It had been an ordinary morning. The White House staff were getting into their daily routine, catching up with news, reviewing interview requests, show emails from September 11, 2001.
Then at 856AM, Tucker Eskew, director of the White House media affairs office, emailed three colleagues, “Turn on CNN.” That White House would never be the same again.
American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York at 846AM, and CNN was amongst the first networks to report it live, starting 249AM.
White House emails from that day obtained by The New York Times and reported just a day ahead of the 14th anniversary of the attacks, “hint at the dramatic changes to come”.
Scheduled meetings and conference calls are cancelled in emails sent/received in the next few minutes, as reported by the Times, as the second World Trade Tower is hit.
“Today is Pearl Harbor,” read a mail received by Mary Maitlin, vice-president Dick Cheney’s counselor, at 920AM, minutes after first reports of these crashes being anything but accidental.
President Bush, who was then visiting a school, was taken shortly into a secure room, and the Cheney and other staff at the White House would be shifted to a bunker shortly.
“Unbelievable. Just got back into the White House, after having been in the ‘bunker’ all afternoon,” wrote a presidential aide to his sister at 507PM, when the situation was far clearer.
President Bush was to return shortly, and deliver an address to the nation. Drafts of the speech are exchanged, with suggestions.
At 759PM, Hughes received an email from a colleague commending her for putting together an “extraordinarily good” speech given the “time and nightmarish circumstances involved”.