Obama Aide Who Authorized New York Air Force One Flight Quits
By Edwin Chen and Roger Runningen
May 9 (Bloomberg) -- An Obama administration aide who authorized a low-altitude flight over New York City by a plane used as Air Force One has resigned.
“The controversy surrounding the Presidential Airlift Group’s aerial photo shoot over New York City has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office,” Louis Caldera (external - login to view) wrote in his resignation letter, which was released by the administration.
The public wasn’t given any advance notice of the April 27 flyover, which involved a VC-25 -- the military version of Boeing Co.’s 747 -- that is used to transport the president and two fighter jet escorts. The flight over New York Harbor rattled windows and prompted some office workers to flee high-rises out of fear it was a repeat of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Aides described President Barack Obama (external - login to view) as angry about it, and members of Congress demanded an accounting.
Separate reviews by Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina (external - login to view), and Defense Department officials found that Air Force planning for the mission began in late March and that the Federal Aviation Administration, New York air traffic control officials, law enforcement officials in New York and New Jersey and the New York City mayor’s office were part of the coordination.
The administration review of the incident found that initial planning included discussions about “coordination with ‘the general public” at least two days before the flight. Still, it said no information was to be released that it involved the presidential aircraft because of security concerns.
Caldera didn’t inform senior administration officials about the flight and “he did not offer a coherent explanation” why, according to the report released by the White House. The report, released by the White House counsel’s office, described a series of communications failures, including missed e-mails and conflicting accounts over what information was passed along in meetings.
During one period when discussions and e-mails were being exchanged, Caldera told the reviewers he hadn’t read them because he was suffering from “severe muscle spasms in his back,” was on pain medication and “went home early a couple of days,” the administration document said.
Caldera “stated he had no idea that the plan called for the aircraft to fly at 1,000 feet,” the document said.
Separately, Defense Secretary Robert Gates (external - login to view) said military officials fell short in their planning of the New York City flyover.
“I am concerned that this highly public and visible mission did not include an appropriate public affairs plan nor adequate review and approval by senior Air Force” and Defense Department officials, Gates wrote in a letter to Senator John McCain (external - login to view). The Arizona Republican had requested an accounting by the defense chief.
The Air Force said the April 27 flight, which also served as a training mission, cost taxpayers $328,835 for the VC-25 jetliner and two fighter jet escorts. Part of the purpose was to obtain fresh publicity photos of the president’s blue-and-white plane flying low over New York Harbor with the Statue of Liberty in the background, officials said at the time.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (external - login to view), who said at the time that he was “furious” about the flyover, dismissed questions about the administration’s response, telling reporters at the White House yesterday that “the planes are long gone in history.”
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Caldera, 53, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a lawyer, was secretary of the Army during the Clinton administration and previously was a state legislator in California, according to the White House Web site.
The White House Military Office provides military support for an array of official functions, including food service, presidential travel, medical care and hospitality services.
To contact the reporters on this story: Edwin Chen (external - login to view) in Washington at Echen32@bloomberg.net (external - login to view); Julianna Goldman (external - login to view) in Washington at Jgoldman6@bloomberg.net (external - login to view)
Last Updated: May 9, 2009 00:01 EDT