Bush Admin’s 9/11 Communications Show Insight on How Government Responded to Events of That Day

Bush Admin’s 9/11 Communications Show Insight on How Government Responded to Events of That Day

President George Bush at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Photo by Jin Lee.

 “Unbelievable. Just got back into the White House, after having been in the ‘bunker’ all afternoon,” read an email from Clay Johnson III, a President George W. Bush assistant, who sent the message to an unknown recipient at 5:07 p.m., hours after the attacks on Sept. 11.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum has received a digital copy of this message and other communications from the Bush administration that provide insight into how the U.S. government responded to the events of the day on 9/11. These emails and documents provide a rich source of internal research materials for museum staff.  

Released by the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the collection includes hundreds of electronic records such as emails, news articles, opinion pieces, press statements and speeches sent and received throughout the day by aides to President Bush.  

Before the first attack on 9/11, messages focus on the day’s scheduled meetings for President Bush while he was out of town. After 8:46 a.m., the moment when hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower, the records shift to concerns for the well-being of colleagues, friends and the American people.

Bush, who had been in office less than eight months, visited Ground Zero a few days after 9/11. With the World Trade Center still smoldering, Bush climbed atop some rubble and put his arm around retired firefighter Bob Beckwith. Bush grabbed a bullhorn and thanked firefighters and other first responders at the scene. When someone in the crowd shouted that he couldn't hear the president, Bush replied with the words that made history.

"I can hear you," he declared. "The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!" The crowd erupted with chants of “USA! USA!"

The bullhorn Bush used was an inaugural artifact on display when the museum opened in May 2014. It was on loan from Bush’s presidential library and museum.  

By Katherine Fleming, 9/11 Memorial Museum Exhibition Coordinator