Speaking at a military base in Alaska on the anniversary of 9/11, President Joe Biden wrongly said that he visited ground zero in New York City the day after the attack. Biden first visited the site nine days after terrorists flew planes into the twin towers at the World Trade Center.
“And I remember standing there [ground zero] the next day and looking at the building,” Biden said at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage on Sept. 11. “I felt like I was looking through the gates of hell, it looked so devastated because of the way you could — from where you could stand.”
Biden went on to say that as he got off an Amtrak train on his way to work at the U.S. Senate on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he remembered seeing “the plume of fire that shot up in the sky” from where a plane had been flown into the Pentagon.
That recollection about the Pentagon is included in his 2008 book, “Promises to Keep.”
“By the time I got off the train at Union Station in Washington, the third plane had hit the Pentagon, and I could see a brown haze of smoke hanging in the otherwise crystal-clear sky beyond the Capitol dome,” Biden wrote.
In his book, Biden noted that he spoke to students at the University of Delaware eight days after Sept. 11, 2001. And Biden recounted speaking 10 days later at a mosque in Newark, Delaware. But there is no mention of immediately visiting ground zero.
We reached out to the White House press office for clarification, and it sent us a photo of Biden at ground zero on Sept. 20, 2001. We located the photo in the Getty Images archive. It shows Sens. Ted Kennedy, Barbara Mikulski and Biden touring the destruction at the World Trade Center nine days after the terrorist attack.
Biden was part of a contingent of 38 U.S. senators who traveled from Washington, D.C., to New York City via Amtrak that day to visit ground zero and to console families of victims, according to a Sept. 20, 2001, CNN story forwarded to us by the White House. The delegation was joined in New York by the state’s two Democratic senators, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer.
A White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed to CNN that Biden first visited Manhattan nine days after the attack as part of the bipartisan Senate delegation.
The morning after Biden made his statement in Alaska, former President Donald Trump posted on social media that Biden had been caught in “A TOTAL LIE (LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE HE SAYS!).”
“HE EVEN WENT INTO A BIG DEAL ABOUT THE HORRORS HE SAW WHILE THERE, HOW TRAGIC A SIGHT IT WAS,” Trump wrote, in all caps. “REMEMBER, HE WASN’T THERE!”
Biden said only that the site was “so devastated” that “I felt like I was looking through the gates of hell.” At the time of Biden’s visit, rescue workers were still sifting through the mass of debris in hopes of finding survivors.
“I think it’s important that they [senators] actually see it, because the pictures don’t convey the real sense of horror,” New York Gov. George Pataki told CNN at the time.
So Biden can accurately say that he saw the aftermath and devastation caused by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center — just nine days after the attack, not “the next day.”
Trump, of course, is no stranger to exaggerations and outright falsehoods related to 9/11. For example, there was his unsupported claim that he watched on TV “thousands and thousands” of Muslims cheering in New Jersey, the embellished claim that he “predicted Osama bin Laden” and the need to “take him out” in a 2000 book, and the bogus claim that the wife of a 9/11 terrorist left the U.S. two days prior to the 2001 attacks and that she “knew exactly what was happening.”
In Sept. 11, 2019, remarks at the Pentagon, Trump also claimed that “soon after” the attack, “I went down to ground zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could.” A few weeks earlier, he told a group of New York first responders that he “spent a lot of time there with you” at ground zero. But other fact-checking organizations could find no evidence that Trump had provided any kind of hands-on assistance in the days after the attack.
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