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Profile: John McConnell
John McConnell was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sean O’Keefe. [Source: Bill Ingalls / NASA]Sean O’Keefe, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, stops by Vice President Dick Cheney’s White House office for an unscheduled visit. According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, Cheney’s colleagues have learned to keep any impromptu sessions with him short and succinct. Yet O’Keefe spends more than 20 minutes with the vice president. Cheney is scheduled to meet John McConnell, his chief speechwriter, at 8:30 a.m. Yet McConnell is left waiting outside the office while the vice president is deep in discussion with O’Keefe. According to Hayes, while the topic of O’Keefe and Cheney’s conversation seems urgent at present, “In time, neither man would be able to recall what it was that had been so important.” [Hayes, 2007, pp. 328-330] O’Keefe is a former Pentagon comptroller, and had been a close confidant of Dick Cheney’s when he was the secretary of defense, in the early 1990s. He was also secretary of the navy from 1992 to 1993. [New York Times, 7/7/1992; New York Times, 2/3/2003]
Vice President Dick Cheney later claims he learns of the first attack on the World Trade Center just before 9:00 a.m. He has just finished an impromptu discussion in his office at the White House with Sean O’Keefe, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget (see (8:25 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). His chief speechwriter John McConnell has come in for a meeting, when his secretary, Debbie Heiden, calls in and tells him a plane hit the WTC. Cheney recalls, “So we turned on the television and watched for a few minutes.” However, journalist and author Stephen Hayes suggests Cheney learns of the attack earlier. He says that while McConnell is waiting for his meeting, O’Keefe comes out of the vice president’s office. McConnell gestures at a television showing the burning WTC, and “O’Keefe nodded; they had been watching the reports inside.” When McConnell enters Cheney’s office, “The small television on the other side of the desk was tuned to ABC News.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001; Hayes, 2007, pp. 328-330] According to his own recollection, Cheney is puzzled by the reports: “I was sitting there thinking about it. It was a clear day, there was no weather problem—how in hell could a plane hit the World Trade Center?” [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] He claims it is only when he sees the second tower hit at 9:03 that he realizes this is a terrorist attack, saying, “as soon as that second plane showed up, that’s what triggered the thought: terrorism, that this was an attack.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001; CNN, 9/11/2002]
John McConnell. [Source: University of Tennessee]While he is waiting outside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office for a scheduled meeting, Cheney’s chief speechwriter John McConnell has been chatting with Cheney’s secretary Debbie Heiden and the Secret Service agent posted at the door. They all see the news about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center on the television above Heiden’s desk. McConnell will later recall: “There wasn’t any kind of alarm. It was just kind of, ‘Oh man, look at that.’” The Secret Service agent then receives an urgent call from the agency’s intelligence division. According to McConnell: “He put the phone down and told me: passenger jet. And that’s when you go, Geez. And then you start getting a sick feeling. Because a passenger aircraft is not going to crash into the World Trade Center.” [Hayes, 2007, pp. 329-330] But, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, it is not until they learn of the second crash at 9:03 that nearly everyone in the White House realizes this is not an accident (see (Between 8:46 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35]
Vice President Dick Cheney sees the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live on television while meeting with his speechwriter John McConnell. He later claims that several other officials then come and join him in his White House office: National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, political adviser Mary Matalin, and his chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who has come across from the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House. [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, “As word of the attacks spread throughout the West Wing, many White House officials migrated to Cheney’s office.” As well as Rice, Libby, and Matalin, these include Sean O’Keefe, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget; Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff; and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 332] However, other accounts contradict this. Clarke claims that when he arrives at the White House shortly after 9:03, he sees the vice president and Rice, but the two are “alone in Cheney’s office” (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (It is possible, though, that the other officials only arrive after Clarke ends his brief visit to the vice president’s office.) [Clarke, 2004, pp. 1-2] In numerous interviews where she discusses her actions this morning, Rice makes no mention of heading to Cheney’s office after the second tower is hit. [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002; BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 ; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; New York Times, 9/11/2002] Also, according to some accounts, the Secret Service evacuates Cheney from his office shortly after the second attack occurs (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] Cheney claims that President Bush phones him around this time, while he is still in his office. [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] But according to White House adviser Karl Rove, who is with the president in Florida, Bush is unable to reach the vice president because Cheney is being evacuated from his office (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [MSNBC, 9/11/2002]
Dick Cheney heading to the the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Vice President Dick Cheney is taken by the Secret Service from his office to an underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House around this time, according to some accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, although other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from his office about half an hour earlier. [United States Secret Service, 11/17/2001 ; Newsweek, 12/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Hayes, 2007, pp. 333, 335] Cheney, who is in his office in the West Wing of the White House, is aware of the two plane crashes in New York and realizes this is a terrorist attack. He is now “watching developments on the television,” he will later recall, and starting “to get organized to figure out what to do.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001; Hayes, 2007, pp. 330-331] The Secret Service was informed that an unidentified aircraft was heading toward the White House at around 9:33 a.m. (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Concern about this aircraft prompted it to order the evacuation of Cheney “just before 9:36,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39]
Armed Agents Enter Cheney's Office - Four or five Secret Service agents carrying submachine guns therefore enter Cheney’s office, according to Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman. One of them, Special Agent James Scott, pushes through the group of government officials who are gathered around Cheney (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and tells the vice president, “Sir, we need to move you—now.” Cheney nods, indicating that he will respond to the agent in a moment, and then turns to say something to another person. But Scott brings down the flat of his hand sharply on Cheney’s desk and commands, ”Now!” [Gellman, 2008, pp. 114-115]
Cheney Propelled out of His Office - Scott then puts his hand on Cheney’s shoulder, grabs the vice president by the back of his belt, and moves him out the door. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 333] Cheney will comment that Secret Service agents “practice this, I’m sure, because… whether you wanted to move or not, you’re going. They don’t exactly pick you up and carry you. It’s more like they propel you forward.” [White House, 11/19/2001] As the Secret Service agents take Cheney through his outer office, the vice president manages to grab the latest issue of The Economist off a table. “I’m always carrying something in case I get hung up someplace,” he will explain. “I’ve got to have something to read.” [Newsweek, 12/30/2001; Hayes, 2007, pp. 333] Carrying the magazine but nothing more, Cheney is hurried down the hallway, past the Oval Office, and down into the basement of the White House. [White House, 11/19/2001]
Other Officials Left in Cheney's Office - The officials who were with Cheney are left in his office. Mary Matalin, one of Cheney’s senior advisers, will recall: “[S]peechwriter John McConnell and I were left behind in his office, staring at each other as if to say, ‘What are we, chopped liver?’ I think I actually said that.” [National Review, 9/8/2011] Cheney will arrive in the underground tunnel leading to the PEOC about a minute after he leaves his office (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). There he will learn that the Pentagon has been hit and talk over the phone with the president (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) before heading into the PEOC (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Hayes, 2007, pp. 335-336] However, according to some accounts, Cheney was evacuated from his office a significant time earlier on, around 9:03 a.m., when the second plane crashed in New York (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 1-2]
Anita McBride. [Source: American University]A large number of government employees gather at the office of DaimlerChrysler in Washington, DC, after being evacuated from the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and continue their operations there. [Automotive News, 10/8/2001; Politico, 9/9/2011] The White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to it were evacuated at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] After they left these buildings, many staffers went north to Lafayette Park, across from the White House, but were unsure what to do.
DaimlerChrysler Manager Wants Staffers to Come to His Building - Anita McBride, the acting director of White House personnel, calls her husband, Timothy McBride, who is vice president of Washington affairs for DaimlerChrysler and works at the company’s office a couple of blocks from the White House. “I knew he would know what to do even more than I,” Anita McBride will later comment, “and his immediate instinct was to bring everybody there” to the DaimlerChrysler building. Anita McBride tells her husband she is on the way to his office. She then gathers together the White House staffers who are around her and heads there. [Politico, 9/9/2011; National, 9/11/2011]
Equipment Set Up for Staffers to Use - Most of the DaimlerChrysler employees are leaving the building as the White House staffers are arriving. But before they go, they set up their computers, phones, televisions, and other resources for the White House staffers to use, and also order food for the staffers. Timothy McBride served as assistant to the president for management and administration during the administration of former President George H. W. Bush and, in that position, was responsible for many emergency procedures. “So I did have the benefit of being able to anticipate some of what the [White House] staff might need to carry on their functions,” he will comment.
Secret Service Secures the Building - After the first staffers arrive, other White House employees learn that their colleagues have assembled at the DaimlerChrysler building and go to join them. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Soon, 72 members of the White House staff have made it to the building, the largest number of White House employees currently gathered in a single location. [Politico, 9/9/2011] They include speechwriters, photographers, and people from communications, the National Economic Council, Cabinet affairs, and legislative affairs. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Members of the Secret Service lock down the building and ensure that only people with White House passes are able to gain access. Anita McBride calls the White House Situation Room and lets officials there know who is at the DaimlerChrysler building. Arrangements are then made for a few senior staffers to return to the White House (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
White House Employees Continue Their Work - The staffers who remain at the DaimlerChrysler building quickly set up operations and continue their work. The building becomes “a White House annex,” Anita McBride will comment. [Politico, 9/9/2011; National, 9/11/2011] Some of the staffers discuss how the government can continue to function, and put together checklists of the things various federal departments and agencies should do. [Bridgeland, 2012, pp. 5] Speechwriters David Frum, John McConnell, Matthew Rees, and Matthew Scully work on a speech for President Bush to deliver from the Oval Office this evening. They are assisted by another speechwriter, Michael Gerson, who is at his home in Alexandria, Virginia, but is able to communicate with them by phone. [Frum, 2003, pp. 117, 120; PBS Frontline, 7/7/2004; Draper, 2007, pp. 140]
Officials Consider How Previous Crises Were Managed - Ken Mehlman, the White House political director, instructs Brad Blakeman, the deputy assistant to the president for appointments and scheduling, and Barry Jackson, the director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives, to go on the Internet and research what, if any, significance the date of September 11 has in the Muslim world. Mehlman also instructs Blakeman and Jackson to research how former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan responded to crises during their presidencies. And he directs Logan Walters, the president’s personal aide, and Ashley Estes, the president’s personal secretary, to come up with a schedule based on how crises were managed during past presidencies. [Draper, 2007, pp. 140-141]
Staffers Stay at Building until Late Afternoon - Secret Service agents periodically brief the White House staffers on what is happening in Washington and elsewhere. The staffers will remain at the DaimlerChrysler building until about 5:30 p.m., after word is received that the president is heading back to Washington. The speechwriters will then go to the White House while the other staffers will go home. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Politico, 9/9/2011]
Entity Tags: Michael Gerson, Barry Jackson, Timothy McBride, Anita McBride, Matthew Scully, Matthew Rees, US Secret Service, Ken Mehlman, Brad Blakeman, Logan Walters, DaimlerChrysler, Ashley Estes, David Frum, John McConnell
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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