Mike Brown tries to dump all blame for the failure to respond to Hurrican Katrina at the feet of Louisiana Governor Blanco in this NYTimes interview but winds up making the president look bad.
He focused much of his criticism on Governor Blanco, contrasting what he described as her confused response with far more agile mobilizations in Mississippi and Alabama, as well as in Florida during last year’s hurricanes.
But Mr. Brown’s account, in which he described making “a blur of calls” all week to Mr. Chertoff, Mr. Card and Mr. Hagin, suggested that Mr. Bush, or at least his top aides, were informed early and repeatedly by the top federal official at the scene that state and local authorities were overwhelmed and that the overall response was going badly.
A senior administration official said Wednesday night that White House officials recalled the conversations with Mr. Brown but did not believe they had the urgency or desperation he described in the interview.
“There’s a general recollection of him saying, ‘They’re going to need more help,’ ” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of internal White House discussions.
Mr. Brown’s version of events raises questions about whether the White House and Mr. Chertoff acted aggressively enough in the response. New Orleans convulsed in looting and violence after the hurricane, and troops did not arrive in force to restore order until five days later.
The account also suggests that responsibility for the failure may go well beyond Mr. Brown, who has been widely pilloried as an inexperienced manager who previously oversaw horse show judges.
He said his biggest mistake was in waiting until the end of the day on Aug. 30 to ask the White House explicitly to take over the response from FEMA and state officials.
[A]s the hurricane approached early on Sunday, Mr. Brown said he grew so frustrated with the failure of local authorities to make the evacuation mandatory that he asked Mr. Bush for help.
“Would you please call the mayor and tell him to ask people to evacuate?” Mr. Brown said he asked Mr. Bush in a phone call.
“Mike, you want me to call the mayor?” the president responded in surprise, Mr. Brown said.
On Monday night, Mr. Brown said, he reported his growing worries to Mr. Chertoff and the White House. He said he did not ask for federal active-duty troops to be deployed because he assumed his superiors in Washington were doing all they could.
That night [Tuesday], Mr. Brown said, he called Mr. Chertoff and the White House again in desperation. “Guys, this is bigger than what we can handle,” he told them, he said. “This is bigger than what FEMA can do. I am asking for help.”
There were also conflicts with the Congressional delegations that wanted resources for their offices and districts, FEMA officials said. Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi said he “resisted aggressively” a decision by Mr. Brown to dispatch a Navy medical ship to Louisiana instead of his home state.