Friday, October 2, 2009

Chapter 3. The White House

President Obama dressed in less than five minutes, He strode into the Oval Office wearing a powder blue shirt - sleeves rolled up - and fresh charcoal gray trousers. Netanyahu’s call had come just minutes after the president had managed to fall asleep. In Israel, the day had just begun. Obama was going to have to work through the night while Netanyahu was riding on his natural circadian rhythms. Time to pull out the Marlboros and Maxwell House.

“When’s Rahm due in, Annie?” Obama inquired of the 3rd shift Oval Office secretary.

“Twenty minutes, maybe less. I just got a call from his security,” she responded.

“Alright. We’re going to be in here hunkered down for a couple hours at least. I want Tony McPeak on the line. I want Colin Powell, ahh, better get Hillary here...and I want Mike Mullen here...”

“Sir,” the secretary interrupted. “We have a scramble list for military situations.”

“Okay, good. Get ‘em all or get ‘em on the phone.”

“Sir, Admiral Mullen is at the Lafayette Park gate.”

“Get him in here.” Under his breath the president mumbled, “Shit. This delay is not helpful. Come on Rahm, get your ass in gear.”

Annie suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Sir, Mr. Emmanuel just landed at Langley. He was in Chicago since this evening.” She ended her sentence with up-speak to imply, “do you remember?”

Obama did recall. “Is he there right now?”

“He just got into the limo.”

“Turn him around and get him in a helicopter. I want him on the lawn in five minutes.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Annie. You’re doing a great job - so don’t take this the wrong way - but I want you to call Katie Johnson and get her in here, too.”

Johnson was Obama’s personal secretary, a Wellesley girl who had been a tireless campaigner for the president. She had just turned 28 years of age earlier in the week.

The White House photographer, Pete Souza entered the Oval. There was an understanding that Pete could come and go as he pleased unless the president waved him off. In exchange, Pete had promised to do up to two weddings for the Obama family, if called upon, at any time in the future. Sort of a Vito Corleone request, Souza thought at the time. He despised wedding photography.

“Pete! You sleeping on the fucking couch here?” asked the president.

“No,” he replied sleepily. “I live off Van Ness up near DHS. This time of night it’s a ten minute drive. Annie paged me.”

“Well good. You’ll love this.”

Obama wasn’t about to discuss the situation with his photographer but he could have. The guy had been present for everything. He was privy to some of the most sensitive matters that could be discussed in the Oval. There was a lot of background he could draw on. In addition, he’d been Reagan’s photographer during the second term. He could make some comparisons - but he didn’t. He kept his mouth shut.

Annie voice paged the president,“Sir, Admiral Mullen’s on the phone. They waved him to the Southeast gate.”


“I don’t know.”

“Mike? You briefed? (pause) Yeah, I know. (pause) He’s a fucking SOB, Mike.(pause) I want strategies, I want options, I want a brilliant response and I want it before those jets enter Iranian air space. (pause) Well, that’s my list, you wanna’ add to it, be my guest. (pause) Where are you?”

“Sir, Mr. Emmanuel’s just clearing the monument.”

“Good. Thanks, Annie. Where, Mike? (pause) Good, good. Your team on the way? (pause) Alright see you in a minute.”

Obama called through the open door, “Annie. Find out what’s wrong with Curt there?”

Curt was the president’s current personal lead Secret Service agent.

“I’m here, Mr. President,” he called as he rose from the leather sofa next to the secretary’s u-shaped console and turned to enter the Oval.

“Curt. Come here.”

Curt Cummings was a very ordinary looking African American man, wearing a medium gray pinstripe suit and an unremarkable blue and black-checked tie.

“Curt, I don’t know why, but the guards at the West Wing gate at Lafayette just sent Admiral Mullen all the way around the building and back to the Pennsylvania Avenue gate. Can you find out what the fuck their problem is? And tell them I asked.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll call out there.” Cummings pivoted and walked out of the Oval.

“Sir, I have General McChrystal on Secure Green 7.”

“Shit. Tell him I’ll have Mullen call him. Within the hour! In fact, have him call me in :45! Mike and I will be here, I’m sure.”

“Yes, sir, and Mr. Biden’s at the Lafayette gate, sir.”

“Wonderful,” responded the president, intentionally barely hiding an unmistakable tone of derision. It wouldn’t have mattered. Obama’s feelings on nearly everything were well known. He tended to let staff know how he felt in order to guide their responses to his opinions and requests, that they would be more amenable.

The unmistakable whapping sound of a Sikorski VH-3D Sea King could be heard softly in the Oval Office as it landed on the South Lawn on the opposite side of the sprawling White House grounds. Rahm Emmanuel would enter the building near the Rose Garden and have to make his way through a complex maze, diagonally, all the way to the opposite corner. He would be just a few paces behind Admiral Mike Mullen, who had already crossed the White House threshold.

“Pete Rouse, Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen are all en route, sir.”

“Is that necessary?” Obama couldn’t imagine why three Deputy Chiefs of Staff were en route when he needed so badly to speak to their boss.

“Mr. Emmanuel called them.”

“Holy, Christ, Annie. Tell everyone else to quit inviting people. This shit’s going to leak and I’m going to be really pissed if it does. Okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

A white-jacketed gentleman entered the room with a tray of coffee and pastries.

“Annie, get me an ash tray and turn the vent on. Clinton said there’s a fan he had installed for his cigar smoke. Do you know where the switch is?”

“Yes sir, it’s the one on the ledge behind you, on the left next to the picture of Sasha.”

“Ah ha! You know, I didn’t know what that was for and I was afraid to try it.”

A fan with the power of a microminiature jet engine could be heard revving somewhere in the wall space of the oval office. The Clinton fan had cost taxpayers $375,000 because a penetration into or out of the oval office was a serious security matter and a variety of electronic and mechanical attachments were required. Nevertheless, Clinton, as most who followed the papers knew, seldom applied a match to his cigars.

Obama reached into the top left hand drawer of his desk and pulled out a fresh flip-top box of Marlboro Lights. He thought of Joe Biden making his way to the Oval. Then he remembered Biden’s remark about how something would come along to test him.

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