White was in Aspen for security reasons
March 28, 2002
For security reasons, Secretary of the Army Thomas E. White was required to be somewhere other than Washington the weekend of March 1-4.
So he came to Aspen. And attended to the details of selling a slopeside mansion.
White, a former senior Enron executive under close Congressional scrutiny, spoke for an hour with reporters Wednesday at the Pentagon about his connections to Enron and his recent trip to Aspen.
He said he would resign if the Enron investigation took too much of his time, or if he felt his role in the matter had caused troops to lose confidence in his leadership.
White, 58, was vice chairman of Enron Energy Services when he was appointed by President Bush to the top civilian post at the Army last May.
On Wednesday, White confirmed that as part of the government’s secret “continuity of operations” plan, it was his turn to rotate out of the Washington area during the first weekend of March. He said he chose to come to Colorado.
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White was asked by reporters if he had discretion as to where he traveled when it was his turn to be rotated out of the nation’s capital.
“I think that’s the way it currently operates,” White said. “It’s basically our discretion.”
It’s not clear if the “continuity of operations” plan that White was working under is the exact same one that was disclosed by government officials on March 1.
Under that program, 75 to 150 senior government officials are said to be rotating in and out of sparse fortified bunkers on the East Coast, complete with food rations lining the walls.
When White was told to get out of the D.C. area in early March, he didn’t stay in the East. Instead, on March 1, he flew from Washington to Dallas for the swearing in of a new civilian aide to the Army.
He then left Dallas for Aspen with his wife, Susan, in an Army Gulfstream III, but snowy weather forced the plane to land in Grand Junction, where the Whites climbed into government vehicles and were driven to Aspen.
The jet, with “The United States of America” clearly visible on its side, left Grand Junction and flew to Aspen when weather allowed.
The Whites had been scheduled to meet with local realtor Bill Stirling at a “pre-closing” meeting to sell their mansion at the base of the Buttermilk Mountain ski area.
They had bought the property in October 1999 for $7.8 million. The Whites also own a luxury townhome at the base of Aspen Highlands, which is for sale for $3.85 million.
Stirling was told by White’s office that due to weather, the Whites would be driving to Aspen and would be too late for the afternoon meeting.
Stirling rescheduled the meeting for Monday morning, March 4. After reviewing the closing documents, the Whites spent part of Monday at the fully furnished luxury house deciding which of their personal items were to be excluded from the sale.
Then, on Monday afternoon, Secretary White flew out of Aspen in the Army Gulfstream to a conference at Microsoft in Seattle. It is unclear if his wife went with him.
At the press conference on Wednesday, White said that in regard to the Aspen visit, he and his wife had already purchased commercial airline tickets from Dallas to Aspen, apparently before being informed he was on rotation.
The Army requires the Secretary of the Army, the highest ranking civilian in the Army, to fly on military jets when conducting official business.
“If anybody wants to to buy two tickets [from] Dallas to Colorado, I have them to sell,” White told reporters during the session.
He said he ended up paying for his wife’s trip to Aspen twice, as he still had the commercial ticket and he had to reimburse the Army for his wife’s flight on the Gulfstream.
“She was on a space-available basis, and we reimbursed the department at normal coach fare,” White said. “I’ve paid twice.”
The Army’s policy is that flights such as the one that Susan White took are to be paid for at the same cost as a coach seat on a commercial flight.
White also added that his stop in Colorado was an efficient use of time, given that he was traveling from Dallas to Seattle.
“I had to be in Seattle on Monday for a meeting with Microsoft,” White said. “I had official duties in Dallas on Friday, and if you draw a straight line between Dallas and Seattle, it probably crossed over Colorado, so that’s the way I did it.”
A straight line from Dallas to Seattle does indeed cross over Colorado, at a point just east of Aspen, in fact.
While Army officials have said that White’s trip to Aspen was an “official visit,” Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis was not told that was the case. And managers at the Aspen airport were not told who was on board the Army’s Gulfstream.
The sheriff and airport managers are normally briefed by government security personnel when a high-ranking government executive is coming to Aspen on official business.