Louis Caldera resigns over White House stunt; photo released

May 9th, 2009 - 2:15 pm ICT by admin  

Air Force One over New York Washington, D.C. (BNO NEWS) – President Obama on Thursday accepted the resignation of Louis Caldera, the director of the White House Military Office, and released a photo showing Air Force One as it flew over the Statue of Liberty in New York City, a photo op that caused wide-spread panic on April 27. The White House also released an internal review concerning the flight.

Scroll down to view a larger photo as it was released by the White House.

“I have concluded that 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. Moreover, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as President,” Louis Caldera wrote in his resignation letter. “After much reflection, I believe it is incumbent on me to tender my resignation and step down as Director of the White House Military Office,” Caldera added.

The letter, dated Thursday, said Caldera would resign effective May 22nd but will, as of today, be no longer involved with the office. “I will use the next two weeks to complete the necessary out-processing,” he said. Obama accepted his resignation.

“The President has asked his Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and Defense Secretary Gates or his designee to jointly review the organizational structure of the White House Military office and the reporting relationship of its components to the White House and the Air Force, and to make recommendations to him to ensure that such an incident never occurs again,” said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Further, the White House released a document detailing its internal review of the incident. The review was limited to the White House’s involvement in the April 27 flyover, the Department of Defense is conducting its own internal reviews. Secretary Gates has directed the joint staff to conduct a review of the approval process for such flights, particularly with regard to the use of F-16 fighter aircraft. During the photo shoot on April 27, one F-16 fighter jet followed the presidential plane as it flew over the city.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff has directed the Air Mobility Command to review procedures for planning and executing Presidential Airlift Group flights, particularly the process for informing senior leaders and the public about atypical training flights.

The document, as released by the White House, showed that initial planning for the flyover began in March 2009 or earlier. On Friday, April 3, representatives of the Presidential Airlift Group, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and several local authorities held a teleconference to discuss “operational issues and public affairs / outreach issues,” a written summary from the call showed. During the call, the participants discussed details such as the date, time and the location of the operation. It also discussed the altitude and the preferred flight path the plane should take.

In the call, the participants recognized the sensitivity of the aircraft involved in the operation and concluded “that public affairs and outreach efforts must be carefully coordinated and timed,” according to the internal review. Coordination with the public was planned to start two days before the flight and the participants agreed that no reference should be made to the presidential aircraft in any public outreach. “However, it suggested that public outreach could reference “DOD aircraft,” according to the summary of the call.

On April 9, Colonel Scott Turner, who is the commander of the Presidential Airlift Group, informed the White House of the plan to conduct a photo shoot over the Statute of Liberty. Turner notified the Deputy Director of the White House Military Office who asked him if the plan was feasible or not and if he encountered any problems or objections, the flyover would not go forward.

Several days later, Colonel Turner informed the Deputy Director that he was still working on the plan and coordinating with federal, state and local authorities. The White House Military Office did not receive any further updates during this period and Louis Caldera was not yet informed at this time.

On Monday, April 20, the Deputy Director “believes” that he notified the Director Louis Caldera about the proposed flyover. According to the Deputy Director, he briefly described the plan and stated that Colonel Turner was working on the details. He also suggested to inform White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina about the plan because the Deputy Director believed that Messina would want notice because the plan involved the Presidential aircraft and because it was unusual. Director Caldera stated that he did “not recall” the conversation, but does not deny the conversation took place.

On Thursday evening, April 23, Turner sent an email to the Deputy Director to describe the final details of the flight. The plan stated that federal, state and local authorities would be notified on April 23 and coordination with the general public would begin on or after April 26. Turner also said that Colonel Steven Harrison, who is the commander of the 89th Airlift Wing at the Andrews Air Force Base, had been informed. Several documents were attached to the e-mail, such as a memorandum from the FAA describing the flight plans and the “public affairs posture.” A few minutes later, the Deputy Director replied with “got it.”

However, the Deputy Director said he did not read Colonel Turner’s e-mail until the following morning, April 24. After reading the e-mail, the Deputy Director called Colonel Turner to review the plan. During the call, the Deputy Director asked a number of questions “to ensure that everything was in order.” Colonel Turner responded that everything was ready to go and no objections or concerns had been raised. The Deputy Director then forwarded the information to Director Caldera via e-mail and stated:

“Sir: per our conversation about Scott Turner’s plans to fly over the Statue of Liberty - it’s scheduled for this Monday, April 27th. All has been coordinated. AF PA plan/statement is below and will be released only if asked. Will probably receive some local press, but WH shouldn’t catch any questions about it. Provided in case you want to pass to Jim Messina or Robert Gibbs for awareness. This is an AF operation, in close coordination with the FAA. Happy to discuss with you as necessary, v/r, -gm.”

According to the Deputy Director, the phrase “our conversation” refers to the discussion Caldera could not recall. Caldera did not respond to the e-mail and stated that he did not read the email until the afternoon of Monday, April 27, after the flyover had concluded.

Asked about the fact he did not read the e-mail prior to the flight, Caldera told White House officials that he did not see the email “because it was sent to his WHMO email account,” according to the documents. He also offered a second explanation for his failure, saying he was suffering from severe muscle spasms in his back during this time and went home early a couple of days.

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