WH Military Affairs Director Resigns in Wake of Air Force One Flyover

By Kate Barrett

May 8, 2009 4:11pm

The White House report investigating the April 27 Air Force One flyover of Manhattan directly points the finger of blame at White House Military Office director Louis Caldera, who today submitted his letter of resignation, which President Obama accepted. In his resignation letter, dated May 8, Caldera writes that "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. 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." Courtesy White House Military Office The resignation letter is effective May 22. As of today, he writes, he "will no longer be directing the affairs of the White House Military office and will no longer be involved in the work of the Office." The next two weeks will be spent "out-processing." White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama "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. Messina issued the reportm which contains a photograph taken during the controversial photo op mission over Manhattan, Caldera comes off in the report as having dropped the ball.

Caldera "did not offer a coherent explanation" for why he didn’t alert higher-ups — Messina and Givvs — about the Air Force One flyover. "He stated that it was not a conscious decision — he did not decide not to notify them. Instead, he suggested that it may have been an oversight."

The plan for the photo op was first officially conveyed to the White House by Colonel Scott Turner of the Presidential Airlift Group on April 9.

Turner emailed Deputy Director of the White House Military Office George Mulligan addressing a number of issues including a plan to conduct "a photo shoot over the Statue of Liberty on the 27th of this month."

Mulligan and Turner spoke about the mission as well.

Mulligan says he told his boss, Caldera, about the proposed flyover on April 20.

According to Mulligan, "he briefly described the plan and stated that Colonel Turner was working on the details. He also suggested that when the plan was finalized the Director may want to inform White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina."

Mulligan thought Messina would want to know because the photo shoot involved the use of a presidential aircraft and because "it was unusual — i.e., it was a photo shoot near New York City and it required a high degree of coordination."

Caldera, the report says, "does not recall the conversation. He does not deny that it took place, but rather characterizes it as one of multiple things that were happening at the time."

On April 23, Turner sent an email to Mulligan with the final details of the flight. Mulligan recalls reading it the next morning, Friday April 24.

Mulligan spoke to Colonel Turner, then "forwarded this information" to Caldera in an email time stamped 11:21 AM:

"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…Will probably received 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 FAA. Happy to discuss with you as necessary."

At 12:11 PM on Friday April 23, Turner emailed Mulligan to talk again about the mission.

Mulligan says he went to Caldera’s office, and in a conversation he said lasted around 30 seconds, asked him if he had any issues after which he says Caldera said no. Mulligan says he suggested that Caldera tell Messina and Gibbs and Caldera said "ok."

Caldera recalls the conversation as "a brief hallway exchange." He recalls Mulligan saying that Turner was "doing a photo shoot with Air Force One, the traps had been run, and that he may want to notify Messrs. Messina and Gibbs."

Caldera recalled the discussion as "an fyi, that unfortunately didn’t register as a big deal" and as "an aside."

Colonel Turner sent an email to commander of he Air Force Air Mobility Command saying that Caldera and Mulligan "have both ‘blessed’ this event."

Neither Gibbs nor Messina were informed about the flyover.

Caldera says he did not read the email Mulligan sent him Friday morning until after the flyover occurred on Monday April 27.  He says that’s because it was sent to his White House Military office email account and not his White House Office account which he checks more often. Also, he was suffering from "severe muscle spasms" in his back, had been taking prescribed pain medications, and went home early a couple days. Caldera said he "was not asked to approve the flight. If he had been asked to make a decision, he would have received a formal package requesting his approval and he would have expected earlier and more extensive discussions with Colonel Turner and the Deputy Director."

Why didn’t Mulligan tell Messina or Gibbs?

One, he believed "that experienced professionals had planned the mission, and they had taken necessary steps to ensure the public was notified. Second, he believed the Director would pass the information up the chain of command."

After the flyover happened, Caldera said "he had no idea that the plan called for the aircraft to fly at 1,000 feet; he feels terrible that the flight had caused harm." – jpt * This posting has been updated since the story broke, with the latest information. *This report has been updated since the story broke, with the latest information.

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