A CNN Special Report
President Bush Holds Town Hall Meeting
Aired December 4, 2001 - 15:18 ET http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/ ... se.04.html
QUESTION: One thing, Mr. President, is that you have no idea how much you've done for this country, and another thing is that how did you feel when you heard about the terrorist attack?
Thank you, Jordan (ph).
Well, Jordan (ph), you're not going to believe what state I was in when I heard about the terrorist attack. I was in Florida. And my chief of staff, Andy Card -- actually I was in a classroom talking about a reading program that works. And I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower -- the TV was obviously on, and I use to fly myself, and I said, "There's one terrible pilot." And I said, "It must have been a horrible accident."
But I was whisked off there -- I didn't have much time to think about it, and I was sitting in the classroom, and Andy Card, my chief who was sitting over here walked in and said, "A second plane has hit the tower. America's under attack."
And Jordan (ph), I wasn't sure what to think at first. You know, I grew up in a period of time where the idea of America being under attack never entered my mind -- just like your daddy and mother's mind probably. And I started thinking hard in that very brief period of time about what it meant to be under attack. I knew that when I got all the facts that we were under attack, there would be hell to pay for attacking America. (APPLAUSE)
I tried to get as many facts as I could, Jordan (ph), to make sure I knew, as I was making decisions, that I knew exactly what I was basing my decisions on. I've got a fabulous team. A president can't possibly be president without a good team. It starts with having a great wife, by the way. (APPLAUSE)
And so I got on the phone from Air Force One asking to find out the facts. You've got to understand, Jordan (ph), that during this period of time, there were all kinds of rumors floating around. Some of them were erroneous. For example, there's a news report saying that the State Department had been attacked. I needed to know what the facts were.
But I knew I needed to ask. I knew that if the nation's under attack, the role of the commander in chief is to respond forcefully to prevent other attacks from happening.
And so I talked to the secretary of defense. One of the first acts I did was to put our military on alert.
An interesting thing happened shortly thereafter. Condoleezza Rice who was not with me, but was with the vice president, because they were in the White House compound, called me on the Air Force One after that, and said she'd gotten a call from Russia, from Vladimir Putin, who understood why we were putting our troops on alert, and therefore wasn't going to respond. That was an important phone call, because when I was coming up, and a lot of other older-looking people coming up with me, that would have never have happened in the past. An alert by the United States would have caused Russia to go on an alert, which would've created a complicated situation. But that wasn't the case.
By the way we're heading into a new era. One of the positive things that come out of evil was a reassessing relationships, in order to make the world more peaceful. I believe it's important for us to have positive relations with our former enemy and to rethink the defenses of the United States of America. (APPLAUSE)
At any rate, I knew I had a job to do. And I was quoted in the press the other day as saying I haven't regretted one thing I've decided. And that's the truth. Every decision I've made I stand by, and I'm proud of the decisions I've made. (APPLAUSE)
KING: A young boy in the audience here asked the president to recall just what he thought when he was informed of the events of September 11. The president recalled he was here in Florida in Sarasota at a school. He said at first, when he was told that one plane had hit the World Trade Center, that he thought it was a horrible accident, some form of terrible error by the pilot of that plane.
Then he recalled his chief of staff Andy Card coming into the school room and telling him a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. The president said then he knew it was a terrorist attack, that America was under attack, and the president said, he knew then that those who were responsible for that attack quote, there would be hell to pay.
BLITZER: John King in Orlando. Thank you very much.