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Preparing for War

September 15, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: The President’s top advisors took to the airwaves in force this morning. On NBC, Vice President Dick Cheney made his first public statements since the attacks. He was asked about criticism of the decision that the President go to Strategic Air Command headquarters in Nebraska instead of returning direct toy to Washington as attacks were unfolding Tuesday.

CORRESPONDENT: When you made the recommendation to the President, “stay where you are, go to a secure facility in Nebraska,” were you ever concerned, did it ever enter your thought process that there could be criticism of the President for not coming back to Washington during a crisis?

DICK CHENEY: I didn’t really think about it. I mean it was such a clear-cut case, in my estimation, that the most important thing here is to preserve the presidency. We don’t know what’s happening, we know Washington’s under attack, we don’t know by who, we don’t know how many additional planes are coming, we don’t know what all is planned for us at that point. Within about 35 or 40 minutes, we had seen this unfolding of this monstrous terrorist attack, and it was absolutely the right decision. I have no qualms about it at all. The President wanted to come back. We talked repeatedly during the course of the day. He made it clear he wanted back as soon as we thought it made sense. The Secret Service did not want him back. They even talked to me to Friday to try to get me to evacuate a couple of times, but I didn’t want to leave the node that we had established there in terms of having all of this capability tied together by communications where we could in fact make decisions and acts, and if I had left, gotten on a helicopter and launched out of the White House, all of that would have been broken down. And we had the presidential succession pretty well guaranteed, so I thought it was appropriate for me to stay in the White House.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Vice President gave the first official confirmation that the military was ready to shoot down the fourth hijacked jetliner upon the order of the President before it crashed in Pennsylvania.

CORRESPONDENT: So when the United States Government became aware that a hijacked commercial airline was destined for the White House or the Capitol, we would take the plane down?

DICK CHENEY: Yes, the President made the decision on my recommendation, as well; I wholeheartedly concurred in the decision he made, that if the plane would not divert, if they wouldn’t pay any attention to instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out. Now, people say, “you know, that’s a horrendous decision to make.” Well, it is. You’ve got an airplane full of American citizens, civilians, captured by hostages… captured by terrorists, headed, and are you going to in fact shoot it down obviously and kill all those Americans onboard? And you have to ask yourself, if we had had combat air patrol up over New York and we had had the opportunity to take out the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center, would we have been justified in doing it? And absolutely we would have. Now, it turned out we did not have to execute on that authorization. But there were a few moments when we thought we might, when planes were incoming and we didn’t know whether or not they were problem aircraft until they diverted and gone elsewhere.

CORRESPONDENT: And that will be the policy of the United States in the future?

DICK CHENEY: Well, the President will, I’m sure, make a decision if those circumstances arise again. That’s a presidential-level decision, and the President made I think, exactly the right call in this case. As I say, I wish we had had combat patrol up over New York.

CORRESPONDENT: Do we now have both, war and recession?

DICK CHENEY: Quite possibly. We clearly have a war against terrorism, and we don’t know yet what the third quarter’s going to be like. But if the economists come in and revise the second quarter down into negative territory in terms of Gross Domestic Product growth and the third quarter… fourth quarter… Third calendar year, fourth quarter…

CORRESPONDENT: The economic shock from this.

DICK CHENEY: If that comes in negative, then we’ll have the definition two negative quarters, that would qualify as a recession.

KWAME HOLMAN: The President arrived at the White House from Camp David this afternoon. He was asked about his order Tuesday morning to shoot down suspicious aircraft.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I gave our military the orders necessary to protect Americans, do whatever it would take to protect Americans. And of course that’s difficult. Never did in anybody’s thought process about how to protect America did we ever think that the evildoers would fly not one but four commercial aircraft into precious U.S. targets, never. And so obviously, when I was told what was taking place, when I was informed that an unidentified aircraft was headed to the heart of the Capitol, I was concerned. I wasn’t concerned about my decision. I was more concerned about the lives of innocent Americans. I had realized there on the ground in Florida we were under attack, but never did I dream we would have been under attack this way. That’s why I say to the American people; we’ve never seen this kind of evil before. But the evildoers have never seen the American people in action before either, and they’re about to find out. Thank you all very much.