Ratcheting up a battle with Congress, the Bush White House is now refusing to turn over Hurricane Katrina related documents or make senior officials available for testimony. The administration contends executive branch discussions about the storm are not open to review by Congress.
White House Press Secretary said, "The president believes that Senator Lieberman ought to have the right to confidential conversations with his advisers, just like all presidents have asserted they ought to have that same right. That‘s what this is about. That‘s the bottom line here."
It was Senator Lieberman, the president‘s favorite Democrat, who on Tuesday alleged the Bush administration‘s refusal to cooperate has killed the Katrina investigation. "There has been a near-total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation we have a responsibility to do."
Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,300 people, caused $150 billion in property damage and put 80 percent of the city of New Orleans under water. Four days after the storm hit, thousands of people at The Convention Center were still on their own, without food, water, or transportation out.
President Bush that week was defensive, but newly released documents show that two days before Katrina hit, a FEMA report warned, “The storm could greatly overtop levees and protective systems.” The report predicted incredible search and rescue needs, 60,000 plus. And on the day the storm hit, an email from the Department of Homeland Security to the White House situation room warned Katrina would, “Likely lead to severe flooding and/or levee breaching.”
The federal government‘s slow response prompted sharp criticism six months ago from both Democrats and Republicans. This week Republican House member Chris Shays repeated, “The response was pathetic.”
The White House has refused to give Congress complete testimony on other issues such as national security discussions before 9/11 and White House talks leading up to the war in Iraq. But hurricane katrina exposed the government‘s inability to handle a domestic crisis and the Bush administration‘s current position is at odds with Bush's public pledge, "To the extent the federal government didn‘t fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong. I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government."
Part of the Congressional investigation is supposed to examine White House communications with then FEMA director Michael Brown. Early on Bush commented, "Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director‘s working hard.
Days later, Brownie was forced to resign when the White House finally realized the level his mismanagement. But for several months Brownie continued to collect his $148,000 a year government salary.
Lawmakers say that while FEMA has been cooperative, Michael Brown has not, refusing, like the White House, to answer questions. But Brown does talk about Katrina for a fee. Recently he was the keynote speaker at a storm response conference where attendees paid $375 each.
That‘s right, $375. Issuing a subpoena costs less and lawmakers say that‘s their next move in seeking Katrina testimony from Bush administration officials.
Administration critics say at least now we all know the market price in getting some of these officials to tell the truth.
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