Donahue Interviews
9/11 Widow Kristen Breitweiser

Gutsy and incisive performance from a woman with a mission
13th August 2002

       DONAHUE: Well, Kristen Breitweiser is one of many widows left behind after September 11th. But in the midst of her grief, she’s decided to wage a battle against the United States government, demanding answers to why her husband had to die.

       Thank you so much, Kristen.
You know, I read the “Vanity Fair” piece which called our attention to you. You eloped, you said, with your husband, and you weren’t even pregnant. Made me smile. And there are not a lot of smiles in this story. He called you from his office. What floor was he on?

       KRISTEN BREITWEISER, HUSBAND KILLED ON 9/11: He was on the 94th floor. He called at 8:51 to tell me that he was OK. He said “Sweets, don’t worry. I’m fine.” And I didn’t know what he was talking about. I didn’t have the television on. And he said, “You don’t know?” You know, I was sitting at my desk and...

       DONAHUE: Now, wait a minute. Didn’t he say something about heat and...
       BREITWEISER: That’s what I was just going to say.

       DONAHUE: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Go ahead.
       BREITWEISER: He was sitting at his desk and had a window seat. And he said “My cheek got warm, and I looked over and there was this huge fireball” and...

       DONAHUE: The other building.
       BREITWEISER: Which was the other building. And he knew that I wouldn’t know what building he was in. And he said, “I didn’t want you to worry. I just wanted you to know that I’m OK and that it’s not my building and that I love you and I just didn’t want you to worry.” I said, “OK,” you know? He said, “Turn the television on,” and I turned the TV on. And he’s, like, “I have to go. We’re going to go watch it on the television. Don’t worry, though. I love you.” And I’m, like, “OK, just be careful.” And that was the last I spoke to him. And about three minutes later, I saw his building explode.

       DONAHUE: So you’re watching live television. You have received the call from your husband saying “Don’t worry.” You turn on the TV, you see the second plane hit and you know, don’t you?
       BREITWEISER: I knew right away. I knew approximately where his office was because he said that he was looking directly across at tower one. And I just had a feeling inside. And then when I saw the building subsequently collapse, I just said, “My God, he is gone.” And I fell to the floor and...

       DONAHUE: Was your 3-year-old daughter there?
       BREITWEISER: And my dog and...

       DONAHUE: Probably wanting to know what’s going on with Mom. That’s -
        OK, so here you are. You know you’re not alone. Nothing anybody’s going to say is going to ever make you feel better. You got to hold up. You’ve got a daughter you got to worry about, all the rest.
       But as the days go on-do I understand this, that-you know, and you start to put yourself together here, was it an anger that you felt?
       BREITWEISER: I think what really initially started was I saw the picture of the president in, I think it was “Newsweek” or “Time” magazine, and I read the caption. And the caption said, you know, “Andy Card telling the president about the second plane.” And then I read that he proceeded to read for 25 minutes to the 2nd-graders. He was in a Sarasota school that morning for a reading program.
       And I read it again, and I thought it was, you know, misreported. And it wasn’t, and I got upset. I said, you know, this nation was under attack. It was clear that we were under attack. Why didn’t the Secret Service whisk him out of that school? He was on live local television in Florida. The terrorists, you know, had been in Florida. I mean, we find out that out now. He was less than 10 miles from an airport.

       DONAHUE: Right.
       BREITWEISER: And I-I am concerned. I want to know why the Secret Service did not whisk him away. I want to know why he is the commander-in-chief of the United States of America, our country was clearly under attack, it was after the second building was hit. I want to know why he sat there for 25 minutes.

       DONAHUE: Yeah. Well, I don’t want to argue this with you at all. You know, there’s lots of things that would make Americans upset, to be sure. I think the president might argue, you know, those kids were there. He’s the president. If he acts like he’s nervous or in a hurry-I don’t know. Less forgiving-you know, I’m less generous about the issue of what happened after those planes took off. And I think you feel this way, too. Do you want to talk about that?
       BREITWEISER: You know, I think...

       DONAHUE: Two took off from Boston, one from Dulles.
       BREITWEISER: Right. And I think that I have a lot of problems with the Pentagon. I don’t understand how a plane could hit our Defense Department, which is the Pentagon, an hour after the first plane hit the first tower. I don’t understand how that is possible.
       I’m a reasonable person. But when you look at the fact that we spend a half trillion dollars on national defense and you’re telling me that a plane is able to hit our Pentagon, our Defense Department, an hour after the first tower is hit? There are procedures and protocols in place in this nation that are to be followed when transponders are disconnected, and they were not followed on September 11th.

       DONAHUE: Right. You make the case that they scrambled and escorted Payne Stewart’s plane faster, you think.
       BREITWEISER: Right. We use that as an example in our meetings.

       DONAHUE: I’ve only a couple seconds here, but I want you to get this in.

       DONAHUE: Go ahead. They got up there quickly with the golfer...
       BREITWEISER: They got up there right away.

       DONAHUE: ... who was deprived of oxygen. Everybody fell asleep on the airplane.
       BREITWEISER: They got there very quickly. Moreover, the jets that were scrambled on September 11th were not only late, but they were sent from Air Force bases 200 miles away.

       DONAHUE: We’ll be back in just a moment with Kristen.


       DONAHUE: Kristen Breitweiser-there’s her husband. He was killed when the second plane hit the World Trade Center on September 11th. She saw the plane hit his building after he called her. Middletown, New Jersey, Kristen.
       You want an independent investigation. Now, let’s make this point here. Incidentally, you came here with three other widows, didn’t you? You guys must be tight.
       BREITWEISER: They’re my family. We are all family. And it is how we have all survived in the last year.

       DONAHUE: Tell me about what your-what’s-what is September 11th Advocates all about? What do you want to happen?
       BREITWEISER: At this point, we are fighting for an independent investigation, an investigation into 9/11 removed from the political process. We don’t feel comfortable with Congress investigating itself, basically. You have congressional committees that had oversight duties with the FBI and the CIA. We want politics removed. We want pure accountability, and we feel that an independent investigation is needed to have that.
       We’ve had independent investigations with regard to Pearl Harbor, with regard to the shuttle accident. If there’s a car accident, you have an investigation. We have waited 11 months, and I think it is deplorable that these women and myself have to leave our children, our homes, and go down to Washington and beg for answers. To have the right to have answers, we have to beg. And it’s disgusting

       DONAHUE: Yeah. It’s hard to believe that you had to beg. Now, you have to be well received when you go to Washington. I mean, people have got to be treating you like an egg.
       BREITWEISER: I think we are well received, but I think there was a definite reticence on behalf of certain individuals that are fighting this independent investigation. And I’m sorry. There are 3,000 lives lost and three million questions remaining.

       DONAHUE: Would you care to name those individuals?
       BREITWEISER: No. I mean, I don’t think it’s too hard to say. I mean, I think that the newspapers have reported openly that the White House is against it. I understand that they’re probably embarrassed. But unfortunately, my husband was murdered by Middle Eastern terrorists at his desk, and I would like some answers. You have President Bush out there saying that he wants transparency and accountability on behalf of Fortune 500 CEOs. I would like some transparency and accountability on behalf of, you know, President Bush and his workers, who were the individuals that failed my husband and the 3,000 other people that day.

       DONAHUE: So you have to say, then, while you have been accorded all the courtesies we would expect to be extended to a widow, there’s nothing - - you don’t see anything substantial happening.
       BREITWEISER: No. I think, you know, the legislation was brought to the House. It passed the House. We were very pleased with that. It’s now sitting in the Senate, and the Senate needs to do its job. I am sick and tired of people not doing the right thing. I am sick and tired of having nothing being done since September 11th.
       This country is not safe. I want to feel safe in this country. And I think that, to quote Edmund Burke, all that is needed for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. And at this point, the families feel that way. We feel that nothing is being done to make this country safe.
       And you know, it’s interesting to say, at this time of year, everyone is asking us, you know, what can we do to memorialize, what can we do to memorialize. And you know what? An independent investigation. Let’s make sure our husbands, our loved ones did not die in vain. Let’s make sure that all the children that will now have to grow up with this horror, this devastation in their lives will have some answers, will be able to make sense of it.
       That’s part of the grieving process. You need to have answers so that you can move on.

       DONAHUE: So we see all this action, military go, go, go, bomb, bomb, bomb...
       BREITWEISER: Right.

       DONAHUE: ... bang, bang, bang. That’s the whole thing. And you know, we can’t be-I don’t think we want to send somebody to jail for wanting to go out and find who’s responsible for this. But you want an independent investigation on the events before 9/11. I understand that.
       BREITWEISER: I want an independent investigation into the 24 hours of September 11th. I want to know why certain things failed. I want to know why my husband was told to return to his desk when the FAA comes out on Monday with a press conference saying that it was an excruciating 11 minutes for the controllers to think about that airliner heading dead center on my husband’s building. Eleven minutes on an express elevator in tower two would have been my husband’s life.

       DONAHUE: Right. You hope-you prayed that your husband just vaporized without pain. But you got then a notice of-tell me that. We only have 20 seconds.
       BREITWEISER: In October, I received my husband’s wedding band, which I wear on my finger. And it was recovered with a part of his finger. And that’s all I have, is his wedding band, which is a miracle. It was recovered from ground zero, and I recovered a part of his finger.

       DONAHUE: Kristen Breitweiser, I thank you very, very much.

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