Bush says SEC probe will clear Cheney

Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush called Dick Cheney "a fine business leader" Wednesday and said he was confident an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into Cheney's former company's accounting practices would exonerate the vice president.

The SEC is investigating the Dallas-based Halliburton Co. when Cheney was its chief executive.

"That matter will run its course...and facts will come out at some time," Bush said.

Bush was asked whether he was confident the SEC would find that Cheney did nothing wrong. "Yes,I am," Bush said during a White House news conference with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Bush also sidestepped a question on his own business practices a decade ago as a director of Harken Oil Corp. Bush was investigated by the SEC on suspicion of insider trading in 1990, but that case was dropped.

Bush said his sale of stock "was fully investigated by career investigators" at the SEC. "The key document said there is no case," he said.

"The key thing for the American people is to realize that the fundamentals for economic vitality and growth are there," the president said, quickly changing the subject.

Despite a long-sliding stock market, "I'm an optimist about the future of this economy," the president said.

On other subjects, Bush:

-- Renewed his call for "new leadership" for the Palestinian people, but did not answer a question about whether a compromise could be reached to give Yasser Arafat a figurehead position in a new Palestinian government. Secretary of State Colin Powell has suggested he is open to the idea.

-- Vowed to keep up the pressure to hunt down al-Qaida terrorists, calling them "cold-blooded killers."

-- Praised Poland as a source of stability in the region, with good relations with both the West and Russia.

Bush drew two questions about his and Cheney's business dealings in the Texas oil business.

"I've got great confidence in the vice president. He's doing a heck of a good job. When I picked him, I knew he was a fine business leader and a fine, experienced man, and he's doing a great job," Bush said.

Congressional Democrats have said they may hold congressional hearings into accounting at Halliburton Co. when Cheney was chief executive of the oil equipment company.

Cheney has not publicly discussed his role since Wall Street's turulence and mushrooming business scandals have thrust the issue of corporate responsibility into the limelight.

A watchdog group, Judicial Watch, has filed a shareholders lawsuit alleging that Halliburton overstated revenue by $445 million from 1999 through 2001. The suit suggests that Halliburton's accounting practices resulted in an overvaluation of its shares.

The last time Cheney fielded reporters' questions was May 19 on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Throughout Bush's term, the White House press operation has generally reserved Cheney for events and policy announcements in which he has special expertise. He took a highly public role and did a series of interviews when Bush announced his energy policy last year. And when Cheney traveled to the Mideast in March, he held several news conferences and met every couple of days with reporters on the trip.