Video: NBC exclusive: Brown speaks

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 3/2/2006 6:38:04 PM ET 2006-03-02T23:38:04

With the six-month anniversary of Hurricane Katrina now just days away, Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, sat down for his first network television interview since he became the only senior official to lose his job as a result of the bungled government response.

Much of our conversation with Michael Brown will air on "NBC Nightly News" next Monday and Tuesday, as we report from New Orleans on that city's first Mardi Gras since the storm.

But tonight, in a portion of the conversation, Michael Brown says he warned the very top officials in the U.S. government, from the president on down, about the size and scope of the coming hurricane and the government response that would be required.

Brian Williams: I want to ask you: Why didn't you shout it from the mountaintops, or do you feel you did?

Michael Brown: I shouted it from the mountaintops. In the first, I'm going to use the term SVCC — secure video conference call — that we had, that I conducted from FEMA, after it (Hurricane Katrina) had passed the Florida penninsula. I told everybody in that conference call — the president, Chertoff, the state of New Orleans, all of the teams, all the departments and agencies — my gut tells me this is the big one. I want to push everything forward as far as we can. I want to jam up supply lines. I want to cut the bureaucratic red tape. I want it "balls to the wall," is the phrase that I used, in doing everything we could. 

Williams: So what date did the president first hear your voice, and see your face, on the topic of Katrina being a potentially catastrophic storm?

Brown: The first time was probably on Saturday before landfall (Aug. 27, 2005), just giving a general update. But the alarm bells were being sounded on Sunday, prior to landfall. Because not only was I having conferences with the president on the telephone, but he was also on the video conference with all of the state emergency managers, all of the federal departments and agencies, and listened in to that entire conversation, including Max Mayfield's (director of the National Hurricane Center) warnings.

Williams: And so when we see trailers in Hope, Ark., of all places — some of them may not be fit for families anymore because of the rot that the weather has caused — who do we get angry at?

Brown: First of all, you can get mad at me if you want to, but I think we ought to get mad at Congress. We ought to get mad at the president. We ought to get mad at Secretary Chertoff.

Williams: If I'm the president, sitting here with you right now, today, what do you say to me?

Brown: Mr. President, on at least a couple of occasions, and on numerous occasions to your staff, I raised the flag, and told you that FEMA was being marginalized, and was not going to be able to respond and, in fact, was on a path to failure. I never like to say I told you so, but I told you so.

Friday night, the White House repeated the fact that President Bush has already taken responsibility for the failed government response. They pointed to their report (.PDF link) calling for changes in disaster planning.

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