David Axelrod: The scary call I got the night before Barack Obama's inauguration

David Axelrod, a senior CNN political commentator and host ofThe Axe Files,” was senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 e 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. Visualizza più opinione sulla CNN.

The night before former President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, I got an urgent call from Rahm Emanuel, his incoming chief of staff: “Can you call me back right away from a hard line?”

Rahm sounded a bit agitated, which wasn’t entirely unusual. But the fact that he was asking me to call from a land line rather than my cell phone was a tipoff that something was amiss.
I was visiting friends in Washington, DC, when Rahm’s jarring call came and borrowed a corded phone in a bedroom to resume our conversation.
I’m going to tell you something you can’t share with anyonenot even Susan,” Egli ha detto, referring to my wife. “We’ve been talking to (Michael) Chertoff all day, and there is a serious threat on the inauguration.
Chertoff was the outgoing homeland security secretary for President George W. cespuglio. He shared intelligence that four young men who had been radicalized and gone overseas to train with Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, may have slipped back into the US to target the inaugural ceremonies.
The threat was considered serious enough that contingency plans had been drawn to quickly disperse the inaugural crowd. If that became necessary, Rahm said, the Secret Service would alert Obama, who would instruct the crowd to follow directions and leave in an orderly fashion.
I can’t read the speechwriters into this, so I want you to write a brief statement for the President-elect,” Rahm told me. “Meet him right before the ceremony in the Speaker’s office and give it to him. He’ll put it in his pocket in case it’s needed.
Out for an evening of celebration before I began my work as senior adviser to the President of the United States, this news brought instant sobriety. I could not sleep, haunted by police sirens that pierced the night and the specter of a looming catastrophe.
Il Mattino seguente, I was committed to do television interviews while Susan and my son Ethan were invited to attend the traditional pre-inaugural service at the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church with the Obamas and Bushes.
Fearful that the attack could take place there, I was desperate to tell my wife and son not to go, but I would have had to share what I knew, and I was sworn to secrecy. I could only hope it was a decision I would not regret for the rest of my life.
I delivered the remarks to the President-elect, as planned. He slipped them into his coat pocket without reading them, and we exchanged a few words about the journey on which we were embarking.
A few minutes later, Susan and I sat on the reviewing stand behind the rostrum from which Obama would take the oath of office, looking out at a sea of humanity that extended from the Capitol all the way to the Washington monument.
It was a wonderful, inspiring scene, yet I couldn’t shed the ominous knowledge that potential terrorists might be lurking in that vast crowd.
Per fortuna, they were not. But those harrowing 24 hours were a bracing introduction to the grave threats and profound responsibilities we were about to assume.
Di mercoledì, Joe Biden will take the oath of office from those same Capitol steps, but it will be a starkly different scene. Even before the January 6 insurrezione al Campidoglio, attendance at the inauguration was going to be limited to dignitaries and a relative small number of invited guests because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now Biden will have to offer our battered nation words of hope and unity from within a fortified green zone, constructed to protect him and the incoming national leadership from homegrown terrorists.
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The man who did so much to radicalize these Americans will be en route to Florida by then, breaking yet one more norm by skipping the swearing-in of his successor. But he made the right decision. It would have been profane to see him sitting on the same steps the mob he incited had stormed just two weeks earlier.
As he wings away to his own uncertain future, Donald Trump will leave for his successor myriad crises and threats that eclipse even what Obama faced when he assumed office amid war and recession in 2009.
I’m thinking about our new President and his team as they prepare to take on these extraordinary burdens. Every American should be grateful for their willingness to help lead us out of this awful mess. And though there are clearly some in this bitterly divided nation who would vehemently disagree, we all have a stake in their success.

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