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Trump’s fuzzy vision on the Sept. 11 attacks

President Trump has told many tall tales related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

“I vividly remember when I first heard the news. I was sitting at home watching a major business television show. Early that morning, Jack Welch, the legendary head of General Electric, was about to be interviewed, when all of a sudden they cut away. At first there were different reports. ‘It was a boiler fire,’ but I knew that boilers aren’t at the top of a building. ‘It was a kitchen explosion in Windows on the World.’ Nobody really knew what happened. There was great confusion. I was looking out of a window from a building in Midtown Manhattan directly at the World Trade Center when I saw a second plane at a tremendous speed go into the second tower. It was then that I realized the world was going to change.”

President Trump, remarks at the Pentagon on the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Sept. 11, 2019

President Trump has told various versions of this story, of seeing the second jet hit the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He usually says he was in Trump Tower, which is four miles from where the World Trade Center was, though in his most recent remarks, he says he was in “a building in Midtown Manhattan” after apparently being at home (Trump Tower) when the first plane struck.

Certainly, from his vantage point in Trump Tower, he would have seen smoke billowing from the World Trade Center, but a full view might have been obscured by the Empire State Building. (Here’s a photo of the view downtown from the apartment directly below Trump’s apartment.)

The first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, hit 1 World Trade Center just before 8:47 a.m.; the second plane hit 2 World Trade Center at 9:03, 16 minutes later.

In his first interview after the attacks, with New Jersey station WWOR, Trump did not mention seeing the second plane. He instead referenced an explosion that he said he saw from his office: “I have a window that looks directly at the World Trade Center and I saw this huge explosion. I was with a group of people. I really couldn’t believe it.”

Rockefeller Center, a few blocks south of Trump Tower, with a clear view of the twin towers, certainly offered a view of the second plane hitting the tower, as can be seen in the video below.

Trump, in 2015, also suggested at a campaign rally that he watched people jump from the buildings: “I have a window in my apartment that specifically was aimed at the World Trade Center because of the beauty of the whole downtown Manhattan. And I watched as people jumped, and I watched the second plane come in.”

To be fair, in this instance he doesn’t directly say he saw people jumping, but at another campaign rally he was more explicit: “Many people jumped and I witnessed it, I watched that. … I watched those people jump and I watched the second plane hit. I saw the second plane hit the building and I said, ‘Wow, that’s unbelievable.’ ”

Interestingly, in his WWOR interview, Trump says: “I have somebody who was down there who witnessed at least 10 people jumping out of the building from 70 and 80 stories up in the air.” He does not say he personally witnessed people jumping out of the buildings.

So the most likely explanation is that Trump saw the explosion of the second plane and heard about the jumpers, as he recounted in his first interview. But over time, he’s made the story even grander.

As Trump controversies go, whether he saw the second plane or just the explosion of the second plane is relatively minor. Here’s a roundup of Trump claims regarding 9/11 that are clearly false.

His building downtown was now the tallest

“40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually, before the World Trade Center, was the tallest — and then, when they built the World Trade Center, it became known as the second tallest. And now it’s the tallest."

Trump, interview with WWOR, Sept. 11, 2001

This was an odd claim to make in the midst of tragedy, but it was also wrong. As our colleague Philip Bump documented in 2018, Trump’s building was not the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan at the time. It was 25 feet shorter than 70 Pine Street, a block to the east.

“There was a period during which Trump's was the tallest building in Lower Manhattan, but it wasn't immediately before the construction of the World Trade Center in the 1970s,” Bump wrote. “It was for about two years in the 1930s, well before Trump owned it — or was born.”

He predicted Osama bin Laden

“I predicted Osama bin Laden … was coming in to do damage. … In my book, I predicted terrorism. I can feel it, like I can feel good location in real estate.”

Trump, in a speech during the 2016 campaign, Nov. 16, 2015

In various speeches and interviews, Trump claimed that two years before the 9/11 attacks, he warned that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was a threat — was going to “do damage” to the United States — and even predicted the rise of terrorism.

This was based on one vague reference to bin Laden in a book he issued in January 2000. Even if his claim were true, Trump would have been echoing predictions of experts, news organizations and even bin Laden himself, who in media interviews indicated that he planned to attack the United States.

Here’s a 1999 CNN headline: “Bin Laden feared to be planning terrorist attack.” The article started: “U.S. officials fear that suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden ‘may be in the final stages’ of planning an attack against the United States.”

Trump earned Four Pinocchios for this claim.

He watched thousands of Muslims cheer as the towers came down

I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

Trump, at a campaign rally, Nov. 21, 2015

This is one of Trump’s most notorious claims. An extensive examination of news clips and video archives turned up next to nothing. A professor had conducted extensive research into rumors of such jubilation and said it was possible that maybe six to 12 teenagers had something akin to a celebration on the morning of 9/11 in Paterson, N.J., but they quickly dispersed.

An MTV clip eventually was unearthed — some Trump supporters said it was evidence of the cheering Muslims — and it turned out that a high school senior was quoted as saying she had seen a group of kids acting up in front of the Paterson courthouse, banging on trash cans and shouting. She does not say they were Middle Eastern or Arab.

Trump earned Four Pinocchios.

He spent ‘a lot of time’ at Ground Zero

Trump has often suggested that he was at the center of the cleanup effort, but no evidence has emerged to support that claim. A newspaper report placed him near the scene on Sept. 14, 2001, talking on a cellphone, and a photo of him was taken on Sept. 18 outside the New York Stock Exchange. But an extensive New York Times examination of this claim found no one who could remember him playing any role in the cleanup or even supplying any workers.

Nevertheless, in his comments marking the 18th anniversary, Trump said: “Soon after, I went down to Ground Zero with men who worked for me to try to help in any little way that we could.”

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