Excerpts From the White House Situation Room on the Day Reagan Was Shot
Excerpts From the White House Situation Room on the Day Reagan Was Shot
Tuesday, March 27, 2001
Transcript of recordings made by National Security Adviser Richard Allen on the day Ronald Reagan was shot, March 30, 1981.
COLSON: Someone out there wants to know if you want the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
ALLEN: I don’t think we need him here … Cap is the – Cap is here.
HAIG: Cap is the – and the football is near the Vice President – so that’s fine.
ALLEN: We should get one over here. We have a duplicate one here.
HAIG: Get the football over here.
ALLEN: There is one at the military aide’s office. The football is in the closet … I don’t think we need the Chair of the Joint Chiefs over here, do you? Let’s leave him over at the NMCC [National Military Command Center, at the Pentagon]. This is a draft statement, but I want to put something else in it.
FIELDING: Do you want any other Cabinet members?
ALLEN: No, they should all be told to stand by. Here’s the copy of that draft statement [on the President’s condition]. You don’t want the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs over here?
WEINBERGER: Well, I want … not over here, I want him …
ALLEN: At the NMCC.
WEINBERGER: Yeah, and they should go on alert or be ready to go on alert. SAC [the Strategic Air Command] went on alert with Kennedy’s assassination.
HAIG: We’ll be on a straight line from the hospital. So anything that is said, before it’s said, we’ll discuss at this table … and any telephone calls that anybody is getting with instructions from the hospital come to this table first [raising voice] … RIGHT HERE! And we discuss it and know what’s going on.
WEINBERGER: I have the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs coming on, Jones, in just a second. We’re going to tell him to get alerts to the Strategic Air Command and such other units that seem to him to be desirable at this point.
HAIG: What kind of alert, Cap?
WEINBERGER: It’s a standby alert … just a standby alert.
HAIG: You’re not raising readiness?
WEINBERGER: No, but the main thing is that he should stay there in the Command Center. Not here.
DARMAN: Is that information not to be released up till …
ALLEN: It’ll leak …
WEINBERGER: Well, until we know more about it. The alert, they’ll probably put themselves on alert, but I just want to be sure.
HAIG: Do we have a football here? Do we?
ALLEN: Right there.
REGAN: Al! Don’t elevate it! Be careful!
HAIG: Absolutely! Absolutely! That’s why I toned down the message that was going out … there’s no reason for that.
WEINBERGER: Yeah, I don’t think anything that talks about continuity of government or anything … that sounds like we know a lot more than we do.
REGAN: This is apt to turn out to be a loner.
WEINBERGER: I think it was!
MURPHY: Cap, what do they mean by “alert”?
WEINBERGER: Well, an alert is …
MURPHY: We’ve been down this path once before with Henry [Kissinger].
WEINBERGER: That’s right. The alert simply is that there are conditions which may require very quick actions.
MURPHY: Are you sure that doesn’t mean Defcon Three … or Four?
WEINBERGER: No, no … I’ll fill in … It’s a matter of being ready for some later call …
HAIG: Yeah, I think the important thing, fellows, is that these things always generate a lot of dope stories, and everybody is running around telling everybody everything that they can get out of their gut … and I think it’s goddamn important that none of that happens. The President, uh, as long as he is conscious and can function …
WEINBERGER: Well, that’s right … the Vice President’s in an Air Force plane.
ALLEN: Well, just let me point out to you that the President is not now conscious.
HAIG: No, of course not.
FIELDING: A rather technical thing is that the President can pass the baton temporarily under the law, and we’re preparing that right now … toward the eventuality …
HAIG: That’s what I was going to ask next. What are the legal …
FIELDING: It’s being prepared right now.
HAIG: That’s the pass the baton to the Vice President …
FIELDING: On a temporary basis. It passes to him in writing from the President until the President rescinds it.
HAIG: Has somebody gone into the Eisenhower precedent on this? I think we need that from a public-relations point of view.
FIELDING: Well, we may not want to put it out.
HAIG: No, the things you want to make note of are first, precisely what happened, notification of the Vice President, assembly of the key crisis Cabinet, preservation of continuity of command, and that it was handled.
WEINBERGER (on the telephone to the Pentagon): No, I think what we want to do is increase the degree of alertness so that in the event there should be anything required shortly, that could be done within a minimum amount of time …
Gergen interrupted to ask a question, and Haig declared that he himself was constitutionally the person in charge.
GERGEN: Al, a quick question. We need some sense, more better sense of where the President is. Is he under sedation now?
HAIG: He’s not on the operating table.
GERGEN: He is on the operating table!
HAIG: So the … the helm is right here. And that means right in this chair for now, constitutionally, until the Vice President gets here.
GERGEN: I understand that. I understand that.
WEINBERGER: We’ve got the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Chiefs in the Military Command Center. The alert has been raised from a normal condition to a standby condition under which they can move to a much higher degree very quickly. There is no, there will be no publicity about it. And the degree of alertness at the moment is going to commanders only, so that there would not be a lot of leaks right away from the men. All of that on the basis that at this point it looks like an isolated incident, but there isn’t enough information and we want to remain alert. So that’s where the armed forces stand.
HAIG: Why don’t you come with me?
Allen (to staff): Okay, I’ll be back later …
HAIG: How do you get to the press room?
ALLEN: Up here.
HAIG: Yeah … he’s just turning this into a goddamned disaster!
ALLEN: Who has?
HAIG: How can he walk into the press room … Speakes …
ALLEN: Did he walk in up here?
HAIG: He’s up there now.
ALLEN: Christ almighty, why’s he doing that?
PRESS STAFFER: They want to know who’s running the government.
ALLEN: Oh, well, just a minute …
HAIG: We’ll assemble them … we’ll …
STAFFER: You’re coming back? [shouting] They’re coming back again … The Secretary of State! The Secretary of State!
PRESS REPRESENTATIVE: Who is making the decisions for the government right now? Who is making the decisions?
HAIG: Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State, in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending the return of the Vice President and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.
REGAN: Preliminary investigation by the FBI and the Secret Service, no plot, no reason why the suspect shouldn’t be in the area. They’re conducting a background investigation in Lubbock, Texas. He stayed at the Park Central Hotel here, which is one block from the Executive Office Building.
WEINBERGER: We have the SAC bases … we have the crews who are normally on alert twenty-four hours a day move from the base to their planes. The nearest submarine is [redacted] minutes, forty-seven seconds off, which is about two minutes closer than normal.
ALLEN: Nearest Soviet sub. Al, are you listening? [Redacted] minutes, forty-seven seconds – the nearest Soviet sub.
WEINBERGER: Yeah. Not enough to worry about. They’re in and out there all the time, but it is a close approach. And the bomber crews of the Strategic Air Command, they are always on the alert, certain numbers, and those that are on alert now are moving from alert in their quarters and on the post to their planes. Simply stated, that’s all …
HAIG: That’s based on the Soviet situation and not on anything here?
WEINBERGER: Well, that’s based on the idea that until we know a little bit more about it, it is better to be in the plane which saves three and a half to four minutes than it is to stay in their quarters.
HAIG: I said up there, Cap … I’m not a liar. I said there had been no increased alert.
WEINBERGER: Well, I didn’t know you were going up, Al. I think if …
HAIG: I had to, because we had the question already started and we were going to be in a big flap.
WEINBERGER: Well, I think we could have done a little better if we had concerted on a specific statement to be handed out. When you’re up there with questions, why then it’s not anything you can control, and …
HAIG: Well, we had just discussed that here at the table, and we said we were not going to increase alert.
WEINBERGER: It may not be increasing the alert from a technical point of view, but once you get the additional information which I got about the one sub being closer than they’ve been before, then it seemed prudent to me to save three or four minutes.
HAIG: Yeah, but I think we could have discussed it.
WEINBERGER: Yeah, well, you were not here. I didn’t know that you were going to make any statement, and I don’t think it was a good idea to make a statement when you are with a question period. I think the best thing …
HAIG: Well, you have the right to say that when we discuss it, and we did talk about it and everyone agreed there wouldn’t be an increased alert.
WEINBERGER: I didn’t know you were going up. I didn’t have the information about the sub at that time. The stuff is coming in every three or four minutes.
HAIG: Well, you’re not telling me we’re on increased alert.
WEINBERGER: We have changed the condition to the extent I indicated.
HAIG: Is that a Defcon increase?
WEINBERGER: No, I don’t think it is formally classified as such.
ALLEN: It’s a change of degree, is it not? It’s a change …
WEINBERGER: It’s an increased degree of alertness, yes.
ALLEN: Within Defcon Five, I presume.
HAIG: Let me ask you a question, Cap. Is this submarine approach, is that what’s doing this, or is it the fact that the President’s under surgery?
WEINBERGER: What’s doing what, Al?
HAIG: That we are discussing whether or not to put the NEACP bird up in the air.
WEINBERGER: Well, I’m discussing it from the point of view that at the moment, until the Vice President actually arrives here, the command authority is what I have … and I have to make sure that it is essential that we do everything that seems proper.
HAIG: You’d better read the Constitution.
HAIG (laughing): You’d better read the Constitution. We can get the Vice President any time we want.
WEINBERGER: Well, one way or another, the initial steps, because he’s not in a position there to take all of them without consultation, one way or another we ought to prepare at least enough so that we can move more rapidly than we could otherwise.
HAIG: Is it because of the submarine or because of the incident, that’s the question I’m asking.
WEINBERGER: The reason that I asked to have them move to the planes is because of the incident, and I would continue to take that position until I know absolutely definitely that it’s an isolated incident, which I think it is. But I don’t know that yet, and I don’t want to take any kinds of risk. The risk of some newspaper story or some rumor is a hell of a lot less than not having things in place.http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/3/26/202623.shtml