Video: Brown: 'How do you think I felt?'

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 3/3/2006 9:13:24 AM ET 2006-03-03T14:13:24

Former FEMA director Michael Brown sat down with Brian Williams on Feb. 24 for his first network television interview since resigning in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. "NBC Nightly News" aired a brief portion of the interview on that day. You can read it by clicking here . Another portion of the interview aired on Feb. 27. You can read that here . In part III, Williams asked Michael Brown more tough and personal questions about his performance in the  storm's immediate aftermath:

Brian Williams:  People down in the Gulf Region feel that a lot of you have blood on your hands.  People were left in that Superdome for a week. It was an awful situation. Who bears the responsibility for this?

Michael Brown: Well, I think that we all do.

Williams: Where is the aid? It's the question people are asking us today on camera.

Brown: Brian, it's an absolutely fair question - and I gotta tell you from the bottom of my heart how sad I feel for those people the federal government just learned about those people today.

Williams: I couldn't believe my ears, when you answered me that this was the first that you were hearing of it. Why weren't you people watching the television coverage that was on around the clock of the biggest natural disaster in American history?

Brown: We were. And we knew about it. And I had literally been up for about 24 hours.  But, when I said to you-- "Yes, we just learned about it"-- what I meant was I had just learned about it 24 hours ago. It was still the same day to me.  They didn't see that, at the same time that we were seeing bodies in the water, there were many men of the urban search and rescue teams, members of the United States army, and members of the United States Coast Guard rescuing people.

Williams: Were you truly qualified to run FEMA?

Brown: Yes.

Williams: Why?

Brown: From the time that I served on the transition team, up until Hurricane Katrina, I successfully handled over 160 presidential-declared disasters.

Williams: How did your years as the head of an Arabian Horse Association prepare you to deal with 80 percent of the city of New Orleans underwater?

Brown: Because that whole tenure period I acted, in essence, as an attorney. It was not running horse shows. It was not judging horses. I was, in essence, the counsel that did the investigations and the prosecution of wrongdoing. Making sure that systems worked.

Williams: If I were Michael Chertoff sitting here across from you, what would you say to me, honestly?

Brown:  I'm exceptionally angry. I think you made a horrible mistake by telling me that I had to stay in Baton Rouge. That showed a little bit of naivete about how disasters need to be run and operated and managed. And I hope now that you will go back and reread the memos, the plans, the ideas that I set forth about how we can make this system work for the American people and that you'll implement those. And if you don't and you're not willing to do that then perhaps you need to move on too.

(Footage of Americans during Katrina)

Williams: It's unbelievable. It's hard to believe that six months ago that was us.

Brown: How do you think-- how do you think I felt Brian? How do you think I felt sitting there, one leg strapped to a chair in Baton Rouge not able to get out and crack the whip, and-- and scream and holler.

Williams: But do you pick up the phone and say, "Get me some airlift pallets of food and water to these people"?

Brown: Yeah.  You do. And I think if you interviewed my staff you they would tell you about my screaming phone calls.

If we don't learn from this, and go back to the things that I was saying over the past three or four years about doing serious catastrophic disaster planning, and making certain that the emergency management system in this country works, then those people will have suffered in vain.

I will have been scapegoated for nothing. If we don't learn from this, then shame on us.

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