michael-brown

Michael Brown: Bush knew levees could breach; Chertoff should quit

From this March 3 CNN transcript come these claims from former FEMA head Michael Brown:
- FEMA had been marginalized.
- He thinks Michael Chertoff should quit or be fired.
- He thinks Chertoff was misleading the American public about Brown appearing on TV and characterizing it as show-boating.
And, this:

MESERVE: In the transcripts of the 29th briefing, you talk about conversations you had that morning with the president. This is the day of landfall. And you say you talked to him about a number of things. He's asked questions breaches of the levees. How did the president know to ask about breaches of the levees? Did he have reports in hand at that time already that that had happened in New Orleans?
BROWN: There's no question in my mind he probably had those reports, because we were feeding in the Homeland Security Operations Center, into the White House sit room, all of the information that we were getting. So he had to have had that information. Plus, I think the president knew from our earlier conversations that that was one of my concerns, that the levees could actually breach.
MESERVE: So are you saying when you said recently that it was baloney that the White House didn't know about the breaches on Monday night -- are you saying that the president knew about the breaches on Monday morning?
BROWN: He knew that was a potential, because my testimony has been...
MESERVE: And he knew there were reports of them?
BROWN: Well, yes. He knew about the reports of potential breaches. Now, I think we're drawing a fine line here. Because even I have testified that I didn't know whether we had a breach of the levees or the levees had been topped. But somehow in the 11:00 to 1:00 timeframe, that became clear because we had sent someone out to actually look at them and see.

Much more at the link, and a summary in the article about the interview.
In other skull news, reports are that Chertoff might be leaving, but those have since been denied.

Blanco said levees were safe (Aug 29 at noon)

Around noon on the day when Katrina hit New Orleans, Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco told the Bush administration that the levees were safe:

"We keep getting reports in some places that maybe water is coming over the levees... We heard a report unconfirmed, I think, we have not breached the levee. I think we have not breached the levee at this time."

However:

In fact, the National Weather Service received a report of a levee breach and issued a flash-flood warning as early as 9:12 a.m. that day, according to the White House's formal recounting of events the day Katrina struck.

And:

She reported that floodwaters were rising in parts of the city "where we have waters that are 8 to 10 feet deep, and we have people swimming in there."
"That's got a considerable amount of water itself," the governor said. "That's about all I know right now on the specifics that you haven't heard."
Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher said Thursday that "our people on the ground were telling us that there could be overtopping and breaching, but it was hard to tell" by the noon briefing.
Another official who was heard but not seen on the video was then-Federal Emergency Management Agency Michael Brown, who was at the federal emergency operations center in Baton Rouge, La. He implored officials to "push the envelope as far as you can," noting that he had already spoken to President Bush twice that day and described the president as "very, very interested in this situation."
"He's very engaged, and he's asking a lot of really good questions I would expect him to ask," Brown said of Bush. "I say that only because I want everyone to recognize ... how serious the situation remains."

Bush admin knew levees could fail

Four days after Katrina, George W Bush said:

"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees."

However, videos obtained by the AP shows internal Bush administration briefings, including one in which Bush and DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff were told that the levees might breach:

In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage.
Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."
The footage - along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press - show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.
Linked by secure video, Bush expressed a confidence on Aug. 28 that starkly contrasted with the dire warnings his disaster chief and numerous federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm...

Shown the tape, Ray Nagin says:

"I have kind of a sinking feeling right now in my gut. I mean, I was listening to what people were saying and I was believing them that they didn't know. So therefore it was an issue of a learning curve... From this tape it looks like everybody was fully aware."

However, DHS spokeshole Russ Knocke says:

"I'm not sure what is shocking about this video. There's really nothing new or insightful from it,"

There's some kind of video here, but I didn't watch it.
UPDATE: I should have watched the video. According to this, the AP report is wrong: Bush was warned the levees might overtop (water flowing over the top), not that they might breach (rupture). Since I still haven't watched the video, I'm forced to take his word for it, and something about breaching might be elsewhere on the tapes available.
UPDATE 2: Here's another video link. And, Dan Froomkin goes around the bend here, tying this latest example of Bush incompetence with his initial response to 9/11. Apparently Froomkin is one of those expecting Bush to immediately jump up and start barking orders, Harrison Ford style.
UPDATE 3: Democratic apostate Mickey Kaus says:

"Is the despised, self-parodying MSM intentionally glossing over this important difference in order to exaggerate the anti-Bush shock value of the video? I don't know--but I do know that the actual "topped" quote was hard to find in print, lending some of the stories an eerie, undocumented quality. Do reporters not print the quote because then they couldn't justify the charge that Bush lied about the "breach"? You make the call. I'm too paranoid at this point. P.P.S.: Shouldn't Bush's press operation, rather than Powerline and Patterico, be forcefully pointing all this out?"

"White House Cites Katrina Response Failures"

From this:

Flawed government planning for major disasters led to rampant confusion during the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the White House concluded Thursday in a report focusing more on fixing shortfalls before the next storm season than on assigning blame.
The review described poor communications systems, delays in delivering supplies and overall tumult within the Bush administration, but revealed little new about the plodding federal effort in the days just before and after the storm socked the Gulf Coast last Aug. 29.
The 228-page document, including 125 recommendations for improvement, adopted a far softer tone than a scathing House report issued last week and offered scant criticism of
That House review, written by a Republican-led committee, blamed all levels of government for the lackluster response that it said contributed to the deaths and suffering of thousands of the region's residents.
...The report's recommendations span from dramatic reforms - including potentially giving the
Pentagon control over the federal response in worst-case disasters - to smaller changes. It calls for a public awareness campaign on individual preparedness similar to the successful "Stop, Drop and Roll" slogan for fire safety information.
It says the government should improve its evacuation preparations, its plans for swifter medical aid and its overall blueprint for coordinating federal response efforts, calling it confusing. It also calls for state tax breaks to encourage citizens to purchase disaster gear and requirements that students take courses in first aid, starting next year.
The review singles out the Homeland Security Department for most of the breakdowns. They included failure to understand the scope of Katrina's damage, delays in passing information to the White House and emergency workers, and a system for delivering water, food and other supplies that was ensnared in red tape.
In one example of the department's failures, the report noted that Homeland Security's operations center was still dithering about whether New Orleans levees had been breached nearly six hours after a National Weather Service reported a break in at least one floodwall.
The report also cited several examples in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected help from other federal agencies - including boats, aircraft, maintenance crews and housing for evacuees - because of miscommunications and misunderstandings. It said Brown, who was heading the federal response at the scene, was still organizing his chain of command nearly 60 hours after the storm struck...

"Brown Asserts He Alerted White House Quickly on Katrina"

From this:

Michael D. Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, testified today that he let senior White House staffers know as soon as he had heard that flooding had begun in New Orleans on the day Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Mr. Brown also called claims by top officials at the Department of Homeland Security that they weren't aware of levee breaches until the next day " just baloney."
Mr. Brown said that homeland security officials were being regularly updated by reports delivered through video conference calls, and that he personally contacted White House officials.
"My obligation was to the White House and to make sure the president knows what's going on," he said, "and I did that."

Some of the emails are in this PDF file.
Regarding one of the emails, the following remains to be verified:

- Brian Besanceney, author of the email, is the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security
- Cynthia Bergman is an EPA spokeswoman
- Jeff Karonis is the Director of Incident Communications for DHS Public Affairs
- William R. "Russ" Knocke is a DHS spokesman
- Chad Boudreaux is Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy at DHS
- Ashley Cannati is Counselor to the Deputy Secretary, Office of the Secretary, United States Department of Homeland Security

Agencies knew about levee breaks within hours after landfall

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."

Is Michael Brown free to tell all?

It appears the White House has cut him loose and have given the word that they won't defend him. And, he's asking whether he can now tell all that he knows:

Former disaster agency chief Michael Brown is indicating he is ready to reveal his correspondence with President Bush and other officials during Hurricane Katrina unless the White House forbids it and offers legal support.
Brown's stance, in a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, follows senators' complaints that the White House is refusing to answer questions or release documents about advice given to Bush concerning the August 29 storm.
In a February 6 letter to White House counsel Harriet Miers, Brown's lawyer wrote that Brown continues to respect Bush and his "presidential prerogative" to get candid and confidential advice from top aides.
The letter from Andrew W. Lester also says Brown no longer can rely on being included in that protection because he is a private citizen.
"Unless there is specific direction otherwise from the president, including an assurance the president will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify if asked about particular communications," the lawyer wrote.
Brown's desire "is that all facts be made public."
White House spokesman Trent Duffy declined to comment on the letter, instead pointing to remarks two weeks ago in which Bush avoided directly including Brown among his advisers...

Turf wars, Chertoff, Ridge to blame for FEMA woes and not Michael Brown?

The WaPo offers "Brown's Turf Wars Sapped FEMA's Strength" says that the new DHS under Tom Ridge trimmed FEMA's budget, making it a shadow of its former self. FEMA head Michael Brown was a turf warrior who tried to use his White House connections to undercut the DHS, but they didn't support him:

In many ways, Brown is a cautionary tale of what can happen to Washington officials who make mistakes in the public eye after making enemies behind the scenes. Brown spent two years trying to use his contacts with White House officials to undercut DHS, but the White House rarely backed him, and DHS leaders responded by shifting FEMA's responsibilities and resources to more cooperative agencies.
Ridge stripped FEMA's power over billions of dollars worth of preparedness grants as well as the creation of a national disaster response plan. Most of the agency's top staff quit. And after he arrived at DHS in February, Chertoff decided to take away the rest of FEMA's preparedness duties.

The rest of it goes into rather disgusting bureaucratic soap opera. For instance:

"[Brown] fought being part of DHS from Day One," another top DHS official recalled.
Brown got his way on the name; Ridge and his brand-conscious aides had to admit that "FEMA" sounded better than "EP&R." But when Brown sent a memo urging Ridge to defy Congress and move the ODP into FEMA, Ridge refused.

Brian Williams interviews George Bush

NBC's Brian Williams conducted a long interview with president Bush, and the section about Katrina has Bush:
- repeating his blame-taking for the weak federal response ("to the extent that the federal government was ineffective, I'm responsible")
- given the opportunity to blame Blanco, Nagin, or others, he said "we're beyond that"
- he was watching the TV reports from the Superdome...
- he "certainly hopes" that we won't lose New Orleans on his watch...
- Bush not only knows what the Ninth Ward is, he's familiar with the conspiracy theory about the government blowing up the levees...
- Bush has read about- or had someone tell him about - the blowing up of the levees that occured in the 20s...
And, there's this perhaps-not-entirely-accurate bit:

one of the things we've learned about the levees, Brian, is that they call the levees a certain category, but they weren't up to standards. And so we're now in the process of working with local folks to get the standards of the levees up to where they should have been prior to the storm and even better. And hopefully we'll have the capacity to announce that relatively quickly.

The levees and floodwalls might not have been designed correctly however.
Also:

I remember saying that, when I thanked those chopper drivers from the Coast Guard who performed brilliantly, they didn't lower those booms to pick up people saying, "What color skin do you have?" They said, "A fellow American's in jeopardy. And I'm going to do my best to rescue that person."

However, some far-lefties have speculated that shots fired at choppers were because they were being ignored because of triage.
Speaking about Brownie:

You know, Michael [Brown], resigned. And I, you know, I had worked with him during the four hurricanes that hit Florida. He got pretty good marks. And in this case, for whatever reason, the system overwhelmed the whole process. And Michael said, "I'm responsible." And he left.

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