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Profile: Joshua Bolten
Joshua Bolten was a participant or observer in the following events:
CIA officer Ben Bonk briefs Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush on the threat posed by Islamic extremist groups, telling him that Americans will die in a terrorist attack during the next four years, and to highlight the danger, he shows Bush a mock briefcase bomb he sneaked into the meeting. Bush was recently selected as the Republican Party’s candidate for the 2000 presidential election, and it is traditional for the CIA to provide a wide-ranging intelligence briefing to the Republican and Democratic nominees during a presidential campaign, to prepare them for the responsibilities of the White House. John McLaughlin, acting deputy director of the CIA, has come to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to conduct the briefing, along with three other agency officials, including Bonk, deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Three of Bush’s senior advisers—Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Josh Bolten—also attend the briefing.
CIA Officer Says Americans Will Die in a Terrorist Attack - During the final hour of the four-hour session, Bonk briefs Bush on terrorism. He tells Bush: “I can say one thing for sure without any qualification: Sometime in the next four years, Americans will die as a result of a terrorist incident.” [CBS News, 9/1/2000; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 198; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 1-3] According to a book by CIA officer John Helgerson, Bonk specifically says that America’s next president will face “a terrorist attack on US soil.” There is then a “discussion of what certain scenarios could look like.” [Helgerson, 2013]
CIA Officer Says Islamic Extremists Are the Biggest Danger - Bonk tells Bush that numerous terrorist organizations are on the move, but the most dangerous are the Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. He says nothing these groups have so far achieved compares to “what lay in store for America and its allies if the terrorists succeeded in their quest for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear weapons, collectively known as CBRN,” according to journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald. Furthermore, Bonk says, “Al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, [is] the group most likely to succeed.” It has “the deepest pockets and the most far-flung operational networks.” If al-Qaeda or another terrorist group got its hands on CBRN weapons, Bonk says, that group “would show no hesitation in using the weapons immediately to murder as many Americans as possible.”
Bush Is Shown a Mock Briefcase Bomb - Furthermore, Bonk says that terrorists “could easily slip compact bombs into a crowd without raising suspicion.” To highlight the danger, he has sneaked a mock briefcase bomb into the meeting. Although the device contains no poison gas, it is otherwise a real weapon, built by the CIA based on a design seized from the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which killed 12 commuters in a poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995. Bonk let Bush’s Secret Service agents in on what he was doing, so they would allow him to take the mock bomb into the meeting, but Bush knows nothing about it. Bonk had the briefcase on the floor by his chair during the first three hours of the briefing and activated the mock bomb when his time to speak came. He now picks up the briefcase and carries it toward Bush. He pops it open and tilts it forward, so Bush can see the red digits of its electronic timer counting down. “Don’t worry,” Bonk says. “This is harmless. But it is exactly the kind of chemical device that people can bring into a room and kill everybody. And this one would be going off in two minutes.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 198; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 2-3] Bush is apparently unimpressed with the mock bomb. According to Helgerson, “Such show-and-tell devices usually intrigued individuals and groups being briefed, but [Bush] gestured to the effect of ‘Get that out of here’ and wanted to settle down to serious discussion.” [Helgerson, 2013, pp. 152]
Bush and Cheney in private discussion. [Source: Washington Post]Vice President Cheney, having just taken the oath of office minutes before, has a brief discussion of his new position with former Vice President Dan Quayle, who had served under George H. W. Bush. In 2007, Quayle will recall the discussion: “I said, ‘Dick, you know, you’re going to be doing a lot of this international traveling, you’re going to be doing all this political fundraising… you’ll be going to the funerals.’ I mean, this is what vice presidents do. I said, ‘We’ve all done it.’” Cheney “got that little smile,” Quayle will recall, and replies, “I have a different understanding with the president.” Quayle adds, “He had the understanding with President Bush that he would be—I’m just going to use the word ‘surrogate chief of staff.’” Bush policy director Joshua Bolten will later say that Cheney wants, and is given, a mandate by Bush that gives him access to “every table and every meeting,” making his voice heard in “whatever area the vice president feels he wants to be active in.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
The location of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. [Source: Space Imaging]Joseph Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, runs a training exercise for a number of senior White House staffers in which the staffers are made aware of and shown to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the White House where numerous government officials will go on September 11 to respond to the terrorist attacks. Josh Bolten, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, will later recall that at some time before September 11, “the other deputy chief of staff [i.e. Hagin] had run an exercise for a bunch of us on the senior staff of what happens in a crisis.” In the exercise, the senior staffers find out “who was supposed to go to the bunker [i.e. the PEOC]” in a crisis and they also visit the PEOC. Bolten will not say which staffers, other than him, take part in the exercise. [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013]
Exercise Possibly Held Shortly before 9/11 - He will also not say when the exercise is held, but presumably it takes place sometime after George W. Bush is inaugurated as president, near the end of January this year (see January 20, 2001). [BBC, 1/20/2001; CNN, 1/20/2001] It is possible it takes place just two weeks before 9/11: Mary Matalin, a counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, will write that “a couple [of] weeks [before September 11], I had visited this underground dungeon [i.e. the PEOC] for my top-level security clearance training.” It is unclear, however, if she is referring to the exercise Bolten describes. [Carville and Matalin, 2014, pp. 140-141]
PEOC Is a 'Nerve Center' on September 11 - It is apparently fortunate that Hagin runs the exercise for the senior White House staffers, since numerous government officials, including Bolten and Matalin, will go to the PEOC on September 11 to respond to the terrorist attacks. [CNN, 9/11/2002; Mother Jones, 5/24/2009] That day, the PEOC will be “the nerve center for America’s response to the unprecedented attacks,” according to the London Telegraph. [Daily Telegraph, 9/10/2011] As a result of the “pretty casual training” that Hagin conducts, Bolten will say, “I did know the bunker and knew where to go” on September 11.
White House Staffers Were Often Unaware of the PEOC - It is also apparently quite unusual for White House staffers to know about the existence of the PEOC. Steve Ricchetti, who served as deputy White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, will tell Bolten that during the Clinton administration, “it had been in some cases months and years before people were briefed on the existence of [the PEOC]… because nobody ever thought the US itself would be under attack.” The PEOC, Bolten will comment, “was kind of an artifact of the bygone Cold War era and of no particular use to a current White House.” [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013] Its use by government officials on September 11 will in fact be its “first test in an actual emergency,” according to CNN. [CNN, 9/11/2002] “[N]o one alive remembers using it for its intended purpose,” Matalin will write, “which only drew our attention to the fact… that [9/11] was a unique event in our nation’s history.” [Carville and Matalin, 2014, pp. 141]
Bill Young. [Source: US Congress]President Bush cancels plans to upgrade the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the White House where numerous government officials will go on September 11 to respond to the terrorist attacks.
Congressman Thinks the Upgrade is Unnecessary and Too Expensive - During the Clinton administration, as part of their efforts to improve the procedures for Continuity of Government, the military and the White House came up with plans for a secret, large-scale upgrade to the PEOC. In the first months of the Bush administration, early in 2001, these plans are shown to Representative Bill Young (R-FL), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The intention is for Congress to unofficially approve the funding for the upgrade outside the normal appropriations process, so as to keep the plans secret. Young, though, is unhappy about the project. He thinks it is too expensive and the scenario it is aimed at dealing with too unlikely. He consequently calls Bush directly and complains about it. Bush, although he is unaware that a plan to upgrade the PEOC even exists, agrees to cancel the project. [Graff, 2017, pp. 353] Josh Bolten, the White House deputy chief of staff for policy, will later describe the current indifference about the PEOC, commenting that before 9/11, the operations center was “an artifact of the bygone Cold War era and of no particular use to a current White House.” [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013]
Cancellation of the Upgrade Means Communications Are Poor on 9/11 - However, on September 11, the PEOC will play a crucial role. That day, numerous government officials will go to it to deal with the attacks. [CNN, 9/11/2002; Mother Jones, 5/24/2009] Consequently, the failure to upgrade it will apparently limit the government’s ability to respond to the crisis. Vice President Dick Cheney will find that, while he is in the PEOC, his calls to Bush keep dropping off and he will complain that the communications in the operations center are “terrible” (see (Shortly Before 12:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 19]
Center Was Created for Surviving a Nuclear Attack - The PEOC was set up during the Cold War to enable government leaders to survive a nuclear attack on the US. [Mann, 2004, pp. 295] Located under the East Wing of the White House, it consists of a main hallway lined with bunk beds, a large operations and communications room, a small executive briefing room, and a main command center. In the middle of the command center is a conference table, long enough for about 16 officials to sit at. A number of drawers around the table hold secure telephones. There is a row of chairs along the wall for support staff and two large television screens are built into the wall closest to the entrance. A locked vault door leads into the PEOC and people have to use a telephone to ask the duty officer inside for permission to enter. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 337; Graff, 2017, pp. 331-332]
Planned Upgrade Is Reportedly Richard Clarke's Idea - White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will claim that the plan to upgrade the facility was his idea. When he visits the PEOC around midday on September 11 and Cheney complains to him about the “terrible” communications, he will reply, “Now you know why I wanted the money for a new bunker.” “The president had canceled my plans for a replacement facility,” he will comment in his 2004 book Against All Enemies. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 19]
Steve Ricchetti. [Source: C-SPAN]Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, receives a phone call from Steve Ricchetti, who served as deputy White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration and who checks whether Bolten is aware of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the White House where numerous government officials will later convene to respond to the terrorist attacks. With White House chief of staff Andrew Card traveling with President Bush in Florida, Bolten is the acting chief of staff at the White House this morning. He has run the senior staff meeting and, after the meeting ends, returns to his office and sees the coverage of the first crash at the World Trade Center on television. Also, when he gets back to his office, Bolten will later recall, “the phone was ringing on the inside line on a number that I don’t think I’d given out to anybody.” “I probably wasn’t even aware I had an inside line,” Bolten will add. He answers the phone and finds the caller is Ricchetti, who he will describe as “a very nice guy who I didn’t know well,” but who had been “very kind to me in the transition.” Ricchetti asks Bolten, “Are you watching TV?” Bolten says he is and Ricchetti asks, “Do you see what’s going on?” Bolten says, “Yes.” Ricchetti then asks, “Do you know about the bunker?” [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013] He is referring to the PEOC, a bunker under the East Wing of the White House that is protected by vault doors and was designed to withstand the effects of a nuclear blast. [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Associated Press, 10/5/2010; Daily Mail, 10/19/2011] Fortunately, Bolten visited the PEOC during a training exercise and so he knows what it is and where it is located (see (Between February and August 2001)). After the call ends, Bolton will head to the White House Situation Room to see if he can find out more about the crash at the WTC (see (9:03 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Apparently influenced by his conversation with Ricchetti, he will later head to the PEOC and then spend much of the rest of the day there with Vice President Dick Cheney and other government officials (see (Shortly After 9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Ricchetti “did a very graceful thing in calling me and trying to alert me to [the PEOC],” Bolten will comment. [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013]
Josh Bolten. [Source: ONE]Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, learns of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and then, according to his own account, goes and tells National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice what has happened. With many of President Bush’s senior staff members, including White House chief of staff Andrew Card, traveling with the president in Florida, Bolten is the acting chief of staff at the White House this morning. He has run the senior staff meeting and, after the meeting ended, noticed the coverage of the first crash at the WTC on the television in his office. He’d thought the crash was a “freak accident,” he will later comment. “But then,” he will say, “the TV pictures kind of made me wonder.” Bolten went down to the White House Situation Room to see if he could learn anything more. The Situation Room, according to Bolten, “is supposed to be the information nerve center of the White House, where they are monitoring all of the TV stations, all the intelligence sources.” It is “where the Defense Department and CIA and everybody funnels in information to the president and to the White House.” After he enters the Situation Room, Bolten learns of Flight 175 hitting the second WTC tower, presumably seeing it live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “[I]t was at that moment that I realized this is not an accident,” he will recall. Bolten will say that he then heads into the conference area of the Situation Room, where Rice is conducting a meeting with her senior directors. After he enters the room, Rice says, “Here’s Josh Bolten,” and then starts introducing him to her senior directors. Bolten will say he gives Rice “the timeout signal” and asks her to step outside the room with him. He then tells her, “A second plane has hit; this is not an accident, it is an attack.” [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013] Rice, however, will contradict Bolten’s account. In interviews in which she discusses this morning’s events, she will make no mention of Bolten coming into her senior directors’ meeting. She will say she learns a second plane has hit the WTC not from Bolten but from her executive assistant, Tony Crawford, who comes into her meeting and hands her a note that tells her about the crash (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 10/24/2001; White House, 11/1/2001; BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 ; White House, 8/6/2002] Bolten will say that after he tells Rice about the crash, the two of them head upstairs to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and talk to Cheney there (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013]
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]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is informed of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center and immediately realizes it is a terrorist attack. Rice’s executive assistant, Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Crawford, informed Rice of the first crash shortly before 9:00 a.m. while she was in her office at the White House, but, Rice will later say, she had thought it was a “strange accident” (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Rice had gone down to the conference area of the White House Situation Room for her daily meeting with her top aides. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xi-xii] According to her own later recollections, a few minutes into this meeting, Crawford comes in and hands her a note saying a second plane has hit the WTC. Rice will comment: “I thought, ‘My God, this is a terrorist attack.‘… I knew right away, right away, because that—that couldn’t be coincidence that two planes had hit the World Trade Center that morning.” She gets up and tells Anna Perez, her communications counselor who is with her in the meeting, “Find Dick Clarke,” referring to the White House counterterrorism chief. [White House, 10/24/2001; PBS Frontline, 7/12/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002] According to Perez’s later recollection, Rice also tells the others in the room about the second plane hitting the WTC. [White House, 11/1/2001] After saying to her staff, “I have to go,” Rice abruptly heads out. [Newsweek, 12/30/2001] However, Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, will contradict Rice’s account and say that he, not Crawford, alerts Rice to the second crash at the WTC. Bolten will recall that he learned of the crash while in the Situation Room and then, realizing it was not an accident, walks into the conference area where Rice is holding her meeting. He asks Rice to step outside the room for a minute and then tells her, “A second plane has hit; this is not an accident, it is an attack” (see (9:03 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Vice President Dick Cheney, Bolten, and Clarke will indicate that Rice initially goes from her staff meeting to Cheney’s office (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC, 9/16/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 1-2; C-SPAN, 10/6/2013] But in her own recollections, Rice will make no mention of this, saying that she goes straight from the conference area to the Situation Room’s operations center, intending to assemble a crisis meeting of the national security team (see (9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002; PBS Frontline, 7/12/2002; BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 ; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Bumiller, 2007, pp. xii]
Josh Bolten, the acting White House chief of staff, heads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), a bunker below the White House, after seeing Vice President Dick Cheney taken there by his Secret Service agents. Although Bolten is the deputy White House chief of staff, because White House chief of staff Andrew Card is traveling with President Bush in Florida, he is the acting chief of staff at the White House this morning. He was with Cheney when Secret Service agents entered Cheney’s office and then hurried the vice president away to the PEOC (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, no one evacuated Bolten from the office. “You know, deputy chief of staff, you don’t have a Secret Service detail… nobody was watching out for me,” he will later comment. Fortunately, Bolten learned where the PEOC is located and that he was supposed to go there in a crisis during a training exercise (see (Between February and August 2001)). Furthermore, he was reminded of the existence of the PEOC by Steve Ricchetti, who served as deputy White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, when Ricchetti phoned him earlier this morning (see (Between 8:50 a.m. and 9:02 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, at some time after Cheney is evacuated from his office, Bolten makes his way down to the PEOC. [C-SPAN, 10/6/2013] The time at which he arrives there is unclear. According to notes taken by I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, Bolten is in the PEOC at approximately 10:00 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 4/5/2004] He will spend much of the rest of the day there with Cheney and other government officials. [CNN, 9/11/2002; C-SPAN, 10/6/2013] The PEOC, according to the London Telegraph, will become “the nerve center for America’s response to the unprecedented attacks.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/10/2011]
Michael Miller. [Source: US Navy]A number of White House staffers who are visiting New York make their way back to Washington, DC, following the attack on the Pentagon. About 15 members of the White House staff, including Joseph Hagin, the deputy chief of staff for operations, and Captain Michael Miller, the deputy director of the White House Military Office, are in New York conducting the “survey trip” for President Bush’s appearance at the United Nations General Assembly later in the month (see September 10, 2001).
Staffers Learn of Crashes while Visiting US Mission to the UN - Earlier this morning, they went to the US Mission to the United Nations for some preliminary meetings with the mission staff about the president’s forthcoming visit. In a conference room there, shortly after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), Miller informed Hagin of the crash. After seeing the early coverage of the incident on television, Hagin called the military aide who is with the president in Sarasota, Florida, to check if he was aware of what had happened. The military aide told him, “We’re on it.”
Staffers Taken to Police Station - After the White House staffers watched the second plane hitting the WTC live on TV, a State Department security officer told Hagin: “Sir, you need to get out of here as quickly as possible. There are reports of other planes inbound into the city.” The White House staffers were then taken by the Secret Service to a police station in Midtown Manhattan, where it was thought they would be safe. From there, Hagin called Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff for policy, who is at the White House. As the attacks were considered to be “just a New York incident” at that time, Hagin will later recall, Bolten and his colleagues decided that Hagin “should go down and be with the mayor, and… be the federal face in New York for the time being.”
Some Staffers Fly toward Nebraska to Meet President - The New York City police and the Secret Service had been trying to work out how to get Hagin to Ground Zero. But when the Pentagon is attacked at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), they decide that the White House staffers should return to Washington. The staffers are driven to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. There, they are split up. Eight of them, including Hagin, get on a military plane and head toward Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to meet the president, who has been taken to the base (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). However, as they are flying over Missouri, they learn that Bush has decided to come back to Washington (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, their plane turns around and heads to the capital.
Hagin and Other Staffers Return to White House - After they land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, the staffers are driven to the White House. The time when they arrive there is unstated, but it is presumably around late afternoon or early evening. At the White House, Hagin goes to work immediately. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/20/2003] As the deputy chief of staff for operations, he is a key member of the White House staff. He is responsible for the management and administrative functions of the White House, plans all of the president’s travel, and oversees the president’s schedule. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 10/10/2002; Washington Post, 7/4/2008] Hagin will recall that, after reaching the White House, he is “very involved in the continuity of government and just how, operationally, we were going to deal with this.” He will remain at the White House for the next two days. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/20/2003]
Dick Cheney in the PEOC, speaking to administration officials including (from left) Joshua Bolten, Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin (standing), Condoleezza Rice, and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]Navy Captain Anthony Barnes, deputy director of presidential contingency programs for the White House Military Office, asks Vice President Dick Cheney if the military is authorized to engage a suspicious aircraft that is approaching Washington, DC, and Cheney says it is. [White House, 11/19/2001; White House, 12/17/2001] Communicators in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House have received reports from the Secret Service about a suspicious aircraft that is presumably hijacked and is heading toward Washington (see 10:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41] Meanwhile, Barnes, the senior military officer on duty in the PEOC this morning, was called by a general at the Pentagon who wanted permission for the military to shoot down this aircraft (see (Shortly Before 10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). In response to the request, Barnes goes into the PEOC conference room to ask the vice president to provide this authorization. [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 141; Graff, 2019, pp. 164-165]
Cheney Is Told that a Suspicious Aircraft Is 80 Miles Out - He tells Cheney there is an unidentified aircraft approaching Washington that is not squawking a transponder code and is believed to be hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 4/16/2004; Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 3] He says the plane is 80 miles out and asks Cheney for authorization to engage it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41] “I posed this question to the vice president exactly the way it was posed to me,” Barnes will later recall. “I asked for confirmation on what I was being allowed to pass back to the general,” he will say. [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 141-142]
Cheney Authorizes the Military to Shoot the Plane Down - Cheney responds immediately and decisively, telling Barnes that fighters can engage the inbound aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 3] “Yes, take it out,” he will recall saying. [Foundation for Constitutional Government, 9/30/2014] But according to Barnes, he says, “If you can confirm there’s another terrorist aircraft inbound, permission is granted to take it out.” [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 142] Cheney will explain why he decided so quickly that the military could shoot down the aircraft, saying, “As the last hour and a half had made brutally clear, once a plane was hijacked it was a weapon in the hands of the enemy.” [Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 3] At 10:14 a.m., presumably as a result of hearing Cheney giving his authorization, a military officer in the PEOC tells participants on the air threat conference call convened by the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon that the vice president has confirmed that fighters are cleared to engage hijacked aircraft (see 10:14 a.m.-10:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42]
Officer Again Asks for Authorization to Engage the Aircraft - A short time after receiving Cheney’s authorization for the military to engage the suspicious aircraft, Barnes returns to the conference room to repeat his request. He says the plane is now 60 miles out and, for a second time, asks Cheney to give his authorization for the military to engage it. [White House, 11/14/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Gellman, 2008, pp. 120] “For me, being a military member and an aviator—understanding the absolute depth of what that question was and what that answer was—I wanted to make sure that there was no mistake whatsoever about what was being asked,” he will explain. “I am confirming that you have given permission,” he says to Cheney. [Graff, 2019, pp. 164-165] Again, Cheney agrees to the request. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 3] “Yes, if it won’t divert, take it out,” he says. [Foundation for Constitutional Government, 9/30/2014] According to Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, Barnes then asks Cheney to give his authorization for a third time. “Just confirming, sir, authority to engage?” Bolten will recall him saying. But according to the Washington Post, Barnes asks, “Does the order still stand?” Cheney, sounding annoyed, replies, “I said yes,” according to Bolten. But according to the Washington Post, he snaps, “Of course it does.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002; Hayes, 2007, pp. 338] After receiving the shootdown authorization from Cheney, Barnes goes and passes it on to the general who called him to request it (see (10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 142; Graff, 2019, pp. 165]
Bush Has Already Given Shootdown Authorization, Cheney Will Claim - Cheney will claim that he talked to President Bush about “rules of engagement” for fighter pilots and Bush gave his authorization for them to shoot down hostile aircraft during a call made before the vice president talked to Barnes about the issue (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 11/19/2001; White House, 12/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] “I had a conversation with the president earlier about what the rules of engagement would be with our airplanes,” Cheney will say. [Foundation for Constitutional Government, 9/30/2014] He will recall telling Bush, “We’ve got to give the pilots rules of engagement,” and recommending that “we authorize them to shoot,” and Bush replying, “Okay, I’ll sign up to that.” Therefore, Cheney will explain, when he authorized the military to engage the suspicious aircraft, he simply “passed on the decision the president had already made.” [White House, 11/19/2001] However, the 9/11 Commission Report will state that “no documentary evidence for this call” was found and some 9/11 Commission staffers will be highly skeptical about Cheney’s claim (see June 15, 2004). [Newsweek, 6/27/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41; Shenon, 2008, pp. 265] The first time Cheney talks to Bush to get his authorization for the military to shoot down hostile aircraft, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, will be in a phone call at 10:18 a.m., shortly after the vice president gives his permission for the military to engage the approaching aircraft (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41, 465; Gellman, 2008, pp. 121-122]
John Bridgeland. [Source: White House]John Bridgeland, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and two other government officials head to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, DC, where they discuss the government’s domestic response to the day’s terrorist attacks with FEMA officials. In the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, Bridgeland has been talking about the federal government’s domestic response to the attacks with Josh Bolten, the deputy White House chief of staff, and the two men have identified several questions that need to be answered. They want to know, in particular, how FEMA is responding. Bolten instructs Bridgeland to go to the White House Situation Room, grab Gary Edson, the deputy national security adviser, and then go with him to visit FEMA. Bridgeland and Edson are joined by Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, the director for combating terrorism on the National Security Council, and the three of them then head to FEMA headquarters.
FEMA Is a 'Blur of Activity' - Joseph Allbaugh, the director of FEMA, is currently away from Washington, having been at a conference in Big Sky, Montana (see September 8-11, 2001). But when they arrive at the headquarters, Bridgeland, Edson, and Gordon-Hagerty find the FEMA response to the attacks is already under way and Allbaugh’s staff is “a blur of activity.” Their dozens of questions are answered in detail by FEMA officials, led by Liz DiGregorio, the agency’s chief of staff.
FEMA Officials Describe Their Response to the Attacks - The FEMA officials, according to Bridgeland, say: “They had activated emergency operations to the highest level and had dispatched urban search and rescue teams, disaster medical teams, and disaster mortuary teams to New York and the Pentagon. They had deployed mobile emergency communications systems and were creating staging areas on the ground to manage the emergency response. They were also thinking ahead to what they should do to meet recovery needs—such as providing grants to first responders, public assistance grants, temporary housing, crisis counseling, help with funeral expenses, disaster unemployment assistance, and more.” The FEMA officials talk about using the US Army Corps of Engineers to help New York City remove debris, and they are considering ways of increasing the capacity of hospitals in New York. When the three White House officials leave FEMA headquarters, Bridgeland takes with him the “Emergency Declaration for the Release of Federal Aid to New York and Washington” for President Bush to sign. When they arrive back at the White House, Bridgeland gives this document to the staff secretary, who controls “all of the paper flow into the president.” [Bridgeland, 2012, pp. 6-8]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, is informed that Vice President Dick Cheney wants him to come down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), located below the East Wing of the White House. Clarke heads down and, after being admitted by Cheney’s security detail, enters the PEOC. In addition to the vice president and his wife Lynne Cheney, the PEOC contains National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, political adviser Mary Matalin, Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, and White House counselor Karen Hughes. Clarke can see the White House Situation on a screen. But Army Major Mike Fenzel, who is also in the PEOC, complains to him, “I can’t hear the crisis conference [that Clarke has been leading] because Mrs. Cheney keeps turning down the volume on you so she can hear CNN… and the vice president keeps hanging up the open line to you.” Clarke later describes that Lynne Cheney is, like her husband, “a right-wing ideologue,” and is offering her advice and opinions while in the PEOC. When Clarke asks the vice president if he needs anything, Cheney replies, “The [communications] in this place are terrible.” His calls to President Bush keep getting broken off. By the time Clarke heads back upstairs to the Situation Room, it is 12:30 p.m. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 17-19]
Laura Bush, the president’s wife, is driven, by members of the Secret Service, to the White House from the Secret Service headquarters in Washington, DC, and is then escorted down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House. [Bush, 2010, pp. 203-204] Bush was brought to the Secret Service headquarters this morning for her own safety (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 17; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136]
First Lady Reassured that No More Attacks Will Occur - There, she spent much of the afternoon “like most other Americans, glued to the television,” according to Us Weekly magazine. Bush was, however, “perhaps more at ease than the average American because her [Secret Service] agents were receiving news before it was reported on television.” Bush will later recall: “[A]fter some time, we started hearing from our agents that most of the planes [in US airspace] had been accounted for, fairly early in the day, I think, before they really started announcing it on television. So at some point we started feeling reassured that [a terrorist attack] wasn’t going to happen again that day.” After Bush and those with her learned that the president would be returning to Washington today (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Bush’s Secret Service agents decided that the first lady could go back to the White House.
First Lady Arrives at White House - At 6.30 p.m., she will recall, Bush gets into a Secret Service motorcade and is driven to the White House by Dave Saunders, one of her agents. [CNN, 9/11/2001; Us Weekly, 10/15/2001; Kessler, 2006, pp. 136; Bush, 2010, pp. 203] It is a short journey, as the Secret Service headquarters is just a few blocks from the White House. [Washington Post, 8/23/2009] Bush is driven along the deserted streets and then her vehicle goes at full throttle through the gate of the White House. She notices “[h]eavily armed men in black” swarming over the White House grounds. She then gets out of the vehicle, preceded by her Secret Service agents.
First Lady Taken to Underground Conference Room - Bush is “hustled inside” the White House, she will recall, and taken “downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal.” She then walks along the hallway below the White House to the PEOC, and is taken into the conference room adjacent to the PEOC’s “nerve center.” Those already in the room include National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, White House counselor Karen Hughes, and deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten. Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, are also there. Lynne Cheney comes over and hugs the first lady. She then whispers into the first lady’s ear, “The plane that hit the Pentagon circled the White House first” (see 9:34 a.m.- 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). This information, Bush will comment, causes a “shiver” to “vibrate down [her] spine.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 203-204] President Bush will join the first lady in the PEOC at 7:10 p.m., after he arrives at the White House (see 7:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Bush, 2010, pp. 137-138; Bush, 2010, pp. 204-205] Staffers who were with the first lady at the Secret Service headquarters went to the White House and then headed home at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002]
Conservative columnist Robert Novak gives a draft of his upcoming column, which outs CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson in the process of criticizing her husband, war opponent Joseph Wilson (see July 14, 2003), to lobbyist Richard Hohlt. Hohlt, whom Novak describes as “a very good source of mine” whom he talks to “every day,” faxes a copy of the Novak column to White House political strategist Karl Rove, one of Novak’s sources for Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff will later learn that Hohlt facilitated the conversation between Rove and Novak. Hohlt will confirm his action to Isikoff, who will write that by faxing the copy of the column to Rove, Hohlt is “giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to come.” Hohlt lobbies on behalf of clients such as Bristol Myers, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, and the Nuclear Energy Association. He is also a powerful fundraiser for the Republican Party, and will bring in over $500,000 to the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. Hohlt is also the head of an influential group of Republicans called the “Off the Record Club,” whose membership includes other influential Republican lobbyists as well as White House officials such as Rove and Joshua Bolten. While Hohlt will minimize the group’s influence to Isikoff, Isikoff will describe it as “help[ing] the White House with damage control.” He will describe Hohlt as “[a]n accomplished information trader [who] serves as a background source for a select group of Washington journalists—Novak above all.” One club member will say that if you want information to appear in Novak’s column, the best way to make it happen is to work with Hohlt. Isikoff will write that Hohlt did not know that Rove told Novak of Plame Wilson’s identity. “I was just trying to be helpful,” Hohlt will say of the Rove fax. [Newsweek, 2/26/2007] Novak will later testify that he “assumed” that Hohlt would not share the column with anyone, though he will admit to a “vague recollection” that “he had told the WH [White House] that there was an interesting piece coming out.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
As part of the shakeup of the White House staff for President Bush’s second term, Karl Rove replaces Harriet Miers as deputy chief of staff for policy. Rove, widely viewed as an entirely political official, now has a role in coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, even homeland and national security. The Washington Post’s Peter Baker will soon observe: “During President Bush’s first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it’s official.… [T]he new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[Rove’s appointment] reconfirmed and strengthened the sense that the Bush administration was deeply committed to maintaining the permanent [political] campaign as normal operating procedure in Washington. Not only would governing continue to be an offshoot of campaigning, but the master campaigner would now be openly in charge of governing—thus discarding even the pretense of a separation between the two disciplines.” Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “Empowering Rove in this way shows that Bush cares more about political positioning than honest policy discussions. Bush knows that Rove is neither an economic nor a national security expert; he’s simply an ideological strategist who has a history of bending the truth and using dirty tricks to get his way.” Rove’s predecessor, Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten, retorts: “Karl’s always been a very substantive contributor on the policy side. He’s better known for his political hat, but he knows how to take that hat off.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 246-247]
According to the White House, deputy chief of staff Karl Rove gives up his day-to-day control over the Bush administration’s domestic policy in order to concentrate on the upcoming midterm elections. The announcement comes on the same day as press secretary Scott McClellan’s resignation announcement (see April 20, 2006). Many observers believe that the internal shakeup has something to do with the ongoing Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and the upcoming trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). The shakeup is being handled by White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, himself a recent replacement for the departed Andrew Card. Rove will retain his title and his position as President Bush’s senior adviser. “The president and the new chief of staff said they wanted me focused on the big strategic issues facing the administration,” Rove says. Rove’s domestic policy duties will be assumed by Joel Kaplan, the White House’s deputy budget director. Rove’s recent mishandling of the White House’s failed attempt to “sell” the privatization of Social Security to Congress and the citizenry is also a factor in his reassignment, observers note, as well as his poor handling of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the failed attempt to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. Some Congressional Republicans believe Rove has too much influence within the White House, and is being distracted by the Plame Wilson investigation. The director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, James Thurber, says: “Karl Rove is a great guy in terms of developing issues for a campaign, but he’s not done well on advocating policy in a governance setting. The job is diminished, but he probably doesn’t mind that. He’s a racehorse in a campaign.” White House communications director Nicolle Wallace says Rove’s reassignment takes the White House back to its successful personnel strategy from the first Bush term: “We’re returning to the structure we had at the beginning of the first term. All that changes is that the management of the day-to-day policy process will be put under Joel. Karl will keep the high-yield strategic role that he’s always had.” But former Republican House member Vin Weber, a lobbyist who is close to the White House, says that Rove’s role in the White House will change little, and that the reassignment is largely cosmetic. “The notion that this is a demotion just doesn’t ring true to me,” Weber says. “He’s been the guy who wrote his own job description pretty much. I think that is still more true than less true.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) applauds the change, saying: “The White House has never separated politics from policy and that’s been one of the reasons for its undoing. Late is better than never, but the key for the White House will be getting a new person in charge of policy independent from Karl Rove who understands that policy is not simply politics.” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean calls Rove’s reassignment a “demotion,” and says Bush should have fired Rove over his role in the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005). [New York Times, 4/20/2006]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Vin Weber, Andrew Card, Scott McClellan, Charles Schumer, Nicolle Wallace, Karl C. Rove, Howard Dean, James Thurber, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joshua Bolten, Joel Kaplan, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who has faced an increasingly disbelieving and hostile Washington press corp in his role as Bush administration spokesman in handling the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 11, 2005), announces his upcoming resignation. Possible successors include Fox News commentator Tony Snow, former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, and Dan Senor, a former coalition spokesman after the invasion of Iraq, though Clarke says she is not interested in the job. President Bush says McClellan has had “a challenging assignment.” He adds: “I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity. It’s going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.” McClellan tells reporters that he has been considering leaving for weeks, ever since chief of staff Andrew Card announced his own resignation. “With a new chief of staff coming on board,” McClellan says, “it was a good time to make this decision. And three years would have been an awfully long time in this position. I’ve been at this for a long time and I didn’t need much encouragement to make this decision, even though you all [reporters] kept tempting me.” [MSNBC, 4/20/2006; New York Times, 4/20/2006] Neither Bush nor McClellan tell the press that McClellan did not decide on his own to leave, but was asked to resign by Card’s successor, Joshua Bolten. In his 2008 book What Happened, McClellan will write that he had indeed considered leaving his position, perhaps by July 15, 2006, but was taken aback when Bolten informed him the week before that he had made the decision for him to leave. “[T]his is a White House that is severely crippled and in need of change,” Bolten told McClellan. “One area that I have decided needs to change is your position.” McClellan will write that his first, emotional response was, “He’s ready to throw me to the wolves,” but rationally, he understands that Bolten is just making a decision he feels he needs to make. “I had been on the defensive too often since the Rove revelations in July” (see July 10, 2005 and July 10, 2005), McClellan will write. “A press secretary cannot survive for long under such circumstances.” McClellan will add that when he discusses his upcoming resignation with Bush, the president seems regretful that he is leaving, but McClellan is not entirely convinced of Bush’s sincerity, even when Bush tears up during their brief conversation. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 298-301]
Jason Leopold. [Source: CrooksAndLiars (.com)]Investigative reporter Jason Leopold reports that White House political strategist Karl Rove has informed President Bush and other high-level White House officials that he will be indicted as a result of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and will resign his position in the Bush administration when special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald makes the indictment public. Leopold says his sources include “a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee.” Rove has been stripped of his policy duties and is no longer deputy chief of staff, though White House officials claim the move is to allow him to focus completely on the 2006 midterm elections. Leopold’s sources say that a public announcement by Fitzgerald is not imminent, “despite the fact that Fitzgerald has already presented the grand jury with a list of charges against Rove. If an indictment is returned by the grand jury, it will be filed under seal.” Rove is said to have told White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten that he will be charged with perjury, stemming from his alleged lying under oath to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see October 15, 2004, October 14, 2005, and April 26, 2006). “We need to start fresh and we can’t do that with the uncertainty of Karl’s case hanging over our heads,” Leopold quotes one unnamed White House aide as saying. “There’s no doubt that it will be front page news if and when [an indictment] happens. But eventually it will become old news quickly. The key issue here is that the president or Mr. Bolten respond to the charges immediately, make a statement, and then move on to other important policy issues and keep that as the main focus going forward.” [Truthout (.org), 5/12/2006] Leopold’s reporting is incorrect; a month later, Fitzgerald will announce that he is not charging Rove with anything (see June 13, 2006).
Following the testimony of White House Security Director James Knodell to the House Oversight Committee, in which he admitted that the White House never conducted an internal probe of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 16, 2007), committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten asking why the probe had never been conducted. Waxman notes that “your senior political advisor, Karl Rove, and other senior White House officials were required to report what they knew about the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity, but they did not make any such report to the White House Office of Security; and [t]here has been no suspension of security clearances or any other administrative sanction for Mr. Rove and other White House officials involved in the disclosure.” Waxman observes that the decision not to mount an internal probe, and the decision not to revoke Rove’s security clearances, are “inconsistent with the directives of Executive Order 12958, which you signed in March 2003. Under this executive order, the White House is required to ‘take appropriate and prompt corrective action’ whenever there is a release of classified information. Yet Mr. Knodell could describe no such actions after the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity.” Waxman concludes: “Taken as a whole, the testimony at today’s hearing described breach after breach of national security requirements at the White House. The first breach was the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity. Other breaches included the failure of Mr. Rove and other officials to report their disclosures as required by law, the failure of the White House to initiate the prompt investigation required by the executive order, and the failure of the White House to suspend the security clearances of the implicated officials.” Waxman requests that Bolten provide the committee “with a complete account of the steps that the White House took following the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s identity (1) to investigate how the leak occurred; (2) to review the security clearances of the White House officials implicated in the leak; (3) to impose administrative or disciplinary sanctions on the officials involved in the leak; and (4) to review and revise existing White House security procedures to prevent future breaches of national security.” [Speaker of the House, 3/16/2007]
The House of Representatives votes to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Bolten and Miers have refused to testify to a House committee investigating the firing of several US attorneys. Many House Republicans walk off the House floor before the vote is cast, ostensibly because they want to work on reauthorizing the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) rather than deal with the contempt citation. Minority Leader John Boehner complains, “We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2008] “We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave.” [Think Progress, 2/14/2008] (Before they walk out, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attempts to disrupt the memorial service for the recently deceased Tom Lantos (D-CA), taking place in Statuary Hall just a few steps from the House chambers, by calling for a procedural vote during the memorial service. An MSNBC reporter says Diaz-Balart’s action is apparently the result of “pique.”) [MSNBC, 2/14/2008] The contempt citation will be forwarded to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The two resolutions passed hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, and allow for the House to file a civil suit against the Bush administration to compel the aides’ testimony. “I hope this administration will realize this Congress is serious about its constitutional role of oversight,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says she “had hoped that this day would never have come,” and adds that if the White House instructs Justice Department attorneys not to prosecute the contempt citations, “we will have power to go to federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
White House Conditions 'Beyond Arrogance' - The White House has already said it will not allow the Justice Department to pursue the contempt charges, claiming that the information is off-limits because of executive privilege, and that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution. House Democrats such as Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) had tried for months to work with the White House to win its approval for the aides’ testimony, but were unwilling to accept the White House’s restrictive conditions—investigators would not have been allowed to make transcripts of the testimony, to copy documents presented in the testimony, or to seek any more information after the single session. Pelosi said of the White House’s conditions, “This is beyond arrogance. It’s hubris taken to the ultimate degree.”
Republicans Say Testimony Would 'Undermine' Power of Executive Branch - Republicans such as David Dreier (R-CA) warn that such a case might “undermine the power of the first [executive] branch of government.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
Miller: Bush Attempting to 'Decide by Decree' - Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) says during the deliberations, “The president cannot decide by decree. The president cannot announce with absolute unreviewable authority what information the administration will provide or withhold. The framers of our Constitution had just fought a war against an autocratic king. It is inconceivable that they intended to create an executive branch with the power the Bush administration now claims and that the minority now supports.” [Speaker of the House, 2/14/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to refer a House contempt citation against two of President Bush’s top officials to a federal grand jury. The House has found former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas (see February 14, 2008), but Mukasey says neither Bolten nor Miers have committed any crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has, in return, given the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a lawsuit against Miers and Bolten in federal court. Mukasey says Bolten and Miers were right to ignore the subpoenas because both were acting at President Bush’s behest. Pelosi retorts: “The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.” Democrats want the filing to move swiftly so that a judge might rule before the November elections; a key tenet of Democratic political strategy is the accusation that the Bush administration has abused its executive powers and considers itself above the law. Bolten and Miers were subpoenaed to testify about the possible political motivations behind the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. Mukasey agrees with the Bush administration in saying that neither Miers nor Bolten, as officials of the executive branch, are required to answer to Congress for their actions, “The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege,” he writes. “Accordingly, the department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says of Mukasey’s decision: “Today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the committee’s subpoenas.” [Associated Press, 2/29/2008]
The House Judiciary Committee asks a federal judge to compel two White House officials to testify about the firings of eight US attorneys in 2007. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten have both refused to testify, ignoring subpoenas from the Judiciary Committee (see February 14, 2008), and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to enforce the subpoenas (see February 29, 2008). The White House steered the refusals. Judge John D. Bates, a federal district court judge in Washington, is overseeing the case. The suit says that neither Miers nor Bolten may avoid testimony by citing executive privilege, as both they and the White House have asserted. White House press secretary Dana Perino calls the suit “partisan theater,” and adds, “The confidentiality that the president receives from his senior advisers and the constitutional principle of separation of powers must be protected from overreaching, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) vehemently disagrees, saying, “The administration’s extreme claim to be immune from the oversight processes are at odds with our constitutional principles.” Conyers warns, “We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) calls the suit a waste of time and accuses the committee of “pandering to the left-wing swamps of loony liberal activists.” The case is central to the ongoing tension between the White House and Congress over the balance of power between the two branches. Constitutional law professor Orin S. Kerr says the case raises fresh issues. While the Supreme Court recognized executive privilege in 1974, it acknowledged that executive privilege was not absolute and could be overturned in some instances, such as a criminal investigation. No court has ruled whether a claim of executive privilege outweighs a Congressional subpoena. According to lawyer Stanley Brand, who is involved in the suit for the Democrats, the committee turned to the legal system to avoid the possibility of charging Miers and Bolten with contempt and trying them in Congress on the charges. Such an action, Brand says, would be unseemly. [House Judiciary Committee v. Miers & Bolten, 3/10/2008 ; New York Times, 3/11/2008]
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