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...
According to emails and other documents recently released, no less than twenty-eight government agencies - ranging from the local level all the way up to the White House - knew that the levees had broken on August 29, the day the storm landed.
In fact, "the Bush administration" knew about the failures at 7:30 am NO time [But, see update below]:
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said President Bush and his top aides were fully aware about the massive flooding - and less concerned whether it was caused by levee breaches, overtoppings of failed pumps, all three of which were being reported at the time.
"We knew there was flooding and that's why the No. 1 effort in those early hours was on search and rescue, and saving life and limb," Duffy said.
Shortly after the disaster, Bush said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees." He later said his comment was meant to suggest that there had been a false sense of relief that the levees had held when the storm passed, only to break a few hours later.
Democrats said the documents showed there was little excuse for the tardy federal response.
"The first communication came at 8:30 a.m.," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "So it is inexplicable to me how those responsible for the federal response could have woken up Tuesday morning unaware of this obviously catastrophic situation."
The first internal White House communication about levee failures came at 11:13 a.m. on Aug. 29 in a "Katrina Spot Report" by the White House Homeland Security Council.
"Flooding is significant throughout the region and a levee in New Orleans has reportedly been breached sending 6-8 feet of water throughout the 9th ward area of the city," the internal report said.
UPDATE: The NYT's "White House Knew of Levee's Failure on Night of Storm" offers a contradictory tale:
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Bush administration officials said they had been caught by surprise when they were told on Tuesday, Aug. 30, that a levee had broken, allowing floodwaters to engulf New Orleans.
But Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department.
"FYI from FEMA," said an e-mail message from the agency's public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought - also a number of fires."
That is the charge from Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT):
"The problems begin at the White House, where there has been a near total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation we have a responsibility to do... There's been no assertion of executive privilege; just a refusal to answer... My staff believes that (the Department of Homeland Security) has engaged in a conscious strategy of slow walking our investigation in the hope that we would run out of time to follow the investigation's natural progression to where it leads."
He says the panel haven't gotten the documents they've asked for and hasn't helped them get information from other agencies.
It shouldn't come as a surprise the Hillary Clinton and other Senate Democrats want to give aid to illegal aliens who were affected by Katrina. And, they don't want to just give aid, they want the DHS to make clear that those people who shouldn't be here in the first place won't be deported.
But, wait, there's more. They also don't want those illegal aliens who were detained after they requested aid to be deported.
All of this will have the effect of making it easier for illegal aliens to take jobs from those American citizens who were affected by the hurricane.
Unfortunately, sometimes elected representatives are forced to make tough choices. And, we can see which side these Dems have come down on.
Spread the word far and wide: Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Maria Cantwell, Barack Obama, Russ Feingold, Daniel Akaka, Frank Lautenberg, Joe Lieberman, Carl Levin, John F. Kerry, Chris Dodd, Pat Leahy and Jon Corzine all support illegal aliens undercutting those Americans who were affected by the storm.
There's a write up here, and the letter from Hillary is here.
WASHINGTON, Sept 17 (Reuters) - In the months before Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush sought to cut a key program to help local governments raise their preparedness, and state officials warned of a "total lack of focus" on natural disasters by his homeland-security chief, documents show...
...In July, the National Emergency Management Association wrote lawmakers expressing "grave" concern that still-pending changes proposed by Chertoff would undercut the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
"Our primary concern relates to the total lack of focus on natural-hazards preparedness," David Liebersbach, the association's president, said in the July 27 letter to Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, the leaders of a key Senate committee overseeing the agency...
...[In February, a month after the National Response Plan was created], however, Bush's fiscal 2006 budget proposed a 6 percent cut in funding for Emergency Management Performance Grants, from the $180 million appropriated by Congress in 2005 to $170 million in 2006.
State and local officials protested what they saw as White House cuts targeting the very program that would help them meet Bush's new disaster-preparedness goals.
"The grants are the lifeblood for local programs and, in some cases, it's the difference between having a program in a county and not," said Dewayne West, the director of Emergency Services for Johnston County, North Carolina, and president of the International Association of Emergency Managers...
He's been called an idiot, an incompetent and worse. The vilification of federal disaster chief Michael Brown, emerging as chief scapegoat for whatever went wrong in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, has ratcheted into the stratosphere. Democratic members of Congress are taking numbers to call for his head.
"I would never have appointed such a person," said New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Let's bring in someone who is a professional," urged Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
A more visceral indictment came from closer to the calamity. Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish near New Orleans, said the bureaucracy "has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area."
... But the dim view of Brown's qualifications by senators seems to have emerged only in hindsight. Members of both parties seemed little troubled by his background at 2002 Senate hearings that led to his confirmation as deputy FEMA chief.
Indeed, Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who led those hearings, called Brown's long-ago stint as assistant city manager in Edmond, Okla., a "particularly useful experience" because he had responsibility for local emergency services...