White House Drops Claim of Threat to Bush
By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2001; Page A08
administration appeared to back away yesterday from its claim that a
threat was lodged against Air Force One on the day terrorists attacked
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
After news reports
Tuesday said administration officials could find no record of such a
call, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was asked yesterday if
the White House believes Osama bin Laden was trying to kill the
president. Fleischer had said at a Sept. 13 briefing that a threat,
"using code words," had been phoned in against Air Force One. He quoted
the caller as saying, "Air Force One is a target."
did not repeat that claim yesterday. "I'm not going to comment on any
particular threats coming toward the White House," he said.
"Unfortunately, as you all who work here know, it is not an uncommon
occurrence for people to threaten the government of the United States,
regardless of whether it's President Bush or any of his predecessors.
And that's why there are security precautions taken at the White House
as a matter of routine.
"But that's not what this is
about," Fleischer continued. "This has nothing to do with anything . .
. that may or may not have been directed at President Bush. This is
about an attack that took place on our country."
administration official said later that the White House believed at the
time that the threat was real, and the official had received no new
information to indicate otherwise.
On Tuesday, the
Associated Press quoted administration officials as saying they now
doubt the call was made. "They've been unsuccessful in trying to track
down whether there was such a call, though officials still maintain
they were told of a telephone threat Sept. 11 and kept Bush away from
Washington for hours because of it," the AP said.
Evening News" reported Tuesday that the call "simply never happened,"
and said White House staffers "apparently misunderstood comments made
by their security detail."
Bush was criticized for flying
to Louisiana and Nebraska before returning to Washington, and White
House officials had disseminated their belief that the threats were
specific and credible. Vice President Cheney said Sept. 16 on NBC's
"Meet the Press" that he had urged Bush to stay away, in part because
of a threat against the plane.
"It may have been phoned in
by a crank, but in the midst of what was going on, there was no way to
know that," Cheney said. "I think it was a credible threat -- enough
for the Secret Service to bring it to me."
2001 The Washington Post Company