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"Get out now" — inside the White House on 9/11, according to the staffers who were there

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I was the special assistant to the president for management and administration, and President George W. Bush was in Sarasota, Florida, promoting the No Child Left Behind legislation. The senior official in the White House was Vice President Dick Cheney. First lady Laura Bush was scheduled to travel to Capitol Hill to brief senators on early childhood education. On the South Lawn, tables were being set up for that evening's congressional barbecue.

With the president away, I arrived later than usual that morning and headed to a breakfast in the small senior staff dining room known as the White House Mess, on the ground floor of the West Wing.

I was sitting at a table eating my toast and drinking coffee when a colleague came over and told us about news reports of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City. We thought it had to be a terrible accident. We left the Mess shortly thereafter, unaware of the impact of the second plane.

"Get out now"

This story began as an assignment from the White House Historical Association to write about that day for its 9/11 20th-anniversary edition of the White House History Quarterly. I interviewed a range of White House staffers, from Cabinet officials and aides assisting the vice president and the National Security Council to the interns from around the country who had begun their service at the White House that momentous day.

In the minutes after we heard about the plane crashing, there was a rush of........

© Salon

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