By: E&P Staff
Late Wednesday, word emerged in wire-service accounts that President Bush was not told about the brief security scare and evacuations in Washington, D.C., caused by an approaching Cessna until after the incident was over. The plane, with two men on board, turned away after violating the no-fly zone and coming within three miles of the White House.
Bush was bicycling in nearby Maryland at the time but with his usual security detail and communications system. The incident touched off speculation about who would have ordered the shooting down of the plane and how closely Bush was monitoring the situation.
Later it turned out: He didn’t know about the threat as it transpired. In fact, he didn’t know about it until 40 minutes after the threat expired. Yet the press had no inkling of this from Press Secretary Scott McClellan?s briefing at 1:15 p.m. Below are excerpts from his exchanges with reporters, along with his catch-up later.
Q Who was in charge, who would have made the call if this was at threat level red, too serious a threat to allow to continue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President was at an off-site location, and he was informed, and he was informed of the situation that occurred. And obviously, there are protocols in place for that, as well. But the President was being kept well-informed of the situation that was going on.
Q By whom?
MR. McCLELLAN: By his security detail that was traveling with him.
Q You don’t know if he stopped biking, or got in touch with someone, or —
MR. McCLELLAN: He was notified and informed about it by his detail, and like I said, that’s what I have at this point. He should be arriving here at the White House at any moment, and then we’ll have more information and we’ll talk about that at that point.
Q I think what we’re getting at is we’d like to know whether he was on the phone with somebody at the time that there was a red alert; whether he could have conceivably given a shoot-down order; or whether somebody was empowered to do that. I think that’s important because this is such a short time frame, you’re talking about something that’s within three miles of the White House.
MR. McCLELLAN: Right, David, I understand that, and I understand the question. I appreciate the question that you’re asking. But I — from everyone I’ve talked with, all those that were involved in this from the White House perspective, I didn’t get any indication that it came to that point.
Q Scott, you gave us a fairly detailed, minute-by-minute countdown of actions that were taken, the raising of the alerts. You also told us separately that the President was informed by his detail. Can you tell us where in that chronology the President was informed? After the code reached a certain level, or what have you?
MR. McCLELLAN: We’ll get you that information later in the day. As I said, the President is returning to the White House. But I wanted to get you what facts we knew at this point.
Later, in an “addendum,” McClellan released the following:
“The President’s detail was informed when the decision was made to raise the threat level at the White House to yellow. A determination was made that the threat posed no danger to the President since he was at an off-site location, and protocols were in place to protect people in the area of the threat. Those protocols did not require any presidential authority. Given such circumstances and the fact that the plane turned away from the White House, the decision was made to inform the President upon conclusion of his bike ride.”
He also said: “The president has great trust in his security detail. He was never in any danger, and the protocols that were in place were followed.”