In this special episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell speaks with Andy Card, who served as chief of staff to President George W. Bush on the day of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Card and Morell walk through the moment that senior officials traveling with the president learned of the planes striking the towers and the president’s reaction upon being informed the country was under attack. They also discuss the tense moments aboard Air Force One in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, as the U.S. government rushed to identify additional threats and to plot a course forward.
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Morell is curating a series of conversations with former senior American officials who had notable proximity to the tragic events of the day and its immediate aftermath. Morell, who served as President George W. Bush’s daily intelligence briefer and was traveling with the president on the day the planes hit the towers, will also share personal reflections and new details about the CIA’s race to provide answers and protect the country from further terror attacks. The series will launch the week of August 9 and run for five weeks, with its first episode premiering on August 11, 2021 and its final episode running on September 8, 2021.
- First learning of the attacks: “[T]he principal opened the door to the classroom and she and the president walked into the classroom. The doors shut. And I’m standing there and Captain Loewer came up to me and said, ‘Sir, it appears it was not a small 22 prop plane. It was a commercial jetliner.’ My mind flashed to the fear that the passengers on the plane must have had. They had to know it was losing altitude. But that was only for a nanosecond because Captain Loewer came up to me and said, ‘Oh, my God, another plane looks like it struck the other tower at the World Trade Center.’ And so that’s when my mind flashed to three initials: UBL. Usama bin Laden.”
- Informing the president: “As the students were reaching down under their desks to get their books, ‘My Pet Goat,’ which they were going to read with the president, that’s when I walked up to the president. He never turned around to me. He did kind of tilt his head to the right. And I leaned over and I whispered to him, ‘A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.’ And that was all I said to him.”
- Watching the towers collapse while aboard Air Force One: “We were able to have television communication a little bit on Air Force One and it would get spotty. But when the pictures showed the towers burning and you saw them starting to collapse, literally, no one talked. We were gasping. We were in shock. I think prayers were being said and we were just silent. And it was so tragic for us to witness, and we felt helpless, and it was a quiet, somber time. But it was also a period of resolve and we had to make sure we did everything possible to prevent any more attacks.”
INTELLIGENCE MATTERS PRESENTS: REMEMBERING 9/11 —ANDY CARD
Producer: Olivia Gazis
MICHAEL MORELL: Andy, welcome to Intelligence Matters. It is great to talk with you again. It’s been a long time.
ANDY CARD: Michael, I can’t tell you how excited I am to be able to be on this podcast with you and to share our experiences and memories together, so I have great respect for you and I appreciate the opportunity.
MICHAEL MORELL: You know, I remember, Andy, with great fondness, the many PDB briefings that you joined, the ones that really stand out to me are the ones where we had two President Bushes in the room; where we had 43 in the room, obviously, but those occasions when 41 was visiting his son, he would join us. And those were particularly special to me.
ANDY CARD: I share that same feeling. And, you know, 41 had a tremendous influence on 43’s expectations around the value of the intelligence briefings being in person. And, you know, many presidents just take them written on a piece of paper or whatever. The first President Bush made sure that the second President Bush understood the value of having an in-person briefing from the briefers.
And frequently there were other guests that would come in. And it really made a huge difference in terms of giving the president confidence in the intelligence community, but also in having confidence to make tough decisions.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Andy, you were President Bush’s chief of staff and as such, you were on Air Force One when it went wheels up on September 10th, 2001, for a trip to Florida to highlight the president’s education policy. I believe I was with you as his PDB briefer.
We started in Jacksonville, you’ll remember, with an event on the 10th, and then we flew to Sarasota for the evening and an event the next morning. And I’m wondering if you remember the first time you saw the president on the morning of the 11th.
ANDY CARD: Well, I’m going to back up and say on the 10th when we arrived in Sarasota, which was after the event in Jacksonville, it was dusk. And when we arrived at the Colony Resort, which was a tennis and golf resort in Sarasota, there was a terrible stench in the air that was overwhelming when we got out of the limousines because it was the red tide had washed dead fish up on the beach – and it kind of stunk. And I remember being struck by that.
We then went in and dropped our luggage off inside the Colony Resort and then went back out and got in limousines and drove off to Tampa to have a very nice dinner, which was not a working dinner for the president. And so he had a good time and actually stayed out late. And, you know, President Bush used to like to get to bed pretty early, but he actually stayed up later than originally scheduled that night because he was having fun. And I remember as we were getting ready to go to bed, I said, ‘Tomorrow’s going to be an easy day. It’s your favorite topic: Leave No Child Behind in education. It should be a great day.’ And he went off to bed and I went to my office and to my room and did some chief of staff type work and then got up very early in the morning on September 11th, 2001, and woke to a spectacular day; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky in the lower 48.
And I went outside to check on the advance team and see what they were doing with the Secret Service and motorcades and all that kind of stuff. And it was pretty early and I was still struck by the terrible stench of the red tide. And I knew the president was going to go out for a jog. So I tracked down the doctor and said, ‘Is the president going to get sick if he exerts himself running four and a half miles on the golf course?’ And of course, the doctor said, ‘No, he’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.’ And then I went in and saw the president as he was getting ready to go for this run, and he invited a reporter to go running with some guy named “Stretch” – Dick “Stretch” Kyle. And he found out that “Stretch” Kyle had been an NCAA all-American cross-country runner.
MICHAEL MORELL: Oh, no.
ANDY CARD: And so he was paranoid about having invited this guy to go running. The Bushes, you know, they like to win at every game so they even don’t let the grandkids beat them at Checkers. And he was completely preoccupied that he invited “Stretch” Kyle to go for a run and he was worried how he would do. And I remember as he was getting ready to go out to run, I said, ‘Oh, by the way, I checked with the doctor and the red tide stench won’t, shouldn’t impact you while you’re running.’
And he looks at me. He didn’t say anything. Just looked at me like, ‘You’re an idiot.’ And he ran out for the run with “Stretch” Kyle and I went back to my room and did chief of staff type work getting things ready.
He came back from the run. He felt really good about himself. He was doing kind of the George W. Bush strut because he beat “Stretch” Kyle and he ran seven minutes and 20 seconds per mile average for the four and a half miles. So he did pretty well and he was full of himself. But it was projected to be a really easy day and he was looking forward to it.
MICHAEL MORELL: You were in the PDB briefing that morning, as you were every morning. There’s a conspiracy theory out there I want to keep batting down time that comes up, which is that there was something the PDB that morning about a terrorist attack on the United States and I keep telling everybody, ‘No there was not.’ But now I have you with me and you can set the record straight.
ANDY CARD: Well, that’s how I remember it, and I’m hope I’m not putting anything that’s classified out there, but I remember a discussion about Israel and, yes, some of the problems in the Middle East. But I do not remember any discussions about UBL, as we call him, Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida. And I don’t remember anything jumping out at me that would say your hair should be on fire
MICHAEL MORELL: Exactly.
ANDY CARD: Kind of routine.
MICHAEL MORELL: Yep. Yes, very routine. So you rode with the president from the hotel to Booker Elementary, is that right?
ANDY CARD: I did.
MICHAEL MORELL: And is that when you heard about the first plane?
ANDY CARD: Well, there were two people, Dan Bartlett and Karl Rove, who said as we were getting into the limousines, ‘Did anybody hear about a plane crash in New York City?’ So that was what I first heard, and I believe the president first heard about it.
Now, when we arrived at the school, he did go right to the secure phone in the room that had been turned into a White House command center. And he went to a secure phone and called back to the White House and spoke to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. I did not listen to that conversation, so I don’t know what she reported.
I went into the classroom to see if it was ready for the president. I did see the second graders were lining up. The teacher was with them and they were all so well-behaved lining up to come into the classroom.
I saw the press pool gathering with Ari Fleischer and the press pool was not well-behaved, but Ari Fleischer was trying to herd them into the classroom. I checked the classroom out to see if it was all set.. I did find a misspelled word on a bulletin board and I said, ‘Let’s get something to cover up that word.’ I didn’t want a Dan Quayle ‘potato’ moment. And then I walked into the holding room where the president was standing with the principal of the school.
And I was standing at the door with the president and the principal when Navy Captain Deb Loewer, who was the acting national security adviser on the trip and the director of the White House Situation Room, came up to the president, said, ‘Sir, it appears a small twin engine prop plane crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York City.’ And the president, the principal and I had the same reaction was kind of, ‘Oh, what a bad accident. The pilot must have had a heart attack or something.’ That’s what we thought. And actually, somebody verbalized it.
And then the principal opened the door to the classroom and she and the president walked into the classroom. The doors shut. And I’m standing there and Captain Loewer came up to me and said, ‘Sir, it appears it was not a small 22 prop plane. It was a commercial jetliner.’ My mind flashed to the fear that the passengers on the plane must have had. They had to know it was losing altitude. But that was only for a nanosecond because Captain Loewer came up to me and said, ‘Oh, my God, another plane looks like it struck the other tower at the World Trade Center.’ And so that’s when my mind flashed to three initials: UBL. Usama bin Laden.
I knew about al Qaeda, I knew about UBL, and I knew about the attack on the World Trade Center in early 1993. And so I then performed the test that chiefs of staff have to perform all the time, every day. ‘Does the president need to know?’ This was an easy test to pass: Yes. And I formulated in my mind what I would say to him. But I also was going to be careful because I presumed he was sitting under a boom microphone and I didn’t want him to have a conversation with me.
So I decided to pass on two facts and make one obvious editorial comment, but to do nothing to invite a dialogue. I opened the door to the classroom after I thought about what I would say to him, and I noticed that the president was very attentive to the second grade students and the teacher was conducting the dialogue between the students and the president. I didn’t want to interrupt that dialogue. You know, it was, ‘Good morning, Mr. President.’ ‘Good morning.’ Back and forth. And so I stood there and Ann Compton in the press pool, ABC reporter, saw me enter the room – and I came in from behind the president, so he did not see me come into the room. And it was unusual for me to enter a room after the president had come in. It was certainly unusual for me to kind of enter from backstage or come in behind the president, but Anne Compton and looked up at me and gestured with their arms, ‘What’s up?’ And then I gestured with my hands, showing a plane crashing into a building type of thing. And she just stood with her hands like, ‘What? What?’
And then the teacher stopped talking about the dialogue with the president and told the students to take out their books to get ready to read with them. As the students were reaching down under their desks to get their books, ‘My Pet Goat,’ which they were going to read with the president, that’s when I walked up to the president. He never turned around to me. He did kind of tilt his head to the right. And I leaned over and I whispered to him, ‘A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.’ And that was all I said to him.
I stood back from him so that he couldn’t ask me a question. He did not get up. He did not turn around. I was pleased with how he responded. He did nothing to demonstrate any fear to those kids, and he did nothing to show it to the media that would have translated to the satisfaction of the terrorists. I was pleased with what he did.
He then sat there and I believe that he contemplated what his duties were. I honestly feel that was the moment he became president of the United States and he understood the obligation of his oath to preserve, protect and defend. And I was very impressed with how he reacted. I took two steps back, watched him again. His head was bobbing up and down. When he didn’t get up, which I was pleased, I then went back to the door, again, looked at him. I could see him still focusing ahead with his head bobbing up and down. The students were unbelievably attentive to their books, and the press pool was all turned around and talking to Ari Fleischer, except for a couple of photographers.
I noticed to my left peripheral vision Secretary of Education Rod Paige and a White House staffer named Sandy Kress were standing with the principal of the elementary school. And they were kind of mouthing to me, ‘What’s up?’ And then I opened the door to the holding room and stepped into the holding room. And the first thing I said was, ‘Get a line open to the FBI director.’ Tracked down Bob Mueller. Interestingly, he’d only been the FBI director for ten days. He also said ‘Open a direct line, open to the vice president line, open to the White House Situation Room.’ And I told Dan Bartlett to get some remarks written for people in the gymnasium. There were six hundred people in the gymnasium.
And I said, ‘The president will have to say something, but he can’t say anything we do not know to be the truth.’ And then to the crew, I said, get the word to the crew of Air Force One that we’re going to have to get out of here. So I want to make sure that crew is all on Air Force One. I told the Secret Service to get ready to turn the motorcade around and we were going to have to leave.
And then the president walked in. And the first thing – everybody runs up to him, ‘Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President,’ and the first thing he says, ‘Get the FBI director on the phone.’ We could say he’s right here, Mr. President. So that was what happened, literally. And there was seven and a half minutes between the time I whispered and Deb Loewer told me about the second plane and the president walked into the room.
MICHAEL MORELL: So the president, Andy, has some phone calls. He goes back in, speaks to the nation. And then we all head to the airport. I presume you were with the president again in the limo. Is that when you all learned about the attack on the Pentagon or was that at some other point?
ANDY CARD: Well, I went out to be in the back of the room when the president addressed the audience that was there – that was not in the classroom. So this is a greater community. And the first thing he said when he got to the microphone is, ‘I’m sorry, I’m going to have to be going back to Washington, D.C.’ And I cringed when he said that because I said, ‘We don’t know we’re going back to Washington, D.C.’ And I was kind of mad at Dan Bartlett. I thought that he had put that in the remarks, but he didn’t do that. It was just extemporaneous from the president.
But the president did explain a little bit of what was going on. He did not say anything we did not know to be the truth. And when I then went out and met him and we got into the limousine, the Beast, the president’s limousine, and we’re sitting beside each other, both of us on our cell phones calling back to Washington, D.C. The president was very frustrated because he’s calling Secretary Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and he can’t get through. And he was very frustrated. And that’s when we learned that the Pentagon had been hit and Secretary Rumsfeld was out.
So that’s when we learned about the attack on the Pentagon.
When we arrived – and you probably remember this – at Air Force One at the Sarasota airfield, I was struck when the limousine doors were opened up in the president and I got out of the limousine that the engines to Air Force One were already running. And the protocol, no, no, is that you don’t turn the engines on until the president is safely on Air Force One.
So I said to myself, ‘The pilot really wants to get out of here. He must be nervous.’ And we bounded up the stairs to get on Air Force One and the plane started rolling down the runway almost before the door was shut and before the president was sitting in his seat. That’s how quickly we started to move down the runway.
And then we took our seats. The plane took off at a very steep incline, I’m sure you remember, and we flew up to 48,000 feet and started flying in a serpentine way. And I was talking to the pilot and the navigator about what our plans might be.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Andy, maybe you could talk about two things. One is when you heard about Flight 93 and how that unfolded, and when you heard about the collapse of the two towers.
ANDY CARD: Well, I’m going to add one more thing, Michael, if that’s all right, and that was the president early on, actually, before we reached full altitude, he said, ‘I want to call President Putin.’ Nobody told him to do that. He said on his own, ‘I want to talk to President Putin, let him know what’s going on and make sure he doesn’t overreact to think we’re doing anything that would cause concern for them. We don’t want to go to war with Russia.’
And I was very impressed that; he said that he then called President Putin and they had a brief conversation. But it was one that I was very impressed with him. I was sitting right opposite him as he was talking to President Putin and he said, ‘Look, this is what the situation is here. We don’t know a lot about it, but I don’t want you to think we’re using this as an excuse to do anything against you and you please don’t do anything against us. We’re we’re going to be in this together to find out what’s going on.’ So I was impressed that he did that.
I was also sitting opposite the president at his desk when he received a call from Vice President Cheney. And I couldn’t hear Vice President Cheney’s side of the call, but it was basically asking the president if he would authorize fighter jets from U.S. to fire on commercial jetliners if they were not responding to the FAA communications to land. And I remember hearing the president. ‘Yes,’ giving the order, authorizing the order. I later learned that Dick Cheney probably authorized that already, but I heard the president authorize it.
I was impressed when he hung up the phone and he leaned across the desk and he said to me, ‘I was an Air National Guard pilot. I can’t imagine receiving that order and being expected to carry it out.’ So I was very impressed that the president had empathy for the decision that he had authorized to be able to be sent out if someone in a commercial jetliner was not responding to the FAA call to land.
MICHAEL MORELL: And I heard somebody say – correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard somebody say that when you all heard that Flight 93 had crashed, that the president’s first instinct was, ‘Did one of did one of our fighter shoot it down?’
ANDY CARD: I’m not sure I ever heard the president verbalize that. I do remember thinking, I thought about it. I know the president thought about it and I know others did. When we heard about Flight 93 crashing, it was like, ‘Oh, did we do this?’ But I don’t remember the president verbalizing it. I know that I did to somebody else, but I didn’t do it to the president. But it was a concern.
Looking back on it, I honestly believe that the passengers on Flight 93 were remarkable heroes, and they, if they had been wearing uniforms, they would have all received the Medal of Honor. And they were the first heroes in the war on terror. They acted, when they said, ‘Let’s roll,’ they rolled and they probably helped protect Washington, D.C.. I happen to believe that the target was probably the US Capitol, but it could have been the White House. But at any rate, those heroes on Flight 93 were the first heroes in the war on terror. And yes, it was an emotional burden for us on Air Force One, to number one, fear that maybe we did shoot down Flight 93 and – all the conspiracy theorists out there, I want you to know: we did not – but it was also other confirmation that this was an organized attack. This was not a series of accidents that had been perpetrated on the US.
MICHAEL MORELL: And, Andy, the the collapse of the towers and the impact that that had on you and the president.
ANDY CARD: We were able to have television communication a little bit on Air Force One and it would get spotty. But when the pictures showed the towers burning and you saw them starting to collapse, literally, no one talked. We were gasping. We were in shock. I think prayers were being said and we were just silent. And it was so tragic for us to witness and we felt helpless and it was a quiet, somber time. But it was also a period of resolve and we had to make sure we did everything possible to prevent any more attacks.
And remember, Michael, there was a great fear that there were other attacks coming.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Andy, maybe you could talk about a couple issues that some people might not know about. One was the communications problems that you were having on Air Force One with Washington. And then the second is the threat to Air Force One itself that day.
ANDY CARD: I’ll start with the the threat to Air Force One. Even before we left the school in Sarasota, we had I think it was probably communication generated by Secret Service agents talking to Secret Service agents. Anyway, there was some fear that the code name for Air Force One, ‘Angel,’ had been heard and picked up in communication. And there was some fear that ‘Angel,’ in fact, was a target. Air Force One was a target. And I’m sure the Air Force was nervous about it. And I know we were nervous about it. And that’s one reason I think the pilot was so eager to get out of Sarasota’s air base. It was just a commercial field, not a military field, and get up in the air where he knew it would be safer.
But, yes, there was fear that Air Force One could be a target. And the president, as you probably remember, Michael, was very eager to go back to Washington, D.C. and he kept telling me that. And I kept saying, ‘I don’t think you want to make that decision right now.’ And he got pretty angry with me. He said, ‘I’m the president. I’m making the decision. We’re going back to Washington, D.C. right now.’ And I would try to be very calm with him saying, ‘I don’t think you want to make that decision. I understand you want to go back, but I don’t think that it’s ready yet.’
The pilot was not eager to get back to Washington, D.C., unless he could land the plane safely and he could land the plane safely at Andrews Air Force Base. And the Secret Service was also not comfortable with going back to Washington, D.C., without knowing that they could protect the president and keep them safe there. So they were adamant that we were not going to go back to Washington until we knew everything was OK. And the president was adamant that we were going and I’m in the middle. And I will admit the president was very, very angry with me.
The Secret Service did not come to my defense, but I held my ground and I actually rationalized, ‘Was he making that decision as commander in chief or was he making that decision as president, the political leader of our country?’ And I rationalized that, ‘No, he has all of the tools ready to be able to meet his responsibility as commander in chief. I think he just wants to go back to D.C. as a visual to show the world that he’s we’re OK. And I think we can do other things with that.’
So I held my ground and we did not go back to D.C. until after we went to Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska, at the base there. Offutt.
So instead we landed at Barksdale Air Force Base. And you remember we trimmed the number of people on Air Force down, Air Force One down. We took all of the stragglers off and the visitors, the members of Congress and the staffers that were not critical. There was a debate about taking press. We just decided to take one representative of the print, television, radio and photographer. But we did not take a bigger press crew with us.
And we flew off to Offutt Air Force base from Barksdale Air Force Base. And it was during that trip where we had the most substantive conversations, of which you were part of many of them, about what to anticipate and what to do. And with regard to communications on Air Force One, the Communications on Air Force One was pretty good, but it was not up to the expectations that we had, nor was it up to the needs that we had at the time. So there was some frustration and that’s one reason we were looking to go to Offutt where we would know that we would have really, really good communications back to Washington, D.C. and anywhere else in the world.
But Air Force One was certainly not very good. I don’t think that it compromised our ability to help the president meet his responsibilities. But we did make it very difficult for other people on Air Force One to talk back to people in Washington, D.C. You remember how he shut off the basically didn’t let anyone call Air Force One. I think you were allowed to call and you did. And I know you talked with George Tenet and others, but we tried to keep the communications really down on Air Force One to make sure that the president could have ample bandwidth, if you will, in his communications with that he needed to do.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Andy, you’re right. It was on that flight from Barksdale to Offutt that the president asked to see me and you were in the room. Do you remember what that conversation was like?
ANDY CARD: I do remember that conversation. The president was really eager to find out who did this. We all suspected and I think he was looking for confirmation. And I remember him being pretty frank with you: ‘Who did this? What are they saying?’ And you were very measured, but very careful with what you said. But you were confirming our, at least my, expectations. And I think the president’s expectations. And I think you were helping him really wrestle with the unique challenge of having a non-state actor involved in creating a climate for a war when all of our rules are about state actors.
And so this was a very different kind of a challenge for a president. In fact, comparing it to December 7th, 1941. That was a state actor. That was an act of war. This was an act of war by non-state actors, a terrorist group empowered by state actors who gave them permission to plan and execute and contrive. And I also think the president was wrestling with that, and you kind of helped him understand the nature of the challenge.
MICHAEL MORELL: I also briefed him on the flight from Offutt back to Andrews. And you were there, too. I don’t know if you remember that, but you had talked earlier about continuing threats. And in that briefing, I showed him a piece of intelligence that was provided to us by some European counterparts of ours that said that what just happened was the first of two waves of attacks on the United States.
And I was sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, my God, the president just went through the worst attack in the history of the country and here his intelligence briefer, me, is telling him that that another one might be coming.’ I remember that like it was yesterday.
ANDY CARD: I remember that as well. It was unbelievably sobering and it really put us on heightened alert. We truly didn’t know where the next attack would come from. And there was some fear that it could be on the West Coast. There was concerns about crop dusters being used. I mean, there was a whole list of, I’m going to say, paranoia that we went through not just on the plane, but on the subsequent days to to 9/11.
So we truly were led to believe, credibly, I believe, that there were likely other attacks that had been planned and they could be executed. And remember, the attack on 9/11 came from within. It was planned outside of the country, but it was clearly executed entirely in the United States. The first bad guys got on a plane in Portland, Maine, and flew to Boston and eventually got on Flight American Airlines Flight 11 and then onto United Airlines 175. So this was all in the United States and we were all worried that there could be another attack. I remember particularly thinking about Los Angeles in the West Coast.
MICHAEL MORELL: And Andy, how was it finally resolved that the president was going to come back to Washington?
ANDY CARD: Well, the president, again, was very angry with me, saying, ‘We’re going to go back to Washington.’ And when we were in Offutt and you remember the first – when we went into it was filled with admirals and generals and flat screen TVs and the the all the military brass were there and they wanted to stand for the president, but they also wanted to sit at their computer screens. So they were like a jack in the box going up and down. And the president said ‘This is uncomfortable for them and it’s uncomfortable for me. Let’s go to another room.’ And we went to another room where we had a secure video conference back to Washington, D.C. and it went very well. The communications was outstanding and the whole team was there.
And the president turned around to me and said near the end of the meeting, he said, ‘All right, can we go back to Washington, D.C. now?’ And I said, ‘Let me go check.’ And I checked with the pilot at Air Force One. I checked with the Secret Service. The Secret Service was reluctant but acquiesced. But the Air Force was comfortable that we’d be safe and could go forward. So I came back to the president, I said, ‘We can go back to D.C.’ and he was very eager to do that. It was a sobering ride back to D.C. But yes, we went back to D.C. and I’d be glad to describe about that process.
MICHAEL MORELL: So his speech to the nation that evening, he, I’ve always thought, walked this remarkable balance between showing strength to our attackers, but also consoling the nation and making it clear that we were going to avenge this and we weren’t going to let it happen again. It was a remarkable speech. And I’m sure you had a hand in it.
ANDY CARD: It was a remarkable speech. I remember one of the things he said when he was in Sarasota and addressed the public before he left, he made one comment that said, ‘The resolve of our great nation is being tested and it will pass the test.’ So I think he was very careful about that. And then he taped remarks and in Barksdale that were recorded that said that ‘We would pass this test.’
But when we landed back in Washington, D.C., first I wanted to describe when Air Force One landed, the fighter jet was so close to us, we could see the faces of the pilots who were protecting Air Force One as we landed. I’m sure you remember that. And then we looked out and you could see the smoke billowing out of the Pentagon. And the president turned to me and said, ‘That’s the face of war in the 21st century.’
Then the plane lands and we get off, we get on the helicopter to come back to the White House. And Marine One lifts off and usually it lifts off and goes up to about 2,500 feet and direct flight to the Washington Monument and then lands on the South Lawn of the White House.
This time we went and flew up at treetop level, zigzagging back and forth in case there were Stinger missiles. And then when we went down to the Potomac River and flew right up, just above the river and popped up behind the Lincoln Memorial and went down to the Washington Monument, hung a left and landed on the South Lawn. It was a very different arrival on the South Lawn.
We then went into the Oval Office. The rug had been rolled up, klieg lights had been put in there, and a camera was there because the president was going to address the nation. And we went into the dining room off the Oval Office. And that’s where the president worked on his speech. And he practiced it a few times, made a few edits. And ayes, we worked on it together as there were probably five of us with him working on the speech. He felt very comfortable with it. And then he addressed the public.
And it was a it was a remarkably efficient speech. It did not go on very long and I want to say I was about 8:30 at night. And he said, I’m trying to remember what he said, but he talked about how everybody in America was affected by what happened that day. And it’s going to unite us. And we will we will never forget this day. And he basically warned other countries, you know, you’re either with us or against us. And so it was both a unifying speech, it was a call to arms speech, and it was one that basically commanded us to step up our game.
And I do remember him saying, ‘None of us will forget this day.’ And I’m so glad to be on this podcast because this contributes to us being able to keep that promise that we will not forget this day.
MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. Andy, do you remember what time you got home that night?
ANDY CARD: What time I got home? I didn’t get home until 11:30 at night, and I remember after he gave that address, he gave the address at 8:30 and we were finished with the Oval Office routine, probably nine o’clock, and we went down to the bunker underneath the White House and had a national security meeting with the team.
And among the team members, there were superstars like Norman Mineta and Dick Cheney, and it was just a very good meeting and sobering meeting. And then I remember the meeting ended and I went back to my office to do some work. I hadn’t been in the office, obviously, the whole day, and I had a lot of work piled up on the desk. I am sitting there going through paperwork and it’s probably 10:30ish at night.
And a Secret Service agent comes into my office and literally lifts me out of a chair and starts running with me. And we go down to the bunker deep under the White House and I’m in the bunker and down comes the first lady. Down comes the president. They’re both wearing their robes and got slippers on and carrying pets. And I remember Laura did not have her contacts IN.
And so anyway, the president and the first lady go to a little room in the bunker with a nice bed in it, and I get assigned a steel cot. And the big door slams shut in and we’re safely in the bunker and the Secret Service says a plane had entered the airspace around D.C. and it was not responding to the FAA or and so we were sent down there until it cleared. And then not very many minutes later, probably 10 minutes later, the Secret Service came. We got it all clear. It was one of ours. Its responder was not working. And, ‘Mr. President, you can go back up to bed.’
So the first lady and the president went up to bed. And I remember going back to my office and collecting my paperwork and then going home, arriving 11:30 or 12ish. Hadn’t seen my wife all day. I want to talk to her. I’m glad she’s all right and felt guilty that I hadn’t called or checked in with her the entire day because I was completely focused on the president. And then got up and was in the White House by 5:45 the next morning.
And that was that day.
MICHAEL MORELL: Andy, thank you so much for sharing that day with us. And thank you for agreeing to serve as President Bush’s chief of staff. I think that America was very lucky to have you with the president on that day. So thank you very much.
ANDY CARD: Thank you for the privilege of working with you. And thank you. You know, we live in a great country. Remember the ‘we’ in the Constitution? It’s our government. I’m so proud of our government and thank you for what you’ve done. And I am blessed to have had the experiences I’ve had. Thank you.