Politico constructed an oral history of the bin Laden raid and it’s worth the read to get a sense as one can from on oral history, of the authenticity of the event, as well as some interesting details, the rosary held by Biden, and especially the trashing of previous guy at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other White House officials await news on the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden on May 1, 2011.
Pete Souza: “Right around 3:30, the president and I walk into that little tiny conference room. Gen. Webb didn’t realize that the president was going to be there, so he stood to give up his chair, and President Obama just motioned him, no, you sit right where you are. Gen. Webb had this little laptop, messaging somebody. And so the president pulled up this hardback portable chair right next to him. I went as far back into the corner of the room as I could—I could see everybody’s faces—and I had my butt up against a printer. I was there for the entirety of the raid, which was around 40 minutes. I shot about a hundred photos.”

Dan Pfeiffer: There was so much fodder—these great jokes about Trump and Celebrity Apprentice. And we were going to do this video that had the birth scene from The Lion King.

Jon Favreau: Jon Lovett and I walked up to the Outer Oval, and I tried out some of the jokes in front of Katie Johnson and Nick Rasmussen, and he was not laughing. I was like, “Oh, I guess you didn’t have a great sense of humor.” Little did I know at the time he had a few other things on his mind. Then we go into the Oval and go over all the jokes. And the president’s very excited. He loves the jokes. He’s laughing and in great spirits. You would not know that anything else was going on—the compartmentalization you do as president of the United States. You have one meeting with a bunch of fucking jokers like us about your one-liners for the correspondents’ dinner. And then the next minute you were meeting with your national security team about a potential strike against Osama bin Laden.

We get into the speech, he says, “There’s one joke that I want to change.” The joke is about all of the Republicans mocking Obama’s middle name. The joke was about how, “You wouldn’t know it, but a lot of these potential Republican candidates in 2012 also have some interesting middle names.” And one of them was like “Tim bin Laden Pawlenty.” And he’s like, “Why don’t we say his middle name is Hosni, like Hosni Mubarak? I remember just being like, “That’s not as funny.” And Obama is like, “Trust me on this. I really think Hosni will be much funnier.”

Dan Pfeiffer: No one could figure out why Obama made that change. It seemed like a weird change.


Cody Keenan: The president came out to “I am a real American.” We pulled the ’80s Hulk Hogan theme music. He came out to like an exploding birth certificate on screen and like a screaming eagle flying in a pickup truck. And he said, “My fellow Americans, Mahalo.”

Barack Obama, speech to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Washington Hilton, April 30, 2011: Donald Trump is here tonight! Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter—like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?

But all kidding aside, obviously, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example—no, seriously, just recently, in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice—at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team cooking did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night.

James Clapper: Obama is very comedic, and he just skewered Trump and brought the house down. I look over at Trump, and he wasn’t laughing—he was glowering. I’ll never forget that.


Pete Souza: I knew that a big special ops mission was planned for the weekend. The president came up into the Oval Office. I was waiting for him and I walked downstairs to the Sit Room with him. We sat down like around 1 p.m. They start going into last-minute details, before the helicopters leave Afghanistan to go into Pakistan. Not long after that meeting started, I realized, “Holy shit, we’re going after bin Laden.”


George Little: I didn’t know whether to smile or run—large crowds chanting “CIA” is not usually a good thing.

Leon Panetta: I never in my life expected to hear a crowd celebrating the CIA.


  • May 1, 2021