(Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Secret Service Still Does Not Evacuate Bush From School, Allegedly at the President’s Insistence
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The Secret Service later tells the 9/11 Commission that while he is in the holding room at the Booker Elementary School (see (9:16 a.m.-9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001), they are “anxious to move the president to a safer location, but did not think it imperative for him to run out the door.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39] Yet according to Philip Melanson, who is an expert on the Secret Service, “With an unfolding terrorist attack, the procedure should have been to get the president to the closest secure location as quickly as possible, which clearly is not a school.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Bush himself later recalls that at this time, “[T]he Secret Service and the Mil Aide [military aide] was in the process of getting information about where the president ought to go. One thing for certain, I needed to get out of where I was.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 93] Yet he does not immediately leave the school, and will remain there to give a brief statement in its library (see 9:29 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to Frank Brogan, the lieutenant governor of Florida, who is also in the holding room at this time, the Secret Service tries to get the president to return to Air Force One immediately. But Bush refuses, saying he is “committed to staying on the ground long enough to write a statement about what was happening, read it to the nation and lead a moment of silence for the victims.” [UP Online, 9/18/2003] Bush himself later says that while he is in the holding room, “I didn’t spend that much time about my own safety because I knew others were worried about that. What I was interested in is making sure that the response mechanism that was under my control was sharp and ready to go. And that meant defense, for starters.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 93] Yet he reportedly will not make any decisions about the response to the attacks until after 9:55 a.m. (see (Between 10:00 a.m.-10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission later claims that, while Bush is in the holding room, “No one in the traveling party had any information... that other aircraft were hijacked or missing. Staff was in contact with the White House Situation Room, but as far as we could determine, no one with the president was in contact with the Pentagon.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-41] In contrast to the Secret Service’s inaction in removing Bush from the school, Vice President Dick Cheney is reportedly “seized by the arms, legs and his belt and physically carried” out of his office by Secret Service agents around this time, in order to get him to the bunker below the White House. Cheney himself says the agents “hoisted me up and moved me very rapidly down the hallway, down some stairs” (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001]