Obama Aide Resigns After Photo Flop

Obama Aide Resigns After Photo Flop

WASHINGTON -- Well, at least it's a heck of a photo.

On Friday, the White House released the picture that panicked New York - a spectacular shot of Air Force One soaring majestically past the Statue of Liberty.

The Obama administration also announced the departure under fire of the White House official who authorized the $328,835 photo shoot, which gave the city heart-thumping Sept. 11 flashbacks, enraged local officials and forced the president to condemn the incident.

Barack Obama had nothing to say Friday as the administration released the resignation letter of his top White House military aide.

Louis Caldera said the controversy had made it impossible for him to effectively lead the White House Military Office for Obama. "Moreover, it has become a distraction in the important work you are doing as president," he said in his letter to Obama.

As former Army Secretary Caldera took the fall for the flyover, the White House put out the findings of an internal investigation that portrayed him as out of the loop in a cycle of missed messages and questionable judgments as plans for the photo shoot proceeded.

Caldera said he didn't know Air Force One would fly at 1,000 feet during the April 27 photo promotion, according to the investigation findings. He also failed to read an e-mail message describing the operation and seemed unaware of the potential for public fear, the findings said.

Local officials had been notified in advance. But it was a shock to New Yorkers who looked up to see the Boeing 747 and its fighter jet escort flying near the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan's financial district, a terrifying reminder of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in which jets brought down the two towers of the World Trade Center.

The Federal Aviation Administration told local officials in advance of the flight, but asked them not to disclose it to the public, the White House report said. There was a prepared statement for the FAA's New York regional office and for the Air Force in Washington to release if anyone called to ask about the flight.

In his resignation letter, released by the White House, Caldera said the controversy had "made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office," which is responsible for presidential aircraft. "Moreover, it has become a distraction in the important work you are doing as president," he wrote in the letter addressed to President Barack Obama.

Last month, Obama called the flight a mistake and vowed it would not be repeated. Obama had no statement Friday; White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president had accepted Caldera's resignation.

Caldera's office approved the photo-op, which cost $35,000 in fuel alone for the plane and two jet fighter escorts. The Air Force estimated the photo shoot cost taxpayers $328,835.

White House officials said the purpose of the flight was to update the official photo of the plane, known as Air Force One when the president is aboard.

The White House report, which did not address officials' conduct outside the White House, portrayed Caldera as deaf to concerns. After the flight, Caldera met with top administration officials and was asked if the White House had been notified. "The director responded yes, someone had mentioned it to him," according to the report.

Later in the meeting, a White House official presented Caldera a letter accepting responsibility. He made some edits and took responsibility because he thought it was the "standup thing to do."

The White House report also indicated the operation was packed with potential opportunities for administration officials to call it off.

Deputy military director George Mulligan said he first told Caldera about the proposed photo shoot on April 20 - a week before it was scheduled to take place. The same aide also said Caldera should notify deputy chief of staff Jim Messina because it was an unusual move.

Caldera told officials he didn't recall the conversation. Ultimately, Caldera didn't tell Messina or Gibbs. "When asked why he failed to do so, he did not offer a coherent explanation," according to the report.

Caldera also told officials that he didn't read an e-mail detailing the flyover plans until it was over. Mulligan, Caldera's second-in-command, sent him an e-mail message on April 24 advising him again to tell Messina and Gibbs about the photo shoot.