President Stonewall

From Holden:

I’ve previously discussed the Bush Assministration’s decision to keep the American people from seeing photos depicting Chimpy gladhanding with Jack Abramoff. Today we learn that the White House is also stonewalling the investigation into their horrid response to Hurricane Katrina.

The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two Congressional committees investigating the storm response.


The White House’s stance on storm-related documents, along with slow or incomplete responses by other agencies, threatens to undermine efforts to identify what went wrong, Democrats on the committees said Tuesday.

“There has been a near total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation that we have a responsibility to do,” Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, said at Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate committee investigating the response. His spokeswoman said he would ask for a subpoena for documents and testimony if the White House did not comply.

In response to questions later from a reporter, the deputy White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, said the administration had declined requests to provide testimony by Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff; Mr. Card’s deputy, Joe Hagin; Frances Fragos Townsend, the domestic security adviser; and her deputy, Ken Rapuano.

Mr. Duffy said the administration had also declined to provide storm-related e-mail correspondence and other communications involving White House staff members. Mr. Rapuano has given briefings to the committees, but the sessions were closed to the public and were not considered formal testimony.


Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, objected when administration officials who were not part of the president’s staff said they could not testify about communications with the White House.

“I completely disagree with that practice,” Ms. Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in an interview Tuesday.

According to Mr. Lieberman, Michael D. Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cited such a restriction on Monday, as agency lawyers had advised him not to say whether he had spoken to President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or to comment on the substance of any conversations with any other high-level White House officials.


Other members of the committees said the executive branch communications were essential because it had become apparent that one of the most significant failures was the apparent lack of complete engagement by the White House and the federal government in the days immediately before and after the storm.

“When you have a natural disaster, the president needs to be hands-on, and if anyone in his staff gets in the way, he needs to push them away,” said Representative Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican and member of the House investigating committee. “The response was pathetic.”

Even before the House and Senate investigations began, Democrats called for the appointment of an independent commission, like the one set up after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to investigate the response to the most costly natural disaster in United States history. The 9/11 Commission, after extensive negotiations, questioned Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and received sworn testimony from Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser.

“Our fears are turning out to be accurate,” Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said Tuesday. “The Bush administration is stonewalling the Congress.”


But the White House and other federal agencies have been less helpful, members of the investigating committees said, particularly the Pentagon and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is the subject of the sole subpoena issued so far.

“We have been trying – without success – to obtain Secretary Rumsfeld’s cooperation for months,” Representative Charlie Melancon, Democrat of Louisiana, said in a letter to Representative Davis on Monday. “The situation is not acceptable.”