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Profile: Susan Ralston

Susan Ralston was a participant or observer in the following events:

Bush’s travels in the Sarasota, Florida, region, with key locations marked.Bush’s travels in the Sarasota, Florida, region, with key locations marked. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]White House officials and reporters who are traveling with President Bush in Florida learn that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center while they are being driven to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, but Bush is not notified about the crash at this time. [White House, 8/12/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rochester Review, 9/2004] A number of senior officials who are together in a van learn about the crash as their vehicle is pulling into the school’s driveway. Those in the van include White House press secretary Ari Fleischer; White House communications director Dan Bartlett; Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove; Bush’s CIA briefer, Mike Morell; and White House photographer Eric Draper. [White House, 8/12/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 138; Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 pdf file]
Press Secretary Is Contacted by an Assistant - Fleischer is alerted to the crash by Brian Bravo, an assistant in the White House press office. Bravo learned what happened when he was called by a friend in New York who had seen Flight 11 hitting the WTC, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and then saw the television coverage of the incident. In response, he sent a pager message to Fleischer, simply stating, “A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/8/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 138; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] After seeing the message, Fleischer exclaims: “Oh, my God! I don’t believe it! A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” [Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 17] He turns to Morell and asks the CIA officer if he knows anything about the incident. Morell says no and that he will make some calls to try and find out more. He will call the CIA’s operations center to see what people there know (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 47-48]
Other Officials Receive Calls from the White House - Around the time Fleischer is alerted to the crash, Rove is called from the White House by his assistant, Susan Ralston, who tells him what happened at the WTC (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Filipinas, 2/2004] And Bartlett receives a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him: “There’s just been an incredible accident or something. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/12/2002]
Military Officers Are Called about the Crash - In another vehicle in the motorcade, Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, receives a call from Rob Hargis, the senior duty officer in the Situation Room, alerting her to the crash. [Dayton Daily News, 8/17/2003; McClatchy Newspapers, 8/29/2011; Priess, 2016, pp. 239-240] Meanwhile, as his vehicle is arriving at the school, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Herman, a senior presidential communications officer assigned to the White House, is contacted by his operations center, and notified that a plane has struck one of the Twin Towers and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice wants to talk on the phone with the president. [Marist Magazine, 10/2002]
Members of the Press Are Alerted to the Crash - Members of the press traveling in the motorcade also learn about the crash during the journey to the school. Reporter Richard Keil is told what happened when he talks on the phone with a friend who has seen the coverage of the incident on television. Keil then passes on the news to the other reporters and photographers in the press van. And Kia Baskerville, a CBS News White House producer, receives a call on her cell phone from a producer who tells her about the crash. [CBS News, 8/19/2002; Rochester Review, 9/2004]
President Is Not Told about the Crash - And yet, while these people are alerted to the crash, Bush reportedly is not called about it at this time and he will only be told what has happened after he arrives at the school (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rove, 2010, pp. 249-250; Priess, 2016, pp. 240] This is despite the fact that his limousine is “bristling with communications gear,” according to the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2001] “In the presidential limo, the communications system is almost duplicative of the White House,” author Philip Melanson will note. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] “Yet despite having a secure STU-III phone next to him… and an entire national security staff at the White House,” author James Bamford will comment, “it appears that the president of the United States knew less than tens of millions of other people in every part of the country who were watching the attack as it unfolded.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17] “It mystifies me why they didn’t call the president,” Robert Plunket, a reporter who is waiting for the president at the school, will remark. “He’s totally surrounded by state-of-the-art communications equipment and nobody tells him.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Eric Draper, Brian Bravo, Deborah Loewer, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Kia Baskerville, Thomas Herman, Ari Fleischer, Susan Ralston, Michael J. Morell, Richard Keil, Rob Hargis

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Susan Ralston.Susan Ralston. [Source: White House]Susan Ralston, an assistant to Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior adviser, calls Rove and alerts him to the plane crash at the World Trade Center, which leads Rove to become one of the first people to tell Bush about the incident. [Rove, 2010, pp. 249-250; Bridgeland, 2012, pp. 3] Rove is accompanying Bush on his visit to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] Ralston, as Rove’s executive assistant, is responsible for coordinating public events involving the president. Her office, on the second floor of the West Wing of the White House, maintains a secure and direct phone line to Rove and the president. [Filipinas, 2/2004] John Bridgeland, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, will later write that Ralston learned of the crash after a friend of his called his assistant, Britt Grant, at the White House and told her CNN was reporting that a plane had hit the WTC. Grant then called Ralston and passed on this information. Ralston now calls Rove with the news. [Bridgeland, 2012, pp. 3]
Rove Learns of Crash Just after Arriving at School - Rove will recall that Ralston calls him “as the president had literally just gotten out of the car and was shaking hands” with people who are there to greet him outside the school. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] Ralston, according to Rove, says that “a plane hit—struck—the World Trade Center and it was unclear whether it was a military, a commercial, whether it was a prop or a jet.” Rove then goes to tell Bush what has happened. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] He will write in his 2010 memoir that he walks over to Bush, who is “shaking hands with staff and teachers outside the school, and passed on the information.” In response, according to Rove, Bush “nodded, shot me a quizzical look, and said, ‘Get more details.’” “We both thought it an odd, tragic accident,” Rove will comment. [Rove, 2010, pp. 249-250] But in an earlier account, Rove will say that after Ralston informs him of the crash, “I told [White House chief of staff] Andy Card, who proceeded to tell the president.” [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] Rove will state that he is “the first to tell [Bush] the news” (see (Shortly After 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] Other accounts, however, will indicate that Bush first learns about the crash from Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 11/26/2001]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, John Bridgeland, Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Susan Ralston

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Members of President Bush’s staff who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, are informed of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center but then have to find a television in order to see the coverage of it. [White House, 8/12/2002; Rove, 2010, pp. 250; KFDI, 12/11/2012] While Bush goes into a classroom to participate in a reading demonstration (see 9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001), several members of his traveling staff stay in the “staff hold.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The staff hold, according to deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan, is “a private room set up as a quiet work space with secure and non-secure phones for us to use during a presidential visit.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 101] If you pick up one of the secure phones, Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, will later write, “someone with a quiet military voice answers, you make a request, and a moment or two later, you’re talking to anybody you want, anywhere in the world.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] The staff hold, on this occasion, is next to the classroom where Bush is participating in the reading demonstration. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 101]
Staffers Think the First Crash Was an Accident - Members of Bush’s staff who stay in the staff hold while Bush joins the reading demonstration include White House chief of staff Andrew Card, White House communications director Dan Bartlett, White House staff secretary Harriet Miers, and Rove. [Rove, 2010, pp. 250] Also in the room, according to Rove, are Major Paul Montanus, one of the president’s military aides, and “the military doctor, the surgeon, and the surgical nurse with a full operating kit” who “stand ready to go to the aid of the president if he falls ill or is shot or somehow injured.” [KFDI, 12/11/2012] These individuals are aware of the first crash at the WTC. “All of us are still trying to find out information about that, to confirm what our instincts were,” Bartlett will recall, “and our instincts were that this was a tragic accident.”
Staffers Learn about the Second Crash - After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), the staffers quickly learn about the incident in calls to their cell phones or pager messages. “[Y]ou could see it, the rippling effect of people being informed about what was happening,” Bartlett will recall. However, he will say, “most of the tone was disbelief and not knowing what was going on.” Bartlett learns about the crash in a call from his assistant at the White House, who tells him, “You’re not going to believe this, Dan, but the other tower was hit.” Bartlett asks his assistant what she means and she says, “Another plane, another plane hit the other tower, World Trade Center.” [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002] Rove learns about the crash when Susan Ralston, his executive assistant, calls him with the news. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001] Card, meanwhile, learns about it from Navy Captain Deborah Loewer, the director of the White House Situation Room, who is traveling with the president in Florida and is with Card in the staff hold (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Dayton Daily News, 3/16/2013; Priess, 2016, pp. 240-241]
No Television Has Been Set Up in the Staff Hold - Unusually, a television has not been set up in the staff hold, so the staffers there are initially unable to see the coverage of the second attack. “Normally there’s a television in the staff hold,” Rove will comment. “But for some strange reason, this morning at Booker Elementary there was no television in there.” Rove therefore has to go out of the room, and run “up and down the hallways of the elementary school trying to find a television.” He eventually finds one in a classroom and then hurriedly rolls it into the staff hold. But he then has trouble connecting it to cable. The first socket he plugs it into doesn’t work. But after he plugs it into another socket, he gets a signal and the TV starts showing footage of the second crash. [KFDI, 12/11/2012; LBJ Presidential Library, 9/3/2013] Around the same time, those in the staff hold make contact with their colleagues at the White House and work with them on coordinating a response to the attacks. [White House, 8/12/2002; White House, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Susan Ralston, Scott McClellan, Paul Montanus, Deborah Loewer, Dan Bartlett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff sends an email to White House aide Susan Ralston, a former Abramoff associate who now works in the White House Office of Political Affairs (OPA) under Karl Rove. Abramoff wants Ralston to tell Rove to covertly use his position in the White House to prevent a Louisiana Indian tribe from acquiring land for a casino. (The land acquisition would threaten the interests of an Abramoff client, a different Indian tribe that already has gaming establishments in the area.) Abramoff asks if Rove can give “some quiet message from the WH [White House] that this is absurd.” Ralston agrees, and Abramoff sends her a thank-you reply. But instead of sending the reply to Ralston’s private email account administered by the Republican National Committee (RNC) at sralston@georgewbush.com, he sends it to her official White House email account. The next day, Abramoff’s colleague Kevin Ring alerts Abramoff to the error. Ring writes, “She said it is better to not put this stuff in writing in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc.” Abramoff responds: “Dammit. It was sent to Susan on her rnc [Republican National Committee] pager and was not supposed to go into the WH system.” The email will be publicly revealed as part of a Congressional investigation into Abramoff’s criminal enterprises. In 2007, documents will connect this email exchange to thousands of other private emails sent to and from White House officials using the georgewbush.com, gwb43.com, rnchq.com, and other private email domains. Ralston is one of many White House officials to use these outside accounts to communicate with Abramoff and others. Federal law requires that all emails and other communications be preserved as part of the National Archives data storage, for future review. Using private email accounts such as those provided by the RNC, especially for official (and quasi-official) government business, is also a violation of the Presidential Records Law. In March 2007, the House Oversight Committee’s chairman, Henry Waxman (D-CA), will demand that the RNC preserve all White House emails “because of their potential relevance to Congressional investigations.… The email exchanges reviewed by the committee provide evidence that in some instances, White House officials were using the nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.” Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists will say that the use of the RNC email accounts also “shows how closely intertwined the White House is with its partisan allies. The fact that the White House and the RNC are working hand in hand and White House officials are using RNC emails is itself remarkable.” Aftergood recalls the Iran-Contra investigation, where incriminating White House emails were recovered even after officials believed they had been deleted. “People may have learned that lesson,” Aftergood will muse. Since the Iran-Contra investigation, both the first Bush administration and Clinton administration have had issues with suppressing and hiding emails. Steven Hensen, a past president of the Society of American Archivists, will say that the current Bush email practice “clearly looks like an attempt to conceal official business.” Mother Jones reporter Daniel Schulman will agree, writing that “it’s clear that others are taking pains to use alternate email accounts simply to keep their communications from becoming public record.” [Mother Jones, 3/30/2007; Los Angeles Times, 4/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Jack Abramoff, White House Office of Political Affairs, Bush administration (43), Henry A. Waxman, Steven Hensen, Susan Ralston, Daniel Schulman, Karl C. Rove, Kevin Ring, Steven Aftergood, Republican National Committee, National Archives and Records Administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Susan Ralston and Israel Hernandez, two aides to White House political strategist Karl Rove, testify before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Ralston still works for Rove, while Hernandez has moved to the Commerce Department. Both are asked about the testimony given by reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 13, 2005), who told the grand jury of the conversation he had with Rove concerning Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Both aides are asked why Cooper’s call was not entered in Rove’s office telephone logs; Ralston says that the call was not logged because Cooper did not call Rove directly, but was transferred from the White House switchboard. [New York Times, 8/3/2005; Washington Post, 10/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Israel Hernandez, Matthew Cooper, Susan Ralston

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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