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Context of 'December 14, 2003: President Bush Has Difficulty Answering Question About 9/11 Foreknowledge'

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January 20, 1993: Bill Clinton Inaugurated


President Bill Clinton.
President Bill Clinton. [Source: Library of Congress]Bill Clinton replaces George H. W. Bush as US president. He remains president until January 2001.

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

George W. Bush taking the oath of office.George W. Bush taking the oath of office. [Source: White House/ Wally McNamara]George W. Bush is inaugurated as president, replacing President Bill Clinton. Bush is sworn in after a tumultuous, sharply disputed election that ended with a US Supreme Court decision in his favor (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). He takes the oath of office on the same Bible his father, George H.W. Bush, used in his own 1989 inauguration; the oath is administered by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In his brief inaugural address, delivered outside the US Capitol, Bush asks Americans to “a commitment to principle with a concern for civility.… Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.” In words apparently chosen to reflect on the criticisms surrounding former President Clinton and his notorious affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Bush says, “I will live and lead by these principles—to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility, and try to live it as well.” He continues addressing the American people, saying: “I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.” At a post-ceremonial luncheon, Bush issues a series of executive orders, some designed to block or roll back several Clinton-era regulations. He also acknowledges that because of the election turmoil, many Americans believe “we can’t get anything done… nothing will happen, except for finger-pointing and name-calling and bitterness.” He then says: “I’m here to tell the country that things will get done. Republicans and Democrats will come together to do what’s right for America.” [New York Times, 1/21/2001]
Thousands of Protesters - Thousands of protesters line the streets during Bush’s ceremonial drive to the Capitol, a fact not heavily reported by many press outlets. Salon reports, “Not since Richard Nixon paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1973 has a presidential inauguration drawn so many protesters—and last time, people were out to protest the Vietnam War.” Though Capitol Police refuse to estimate the size of the crowd lining the street, Salon reports that “many thousands of protesters were in evidence.” Liz Butler of the Justice Action Movement, the umbrella organization that helped coordinate the protests, says: “The level of people on the streets shows that people are really upset about lack of democratic process. They took it to the streets. We saw tens of thousands. We saw far more protesting Bush than supporting him.” Some of the people on the streets are Bush supporters, but many more are not, and carry signs such as “Bush Cheated,” “Hail to the Thief,” “Bush—Racism,” “Bushwhacked by the Supremes,” and others. The crowd, though outspoken in its protests and unrestrained in its heckling of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, is generally peaceful, and no serious violence is reported, though a few minor altercations do take place, and large contingents of police in riot gear—including personnel from every police department in the District of Columbia as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and from departments in Maryland and Virginia—are on hand. At least one protester throws an egg at the limousine transporting Bush, Cheney, and their families to the inaugural ceremonies; perhaps in response to the protests, Bush breaks with tradition laid down by earlier presidents and does not walk any large portion of the parade route. Nine people are arrested for disorderly conduct, most for allegedly throwing bottles and other debris. Bulter says: “Of course, we’re ashamed that Bush has decided to be a ‘uniter’ by uniting people against him. They all chose to come out in the freezing rain—even the weather couldn’t stop these people.” Protester Mary Anne Cummings tells a reporter: “I think it’s important to remind the incoming administration the country does not want a right-wing mandate. They did not vote for a right-wing mandate.” [Salon, 1/20/2001; CNN, 1/20/2001; New York Times, 1/21/2001] Thousands of protesters march in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities as well. [CNN, 1/20/2001]

A short pre-recorded statement is broadcast on television, in which President Bush tells the nation that all appropriate security measures are being taken, and he assures people that “the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” [CNN, 9/12/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 117] The 219-word statement, lasting two minutes, was recorded about half an hour ago in a conference room at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19]
Bush Says US Will Find and Punish Terrorists - Bush begins: “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by faceless cowards. And freedom will be defended.” He continues: “Make no mistake: The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” He reassures the public that he has been in contact with his colleagues in Washington, DC, and they “have taken all appropriate security precautions to protect the American people. Our military at home and around the world is on high alert status, and we have taken the necessary security precautions to continue the functions of your government.” He says, “[W]e will do whatever is necessary to protect America and Americans.” He concludes his statement, saying: “The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake: We will show the world that we will pass this test. God bless.” [CNN, 9/11/2001; White House, 9/11/2001]
Bush Remains at Base after Speech Is Broadcast - After the president’s statement was recorded, Rich Del Haya, a military public relations officer at Barksdale, brought the videotape of it to a TV satellite truck outside the base. A technician there put the tape into a deck to be broadcast. However, the uplink failed twice. Finally, the third broadcast goes out to American TV screens. TV anchors emphasize that the president’s remarks are recorded, not live. “The implication,” journalist and author Bill Sammon will later write, “was that the White House had purposely delayed the airing of the tape in order to get a head start on the president’s next secret destination.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] The 9/11 Commission Report will similarly state that “for security reasons,” Bush’s statement “was taped and not broadcast live.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] But according to Sammon: “[T]he tape delay had been a function of mere logistics—there were no cables available at Barksdale for a live feed on such short notice. In fact, Bush remained at Barksdale more than half an hour after his taped speech was aired.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117]
Bush's Delivery of Statement Is 'Not Reassuring' - Some commentators will later be critical of Bush’s performance in delivering his statement. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will write: “The president’s eyes were red-rimmed when he walked in. His performance was not reassuring. He spoke haltingly, mispronouncing several words as he looked down at his notes.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] Howard Fineman of Newsweek will call the speech “the low point” in the president’s war on terrorism. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 116] Bush will comment that the “sentiment” of his speech “was right, but the setting—a sterile conference room at a military base in Louisiana—did not inspire much confidence.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Howard Fineman, George W. Bush, Bob Woodward

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

During a press conference, Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon asks President Bush, “I know you said there will be a time for politics, but you’ve also said you wanted a change in tone in Washington. Howard Dean recently seemed to muse aloud whether you had advanced knowledge of 9/11. Do you agree or disagree with the RNC that this kind of rhetoric borders on political hate speech?” Bush stammers and pauses with his reply: “Look, there’s time for politics.… And, you know… there’s a time for politics.… And… it’s an absurd insinuation.” [CNN, 12/14/2003; Dallas Morning News, 12/15/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bill Sammon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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