WASHINGTON -- The Department of Homeland Security has not been able to find any recording of a crucial conference call five hours after Hurricane Katrina made landfall - though it has transcripts of other key discussions recorded in the days before and after the storm struck.
Senate investigators want to know who conferred and what they said on a 40-minute call that began at noon Aug. 29, as levees were being breached in New Orleans and government relief efforts were overwhelmed by the enormity of the storm.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee wants the transcript for its investigation of why the response was bungled. The public phase of that probe is scheduled to end today with the appearance of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who in recent days has become the critics' favorite target.
Chertoff, whose testimony Tuesday was postponed because of Senate votes, will spend only two hours on the witness stand, citing previous commitments.
...But missing will be any detailed information about the Aug. 29 Homeland Security briefing.
"We have not found recordings of the VTCs [video teleconferences] for August 29 or September 3, 2005," Homeland Security General Counsel Philip J. Perry wrote to the committee.
Department spokesman Russ Knocke said his agency has nothing to hide, and has provided the committee with more than 300,000 pages of documents and made dozens of witnesses available. "We've been forthcoming throughout this process," Knocke said.
Video teleconferences normally are recorded and then transcripts are made. Senate and House investigators sought recordings or transcripts, and the department made available transcripts of calls from Aug. 28 through Sept. 2.
But Aug. 29 was not included. "It could have been as inadvertent as someone not pressing `record,'" Knocke explained. He could not say who was on the call.
"There is no record of it having been recorded," he said...