On the six month anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the Associated Press has released excerpts from seven days of video and transcripts which document that President Bush and Department of Homeland Security Head Chertoff knew of the risk posed by the hurricane.
Knight Ridder has also obtained the footage and reports that on 28 August, the day before Katrina hit, Bush was told in stark detail about Katrina’s possible impact. The tape shows Bush asked no questions; he was in Texas.
Then-FEMA Chief Michael Brown (Brownie) told Bush, and others at the briefing, that “[w]e’re going to need everything that we can possibly muster, not only in this state and in the region, but the nation, to respond to this event.” It supports Brown’s mid-February testimony, which contradicted comments made shortly after the hurricane.
Max Mayfield, from the National Hurricane Center, explained that levees could be breached because of anticlockwise winds and storm. “I don’t think any model could predict whether it’ll top the levees, but that’s obviously a grave concern,” he said.
In direct contradiction to information presented at the briefing, four days after the hurricane hit President Bush said, on national television: “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.”
CBC Canada reports: “Bush is not seen asking any questions during the briefing, but is heard telling state officials, ‘We are fully prepared.’”
The Financial Times reports that post-event analysis from “written by [Congressional] Republicans said federal agencies were unprepared for the Katrina catastrophe and quicker involvement by Mr Bush might have improved their response.”
In addition, Brown expressed concern about the Superdome and the possibility of its flooding due to being below sea level.
From Knight Ridder, David Gergen, a former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton who is currently a professor the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard:
“It’s devastating that the president would ask no questions. If he sat there mum in a full briefing … that will only confirm the suspicions of a lot of opponents.”
Brown, who is looking more and more like a scapegoat, told WUSA-9: “I’m glad it’s coming out because despite the media reports and the general perception that I was a dummy that didn’t know what I was doing, I knew exactly what I was doing.”
The Administration discounted the videos and reports. Trent Duffy, White House spokesman: “I hope people don’t draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing… He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times.”
DHS spokesman Russ Knocke: “There’s nothing new or insightful on these tapes. We actively participated in the lessons-learned review, and we continue to participate in the Senate’s review and are working with them on their recommendation.”
It is likely that to those in the Administration, there is “nothing new” here, although it is certainly “new” to the rest of the nation. I predict arguments — loud, long, tenacious — about the claim that the information provides no insight.
AP does not explain how it obtained the transcripts and video, but most had been previously released to Congress. The New York Times reports that a missing video from 29 August had recently been unearthed.
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