[Mb-civic] Video Shows Bush Being Warned on Katrina - Washington Post
swiggard at comcast.net
Thu Mar 2 04:04:58 PST 2006
Video Shows Bush Being Warned on Katrina
Officials Detailed a Dire Threat to New Orleans
By Spencer S. Hsu and Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 2, 2006; A01
A newly leaked video recording of high-level government deliberations
the day before Hurricane Katrina hit shows disaster officials
emphatically warning President Bush that the storm posed a catastrophic
threat to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and a grim-faced Bush
personally assuring state leaders that his administration was "fully
prepared" to help.
The footage, taken of a videoconference of federal and state officials
on Aug. 28, offered an unusually vivid glimpse of real-time decision
making by an administration that has vigorously guarded its internal
Reactions to the tape, which was obtained by the Associated Press,
varied widely -- reflecting the intense debate that has brewed for six
months about who should be held accountable for an initially flaccid
government response to the catastrophe.
Democrats said the tape shows Bush being warned in urgent terms of the
potential magnitude of the storm, making it less defensible that the
administration did not act with more dispatch to be ready.
White House officials said the footage reinforces what they have said to
critics: that the president, at his Texas vacation home, was fully
engaged from the opening hours of the emergency, while leaving
operational decisions to the agencies in charge.
Bush was dialed into the conference Sunday at noon Eastern time from a
meeting room at his ranch in Crawford, with Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph
Hagin at his side.
"I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully
prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in
whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm,"
Bush said, gesturing with both hands for emphasis on the digital
recording. Neither Bush nor Hagin asked questions, however.
Then-Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael D. Brown, who
joined the call from Washington, and Max Mayfield, head of the National
Hurricane Center in Miami, briefed participating federal and state
officials in explicit terms.
"This is, to put it mildly, the big one," Brown said. "Everyone within
FEMA is now virtually on call."
Brown warned that thousands of New Orleans residents were gathering in a
shelter of last resort at the Louisiana Superdome, which he said was
about 12 feet below sea level.
"I don't know what the heck we're going to do for that, and I also am
concerned about that roof," Brown said. "Not to be kind of gross here,
but I'm concerned about [medical and mortuary disaster team] assets and
their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe."
Mayfield cited the 1992 storm that inflicted $20 billion of damage on
"This hurricane is much larger than Hurricane Andrew ever was," Mayfield
said. "I also want to make absolutely clear to everyone that the
greatest potential for large loss of life is still in the coastal areas
from the storm surge."
Congressional investigators previously released transcripts of the daily
meetings, and their substance and other warnings of the danger to New
Orleans have been widely reported.
The fresh footage, however, was prominently aired on evening television
news broadcasts and threatened to renew public scrutiny of the Bush
administration, which issued a report last week containing 125
recommendations to improve U.S. disaster readiness but little focus on
the action of senior presidential aides.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy said yesterday the footage showed that
Bush was heavily engaged while leaving "battlefield" decisions to his
"The president had multiple conversations, phone calls and briefings
both big and small throughout this process, and his whole priority was
making sure that the federal assets were brought to bear to help the
people of New Orleans," Duffy said.
He added: "That's not to say the president was satisfied with the
federal response. He wasn't. He said as much, and we just had a
200-page-plus federal report discussing the things the president needs
to do to make our emergency response better."
Duffy noted that a transcript of the Aug. 29 conference showed Hagin
asking about the status of the Superdome and New Orleans levees. In the
same conference, Brown said he spoke twice that morning with Bush, who
he said was "very engaged" and asking those same questions and others
about city hospitals.
Duffy also said that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D)
personally discounted a report of a catastrophic levee break as
"unconfirmed" in a noon call. "I think we have not breached the levees
at this point in time," Blanco said, but she added that city flooding
Brown, in an interview yesterday, agreed that Bush was engaged in the
emergency but said the president was overconfident of FEMA's
capabilities. He dismissed as "baloney" assertions by Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff that "a fog of war" impaired decision making
"There was this fog of bureaucracy," Brown said, repeating his call to
restore FEMA to independent, Cabinet-level status outside the
department. "People either didn't want to know about it, or didn't want
to deal with it."
Brown said the video showed "I was doing everything I could," whatever
his mistakes. "My entreaties to the White House about the problems that
FEMA was having were falling on deaf ears," he said. "They thought I
could always pull a rabbit out of the hat."
In New Orleans, Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D) was visibly shocked when shown
the recording by reporters.
It "seems they were aware of everything . . . that we would need lots of
help," Nagin said after a post-Mardi Gras news conference. "Why was the
response so slow?"
When the video ended, Nagin turned away and said, "Oh, God."
Democrats in Washington issued statements newly critical of the
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) expressed alarm at "what the president
actually knew and when he knew it."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), ranking Democrat on a Senate panel
investigating the storm response, said the video underscored the
committee's findings that "government at all levels was forewarned of
the catastrophic nature of the approaching storm and did painfully
little to be ready."
The Department of Homeland Security has provided transcripts but not
recordings of the videoconferences to Congress, and the AP did not
report how it obtained the footage. A congressional source, speaking on
the condition of anonymity because investigators were seeking the tape,
said state officials may have recorded the meetings.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the Mb-civic