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 Home > News & Policies > September 2001
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 11, 2001

Press Gaggle
Ari Fleischer
Office of the Press Secretary

8:13 P.M. EDT

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Okay.  What I'd like to do is just try to give you a walk through of the President's day, what he did when he learned various pieces of information.  So this may take me a moment or two, but let me try to give you a good walk through.

     The President arrived just shortly before 9:00 a.m., at the elementary school in Sarasota, when Andy Card informed him, as the President finished shaking hands in a hallway of school officials, about the crash of the first plane into the World Trade Center.

     The President then proceeded directly into his hold and spoke with Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who provided him with that information, as well.  The President then went before you all, in the public event, for the first event with the small children.  And during the course of his speech to the -- his remarks to the children, Andy Card was notified about the crash of the second airplane.

     Andy approached the President, whispered into his ear, with the press before and the children before him, about the crash of the second plane. The President had been intending to make remarks about the first plane in that session, but he decided to wait until he could ascertain additional information, given the fact now that it was not one, but two, crashes, which was an immediate indication, of course, of the serious nature of this suggesting terrorism.

     Then, as you know, the President returned to his hold, received additional information from Dr. Rice.  Information was still very sketchy at that point -- this is shortly after 9:00 a.m.  And then the President proceeded -- the decision was made by the President that he would go and speak to the nation about what transpired.  You have the record of that. And then the President immediately departed for the airport.

     The President, upon arrival on Air Force One, called the Vice President.  It was the first of many calls that he and the Vice President engaged in at one point.  They had an open line between the two of them; the Vice President being here in the White House, the President, of course, being in what amounts to an air borne command center at times like this.

     The President spoke with the Vice President.  The President spoke with Secretary Rumsfeld, he spoke again with the Vice President to receive information and to give direction.  It was on the flight to Louisiana where the President authorized putting America's military on a higher alert status.

     The President continued to receive information aboard the plane and some of the information, for example, about a car bombing at the State Department; then the President was given the information saying that was an incorrect report, that erred.  The President was given information about the crash south of Pittsburgh; information continued to come in to the President about developments in this case.

     The Secret Service, of course, was analyzing the information that came in and the various rumors that were swirling and taking a very careful look to see what was fact and what was fiction.  The President arrived at Barksdal Air Force Base, proceeded to the conference room with General Tom Keck, and then made a series of phone calls from the General's conference room.  And he addressed the nation, as you know.

     In the course of one conversation with the Vice President the President said to him, "it's the faceless coward that attacks," which became, of course, the statement the President made to the nation.

     The President talked with Senator Schumer from the General's conference room.  He said this was, "a sad day for America; condolences go to everyone in New York."  He spoke again with Secretary Rumsfeld; spoke again with the Vice President.  He departed at approximately 1:15 p.m. for Air Force One in what is called an up-armored Humvee vehicle.  It's a camouflaged vehicle.  On the tarmac at the airport there were armed security police with dogs that were there when we arrived and when we departed.

     On the flight to Nebraska, the President again spoke with the Vice President.  He called the meeting of the National Security Council for 4:00 p.m., upon his arrival, instructed the Vice President to have all the proper people assembled.  He made clear that he wanted to get back to Washington as quickly as was possible.

     He spoke with Mayor Giuliani, and Pataki, together.  He said that, "Our sympathies are with you and the people of New York."  He said, "I know your heart is broken and your city is strained, and anything we can do, let me know and we will do."

     The President arrived at approximately 3:10 p.m. to the Command Center in Nebraska.  He had a one hour and five minute meeting with his national security team.  And during the course of that meeting, the President said -- at the very end of the meeting the President said, "We will find these people and they will suffer the consequences of taking on this nation.  We will do what it takes.  No one is going to diminish the spirit of this country."

     The President also, at the security meeting, stressed how grateful he was to have heard from so many world leaders who sent him written communications, standing with the United States and expressing their outrage at the terrorist attacks.  The President, on the flight home, spoke with Mrs. Bush -- he had spoken with her earlier in the day, too, upon departure from Florida -- said, "I'm coming home, see you at the White House."

     And that's the chronology.  And the President arrived back here, went immediately into the study just off the Oval Office, to work on his speech for tonight.  He met again with his national security team, and then he returned to the study to work on the speech.

     Q    Ari, can you rule out that there was any decision to shoot down the plane over Pennsylvania?  There are still continuing questions that the government may have decided that that was necessary.  Do you have any information about that crash?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have information about the cause of that crash.

     Q    But can you rule out that it was shot down by the U.S. military?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That would be the first I've heard of anything like that.  I have not heard anything like that at all.

     Q    At what point did the President really -- did the gravity of the attack on the government excel?  When did he hear of the Pentagon, the plane going into the Pentagon?  And did that change the picture for the President?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think the picture changed for the President immediately upon hearing of the second crash into the World Trade Center. I think when information came in about the first crash, I think the natural reaction was, was it a plane that went off course, what could this be, is this terrorism?

     As soon as Andy whispered in his ear about the second crash, there was no doubt in the President's mind.

     Q    Can you tell us a little bit about how the speech was put together?  And was it Condi Rice that sort of wrote it?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President, on the flight back from Nebraska, talked to several staff members on Air Force One about what he wanted to say.

     Q    Would that be like, Rove, Card, yourself?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It was -- I think at that point it was Andy and me. And we talked to Karen.  The President and Karen directly spoke.  The President conveyed to Karen what it was he wanted to say.  Mike Gerson and Karen wrote the remarks.

     Q    And what was his mood as the news continued to roll in?  And did he see -- at what point did he see the pictures?  Since he was in the air all the time, the things that rocked people as they saw picture after picture -- did he see those?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He was able to watch those pictures from the air. Terry, I've said this before about the President --

     Q    He could watch from the air?  I'm sorry.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, he could watch from the air.  I've said this before about the President, he is even-keeled at all times.  I have really never seen him get very high, very low.  He just has a steely demeanor.

     Q    Anger?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Resolve.  I mean, it really is a question of -- and you've heard it in his public statements today, that those who committed this crime on the United States will pay the price.  It's just tough determination and resolve.

     In the speech tonight, I think what you're about to hear is a message of reassurance and resolve.  In particular tonight, he wants to talk about the tragedy that has befallen people's families, those who have lost their lives.

     Q    Most Americans are just downright pissed-off.  Have you seen at any moment in him just sort of like a real gut-wrenching emotional reaction to all this?  I know  you're saying his resolve and that he's pretty even-keeled, but was there ever a moment where he really sort of showed the frustration I think that everyone is feeling?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Like I said, it was really steely resolve.  I mean, he's had a -- he had some tough words for those who did it.

     Q    Ari, why did he go out to Omaha?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And Louisiana -- I think you can ask that same question.  As I tried to give you a hint in my remarks about the Secret Service assessing various information that was coming in -- including one report that said that the plane that went down near Pittsburgh, went down near Camp David -- for obvious security reasons.

     Q    Can you give us any kind of sense of how close we are to finding out who did this or how long we think it might take to find out any information, that information?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, and I'm not sure that I'm going to be in a position to share that information as the White House and the intelligence team develop it.  You know, that information is obviously being collected now and it's something I wouldn't indicate publicly, especially.

     Q    Are there strong leads, Ari?  Are there strong leads as to who may be responsible --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Dick, tonight is not the night for the White House to talk about that.  The President's message tonight is going to be focused on the victims.  I think more on that privately later.

     Q    Can I ask you a question about this morning and about the rest of the week?  First, about the rest of the week.  What should we expect the see?  Where will the President be tomorrow and the rest of the week?  What will his schedule be like?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We're revisiting the President's schedule.  There will be changes to it that reflect the tragedy, of course.  And I think you can anticipate that he'll be in Washington for the next several days.  And we'll keep you advised as changes are made.  But the President's schedule is going to reflect the gravity and the solemnity of this event.

     Q    -- New York?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'll keep you apprised.

     Q    Would we be going too far if we said he's cancelled his public schedule for the rest of the week to focus on this?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That would go too far.

     Q    Okay.  And then this morning, when Andy Card told him about the first accident, was Andy Card or Condi Rice or any of those aware of the hijackings?  What did they know when they --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, at that point they were not.

     Q    What changes will we see, in terms of the security around government buildings and particularly around the White House over the next week or so?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, obviously, there has been a heightened state of alert throughout the government and I'll try to keep you updated to the best degree I can on the status of that.  But, obviously, the President has returned to Washington.

     Q    Two questions, Ari.  At what point did he decide to go to the highest alert, DEP CON alert?  And then --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, actually, DEP CON 3, it's not the highest.

     Q    At what point did he decide to go there?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The flight to Louisiana, mid-morning.

     Q    In mid-air?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.

     Q    And so that was made in mid-air?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Correct.  The President authorized the Vice President to make that happen.

     Q    Did it seem possible at that point that there were many more attacks?  Was that --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.

     Q    Were you ever told that -- well, I don't want to know where the daughters are if you don't want to tell us.  Is the President comfortable with where his daughters are, and are they separate or are they together?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has full faith in the Secret Service, in all that they do, for himself, for his wife, for his daughters.  And they were taken to a secure location, I can tell you that -- I can't tell you, obviously, where.

     Q    Are they together or are they separate?  Are they with any --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, they're separate.

     Q    Are they with any family members?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I really don't want to go further.

     Q    Okay.  And what about his parents?  Are they in a secure location?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to --

     Q    Okay.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  -- the government.

     Q    Ari, on which flight did the President watch the pictures?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  All flights.

     Q    On leaving Florida for Louisiana?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Louisiana to Nebraska, Nebraska back to --

     Q    Did he have any contact with congressional leaders during this?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He authorized a series of contacts with congressional leaders.

     Q    What does that mean?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That he told his staff and the Vice President to talk to the congressional leaders.

     He spoke to the New Yorkers today, and to --

     Q    Schumer and who else?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Schumer, Pataki, Giuliani, they each called him.

     Q    What about Mrs. Clinton?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated, they each called him.

     Q    Okay.  Did he come back to the White House because he was told by the Secret Service that there is zero risk, or did he take some risk in coming back to the White House?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President wanted to come back to the White House. He also takes into account the advice of the Secret Service.  But at this point, obviously coming back to the White House is the safe thing to do.

     Q    With so much focus on the victims in the speech as you've described it, what about options out there for the President?  What kind of resolve will he talk about in his speech?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He'll actually begin in three minutes, so you might want to --

     Q    Go and get our seats.

     Q    Ari, any idea how late we're going to be able to stay tonight, overnight?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me know what your request is and I mean, I think today is the day we try to help everybody, so let me know.

     Q    Ari, somebody might have asked you already, but the plan to move from Air Force base or move around, was that like an old prevailing plan for -- I mean, is that pre-existing, long held --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, there are, obviously, emergency plans that get taken off the shelf.  And you can presume what was done today was in accordance with emergency plans.  But the decision to go to Louisiana and then go to Nebraska were based on obvious security concerns that involved the situation and the President.

     Q    Thank you.

                               END                8:27 P.M. EDT

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