Biden, 80, faced criticism for becoming the first president in the 22 years since the attacks not to spend the anniversary at one of the three sites of 9/11 plane crashes.
He compounded the criticism on Monday by falsely claiming he was at the Twin Towers the day after the attack – when in his own autobiography and video from the Senate floor put him in Washington, DC.
‘Some have said yesterday and today all has changed for America.,’ the then-Senator from Delaware said from the floor of the Senate the day after the attacks. ‘I pray that is not true. I pray that is not true…The one thing we can not allow to change are the values upon which this country is built.
‘For if that were to occur, then they would be able to declare victory, genuine victory.’
Biden also embellished on Monday his recollections of the fateful day, claiming he saw a ‘fireball’ at the Pentagon on 9/11, when in his book he describes it as ‘a brown haze of smoke.’
Joe Biden is seen on Monday, the 22nd anniversary of 9/11, speaking to troops in Anchorage, Alaska. He is the first president not to spend the anniversary at the site of one of the three plane crashes
Planes are pictured crashing into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001
Joe Biden is seen speaking to reporters outside Congress on September 11, 2001
Biden, seen on September 11, 2001, was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time of the attacks
‘The plume of fire that shot up in the sky in Pentagon – I remember seeing as I got off the Amtrak train on my way to work in the United States Senate,’ he said.
Yet in his autobiography, he wrote that the scene was significantly less dramatic: ‘I could see a brown haze of smoke hanging in the otherwise crystal-clear sky beyond the Capitol dome.’
Biden, who at the time was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was photographed on 9/11 speaking to reporters in front of the Capitol.
In his 2007 book Promises to Keep, Biden wrote he was in Washington, DC, the day after the attack: ‘I headed back to the Capitol the next morning,’ he noted.
A Gannett News Wire report from September 12, 2001, cited by The New York Post, backed up the version in his biography, beginning: ‘Delaware Sen. Joe Biden spent Wednesday exactly where he wanted — in the U.S. Senate.’
Archived CSPAN footage also showed Biden speaking from the Senate floor on September 12, 2001, as he and 99 other Senators denounced the cowardly attacks.
‘This is not a struggle about ideology, this is not a struggle over religion,’ Biden said in his Senate speech, ‘this is a struggle between civilization and barbarity. Let there be no doubt the United States and the civilized nations of the world will unite and win this struggle.’
On Monday, Biden told a dramatically different story about the day after.
‘Ground Zero in New York – I remember standing there the next day and looking at the building,’ he said.
‘And I felt like I was looking through the gates of hell.
‘It looked so devastating because the way you could, from where you could stand.’
Biden, in his book, describes speaking to University of Delaware students on September 19, 2001. The next day, he visited New York City
Biden visited Ground Zero nine days after the attacks, on September 20, 2001, and was photographed touring the site with fellow senators Ted Kennedy and Barbara Mikulski – but Biden does not mention that in his book.
His book does, however, mentions visiting a mosque in Newark, New Jersey on September 21, 2001.
Biden (center) is seen visiting Ground Zero on September 20, 2001 with fellow senators Ted Kennedy (left) and Barbara Mikulski (center, in poncho)
Biden’s 2007 book says that he was in Washington, DC, on September 11 and September 12, 2001
Biden is known for his exaggerations, and his contorted, misremembered stories.
The president, who joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at age 32, and became its chair in 2001, has frequently spoken about his ‘arrest’ by the South African police.
On February 11, 2020, Biden told a South Carolina audience that he had been arrested in the African nation.
‘This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,’ he told the crowd.
‘I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on Robben Island.’
Biden did not specify the year, but was in South Africa in 1977.
Biden is seen in December 2013 visiting a memorial to Nelson Mandela outside the South African embassy. Mandela died aged 95 on December 5, 2013
Mandela was held behind bars on Robben Island from 1964 to 1982 – but Robben Island is off the coast of Cape Town, while Biden said he was in the Johannesburg district of Soweto.
Later the same month, Biden repeated the story of his arrest to a Nevada crowd at a black history brunch.
‘[Mandela] came to Washington and came to my office,’ Biden said, during a presidential campaign meeting in Las Vegas.
‘He threw his arms around me and said, ‘I want to say thank you.’
‘I said, ‘What are you thanking me for, Mr. President?’
‘He said: ”You tried to see me. You got arrested trying to see me.”’
And at a second Las Vegas event, days later, Biden repeated the arrest story for a third time.
He told the crowd he ‘came back from South Africa, trying to see Nelson Mandela and getting arrested for trying to see him.’
Mandela is seen during a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in June 1990
Mandela in June 1990 addresses the United Nations, urging the U.N. to maintain sanctions against South Africa until apartheid was abolished
The claim of an arrest was debunked by The New York Times in February 2020, with multiple officials and former colleagues in the Senate telling the paper they had no recollection of the arrest.
The paper even noted that Biden’s own accounts, in his autobiography and in his statements about Mandela, did not reference an arrest.
Fact-checkers, who gave Biden’s account ‘four Pinocchios’ and declared it ‘Pants on Fire’,, found he had been separated from black colleagues when landing at the airport in neighboring Lesotho in December 1976.
At the time, Biden was among 13 members of Congress to travel to Lesotho.
‘When I exited the plane I was directed to one side of the tarmac, while the African American congressmen traveling with me were sent to the other side,’ he said.
‘I refused to break off, and the officials finally relented.’
At the end of February 2020, amid intense interest in whether he was actually arrested, Biden told CNN that he was not.
‘When I said arrested, I meant I was not able to move,’ Biden said, after recounting what had happened to him.
‘Cops would not let me go with them. I wasn’t arrested, I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go.’
He did not specify whether that encounter was in Lesotho or South Africa.
Biden has a long history of exaggerating his own biography.
He claimed in January this year, while speaking to students of historically black colleges in Atlanta that he was arrested during civil rights protests – a claim for which there is no evidence.
In September 2021 he told Jewish leaders that he remembered ‘spending time at’ and ‘going to’ the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh after the mass murder of 11 people there in 2018: it later emerged he never visited.
The White House said he was referencing a phone call, and misspoke.