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10:41 a.m. September 11, 2001: Cheney Calls Bush, Warns Him against Returning to Washington

Vice President Dick Cheney calls President Bush, who is on Air Force One, and urges him not to return to Washington, DC. (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) Cheney, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, wants Bush to instead go to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, according to the New York Times. This is because Cheney “knew from his days as secretary of defense” that Offutt has “an extraordinarily sophisticated Strategic Command communications center.” (Sanger and van Natta 9/16/2001) According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, Cheney tells Bush that he and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice both think Washington is “no longer safe enough for his return.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109) Cheney says, “There’s still a threat to Washington.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will describe: “Signals intelligence and all kinds of reports were flooding in. Given what had happened—four hijackings—it wasn’t prudent to come back.” Cheney says he is worried that “the terrorists might be trying to decapitate the government, to kill its leaders,” and Bush agrees with him. Cheney says they have “a responsibility to preserve the government, its continuity of leadership.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 18; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is with the president on Air Force One, will recall that around this time—presumably just after the call from Cheney—Bush tells others on the plane “that the vice president didn’t think it was safe for us to return to Washington until we could get a handle on how many hijacked planes there were. All planes flying in the continental United States had been ordered to land, but it wasn’t clear that all had done so.” (Fleischer 2005, pp. 142) According to some reports, Air Force One is traveling north toward Washington at the time of Cheney’s call, and shortly afterwards it changes course and heads west toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (see (10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 108-109; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) However, other accounts, including the 9/11 Commission Report, will state that Air Force One turned west at around 10:10 a.m. (see (10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and began heading toward Barksdale about 10 minutes later (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Keen and Carney 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 325)

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