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(Between 2:50 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Vice President Cheney Tells Congressional Leaders They Cannot Return to Washington

Don Nickles.Don Nickles. [Source: Publicity photo]Vice President Dick Cheney talks with Congressional leaders who have been taken to a secure bunker outside Washington, and tells them they cannot return to the capital. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Lott, 2005, pp. 221-222] A number of top members of the House and Senate leaderships were evacuated to the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Facility in Bluemont, Virginia, during the morning and early afternoon (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between Late Morning and Early Afternoon) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/15/2002]
Cheney Controls Information - In the middle of the afternoon, the vice president makes a conference call from the White House to a number of groups, including these Congressional leaders. As Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will recall, Cheney “told us what he knew: that it was a terrorist attack; that it was carried out by al-Qaeda and directed by Osama bin Laden; that thousands were dead in New York, and hundreds more at the Pentagon. Though some concerns still existed, the immediate danger had abated.” [Lott, 2005, pp. 221] Cheney also says the president has been moving around since the time of the attacks, and is now at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. [Daschle and D'Orso, 2003, pp. 115-116]
'We Control the Helicopters' - When the leaders say they want to leave the bunker and return to Washington, Cheney refuses. According to the Washington Post, his reason is that there are still terrorist threats and there is no way to guarantee their security. Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) complains, “We’re a separate branch of government—why do we need the approval of the White House?” Cheney replies, “Don, we control the helicopters.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
Cheney Initially Does Not Allow Congressional Leaders to Return - Cheney then initiates three or four private conversations, one of which is with Trent Lott. Lott says: “I want to go back to the Capitol. That’s where we belong.” But again Cheney replies, “No.” However, later in the afternoon, the Congressional leaders decide to return to Washington, and permission is arranged for this (see (Between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Hastert, 2004, pp. 10; Lott, 2005, pp. 221-222] It is unclear exactly when Cheney holds this conference call. If it takes place while Bush is at Offutt, as Cheney indicates, this would place it between 2:50 p.m. and around 4:30 p.m. But from around 3:15 until 4:00, Cheney participates in the president’s video conference call with his principal advisers (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), so it is unclear if Cheney talks to the Congressional leaders before or after this. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Trent Lott, Don Nickles

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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