While the entire nation watched the tragic events unfold on September 11th, only a handful of close advisors were with our Commander in Chief during the tense and intimate moments that evening.
One of those was Alberto Gonzales; he is now a Lubbock resident, but in 2001 he was serving as White House Chief Counsel. He would eventually become U.S. Attorney General and a controversial figure that defended The Patriot Act and the politics of questioning and detaining terror suspects.
Mr. Gonzales was a close confidant and advisor to President Bush when our nation came under attack in 2001.
In a very candid one-on-one interview, he talks about the day that changed our nation forever.
In his own words, Gonzales recalls the tragedy and the lingering question he still has - even 10 years later.
"I was going to have a very busy day. I flew out of Dulles Airport about 7:30 that morning - actually about 50 minutes before American Airlines 77 flew out of Dulles. I often wonder wether or not ... did my path cross with any of the terrorists in the terminal or any of the 64 people that were on that aircraft and were killed at the Pentagon later that morning? But I, you don't know, but I'll always wonder that.
I flew to Norfolk, VA to give a speech at a government ethics conference, and I about 8:45am just as the first plane hit the North Tower. When I got to the hotel the White House had called me and said, 'You need to get to a television.' And I didn't know what to think, the White House.... we just didn't know. Shortly after 9 o'clock the second plane hit the South Tower, and I knew we were under attack.
Then became the process of trying getting back to Washington as quickly as possible. They threw me in a cab, and we rushed to the airport. I remember running down the terminal. It was really quiet, and it's because everyone was huddled around the television monitors in the terminal. By the time I got to the gate the FAA had grounded all air traffic. So here I was in stuck in Norfolk, and I was really desperate to get back. The communications was terrible, even with the White House. I had gotten ah old of my deputy who was in the situation room and he said, 'You gotta get back. Get back here as quickly as you can.' I ran into a Navy officer; she said, 'Let me take you to the Norfolk Naval Station; maybe they can help you.' And when I got there they hooked me up with the base commander, and I said, 'You gotta help me get back.'
We debated about various options, and finally he said, 'What if we fly you back in a Navy helicopter? Where would you like us to take you?' And I said, 'You know, get me as close as you can to the White House.' And they said, 'We'll land you on the South Lawn.' And I immediately said, 'No. No, because nobody but the President of the United States lands on the South Lawn.' And I was worried about getting shot down if we got too close to the White House. We finally got clearance however; we decided they would fly me back to Andrews Air Force Base. We got back to Andrews around 2:30, went to the White House, they took me to an underground bunker where (Vice) President Cheney was at, at about 3 o'clock we had a secured video conference with the President and about 7:30 the President arrived back in the White House. Marine One landed on the South Lawn, and I stood outside the Oval Office with Karen Hughes, the Communications Director. We greeted the President when he got off, and he didn't say anything to us; he just walked by us into the Oval Office which was being readied for an address to the nation later that night. We went into his private dining room with Condi Rice, Andy Carr the Chief of Staff, Ari Fleischer the Press Secretary, Karen and I and the president, and we began talking about what happened that day, what he was going to say to the nation.
At 8:30pm he gave his address, and I stayed there in my office until about midnight. My deputy drove me home because my car had been impounded; it was parked in the same lot that the terrorist had parked their car. So I couldn't get my car out of Dulles. I got home about 12:30am, and was back in the office about 6 the next morning, ready to defend our country. That was my day."
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