Air Force One Foul-up Lands Caldera on Thin Ice
Updated 6:06 p.m.
By Michael D. Shear and Ann Scott Tyson
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pointedly refused to rule out a firing in the case of the backup Air Force One flight that terrified some in New York City on Monday.
Asked repeatedly this afternoon by reporters whether White House Military Office director Louis Caldera, the official who made the decision, would lose his job, Gibbs pointedly did not express confidence in him. "I think the president has rightly asked that a review of the situation and the decision-making" be done, Gibbs said.
Gibbs repeated his contention that President Obama was "furious" about the decision, and he said the deputy chief of staff will conduct the review. Based on that, the administration will take steps from there, he said.
Caldera, a former Secretary of the Army under president Bill Clinton, apologized quickly Monday afternoon, following reports that Obama was "furious" that the flight had been approved.
"Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision," Caldera said in a statement. "While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."
But that may not be enough to calm the storm caused by the flight, which was scheduled to allow Air Force officials to update the official promotional photo for the presidential plane.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said at a briefing today that Defense Secretary Robert Gates was "surprised and not very pleased" about what Morrell called the "flying photo op" of Air Force One over Manhattan.
U.S. Air Force personnel and some Pentagon personnel knew had advance notification of the flight, Morrell said, but he also shifted blame toward Caldera, saying the idea originated in the White House Military Office. He called the mission "mishandled" and "misguided."
"It was such an obvious mistake that I think it is virtually impossible that it will happen again," Morrell said. "Everybody in the wake of this now realizes how insensitive it was and what a mistake it was not to inform the American people, the residents of New York, particularly lower Manhattan, in advance."
Obama picked Caldera to head the military office in the White House in early December. In the official announcement, Obama said that "I know he'll bring to the White House the same dedication and integrity that have earned him the highest praise in every post, from Secretary of the Army to university president."
Posted at 2:46 PM ET on Apr 28, 2009
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