Former FEMA chief Michael Brown told HUMAN EVENTS that the newly released video warning of major devastation from Hurricane Katrina is fresh evidence that Bush Administration officials used him as a scapegoat in a time of crisis.
In some of his toughest criticism of the administration to date, Brown and his lawyer, Andy Lester, spoke to HUMAN EVENTS about Brown’s handling of the Katrina disaster and how two high-profile administration officials—Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend—deliberately portrayed Brown as incompetent.
“They’ve got to keep me out there as a scapegoat,” Brown told HUMAN EVENTS. “If they get rid of Chertoff, they have no new scapegoat. Then it goes to the White House.”
Brown said the video from August 29, which was leaked to the Associated Press, is just one example of how information previously kept secret by the White House is vindicating him. He cited another yet-to-be-seen video from the following day, August 30, as even more revealing.
Although the White House has not released that video, Lester said he has asked for all Katrina-related information, including meeting transcripts and, before it was leaked, the August 29 video. However, he was told they couldn’t be located.
Brown criticized Chertoff’s leadership before and after Katrina made landfall. He and Lester said Chertoff and Townsend’s accusations that Brown disobeyed the chain of command and failed to keep superiors informed were lies. Brown said the August 29 video proves it.
“I really think they had the attitude: ‘It’s just a hurricane. Brown’s handled all the others. Who cares? Let’s not worry about it.’ Despite my pleas that this is a screwed up mess,” Brown said.
“The truth is that I had numerous conversations with [Chief of Staff] Andy Card and [Deputy Chief of Staff] Joe Hagin and the President prior to landfall and all the way through landfall, including a secure videoconference on August 30, which is the Tuesday after landfall.
“I told the President 90% of New Orleans has been displaced—this is a catastrophic event. And then on Friday, after this Tuesday conference call, I’m screaming, ‘Where’s the Army?’ So I think this whole notion of the White House’s being disengaged—there’s truth to it. It’s the end of summer; it’s Labor Day weekend; Nicole Devenish, the communications person, is getting married in Europe, so half the staff has gone to that wedding; Andy Card’s in Maine fishing and relaxing; Hagin’s at the ranch in Crawford; the President’s on the ranch; and Chertoff goes to Atlanta to an avian flu conference.”
Brown said he knew he was being set up as a scapegoat when Chertoff ordered him to stay put in Baton Rouge, La., in the aftermath of Katrina. Brown said he needed to be moving around—visiting areas of Louisiana and traveling to Mississippi to survey the damage.
“I couldn’t run a disaster sitting in one place,” Brown said. “And now here I am, stuck in Baton Rouge, incommunicado. I knew at that point, not so much that I was going to be a scapegoat, but I knew I had been set up. I couldn’t succeed.”
In the time since resigning in September, Brown has testified before House and Senate committees about the Katrina disaster. But it was during his recent testimony in February that he said he was stung by the White House’s treatment of him.
During an exchange between Lester and White House Counsel Harriet Miers (view letter) that touched on the subject of executive privilege, Miers sent a letter to Lester (view letter) that offered no clear answer to his question: Will the President assert any privilege that would prevent Brown from testifying to any of his communications to executive branch officials?
Miers responded: “The Administration appreciates your client’s assistance thus far with the processes that have been undertaken by the Administration and Congressional committees designed to discover the lessons to be learned from the response to Hurricane Katrina and to ensure that responses to future catastrophes meet the high standards that the American people demand and deserve. We know that your client’s continued cooperation with assisting those processes will be of value.”
When Brown went before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he said he was left with the choice of a) telling the truth and appearing disloyal to the President or b) shielding his conservations with the White House and risking being held in contempt.
“So I’m just frustrated, because here I am, this loyal servant to the President, and they stick me between these two branches of government, and then I hear from people who say I sold out the President,” Brown said. “What are you supposed to do? Not tell the truth and go to jail. That’s not going to happen.”
Looking ahead to the future, Brown said he’s not sure what will happen to FEMA, but he believes the only true way to make it an effective government agency is to remove it from under the Department of Homeland Security and give it Cabinet-level status.