tv The Presidency Michael Giorgione Inside Camp David CSPAN July 7, 2022 7:18pm-8:02pm EDT
>> hello welcome to another episode my name is dr. calling joe, a senior vice president at the white house historical association and the director -- for white house history. the white house historical association is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a mission to educate americans about the rich and diverse history of the white house, and the people who lived and worked their. our guest this evening is michael, a retired admiral from the navy's civil engineer court. he served in a variety of assignments around the world in his 29 year military career, including as commander of camp david. after military retirement in 2010, mike has worked in private industry and is now the chief executive officer of a
building information systems technology company headquartered in his hometown of pittsburgh, pennsylvania. in october of 2017, he published out his first book, inside camp david, the private world of president retreat. mike travels often talking about the book and has been covered by the wall street journal, the today show the smithsonian, and pr, c-span, and many other radio and television outlets my will be taking questions from our live audience. please use the mic in the chat, we'll get to as many as possible in the program. welcome to white house history live, mike. >> thank you colleen, wonderful to be here. i appreciate the time you talk. >> but we start from the beginning. tell us how you were
selected and with this thought process was. we know it is camp davis -- it is a command called naval -- the town nearby. a name is operated and maintained since it was restored from 1942 by president roosevelt. because it's principle safe maintained, 60% of the crew are navy -- a civil engineer officer has been the maintaining officer in the history. in 1998, i was put on a short list of possible officers to be considered, went to the white house, had the interview with mr. simmons, and then the executive director of the white house military office of president clinton, went through a visit to the camp and was interviewed by the staff. a week later, i got the call. >> amazing. >> tell us a little bit about your own personal history with camp david. >> i knew what it was. i visited ones as an assignment
officer for cb, when i was stationed in d.c., in the early 90s. i love to visit that day talking to cb about the next assignment thinking, man, that's a deferral cold place to work. it would be weird to work there are some white. put it away and went on for an extra few tours. lo and behold, in 1998 i was shortlisted for the interview, selected and reported in june of 1999. near the end of president clinton's second term. >> how long were you there? >> just over two years. the last year and a half of president clinton and the first eight months of president george w. bush. very fortunate on timing to work with two presidents and support the families, the administration, the world events that occurred there. just game those insights into different ways of leading. >> let's talk about the history of camp david. the history begins, really, with franklin roosevelt. tell us, why did fdr select that site?
why did he like to do when he visited -- not called camp david at that time -- i will let you talk about that. >> very good. thank you. let's go back to 1942. roosevelt loved -- that was one of the three presidential yachts at the time. the potomac was -- in oakland california today. he loved going on the potomac to get away from the white house. his hobbies, his interest, talk to world leaders and staff. it was 41, 42, concerned about the ufo sightings on the eastern coast of the united states. staff said, sir, we can't go out on the yacht anymore. they said we will find your place you can go to get away. versus before marine helicopters -- they had to find some place drivable nearby. interesting late, because of the new deal, bringing us out of the depression, and part of the progress administration,
this ebullient converse -- conservation corps, which rebuilt a lot of the roads in parks, there was a place in maryland called the -- recreational demonstration area. also known as camp number three. roosevelt was given three sites nearby three visits. he went to all three. when he came to camp number three, he looked at it and said, this is it. here is the first name. this is my shangri-la. the roosevelt named it shangri-la -- implying a utopian mysterious place in the mountains. he had that whimsical nature about many things. that was its name. as we know, president eisenhower named it after his grandson, camp david. that's how we know it today. >> can you describe camp david for a lot of our viewers and listeners who i am sure have never visited camp david in person, and probably will not visit camp david.
can you paint a picture of them, of what the camp is like? >> sure, i will. try imagine a hilltop park, it's a national park. maintained by the national park service. about 1800 feet elevation. in the spring and summer months, a very leafy, lush canopy. perfectly manicured yards. a narrow asphalt road that meanders to the camp. these cabins that you see here, the presidential lodge. all the cabins have this rough cut, oat playing citing with the green paint. all the roofs are cedar shingle. this very rustic, very leafy, very fresh. at night i find it particularly surreal and ominous at night. it is deathly quiet. no lights except pathway lights. no noise except for a squirrel in a tree, it unless there are
visitors, of course. no lights from below. eerily quiet and peaceful. that adds to the mystique. this is the cabin my family and i lived in, all the officers do. -- this is called cedar, just around the corner from aspen, the presidents lodge. >> how many cabins are at camp david? how big is the site? >> around 12. for guest cabins. all named after trees. eisenhower started that cabin. roosevelt called of the presidential lodge the bears and then. eisenhower, when he renamed at camp david, he named all the cabins after trees. -- eisenhower's home state of colorado, all named after trees. about 12 for entertainment. about 20 total that include the fire departments ash. the clinic, eucalyptus. the admin office, poplar. all the support facilities, the barracks for single sailors and
marines, et cetera. >> let's talk about the staff at camp david. you were the commander. what is the size of the military staff at camp david? what types of jobs do they perform? >> sure. about over 200 sailors and marines, five civil officers to maintain the maintenance. we have one chaplain, a core officer, and to marine officers -- from the security company which comes out of washington, d.c.. all told, you put all the sailors and marines together, just under 200 staff. we have a white house communications agency they're called -- in charge of communications -- that's a joint command coming out of the main command, in downtown. >> can you tell us a little bit about how camp david has changed over the years? it's very rustic when fdr first comes to camp david. there has been notable additions to the complex.
you mentioned there is a chaplain. there is a chapel like camp david. talk a little bit about the buildings and activities, how that complex has changed over time. >> go back to fdr again, why the navy has it is because he took the sailors off the uss potomac, they did not have a job and took them with him to camp david. he also -- for his own security. fdr only went there during the long winter months. truman, not a fan of camp david, prefer to go to key west. put a permit around the place, had the trees pushed back from the cabins, and then, during eisenhower's time, it was -- he was installed in all the cabins. a very rustic, they have still maintained that. but over the years, the families and administration, -- president nixon during his time put a lot of expansion into the camp, expanding aspen, the presidents lodge --
adding laurel, which is the main entertainment cabin you sometimes see on user boards and coverage of world leaders visiting. a number of other features throughout. it's been maintained a sense that. modernized at times. it's a challenge if the president visits a lot when you modernize the cabins -- a very sequential, smart way to keep a current. but maintain the rustic nature on the outside. the amenities on the inside. it's not a marvel of brass, for star resort. it's not that. it's not meant to be. it's a rustic, comfortable place to get away, to think, to walk in privacy and silence and recreate on your own. part of the most unique things -- the evergreen chapel that was donated by private money, gifted to the president of the united states camp david, commissioned in 1991, during
president george h. w. bush. >> how did president get to camp david? you talk about fdr within driving distance. but presidents don't historically drive there anymore, correct? >> ideally, we prefer to bring them in by h m x one, the helicopter squadron -- when they started. weather permitting, they will fly in on the helicopter or the white top, as we call the marine long. they can come by motorcade from wherever the last departure was. >> camp david is a presidential retreat. yet we know that presidents often find themselves working at camp david. tell us about how it functions as a white house in the maryland mountains >> thank you. i think most people realize, no matter who is the president's, you get a lot of critiques. the fact is you are
always on duty as president. you need time off. we all need time off. in addition to a second home that some presidents have, camp david provides that peaceful getaway for family, friends. i find it's been a great balance. presidents go there to get away. to recreate but also i'm sure to think about things. so everyone is a little bit different. to me, as an outsider, i think the best is with family and friends. and then you find it's a great place, really worldly. there is no press. no press, no protesters, no traffic, no planes flying overhead. it's a quiet and peaceful place. >> how do people get around
camp david? are their cars or golf carts? how do people get around? >> it's especially golf carts. so you can find a golf cart, we have golf cart one. so golf cart one, golf carts for the guests. that's available. for pedestrians. we do have cross country trails through the woods. and snowmobiling, president ford, his family enjoy that. principal, golf carts to get around. >> just a reminder to everyone, we are going to be taking questions at the end of our conversation. if you do have questions for mike about camp david, it's history, what it's like, please put them in the chat. we will get to as many as possible. let's talk a little bit about the history of camp david and the historic events that have taken place for camp david. can you talk about some of these episodes for them and why presidents choose camp david
for the setting of these historic occurrences? >> i will mention four events, then i will focus on a fifth one. we see photos of fdr, inviting winston churchill to the mountains, going fishing in a nearby stream. smoking cigars and probably having bourbon as well. the poignant moments at bottom left here are them talking about how the u.s. -- that's roosevelt in the top left, inside aspen, that stone fireplace is still there. there is a flag and we'll chandelier you can't see, it's called the roosevelt table, that is still there. president truman went ten times in his tenure -- the presidents come there. president carter made it famous for most people in 1978. with an warsaw dot of egypt. during my time, 2000, there was
president clinton -- the prime minister of israel, trying to replicate a similar thing. 2012, president obama hosted the g8 conference at camp david. the single time that any, the most world leaders have been at camp david at one time. but the incident want to go back to is 1961, april 1960. one. president kennedy, inaugurated in january, succeeding president eisenhower, bay of pigs is being planned behind the scenes with the cia and u.s. government, others, passed off to the administration. you see this photo at the top right that became a poll surprise winning photo called serious steps. what's interesting about this from a human and political point is that president kennedy inherited the operation. it was launched, it didn't go well, hence the name bay of pigs fiasco. he reaches across the political and personal aisle and invites
president eisenhower to come to camp david. helped him understand how to get through this. i do i fix this mess, what do i do? it's a very poignant, significant moment, i think. you have the new upstart democrat inviting the old guard five star retired general, former republican president there to talk about what to do. it's a very humble, possibly desperate measure. a very humble way to recognize leadership, recognize what's a president typically passes on between administrations and talk about what to do best for the country. >> some, you mentioned this already, mike, some presidents, you talk about this in your book, some presidents and first families visit camp david more frequently than others. can you talk a little bit about the differences of how presidents and first families use camp david and explain why you think that is? >> i think it depends on children, first. what are the ages of the
presidents children? that dictates if they will leave their leads on the inter meryl leagues. back in d.c., most of their friends there, my children -- i think that's a factor that goes with parents of all experience. to, some presidents have second homes and prefer to go there. some can do both. three, some like the quiet nature. president clinton rarely went to camp david first term, but he went a lot more in his second term. over two terms, he saw the value. some prefer to go somewhere else. they prefer to entertain elsewhere. i've seen a mix. there were over 80 some years of how they've used it. >> can you share with us one or two of your most favorite memories from your time at camp david? >> there is the historic moments that most people recognize, like the middle east peace summit, working for the state department --
president clinton, meeting -- having a photo shaking his hand, watching from the sidelines as president clinton spends almost two weeks trying to forge a middle east peace treaty. the peace agreement. watching president bush early in his presidency welcome the layers to camp david on the weekend, just two couples getting to know each other, much like you would do with your neighbor's, as one of you moves into the neighborhood. another poignant thing to watch on the sidelines because, even though we get to serve there and see things, you have to remember you are in that world a brief time. you get to know some personal things about the family's. but you are not of their world. you have to understand and maintain that quorum, that humility. i will tell two stories that are more personal in nature. it helps to relate to families and parents. the first one is the final clinton weekend, four days nonstop, hundreds of guests coming through. dinners, a couple new musicians
performing in the chapel. just a wonderful event. we got opportunities to say goodbye to the clinton family. as i'm walking into the helicopter, there was snow on the ground, i'm thanking them for leading our country, walking them down to -- my last time to see them. chelsea clinton, 20-year-old student at stanford turns to me and hands me two stuffed animals. she says, commander, i've had these in my bedroom for eight years at aspen. please give them to your daughter brianna and ryan, and thank your wife michelle for everything you've done. just a touching, unexpected moment, of course. very human approach. -- that's the first one. here is the scene, the final time i see clinton's 2001. the second one is a humorous story, it's in the book about the goldfish. that just a position as the commander of the --
the family that lives inside a. you have to run errands, do official thing -- during the four east b summit, michel had taken the girls down to the city fair. common thing to do at camp david in the summer. she is coming back through the gate with a two girls in the backseat. they each have won a goldfish. they have a goldfish in the plastic bags. we have a strict policy at that time, no animals at camp david. no pets. the marine corps guy, who knows us, and we know all the marines and they know us, everyone is doing their job. he says, man, you can't bring pets into the camp. she looks at him with a bit of an incredulous look and the girls are hearing this. tears start to come down their eyes. she is looking at them and he is looking at her, she's looking back at him. he's doing his job. mom is doing her job. michelle leans into the window and says, they are for dinner.
she kind of winks. he goes, yes ma'am. please proceed. it's funny moments like that you realize there are still people there, we have these poignant moments in times. we all live with rules and regulations. sometimes you see the human side. that's my favorite story because moms and dads full can't forget with that sometimes feels like. >> the final chapter in your book is called a true meeting of camp david. can you tell us what is the true meaning? is it different for every president and first family who spends time there? >> and definitely different. as i described, all the families who have used it -- the bushes had bunked for judge w. bush -- they spent every christmas there. for some it's a time for family to come together for special holidays. during my time, the clintons left camp david for thanksgiving. a thanksgiving's the clintons went to camp david.
every president has done differently. president reagan, nancy reagan loved going there. he did all his radio and press on saturdays from the laurel cabin. they all uses differently. the meeting comes from, i, think the engagement -- it has a camp david kind of place. the spirit of camp david, coined by one of the soviet premiers at the time. it was about a place where you could come together with trust in nature, no press, unless you want it there, and the ability to sit down as people, break bread, share a story and get to know each other. to me, that's the true meaning of camp david. a place for our presidents to get away and relax. a place to entertain family and guests of world leaders. probably one of the most unique places in the world, all within reasonable distance. >> mike, we have really great
questions from our live audience. nancy from facebook asks, i know president reagan and nancy reagan rode horses while they were at camp davis. is there a stable there? what other activities are available besides swimming? >> the only time we've had a stable bear, a corral, was the kennedy years when macaroni was kept their, the pony. -- otherwise horseback, i had one incident where president clinton and chelsea wanted to go horseback riding. the national park service from d.c. brought the horses up. we used that back again into the wilderness. secret service -- to go through the nearby woods. horseback riding is possible, but there are no corrals today. there is ski shooting, trap shooting, mini golf course, a driving range, snowmobiling, cross country skiing. presidents want to go golfing, they go to the nearby golf course. they want to fish, they are
nearby fishing holes -- arranges with to take them. there is a bowling alley. there is a movie theater, a game room, a library. there is a bar, a lounge, recreation shop, et cetera. >> david asks, have hikers ever from the catoctin mountains ever accidentally approach the perimeter of camp david? >> it happens. there are warning signs we suddenly put around the camp, quite a distance from it and you can drive by the roads at camp. most people know not to go down it's. we have protocols if you do happen to approach the fence. there are things we deal with to check you out and help you get back to your path. it's a no fly zone so typically no aircrafts are able to fly over it. it continues to happen that people stumble upon it. we >> didn't fdr, didn't he make a wrong turn when he was driving ones to try to get the shangri-la? didn't he come across a neighbor that wasn't too happy to see him?
>> yes, it has happened. we didn't drive around as much as we do today. we are always so -- surrounded by agents. there's been numerous events. the inaugural lady yelled at him, who are? you those poignant moments about every day life between humans and how we engage each other. >> dennis asks, what is the longest a president has stayed there? wasn't carter there for a week or more during the middle east peace talks? >> yes. there was a time carter was there over a week and during the -- almost two weeks for the peace talks. clinton was there, although he went to the g8 summit in japan during the midterm. president carter also went there during the 1979, he came back and gave the malay's, which what's has been called -- the condition of the country, all that was going on, hostages taken in tehran, iran. all this was going on and he
secluded himself for almost two weeks working here during that difficult time in his presidency. but typically, presidents go for a weekend. you know, up friday, back sunday night. >> jeff asks a good question. how did eisenhower get naming rights to name camp david camp david? was there an executive order? was it legislation? did he just have someone go out with lumber and paint and redo the science? >> i like the second explanation best. but i don't know. there must of been something signed to change the name from shangri-la moniker to camp david. we will have to check the archives together, colleen. >> right. karen asks when a president chooses not to visit camp david very often, how does that change staffing and operations? >> stuffing operations don't change. you are always ready, your mission is to always be ready to receive. some presidents have let camp david be used by guests.
president carter visited with his whole family during clinton's term. the carters, the former president visiting some presidents have allowed staff to use it. if no one is there, you are just maintaining the place and taking care of it. that can be a morale issue, if no one visits. i had a gap of five months between visits from president clinton. that's a lot of time not to do your job, per se. you get a little rusty, possibly. you have to practice at times. some weekends, some presidents are always on. it becomes quite an increase in uptempo. >> that's the question that this person happens. what happens at camp david when the president is away? would you do as the staff? >> we have more time to do training, physical fitness programs, contests, if time allows it. more time to send our sailors and marines to school, if necessary. you need to be always ready. -- but you are really sitting,
waiting, taking care of the place, planting the flowers, mowing the grass, training, firefighting training, it's constant. certainly, because you are always ready, you are ready to execute. if the president does visit, that's when we look forward to, those visits. >> jeff asks, has hollywood or the news for a documentary ever filmed onsite at camp david? >> harry reason or with abc news interviewed president ford inside the camp. i believe that's the only time there really was an interview done in that regard in what is camp david. certainly during world events like middle east peace summit in 2000, the press was there in a secluded area to film the principles coming in. then they were escorted out on the bus. there have been hollywood guests on various presidents in -- sports guests, musical guests. no real filming documentaries
done on camp david other than from a distance, from the archives. any presidential films from the libraries. >> peter asks, what is the reason for the no pets rule at camp david? >> it was self grown. today, the people that live there, the ceos are allowed to have a path. it depends on what's happening in history. reading the book about the incident with the nixon's french poodle and the camp commander stop, it's a humorous time, and probably why that dictated changes at times. today, we are little bit more reasonable, if i could say, about that rule. >> kathy asks, you mentioned the library. what kind of books are in the library? does it depend upon the administration? do the books change depending on the president or first family? >> we keep some archives in a open public library near -- the history, that's where the white house holiday cards are
kept. we frame all those. we put those in the movie theater and the library. in the cabin holly, which is where carter chose to meet with sadat and begin, because it was a smaller nature, i like that one because the library is where most of the presidential papers, copies of the presidential papers are published, and some historical novels about the military services and presidential. that's why we referred to the two libraries. when for public use, one for the history of camp david. the second, presidential papers. >> missy asks, do you have any stories about the johnson years in camp david, lbj? >> chuck howell, aged 95 lives in california today. chuck and his family and his kids were there from kennedy to the johnson years. in the book, talks about johnson being particularly -- about absolutely scalding hot
shower in the shower. how the crew tried to make it harder than possible. had to deal with air conditioning. all those little things many of us fight in our own rooms. chuck talks about that transition, reacting to the assassination, the change of administration, bringing president johnson and his family into camp. >> grant asks, has president biden visited camp david? do you know? >> he has been there eight times so far. pretty good. he leaves most weekends if you read the paper recently, going to delaware, the beach. he's been to camp david eight times since january. as president. he was there a number of times as vice president. >> as vice president. tiffany asks has camp david ever been damaged by bad weather? >> there are microburst on a hill, those little at ease of wind that will knock down trees -- with the national park. fortunately, nothing serious
has hit the area where camp david is in 200 years. >> marianne asks a good question, has there ever been a wedding at camp david? >> one wedding -- but george h. w. bush's daughter in the chapel, the evergreen chapel. what's a wedding. >> small from facebook asks what was the biggest surprise you ever had while working at camp david? >> the day the sprinklers went off when president clinton was checking golf balls behind aspen. the sprinklers go off, i didn't witness it, but secret service were watching nearby. he moved -- the sprinklers went off again. he threw his clubs into the golf cart and went out to the driving range, back wasn't secured, all the clubs fell over the asphalt. it's humorous but you can understand the frustration of someone dealing with that. i tried to make light of it that night when he left camp
david without finding the water hole. it was a poor attempt at humor. you learn that balance of wind to be serious, not too serious, and went to not be too humorous. that was the funniest time. fortunately, i had no serious incidents during my time. tough things are going on in the world. i left a month before 9/11 occurred. there's a whole, we spent a lot of time describing with that commander went through at the time. light moments during my time, fortunately. >> charlene asks, how much heads up to you get to know when the president is coming? >> depends on the president. on change of command a, 10 am, typically, navy ceremony at 10 am. my predecessor -- my predecessor knew that president clinton wasn't scheduled to come at all. 10 am ceremony that morning, before the ceremony we get word, the president is coming that night. a fascinating pucker factor to realize you are about to --
at camp, you know nothing about what goes on. you've had briefings. you are the new ceo. you are driving the car, it's brand, you don't know how to drive. i found that to be a very fortunate event because it taught me to sit back,, let people do their jobs, introduce myself, shake hands. that's all i did that first day. i learned a lot about my crew. let people do their job, train them, have their back, support them. let them do their job. that was no notice. the bush administration, very scripted, we always knew well ahead of time they were coming. again, it depends on the person. >> jane asks a good question. can the vice president and his or her family go there as well? >> if the president allows it. it has happened in history. not a lot, but occasionally. as i said earlier, sometimes
the president will let staff or others go for retreats. president obama did that a lot for his staff members, the hoover retreat. the commander at a time in the chapel will get a history brief of the chapel. they do what they were there to do and go back on a sunday. so it varies. >> carol asks if you know this. do you know how the pandemic has affected camp david? are there are new procedures in place? >> very observant of the mask rules early on. very observant of the vaccinations. again, this is the tail end of the trump administration, beginning of the biden administration. everyone is very observant of following rules, either by the white house, the white house the president wants, or the navy's health conditions. very appropriate of the response. it's held back for one outside guest. certainly, no world leaders have been there in five years.
but i think that will open up. i hope world leaders will attend more. >> bill says i think i know the answer to this question but i'll ask it anyways. 's camp david ever opened to tours? can the average american ever go to camp david? >> bill, you are spot on. it is not open. there's a fake lighthouse website out there that advertises tours. i don't believe that, that's not true. the only way to get the camp is if the crew members can have a guest visit, on presidential visit weekend. either know someone who works there, if allowed, or know the president and be invited as his or her guest. >> jane asks what the food is like at camp david? good question. >> for ourselves, we run a galley operation for sailors and marines. that's available to guests if they want it. of course, there is the lounge and bar, bar food available. but for visits, we work with
the first family, the secretary and first lady to work the menu. we have well-trained culinary specialists who sometimes work with the presidents chef or the white house mess, the navy mess, to prepare meals. for world leaders, we sometimes work of the state department. especially for kosher meals during the -- week kosher meals were brought up from d.c. to provide meals for all guests. and so we accommodate the guests on a day-to-day galley that serves the crew that works there. >> jackie, who is watching on youtube, asks what's something you think every american should know about camp david? >> to get the jeopardy question, that's always on jeopardy, it was first called shangri-la. it's a navy command, just like marine one is a marine command and air force one is a air force -- it was first established in
1942 by franklin roosevelt. >> missy asks what is the highest rank of a -- someone from the marines or navy at camp david? >> the camp commander is a commander, u.s. navy commander. sometimes that officer might be selected for captain, as he or she is a departing the camp. it's a job or a commander. the senior marine is a captain, we call them captain, the co of the marine security company. for the white house communication agency detail that's there, maybe a lieutenant colonel typically of the u.s. army. >> our last question this evening, several viewers have asked this, why did you decide to write the book on camp david? and what was one or two things that were fascinating that you learned while you were researching to write the book? >> thank you. wonderful final question. on the day of change of command, there is a photo of my wife and
two daughters with me at the age of seven and four, my wife michelle, she hands me this journal. the first page of the journal is a scrawled a note from the two girls saying, dear daddy, please write stories about the presidents -- so kids will read about. it was humorous. i would've never thought about it. after every visit weekend or event, i would sit down and write down what happened. i did that through the clinton administration. at the end of it i did that for the inauguration of bush and the first eight months. i put that away in my desk and never opened it for 17 years. never thought i could write a book. there was a reunion weekend during one of the previous commanders who came to camp david. a lot of the former commanding officers and spouses where there. we were all meeting each other, some meeting for the first time, some had known each other over the years. a lot of them were talking about trying to capture some of the history.
i learned later that many of them had written their own stories. i first realized i could write a book, as long as i had a security review on it. it was possible. i knew i wasn't going to write anything that was unattractive to any president. i knew i could weave in 15 stories of other commanding officers in the history, from kennedy forward. i thought, now we can bring the whole unity of the history of the, camelot of the camp together. other ceos can tell their stories. you will see their names in the book, their photos and, use it that way to become a historical narrative, some of the personal insights. i think it was well received that way. people with wrote stories, that wasn't the purpose. it was to show respect and tell a story a little bit about the inside workings and how the military supports the presidency around the world, 24/7. >> thank you so much, mike, for