran Townsend, the leading White House-based terrorism adviser who gave public updates on the extent of the threat to U.S. security, is stepping down after 4 1/2 years.
President Bush said in a statement Monday morning that Townsend, 45, "has ably guided the Homeland Security Council. She has played an integral role in the formation of the key strategies and policies my administration has used to combat terror and protect Americans."
Her departure continues an exodus of key Bush aides and confidants, with his two-term presidency in the final 15 months. Top aide Karl Rove, along with press secretary Tony Snow and senior presidential adviser Dan Bartlett, left earlier this year.
Bush in his statement early Monday noted that Townsend had served in the position for more than 4 1/2 years.
"Fran always has provided wise counsel on how best to protect the American people from the threat of terrorism," the president said. "She has been a steady leader in the effort to prevent and disrupt attacks and to better respond to natural disasters."
Townsend, who at one point had figured in speculation as to who would head the then-new Department of Homeland Security, was a familiar face, often appearing to argue the administration's position on morning news and Sunday interview shows.
When Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold called on Bush to refrain from using the phrase "Islamic fascists" on grounds it was offensive to Muslims, Townsend explained the president's use of the phrase.
"What the president was trying to capture was this idea of using violence to achieve ideological ends and that's wrong," Townsend said at a news conference. "Regardless of what label you pin on it, it is this form of radical extremism that really wants to deny people freedom and impose a totalitarian vision of society on everyone, that we object to."
She had a high profile in the administration's recent response to the devastating wild fires in California, defending the White House reaction to the disaster as going "exactly the way it should be" and assuring Californians the federal response would be "better and faster" than its performance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's strike against the Gulf Coast states in 2005.
"This is not the end of federal assistance. It's just the beginning," Townsend said in connection with the wild fires.
Bush noted in his statement that Townsend prosecuted violent crimes, narcotics offenses, Mafia cases and white-collar fraud as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y. and as an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
No reason was cited for Townsend's departure, and there was no word on a successor.
Bush has seen a substantial revamping of the lineup of players on the team he brought to Washington as the just-elected president in a disputed election with Democrat Al Gore in 2000.
He saw longtime friend, aide and confidant Alberto Gonzales resign earlier this fall in the face of a convulsive uproar on Capitol Hill over the dismissals of a slew of federal prosecutors and in connection with the administration's warrantless wiretap program. And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld resigned just after the time of the 2006 elections in which Democrats, harping on a get-out-of-Iraq theme, regained control of Congress.