Part 16. Disclaimers in parts one and fifteen.
From the hallway, Toby watched Danny leave CJ’s office. He re-entered the room and found the press secretary gathering her notes.
"Well," he demanded.
"He’s going to sit on the story."
"Whew!" Toby sighed. "What did you have to give up for that?"
"My self-respect." CJ said bitterly, unable to meet Toby’s eyes.
"CJ - I was joking," Toby said, horrified.
"I’m not. Let’s just do this, Okay."
Toby nodded and the two headed for the briefing room.
Many of the press had also gotten late night phone calls and were straggling in half-awake. The 3:30 briefing Leo had intended had been pushed back to nearly six to allow all of the major news agencies to get their people in place.
CJ saw Danny and smiled slightly. Toby took note of the smile and frowned a little. He disliked Danny more than a little and trusted him less. No way was he good enough for CJ, but that was really none of his business. Toby failed to understand how a man could claim to care about a woman and still force her to do whatever CJ had done. This wasn’t over by a long shot.
At the podium, CJ gathered her notes and turned to Carole. "Ready,?" she asked. Carole nodded then stuck her head out the door.
"Margaret?" She called. The other woman appeared as if by magic. "Tell Leo and the President that CJ is starting the briefing."
Margaret walked back down the hallway and knocked on Leo’s door. At the muffled "Come in" she entered the office and found her boss and the President deep in conversation.
"Sorry to interrupt," Margaret said. "Carole wanted me to let you know that the briefing is starting."
Leo nodded and grabbed the remote for the TV. "Thanks Margaret." Leo turned the TV on and he and the President both focused on CJ.
"Ladies and Gentleman," CJ began. "At approximately 500 hours Zulu time, midnight eastern time, some six hours ago, a group of nine gunman shot their way aboard a Delta jet at Heathrow Airport in London. The flight was bound for New York with 225 passengers and nine crew. 184 passengers and 7 crew members are Americans. The rest are a mix of nationalities, mostly British and Irish. Four security offices, six ground workers and at least three passengers are dead. The bodies are on the tarmac at Heathrow at this time and no identifications have been made."
"President Bartlett was awakened by White House signals at 12:20 eastern and told of the incident. He immediately requested that senior staff be notified and that they report to the West Wing. The President has been in contact with the British Ambassador and the Prime Minister. We have offered all possible support. We remain in constant contact. At this point the situation is fluid and information is still forthcoming. We have no verifiable details regarding the identities of any of the involved parties. We will hold briefings every as events warrant. Questions?"
Throughout the room shouts of "CJ" echoed. The Press Secretary pointed to a senior reporter. "Cookie?"
"Is a passenger list available?"
"It is my understanding that Delta will release a list at 9:00 am eastern time - the y are attempting to contact families, etc."
The reporter nodded and more voices clamored. CJ pointed again. "Barbara?"
"Sky news is reporting that the British have an assault team on standby. Does the President support the use of force to end this situation?"
"As I said earlier, the situation is fluid. We are in constant contact with the British. To my knowledge no final decisions have been made. The President will have a statement later in the day."
Every reporter in the room was aware that CJ had side stepped the questions. Well, it was still early. They could not blame her. More than likely the Prime Minister had not told the Americans about the attack force yet. They’d get a response later.
For several more minutes reporters attempted to verify details or get more information. They quickly realized that CJ was going to say little more than what she’d already told them. Most were not surprised. In a situation this volatile the White House often played their cards close to the vest.
Aware of the time and deadlines, CJ decided to end the briefing. She noticed a novice reporter near the rear of the room and made a choice. "I’ll take one more question. Peter isn’t it?"
"Yes m’am. The terrorists aboard flight 830 have made no secret that they are Catholic and demand the establishment of a Catholic Free State in Northern Ireland. As a Catholic is the President capable of taking a stand against his own religion?"
In Leo McGarry’s office, the Chief of Staff stared at the television screen. To his right the President sat up straighter. "What did he say?"
"Mr. President, he’s fishing, Let CJ..." Leo never finished. Jed Bartlett was on his feet and out of the door before Leo could react.
Following his boss, Leo called "Mr. President!" Jed Bartlett never stooped. He had one goal in mind - the White House Briefing Room.