WASHINGTON -- Dan Bartlett, one of President Bush's longest-serving, most trusted and closest aides, said yesterday that he will leave the White House to seek a new opportunity and a normal family life.
"I've had competing families," said Bartlett, 36. "And, unfortunately, the Bush family has prevailed too many times, and it's high time for the Bartlett family to prevail."
Bartlett and his wife, Allyson, have 3-year-old twin boys and a 4-month-old girl.
In a statement, Bush said he understands Bartlett's decision "to make his young family his first priority."
"Laura and I will miss Dan Bartlett very much. Dan has been a true counselor to the president," Bush said, referring to Bartlett's formal title.
Bartlett has immeasurable value to Bush as friend, fellow Texan and self-styled "'keeper of the record" of Bush's life, said Martha Kumar, a Towson University professor and expert on the presidency who has studied the Bush administration.
"He is losing a person who he trusted, who he listened to and who has a really important portfolio, damage control," Kumar said. ''His leaving reduces the number of people who can tell [Bush] what he may not want to hear."
The diminishing number of people who can do that within the innermost circle at the White House includes longtime adviser Karl Rove and chief of staff Joshua B. Bolten, Kumar said.
In addition to the family motivation, Bartlett has a financial reason for moving on. His value on the job market will decline as the Bush White House years move toward their end.
"A year down the road, nobody is going to be particularly interested in dealing with this administration," Kumar said.
Bartlett, who said he is unsure what he will do or where he will do it, earns $165,200 a year, considerably less than what a well-connected former administration official can make in Washington.
"It's very difficult inside jobs like this to truly understand what opportunities are there on the outside," said Bartlett, who plans to leave the White House early in July.
Rove said yesterday that Bartlett, like everyone who leaves the White House top staff, is not ''precisely replaceable."
"Dan is somebody who has a very good relationship with the president that allows him to be shockingly and sincerely direct," Rove said. "There aren't a lot of those."
Whoever replaces Bartlett probably will have a slightly different job description, Rove said.
Bolten agreed that Bartlett's "'relationship with the president allows him to speak with more candor and confidence than most people are at least inclined to do."