updated 9/13/2005 12:22:08 PM ET 2005-09-13T16:22:08

Guests: Michael Isikoff, Mitchell Landrieu, Richard Wagenaar, Fred

Thompson, Ernie Allen

               

DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, it‘s official.  The head of Federal Emergency Management Agency is out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  After blistering criticism for his agency‘s handling of Hurricane Katrina, Michael Brown has resigned.  Does that mean that the blame game officially begins? 

Plus, young children separated from their families after the hurricane, what‘s being done to reunite them with their parents? 

And Supreme Court Chief Justice-nominee John Roberts makes his first statement as his confirmation hearings begin.  Former Senator Fred Thompson, the man picked by the White House to advise Roberts joins us. 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  We begin with some breaking news from Los Angeles.  A power outage has struck a large area of L.A., leaving people stranded in elevators, causing massive traffic delays, leaving people to wonder what has happened. 

NBC‘s Michael Okwu is in Hollywood.  Michael, what do we know? 

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (via phone):  Well Dan, we‘re having some of our own transmission problems.  This is why you see me on the cell phone right now.  But I can tell you that the very latest news is that about 90 percent of the affected customers are getting their power restored at this point. 

And in fact on this major intersection where I‘m standing now here in North Hollywood, some five minutes so drive away from our offices in Burbank, the power has been restored for at least the last half hour or so and in fact the traffic has been moving very slowly.  What we know is that earlier today about 1:00 Pacific Time, the power just went off in large areas of the San Fernando Valley and swaths of Los Angeles. 

What we understand at this point is that there was a cut in a cable at a power distribution center in the San Fernando Valley and that is why people were so terribly affected by this.  Snarls on the freeways, power‘s off on what we call surface streets here, many of the civilians and some uniform police officers in jeans that for me were reminiscent of what happened in New York city when the power went off there, started just directing traffic on their own and unbelievably to some of the Los Angelino drivers complied very peacefully and successfully with some of those—with some of that guidance. 

Of course, in the back of everybody‘s mind is the coincidence, frankly, between this incident and the reported al Qaeda threat, the surfacing of this tape, that specifically New—that Los Angeles along with Melbourne, Australia were targeted as possible terror locations.  So at this point, I can tell you though, Dan, things relatively back to normal.  This intersection was completely cut off earlier today.  And in fact police officers had flares down in a couple of these roads to create as much of a visual situation as possible for the drivers, but relative calm in Los Angeles at this hour—Dan.

ABRAMS:  And we should say that terrorism is not, not suspected as the cause of this power outage at this point.  It‘s expected, they believe at this point, that a cable was accidentally cut, but we‘ll certainly be following that.

Michael Okwu, thanks a lot.

OKWU:  You got it.

ABRAMS:  All right, now to the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.  The death toll rising in Louisiana after the discovery of 45 bodies at an abandoned New Orleans hospital.  And there‘s a big shake of up at FEMA.  Director Mike Brown resigned today.  That is after he was removed from leading the recovery effort last week, but first to the latest on the ground in New Orleans and NBC‘s David Shuster.  David, what‘s the latest?

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well Dan, as you know, there were a lot of fears that some of the hospitals in the area, the ones that lost power, that in fact the patients who were in critical condition that they would suffer the most and that appears at least to have been the case at Memorial Hospital.  As you mentioned, they discovered 45 bodies there yesterday.  There‘s no indication exactly how they died, but the suspicion is and the indication so far at least that these were patients who were in critical care to begin with, either on ventilators or other critical life support and that hospital was without power right after the storm and power was never restored, so obviously, they were able to evacuate some people, but other people who were in critical care did not make it. 

And again, the total 45, which pushes the death toll here to approximately 220 to 230, but again officials say that they have yet to start going into many homes where bodies were left, but also many homes that they felt like they needed to break in to finally determine if in fact anybody was inside.  So they are expecting the death toll to climb and spike in the coming days.

As for President Bush, he did tour an area called Chalmette, which is in St. Bernard‘s Parish, southeast of New Orleans.  This was an area fairly rural, fairly impoverished that was also very hard hit.  A lot of property damage, a lot of water damage there.  The president met with first responders and there has been some concern that has been addressed to the Bush administration that, for example, the 15,000 people who were suffering at the convention center for four straight days without food and water, that because they were largely black, because they were largely poor, they somehow did not get the proper attention from the Bush administration that they might have, had they been wealthier and white.  The president was asked about that charge today.  Here‘s what he had to respond to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The storm didn‘t discriminate and neither will the recovery effort.  When those Coast Guard choppers, many of whom were first on the scene, were pulling people off roofs, they didn‘t check the color of a person‘s skin.  They wanted to save lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But again the charge here, Dan, is that the Coast Guard helicopters and much of the federal response was late and there are a lot of questions here about why, but in the meantime of course the clean up continuous.  Many of the portions of New Orleans that you saw that were under water, those have now been dry, although there are still some parts of the city, maybe 15 to 20 percent of the city now where the water was deep enough that the water still exists and is only accessible for rescue crews by boat—Dan. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  David Shuster, keep doing the great work there.  After having been there I now know the conditions you all are living there in and you know you guys are doing great work.  Thanks. 

SHUSTER:  Thanks Dan.  Appreciate it.

ABRAMS:  There will be a new man in charge of FEMA.  Michael Brown who had been sent back to Washington presumably to deal with other disasters has resigned, saying—quote—“Today I resign as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  It is important that I leave now to avoid further distraction from the ongoing mission of FEMA.” 

He had already been replaced on the ground in the Gulf by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, but remember on Friday, September 2, four days after the hurricane hit, after the criticism had already started, President Bush praised Brown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Brown, you‘re doing a heck of a job.  The FEMA director is working...

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH:  They‘re working 24 hours a day.  Again, my attitude is if it‘s not going exactly right, we‘re going to make it go exactly right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So has Brown‘s work since then really been the problem?  Today while fielding questions after a tour of Gulf Port, Mississippi, the president said he did not know much at that point about the resignation. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I haven‘t talked to Mike Chertoff yet and that‘s what I intend to do when I get on the plane.  You probably—maybe you know something I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Nevertheless, the White House announced plans to tap R. David Paulison to replace Brown.  Now Paulison has 30 years of fire rescue experience.  He‘s been with FEMA since 2003.  Before that he was chief of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department, a very different resume than Michael Brown. 

Joining me now, “Newsweek” magazine investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff.  Michael, thanks for joining us.  So, Michael, isn‘t the bottom line that it‘s not that Brown has failed since the president praised him.  It‘s just that somebody had to take the heat for the failures.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK” INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Oh, exactly.  I think that there had pretty much been a consensus by last week that the Katrina response from all levels of government to Katrina was fiasco, a debacle.  Only the federal government is responsible.  It is ultimately responsible and Mike Brown was the visible person in charge. 

I think that the president‘s comments that you jut ran from September 2, Brown, you‘re doing a heck of a job, it pretty much had become one of those iconic statements that showed how out of touch not just Mike Brown might have been, but how out of touch the president was...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

ISIKOFF:  ... to be praising his—Brown‘s performance at a time when there were thousands of people stranded in New Orleans and no federal help there.

ABRAMS:  Look, you know politics.  He‘s saying he resigned.  Behind the scenes, was he forced out you think?

ISIKOFF:  I think that a number of people at the White House thought on Friday that with his removal—Mike Brown being removed from the guy in charge of Katrina relief, that he would have gotten the signal and resigned right away.  He did not do that.  It took him the weekend to get the signal, but you know perhaps a few people reinforced that signal quietly over the weekend.  And he did what was expected—he was going to do on Friday, he finally did today.

I think that Scott McClellan‘s comments just a little while ago at the White House speak volumes.  Asked about Mike Brown‘s service, McClellan said the president appreciates Mike Brown‘s service.  That‘s a pretty turf statement.  Not much...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on, Michael...

ISIKOFF:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  Let me interrupt you for one second.  We‘re just getting this news into us.  The New Orleans Mayor‘s Office is confirming that there has been another breach in a levee in New Orleans.  They‘re saying it is a small breach and that it‘s under control.  But still, the fact that there has been another breach in a levee in New Orleans, in and of itself, I‘m certain to the authorities there, is a frightening thought.  Michael, do you have any thought thoughts on that?

ISIKOFF:  I don‘t know enough about it...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

ISIKOFF:  ... based on what you just said.

ABRAMS:  All right.  I can tell you from having been there that basically what‘s happening now is that they are in the process of putting down sandbags, putting down other items to temporarily repair the levees.  Now it is unclear.  Maybe this is a breach again of a levee that had already been damaged.  Maybe some of the temporary items that were there have not withstood the pressure, et cetera.

We don‘t know.  We do know just that the Mayor‘s Office is confirming there has been a breach in a levee in New Orleans but they‘re calling it small and under control and that of course is the most significant point.  Remember, of course, New Orleans has been evacuated.  There are very few people who are still there. 

There are very few people to worry about, unlike the situation of course when the levees broke initially.  We‘ll come back to this as soon as we get any more information about this.  Actually we‘ve got the lieutenant governor from Louisiana on the program coming up later. 

Let me take a break.  Michael Isikoff, thanks a lot.  Sorry to cut that short.  Appreciate it.

ISIKOFF:  Sure enough.  Thanks.  Good to be with you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, ask lieutenant governor about that, also about the resignation, and what about the president again talking about the role of the local governments, and again breaking news, a report of a breach in a levee in New Orleans.

Also, the confirmation hearing for John Roberts is underway.  From what Democrats have been saying, it could get contentious.  I‘ll talk with the man helping him get through the hearings, former senator, current “Law & Order” actor and lawyer, my friend Fred Thompson.

And my trip on a Black Hawk over New Orleans with the 82nd Airborne this weekend, as they take one of their own back to his family‘s New Orleans‘ home for the first time.

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We have got breaking news to report to you out of New Orleans.  The New Orleans Mayor‘s Office is confirming that there has been another breach in a levee in New Orleans.  But—and this is an important but—they are saying it is a small breach and that it is under control.  Now, we‘re efforting more information on that as we speak and remember, of course, that you have a very different situation in New Orleans now, now that the city has been evacuated, now that you have the Army Corps of Engineers there. 

Now that every one is on site, this sort of problem can probably be dealt with in a much more effectively and expeditious manner than of course when the major levee breaks, and there was more than one, occurred in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Let‘s go right to the lieutenant governor of the state of Louisiana.

Mitch Landrieu joins us now.  Thanks very much for taking the time. 

We appreciate it. 

LT. GOV. MITCHELL LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA:  Thanks for having me.  I appreciate it.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Have you heard anything about this levee break? 

LANDRIEU:  I just heard.  As I was walking up here somebody mentioned that to me.  I haven‘t been able to confirm it.  I heard your report that the Mayor‘s Office has confirmed it.  If in fact it‘s a small breach and the people are on the ground, it doesn‘t appear though that this is going to be similar to what happened with the 17th Street Canal.  So we‘re very hopeful about trying to get to it very quickly and fix it so it doesn‘t do more damage. 

ABRAMS:  Well let me ask you as a policy matter.  What is the plan to prevent, and put aside this one for a moment, levee breaks in general?  Meaning, is the state ready to put the resources or demand the resources, request the resources from the federal government such that the levees can be rebuilt in a way so that a category 4 hurricane won‘t do this again? 

LANDRIEU:  Well of course you should know by now that we have been doing that for the past 25 years.  Going up to Congress and trying to warn them of the perils of having a levee system that we have, talking about coastal wetland restoration, all of those things.  The levees were only built because of money up to a hurricane-three strength.  Nobody had anticipated this.  And of course one of the things we‘re going to do is go back up there and say if you want to make the city safe, these are the things you have to do to make this port city a livable place.  So that‘s going to be on the top of the list.

ABRAMS:  What kind of money are we talking about?  I mean I know you don‘t know—you probably don‘t know exactly.  But give me a broad sense, what kind of money is it going to take to say these levees are now ready to withstand a category 5 hurricane? 

LANDRIEU:  I wouldn‘t even begin to guess, but I can give you a couple of variables.  When we‘re talking about coastal wetland restoration that was $14 billion.  To rebuild from this storm, just the infrastructure of the city is going to cost upwards of $150 billion and when you talk—when you start talking about the kinds of levees we‘re talking about, the numbers will probably be a little bit higher than that. 

ABRAMS:  The body count—another 45 people found in a hospital in New Orleans yesterday.  But there are many now saying that the numbers probably will not reach the sort of 10,000 mark, that it may be far lower than that.  Are you getting any information on that? 

LANDRIEU:  Well, of course it‘s really nothing to celebrate.  You know we‘ve always said this is an American tragedy.  It‘s got a couple of different acts.  The first was rescuing everybody.  The second is recovery, which is going to be a very difficult time for those of us who are personally involved because these are our loved ones, our friends, our family, and our neighbors.  It does appear that the numbers are going to be lower than first estimated, but every death diminishes us, and I think the next couple of days are going to be very difficult for the people of Louisiana when they realize you know who‘s in that count. 

ABRAMS:  Do you have any idea if charges could or should be filed against anyone in connection with a hospital that was effectively abandoned? 

LANDRIEU:  Well of course you know the attorney general is going to speak to that issue.  I think the one that you‘re alluding to is St. Rita‘s in the Saint Bernard area.  I think all of the facts and circumstances have to be examined.  I think people are very troubled by some of the circumstances surrounding who was evacuated, when, where and how.  I think that matter still needs to play out.  We don‘t know all the facts yet, but any egregious conduct we‘re told by the attorney general is going to be pursued fairly aggressively. 

ABRAMS:  As you know, to the outsiders, it sounded like the federal government, the White House and others suggesting that you know, this sort of tragedy is generally under the auspices of the local government, of the local and state government.  On the other hand, we‘re hearing from the mayor and some state officials, you know, we didn‘t get the help that we needed from the federal government.  What do you make of the fact that the FEMA director has now resigned? 

LANDRIEU:  Let me make a couple of points that everybody seems to be overlooking.  This was a massive storm that was bigger and stronger and more difficult than anyone ever expected to happen and ever has experienced.  That is what‘s caused most of the damage.  There‘s no doubt a lot of back biting going on and finger pointing, but that doesn‘t really makes us save lives right now, which is what we need to be focused on. 

That‘s not to say that the issue doesn‘t have to be resolved.  I‘m sure Congress will do an investigation and we‘ll figure out where all of that is.  Those of us, the governor, and me and all the other elected officials are trying to stay focused on rescue, recovery and rebuild and that to us is an issue that‘s important, should be dealt with.  People should be held accountable, but for another day.

ABRAMS:  But the problem is that when you‘re talking about—and I agree with you that the blame game can take a back seat.  But when you‘re talking about getting the money, et cetera, needed to rebuild, there are going to be questions about who should have done what and as a result...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... I think money will probably in part, be determined based on who should have been acting when and where. 

LANDRIEU:  Well I think maybe you can separate the issues if and when they get around to having that kind of discussion.  I think it‘s going to be very separate from what do you do now.  The question that the American people have to ask is how important is the metropolitan area of New Orleans to the commerce of the rest of the country and to its culture and to its viability.  It‘s very hard to imagine the United States of America without the metropolitan area of New Orleans and everything that it brings, being a port city.  How much it costs is going to be related...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

LANDRIEU:  ... to how important the American people think it is...

ABRAMS:  Bottom...

LANDRIEU:  I think that‘s going to be separate from who did what and where. 

ABRAMS:  Bottom line, have you been frustrated by the lack of lack of help you‘ve gotten?  I don‘t mean today, but early on from the federal government?

LANDRIEU:  The entire episode has been very frustrating because when you‘re on the grouped and it‘s your property and it‘s your family, you want to do everything faster and better than you do did it.  It‘s always --  it‘s been an incredibly difficult and frustrating time for all of us for a lot of different reasons.  But who did what, where, when, and how is going to be figured out later.  We want to stay focused on the end game and we‘re going to ask the American people to help us out six months from now when people are going to want to forget about the consequences of this tragedy. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Lieutenant Governor, thanks a lot for taking the time.  Appreciate it.

LANDRIEU:  Great.  Thank you for having me.  I sure appreciate your time. 

ABRAMS:  Joining me now, we‘ve got Colonel Richard Wagenaar with U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District on the phone.  Thanks a lot for taking the time.  All right, so we‘re getting a report of a small breach of a levee in New Orleans but they say it‘s under control.  Can you put that into perspective for us? 

COL. RICHARD WAGENAAR, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS (via phone):  Yes, what‘s happened is, is we‘ve—we turned the pumps on at pump station number three, but the volume that came out of those pumps was greater than what could go down the canal because we have the canal is blocked.  And so what happened is, is it started overtopping our repair.  We‘ve shut the pumps back down and we‘re opening up the canal more so that more water will flow out of that canal.

ABRAMS:  How significant a breach is it?

WAGENAAR:  It‘s not breached at all.  It just started—the water had somewhere—had to have somewhere to go, so it over topped.  Now that the pumps are off, it‘s not a problem until—as soon as we open up the canal, we should get water flowing back down it again. 

ABRAMS:  All right, but just to put it into broad perspective, things are under control.

WAGENAAR:  Very under control.

ABRAMS:  And not a point of concern? 

WAGENAAR:  Not at all.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Thanks a lot. 

WAGENAAR:  You bet.

ABRAMS:  That‘s very reassuring.  We appreciate it. 

Over the weekend, I joined the 82nd Airborne Division as they conducted a mission over New Orleans.  But it wasn‘t a typical mission.  It was an effort to accommodate one of their own, a sergeant whose family‘s home was underwater.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  We‘re at the Baton Rouge airport where we‘re about to go up with the 82nd Airborne Division.  They‘ve been here a week, but this regimen—this parachute regimen we are with is a team that has been in Iraq.  They‘ve been in Afghanistan and now they have been doing the search and rescue missions here.

Joined by Captain Hamilton who is going to be taking us up.  So Captain, here there is a real specific goal in terms of what we‘re going to be doing. 

CPT. ROBERT HAMILTON, ARMY‘S 82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION:  Our specific goal today is a recon mission.  We have one of his our soldiers who found out that his family was evacuated, but hasn‘t had a chance to check on their house (INAUDIBLE) high water.  We‘re going to go take this soldier (INAUDIBLE) make sure we can do recon, make sure we can see the damage and survey the damage of his house. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let‘s go. 

(voice-over):  We flew from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to pick up Sergeant Reynolds.  Along the way, the damage was massive, only truly visible from the sky.  We then landed at the naval air station being used by the 82nd as a temporary headquarters.  Sergeant Reynolds is stationed there.

(on camera):  Did your dad say anything to you about what he hopes he sees or he hopes you see? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Basically, he just, you know, he told me you know it would be nice if I could get down there, but it wouldn‘t—you know he‘s more concerned about my safety, I think than anything.  And to him, you know, all that stuff can be replaced.  But my feeling is since both my parents were affected by the storm, you know I want to do everything I can to give them some peace of mind. 

ABRAMS (voice-over):  It took just 10 minutes to find Sergeant Reynolds‘s father‘s house.  Despite all the flooding, he knew exactly where it was and it was almost completely under water.  Sergeant Reynolds, in awe, took pictures to show his father the extent of the damage.  When we landed, I asked him if it was what he expected. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was actually worse than I expected.  The water levels, I didn‘t expect them to be so high, all the way to the roof.  Some of the pictures I took, I noticed the—actually right in front of the house was you know almost covered in water and I know that‘s about four to five feet.  But unfortunately, the guesthouse in the back—the water went to the second floor, so—and that‘s where my father keeps a lot of his camera equipment and studio equipment and that‘s what he was really hoping to get out (INAUDIBLE) but...

ABRAMS (on camera):  This is the first time you‘d seen New Orleans from the sky (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, sir. 

ABRAMS:  As someone who‘s lived here, it‘s got to be a scary sight. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, it was.  You know growing up, my parents

always talked about you know how the city could flood if the levees broke

and stuff, but we never imagined that could happen.  It was always that‘s

never going to happen.  You know but when it actually happened, it was just

it was shocking to see that.  A lot of the places that I, you know we used to go, the city park and have picnics and different stuff like that and the different concerts out there, the jazz festivals and you know just imagine that just completely under water just blows my mind.

ABRAMS:  Seems Sergeant Reynolds has just gotten a phone and he is now calling his dad to let him know exactly what he found. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The house in the back, it does look like it got to the second floor (INAUDIBLE) and the house—I mean nothing around there looks looted or anything like that. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  82nd Airborne, doing a great job out there. 

Coming up, thousands of children separated from their parents following Katrina.  What‘s being done to reunite them with their loved ones?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Today Supreme Court Chief Justice-nominee John Roberts made his first statement as his confirmation hearings began.  Former Senator Fred Thompson, the man picked by the White House to advise Roberts, joins us, first the headlines. 

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  The first shots have been fired in the battle to remake the U.S. Supreme Court.  Federal Appeals Court Judge John Roberts, President Bush‘s choice to replace William Rehnquist as chief justice, sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.  Committee Republicans called for a dignified hearing, advising Roberts he doesn‘t have to answer questions about specific issues like abortion.  But Democrats insisted Roberts would have to answer their question to get their votes.  Before the sparring gets underway tomorrow, without notes, Judge Roberts explained his vision of a Supreme Court justice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE:  A certain humility should characterize the judicial role.  Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around.  Judges are like umpires.  Umpires don‘t make the rules.  They apply them.  The role of an umpire and a judge is critical.  They make sure everybody plays by the rules but it is a limited role. 

Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see umpires.  Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.  And judges have to have the modesty to be open in the decisional process to the considered views of their colleagues on the bench. 

Mr. Chairman, I come before the committee with no agenda.  I have no platform.  Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes.  I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment.  If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind.  I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented.  I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench and I will decide every case based on the record according to the rule of law without fear or favor to the best of my ability. 

And I will remember that it‘s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.  If I am confirmed, I will be vigilant to protect the independence and integrity of the Supreme Court and I will work to ensure that it upholds the rule of law and safeguards those liberties that make this land one of endless possibilities for all Americans. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘m joined now by my friend, former Tennessee senator, Fred Thompson.  President Bush has asked the senator to serve as a—quote—

“informal advisor to Judge Roberts, help him communicate with the senators who will decide on his nomination.  These days Senator Thompson is also known as D.A. Arthur Branch on NBC‘s “Law & Order”.  Of course, he served as minority counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee as well.  Senator, good to see you.  Thanks for coming on the program. 

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER REPUBLICAN SENATOR:  Thank you, Dan.  Good to be with you. 

ABRAMS:  So I noticed that Judge Roberts did not use any notes today, even in his statement to the committee.  Was that your advice? 

THOMPSON:  No, it wasn‘t my advice.  It was just the way he operates.  I think he operates that way before the Supreme Court when he‘s arguing cases and it‘s clear that what he said was heartfelt and I thought it was one of the most impressive sincere statements that I‘ve ever heard under these circumstances.  So I was quite impressed and—but then again, you know I‘ve been with him now for a few weeks and I‘m impressed anew every day, almost. 

ABRAMS:  We know that he is not going to answer questions about how he would rule on future cases.  I mean that‘s kind of a non-issue, but how about his opinion on past cases, on how they were decided?  He has written on issues.  He‘s offered legal advice on certain cases.  Is he going to talk about any of that? 

THOMPSON:  Well, Dan, it probably will depend on whether or not it has to do with the case that come—is of the kind of case that still regularly comes up before the Supreme Court.  There are certain hot button issues that produce litigation almost every term.  And with regard to those kinds of cases, asking him about a prior case is almost like asking him about a current...

ABRAMS:  You know—from the past confirmation hearings, it seems to me that if a judge or a nominee has written about an issue, they‘re kind of stuck with it and in a way, they‘re forced to answer questions about that even if it does relate to a case that may come before the court in the future. 

THOMPSON:  That‘s a god point.  That‘s been some history of that with regard to some judges when they have either written in an opinion or written in, say, a law review article, expressing an opinion.  I think that all that Judge Roberts has written about has to do with memos that he authored, giving legal advice or other advice to President Regan or the attorney general back several years ago.  Those did not purport to be his own opinion. 

ABRAMS:  And that‘s going to mean—he‘s obviously written on controversial issues such as Roe v. Wade, et cetera, and I assume...

THOMPSON:  Well he‘s not written on them as such in terms of John Roberts...

ABRAMS:  Right.

THOMPSON:  ... writing an article. 

ABRAMS:  Well I was going to say that his position is going to be, I was an advocate.  This was the position that we were taking in that particular case, but I‘m not going to tell you one way or another whether that‘s my personal opinion. 

THOMPSON:  Well clearly when he was working as the role of a lawyer and part of the Regan administration, for example, he was writing memos that would carry out those policies.  That doesn‘t mean that he disagreed with them for sure, but you really do have to understand his role as a lawyer versus his role as a judge.  He‘s been on the bench a couple of years and has been a part of about 50 opinions. 

(CROSSTALK)

THOMPSON:  Now, I think that is fair game. 

ABRAMS:  Do you worry though that the American public hates the distinction between lawyers serving as advocates versus their own opinion?  Because it does sort of make it sound like a lawyer saying (INAUDIBLE) you know, I was just saying that stuff.  I was effectively playing a role. 

THOMPSON:  Well you need to understand the lawyer‘s role in American society and I think the American people are up for that.  I think that they understood when John Adams represented the British Redcoats after the Boston massacre.  When he stepped up and says I‘ll give those men a defense.  They deserve one. 

It‘s a part of what makes our country great and he did that and later became president of the United States.  So I don‘t think we ought to underestimate the ability of the American people to figure out that we need strong lawyers who can take an individual side against the most powerful force in the world and that‘s the government of the United States. 

ABRAMS:  No look, there‘s no question about that, but I can tell you that my viewers write into this program all the time, part of the reason that they hate lawyers is because they feel like they‘re talking out of both sides of their mouth.  Let me let you listen to his piece of sound from Ted Kennedy.  This is from today, speaking—he was speaking to Judge Roberts. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  There are real and serious reasons to be deeply concerned about Judge Roberts‘ records.  Many of his past statements and writings raise questions about his commitment to equal opportunity and to the bipartisan remedies we‘ve adopted in the past.  This hearing is judge—is John Roberts‘ job interview with the American people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Do you view this as Judge Roberts‘ interview with the American people?

THOMPSON:  Well first of all, I‘m putting Senator Ted Kennedy down as undecided.  But I—you know I guess you could look at it that way.  Historically, people have basically taken the position that the president ought to have his right to make his appointments, unless there‘s some reason not to, and that the burden has been on those who would disqualify a person if he had the apparent qualifications for the job.  That‘s changed somewhat now in some people‘s views. 

So be it, regardless of whose burden it is or who‘s interviewing whom or who‘s on trial, so to speak.  I think the result is going to be the same. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

THOMPSON:  They‘re going to see a person here who is very well qualified and has been determined by lawyers, both Democrats and Republicans, women who have worked with him and all others, to be a decent, fair-minded brilliant man of the law. 

ABRAMS:  And as a practical manner, without minimizing your role, this has turned out to be a pretty easy job, hasn‘t it, in the sense that...

THOMPSON:  Absolutely. 

ABRAMS:  ... you said that you liked Judge Roberts, but it‘s also really unlikely that he‘s not going to be confirmed. 

THOMPSON:  Well you never want to talk like that.  You know I‘ve got a dog in the race now...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

THOMPSON:  ... and you don‘t want to...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

THOMPSON:  ... you don‘t want to jinx the race...

(CROSSTALK)

THOMPSON:  But no—well, if there‘s any hope that merit will prevail, then of course that will be—that‘s what I think will happen.  But it‘ll have to do with his quality and his qualifications.  There‘s never been a more qualified person come before the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Senator Thompson, they certainly picked the right man to be his advisor.  Thanks.  Good to see you again, Fred. 

THOMPSON:  Thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the children who have lost their parents in Katrina essentially living on their own.  What‘s being done to reunite them with their parents?

And Gloria Estefan, apparently rushing to a camera in Biloxi to join us where she has been helping in the relief effort, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, hundreds of young children still separated from their families after Katrina.  What is being done to reunite them with their parents?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  For hundreds of families devastated by Hurricane Katrina, what‘s lost is not just their home.  What‘s still missing now more than two weeks after the hurricane is a daughter or son separated in the evacuations or swept up by rescues. 

NBC‘s Campbell Brown filed this story about the progress being made in reuniting the hurricane‘s youngest victims with their families. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAMPBELL BROWN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  They are the most justifiable tears. 

(CRYING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) it‘s going to be OK.

BROWN:  Four-year-old Demarko Robinson (ph) was separated from his parents while be being rescued from New Orleans, a little boy with asthma now living in a shelter with seven other children, all hoping their parents will find them. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There was a 14-month-old.  There was a 4-month-old.  I mean just babies...

BROWN:  This is Judith Campbell (ph), a volunteer here and she is also my cousin.  She urged us to bring a camera and put these children‘s faces on television so a relative might see them.  The work here is taking an emotional toll. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You can‘t imagine there was a 14-month-old and (INAUDIBLE) we just need to find their parents. 

BROWN:  The older children are putting on brave faces, but it is so tough. 

These teenagers were rescued by chopper.  Their parents stayed behind. 

They made their way out of New Orleans and spent a frightening night alone. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One night we fell asleep in the grass and it was muddy and stuff.  And it started raining and we started getting bit by mosquitoes and it was freezing outside. 

BROWN:  There are similar stories at shelters around the country and bulletin boards are filled with messages from anxious parents trying to find their children. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My daughter.  We are from New Orleans and we got separated.  Her name is Penny Holmes (ph).

BROWN:  The National Center for Missing and Exploited children is trying to organize the process, taking pictures of the kids and creating a central database. 

MIKE KELLER, NAT‘L CTR. FOR MISSING & EXPLOITED CHILDREN:  We‘re very dependent upon the media to help us and this is really an important thing to us to get the information out how to contact us. 

BROWN:  The results seem promising.  At the San Antonio Airport, parents who hadn‘t seen their children since they were separated in a rescue finally reunited.  A happy ending, hopefully repeated in the weeks to come. 

Campbell Brown, NBC News, Baton Rouge.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  And we should say that was filed last week, so it is possible that some of those children have already been reunited hopefully with their families. 

Joining me now is Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  Thanks a lot for joining us.

All right, give us a sense what are we talking about in terms of numbers?  How many children were displaced by Katrina?  How many have been reunited with their families?

ERNIE ALLEN, NAT‘L CTR. FOR MISSING & EXPLOITED CHILDREN:  Dan, to date we‘ve received about 2,200 reports of children who are either missing or separated from their families. 

ABRAMS:  Twenty-two hundred. 

ALLEN:  Twenty-two hundred.  The good news is that we have resolved and reunified 466 of those children with their families.  The bad news is there are lots of kids who are still out there. 

ABRAMS:  So what you‘re saying that there are still, as far as you know, 1,700-plus children who are separated from their families? 

ALLEN:  We are making that assumption.  Now, this could involve situations in which children are with friends or neighbors, but these are 1,700 children whose parents today don‘t know where they are. 

ABRAMS:  (INAUDIBLE) and what are you doing to try and bring the parents together with the children? 

ALLEN:  We‘re doing a lot of things.  The Justice Department asked us to create a national Katrina missing person‘s hot line.  We‘ve done that.  We‘ve handled 14,000 leads and reports from the public.  We‘re using our Web site, missingkids.com, and we‘re really appreciative of all that MSNBC and NBC has done to bring attention to that so that people will provide us leads. 

We have people on the ground.  We‘re working with state and local law enforcement, the social services agencies, with the FBI.  We‘re following leads, doing everything possible to bring these families together. 

ABRAMS:  That is the Web site that we‘re looking at—www.missingkids.com.  Where are the kids now?  I mean are most of them—you say that some of them may be with friends and family.  How many of them are in shelters alone?  Do you know? 

ALLEN:  Dan, there‘s no way to know.  We‘re basically dealing with what their searching parents are telling us when they call us.  We‘re certainly working with the agencies.  I think that virtually all of the children who were in shelters in Louisiana are now accounted for.  But there‘s still kids all over this country and there are kids in shelters and other settings.  We‘ve just got to bring the databases together...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

ALLEN:  ... and track them down. 

ABRAMS:  Tell your friends, tell your family, tell anyone you know that this is the place to look.  This is so important.  Missing person‘s hot line, 1-888-544-5475, that‘s the phone number, 888-544-5475 or www.missingkids.com.  They‘ve got missing pictures there that tell you—it‘s heartbreaking to look at these pictures of these kids.  All right.  All right, Ernie Allen, the information is out there.  That‘s the key. 

ALLEN:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  Thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.  Keep up the good work. 

All right.  We‘ll be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  It‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”.  On Saturday I interviewed two paramedics from San Francisco who said that Gretna, Louisiana police officers and officials from the Jefferson Parish sheriff stopped them along with dozens of Katrina evacuees from crossing a bridge from New Orleans into Gretna at the time of the hurricane.  I had some tough questions for the police chief.  He made no apologies.

Ralph Hill from Arizona, “The sheriff showed no humanity, showed heartlessness, cold hearted selfishness in stealing these evacuees‘ food, water, then denies it all and claims it is some kind of mistaken identity issue.” 

Eileen Hinds, “After seeing the sheriff on ABRAMS REPORT I hope the appropriate officials take action and remove him from office.  Any sheriff that blocks off the roadway owned by all to 90 people trying to escape the floods is criminal.”

J.W. McClellan points something out that‘s important.  “You interviewed the couple that told you the sheriff of Gretna was the one that stopped them from crossing the bridge by firing shots into the air.  Then the sheriff of Gretna was the one that stole the couple‘s food and water out of the truck of the car.  The person that you interviewed after that was the police chief of Gretna.”

Now that is true, but remember that the couple claims that it was the police and the sheriff‘s department who was there.  And that the police chief admits his people were there at the bridge stopping people from going over, so he has to answer some of those questions.  Not about specifically stealing the food but about preventing people from moving.

Judy Blackwelder from Statesville, North Carolina takes a slightly different view of the news.  “Please tell us some news like the update on the Holloway case and Olivia Newton-John‘s boyfriend, et cetera.  We need fresh news along with Katrina news.”  

I think a lot of people might disagree with you on that, but in the days to come, we will incorporate more other stories on—in the program.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back.  I want to follow up again on that breaking news we reported to you earlier in the program that a levee has been breached again in New Orleans, but for those of you who missed our follow-up segment, just wanted to remind that you we spoke with the Army Corps of Engineers who say that that breach is now under control.  That it was somewhat minor. 

That it related to the amount of water that was being pumped out versus the amount of water that could be held in that particular area.  But that has been resolved and it is effectively a non-issue.  Unfortunately, Gloria Estefan couldn‘t make it in time for our interview, but she‘s doing some good work down there in Biloxi. 

Thanks a lot for watching.  “HARDBALL” up next.  I‘ll see you tomorrow.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

The Abrams Report each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET

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