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A relaxed Bush faces his 'ultimate exit interview'

But as he prepares to leave the White House, he also opens up more on mistakes and disappointments.

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At his final press conference as president, George W. Bush was by turns reflective, defensive, humorous, and nostalgic.

"This is the ultimate exit interview," Mr. Bush said near the start of his 50-minute appearance in the White House briefing room Monday morning. The president opened the session with a statement of appreciation for the role of the press. "We have been through a lot together," he said.

His responses to reporters were sprinkled with personal asides, kidding CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux about the preferred pronunciation of her name and ABC's Jake Tapper about the career path that led to his assignment covering President-elect Barack Obama.

Bush repeated his oft-stated hope that the president-elect would succeed. The president said he would ask Congress to release the remaining $350 billion in Wall Street bailout money before leaving office if Mr. Obama asked him to. Such a move would mean Obama would not have to start his term supporting the unpopular bailout. Noting that Obama would come in for criticism once in office, Bush said, "I hope the tone is respectful.... He deserves it and so does the country."

When asked about criticism that his execution of various policies, including the war in Iraq, had been flawed, Bush responded that "hard things don't happen overnight." He disagreed with the assertion that the standing of the United States had been diminished by his administration's conduct of the war on terror. "I strongly disagree that our moral standing has been damaged," Bush said.

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