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CNN Live Event/Special

9/11: What Really Happened at Congress

Aired September 11, 2002 - 13:11   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We want to keep the focus on Washington now. You know the poet Dylan Thomas, I'm told, once said that Washington isn't a city, it's an abstraction. It's the place where our taxes go and where speeches come from. But you know if that's the way Dylan Thomas saw this city, it's hard to think of Washington that way anymore. Washington is now a wartime capital. And a year ago, it was a city and a people, as we know very well now, under attack.
The view now through the eyes of some of those people, the people who work on Capitol Hill. Candy Crowley's in charge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two planes flew into the two towers. A small plane...

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The second plane hit the Twin Towers and Deputy Chief James Rohan's BlackBerry went off again. The message said you probably ought to think about coming back.

DEPUTY CHIEF JAMES ROHAN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: My thought process at the time was this was an isolated terrorist incident in New York.

CROWLEY: Watching on his office TV, Senator Ted Kennedy thought his special guest, already en route to speak to the Education Committee, would turn around and go home. He thought wrong. There was Laura Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Morning, Congressman Forbes' office, how may I help you?

CROWLEY: The phone still worked then. Congress Randy Forbes and staff wanted information. They did not, could not then imagine the tragedy that waited on the other end of the line.

REP. RANDY FORBES (R), VIRGINIA: One of the members of our staff had worked at the Pentagon in an intelligence section over there, actually picked up the phone and called them and said what do you know, what's going on, you know, at the time. They basically said we know what you know. We're watching it right now as it develops on TV. The individual that was talking to him was later killed when that plane crashed at the Pentagon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on folks, step back please. Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: At Capitol Hill Police headquarters, reports piled up that planes were headed for Washington and then that a plane had hit the Capitol.

ROHAN: I went to the window and looked out the window to the southwest and saw the dome but a huge billowing smoke going up above the dome. And my heart dropped down to my stomach and I said they got us, they got the Capitol.

CROWLEY: Smoke from the Pentagon was so thick, so high, Rohan thought it was the Capitol. Guards ran through Capitol hallways, get out, get out now. Anything seemed possible; everything seemed ominous.

The chairman of the Rules Committee, who thought evacuation was voluntary, looked out the window of his office in the Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I saw -- it was like a "Godzilla" or "King Kong" movie, and it was like a massive load of ants rushing from here and there were just all these people.

CROWLEY (on camera): People running?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People just running.

CROWLEY (voice-over): It was hard to know where was safe. Nobody knew what would come next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just go out in the mediary of the Capitol.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Front (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is the Supreme Court. OK, right now.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: And so Senators, staff, wandering around the field. And of course at this time, people out with their little hand phones trying to call someone and of course nothing working. I mean no communication whatsoever going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there was great concern coming in over the radio from our officers about we've got -- you know we've got quite a few members out here, what do you want us to do with them?

CROWLEY: Chairman Dreier wandered empty Capitol halls into the member's dining room.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: But it was the weirdest thing seeing this room where there had obviously been a breakfast that day. And as I walked in, the chairs were all pulled out and half eaten plates of bacon and eggs.

CROWLEY: Congressional members, several hundred, made their way to police headquarters, jamming roll call rooms.

ROHAN: There was somebody had brought out a little four inch black and white TV with just an antenna stick on it, plugged it in and they were getting all their information from the networks from this tiny little TV.

CROWLEY: In a place where power means knowing things, nobody knew very much.

The congressional leadership was to be taken out of town, so House Minority leader Richard Gephardt kissed his wife goodbye and struggled with questions of family and duty.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D), MINORITY LEADER: What's going to happen to my family? How can I protect them? What should I be doing for them, with them?

CROWLEY: Under the outlines of a Cold War plan designed to make sure a government survives even if the Capitol is nuked, 11 members of the congressional leadership were choppered off. Early evening, they return.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We as a Congress and as a government stand united and we stand together.


CROWLEY: They swear the singing was spontaneous. They meant only to stand on the steps of the still locked Capitol to say we're here.


CROWLEY: In the aftermath, what was perfectly clear to both the police and Congress was that there was no real evacuation plan on Capitol Hill and no real means to communicate with members. Both of those problems police assure us have been fixed -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: We can bet they have an evacuation plan now.

CROWLEY: They do. They do.

WOODRUFF: Candy, Washington can be a very buttoned up place; but on this day, it was not buttoned up.

CROWLEY: No, it was -- I mean -- you know what I found amazing in talking to these people and listening to their experiences is that, you know, two things, Washington is about power and Washington is about information. Nobody knew anything. And it's about communication. Nobody had any way to communicate. I mean the phones inside...

WOODRUFF: Telephones were down.

CROWLEY: The cell phones went down. Eventually the BlackBerries, the personal BlackBerries that bring your e-mail to you, they went down. And inside the Capitol, remember they're still switchboard operators there. Inside the Capitol, the phones worked only on and off.

WOODRUFF: These are people, Candy, who are used to having somebody take care of them and tell them, you know, all right, Senator Smith or Congressman Jones, this is where your next appointment is. But this is a situation where they really didn't have that.

CROWLEY: They didn't. And the other thing we found was that by the time they got around -- I mean the plane had hit the Pentagon and there had still been no evacuation at that point. And so what you had was sort of what police even call a voluntary evacuation. People were already leaving. I mean you know you're watching this on TV and you're sitting in the Capitol and you're thinking time to get out of here.

And what Chief Rohan knew you saw -- told us was that, you know, we just kept hearing from Capitol Police saying I've got all these congressmen wandering around here, what do you want me to do with them? And the fact of the matter is the police assumed that those who weren't in the leadership, who they eventually evacuated but well after the Pentagon was hit, they just assumed that the other people would go home, but of course they didn't. So they eventually brought them over to Capitol headquarters.

WOODRUFF: You talk to a lot of people, obviously, Candy, was there something that they all had in common here? I mean clearly they were all horrified by what was going on and frightened, but...

CROWLEY: And -- you know I didn't find a lot of fright. I found -- I mean you know I said well how are you feeling at that point? You know they talk -- Senator Kennedy talked pretty calmly about well once they figured out where they would take the first lady, and there was some -- you know they sort of stuck her in an office for a while trying to figure out where it was safe to take her. Somebody said to him you know you need to evacuate, and he sort of walked out the front door. On the other hand, you had some people that really were terrified and running out. So there was no commonality of experience in terms of how they saw things. David Dreier, who you saw, never evacuated.

WOODRUFF: Even when they suspected the Capitol might have been a target?

CROWLEY: Well see, but again, a lot of people didn't know that because there was no means to get that out other than they watched the television a lot. So -- but I think, you know, again, the two things that everybody had in common was a) nobody knew anything, they couldn't get the information, and b) they had information overload, of course, because once you start watching the TV, all these things were coming in. And then you add to that that the police were hearing from various radios, you know, and they had a time sorting out what was true and what wasn't true. And the other thing was they weren't all sure where to go.

WOODRUFF: Yes, just, you know a day they never ever, ever have...

CROWLEY: Chaotic.

WOODRUFF: And then it wasn't long after that that they had anthrax attacks.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

WOODRUFF: Of course that's another story.

CROWLEY: A whole other story.

WOODRUFF: Another story.

Candy, thanks very much.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.