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Tapes reveal Bush received Katrina warnings

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough looks at new videotapes that show President Bush receiving dire warnings the day before Hurricane Katrina came ashore last August. Guests include Henry Rodriguez, President of St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans and presidential historian Doug Brinkley.
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Bush-bashing bloggers and their allies in the press are already creating an uproar over the Katrina tapes or as one on this network breathlessly called them, “the Bush tapes.”  Released on Wednesday, the tapes hold information regarding the president's meetings with his top aides the day before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. 

The tapes make it clear that former FEMA Director, Michael Brown was deadly accurate in his predictions. 

Doug Brinkley, a New Orleans resident and historian and Henry Rodriguez, the president of hard-hit New Orleans St. Bernard Parish joined ‘Scarborough Country’ to discuss why the White House didn’t listen to these predictions before the hurricane hit.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, ‘SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY’:  Doug, I have been kicking the hell out of Michael Brown for six months, as have a lot of people in the press and a lot of people along the Gulf Coast where I live.  But you look at these tapes, this guy was providing a blueprint for what was going to happen in Mississippi, in New Orleans, in the Superdome, with the levees.  Why weren't people listening to him? 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT & HISTORIAN:  Well, I think that Wednesday—remember, Katrina hit on the 29th, that's on a Monday.  Two days later, the worm started turning on Brown.  The Brownie remark was on a Friday of President Bush saying that week to him on that Thursday. 

He became the pinata, the scapegoat for everything.  But it wasn't just the Democrats going after Brown.  They were looking at him as a trophy.  It was also, I believe, Homeland Security itself.  Everybody wanted to find somebody to blame. 

What people don't realize is Brown got grounded in Baton Rouge.  So he was stuck there at the emergency headquarters, wasn't allowed to travel.  And the White House was saying they didn't want to have a blame game, but it was becoming very convenient for Homeland Security to blame Brown and the Democrats joined the chorus, so he became the all-purpose scapegoat.

SCARBOROUGH:  So, Doug, they were keeping hit out of New Orleans where he wanted to be.  He was up in Baton Rouge away from the action.  He had made all of these predictions.  And, again, remember, Doug, this is the same guy who led us in Florida through four killer storms the year before and did a pretty damn good job of it. 

BRINKLEY:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So what's the difference?  The difference is Homeland Security and Michael Chertoff.  Right? 

BRINKLEY:  Couldn't agree with you more.  I'm working on this nonstop trying to do book.  And Homeland Security is where the real story is.  Brown got scapegoated.  Brown never got along with Chertoff.  And I agree with you that I think that the real focus has to be on the breakdown of Homeland Security. 

Brown became the patsy, the fall guy for everything.  But couple of weeks ago he came back with a vengeance, Brown, and did a lot of interviews.  Remember, the TIME magazine story hurt Brown a lot when they talked about him padding his resume and it's unclear on some of those points that TIME brought out, and the pile-on continued.  The old Japanese adage the nail that stands the tallest gets hammered down, well, Brown stood tall. 

When Bush said, Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job, that's when the trouble started.  That's was what Brown calls the tipping point because everybody started looking at Brown at that point and started saying, who is this guy?  Who is Brownie?  And at that point, destroying Brown was the way to hurt President Bush. 

Now Brown has refashioned himself.  And he's becoming kind of the guy who seemed to be more on the ball at least than the people in Homeland Security were. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me bring in right now Henry Rodriguez. 

Henry, during this same briefing, Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center issued a dire warning about the levees in New Orleans.  And on the day before the storm hit, August 28th, President Bush begged the residents of the area to get out of Dodge.  He said, we cannot stress enough this danger, this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities.  I urge all citizens to put their own safety and safety of their families first by moving to safe ground.  Please listen carefully to instructions provided by state and local officials. 

It looked like everybody was being warned.  What went so terribly wrong? 

HENRY RODRIGUEZ, PRESIDENT, ST. BERNARD PARISH:  I'll tell you what went wrong.  It started at the top.  It's the federal government from the top to the bottom.  I've never seen an administration like this in all my life.  The things that came out today, you don't know what to believe.  There's nobody tells the truth.  Every single one of them is telling damn lies. 

And all of these lies have cost people their lives.  Number one, the government levees failed.  The federal government, the ones the Corps of Engineers built and didn't properly maintain and today are putting back.  And if anybody goes and checks what they're putting back by the Ninth Ward and the industrial canal, it is originally what it was before.  And it's four feet lower in elevation than what it should be. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Henry, though, you talk about how it goes from top to bottom.  But the bottom line is you've got the president of the United States coming on begging everybody to leave. 

You've got federal officials begging the governor to declare a disaster area, begging the mayor of New Orleans to evacuate everybody.  They didn't listen to him.  You can't say it's top to bottom.  It's bottom to top, it's top to bottom.  It was everybody's fault.  It was local officials, it was state officials, federal officials, wasn't it? 

RODRIGUEZ:  No, I disagree with you on local and state official, because local and state officials did the best they could.  I know, I was there.  And we had our National Guard people and National Guard troops.

SCARBOROUGH:  Why didn't they evacuate?  Why did she refuse to evacuate? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Because I was president of St. Bernard Parish, it was my duty to stay there with my people. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, no, I'm not talking about you. 

RODRIGUEZ:  And we also had the National Guard.

SCARBOROUGH:  I'm talking about the governor.  Why didn't the governor evacuate?  Why didn't Nagin use all those buses that were basically, you know, put underwater after Katrina hit? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Well, that's easy for you all to not understand about the buses.  The buses were placed in a position where that area had never flooded before, and neither did areas of St. Bernard Parish.  We did the same thing, the National Guard did the same thing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, but you use the buses before the floodwaters come.  You use the buses to get people out of there so they don't die.  And when the president is trying to nationalize the National Guard, you get the governor of the State of Louisiana to do that. 

Again, I'm not saying the president didn't screw up.  I've been saying for six month he did.  I'm just not going to let you come on my show and say that state and local officials did a good job, because they did a lousy job. 

RODRIGUEZ:  They did as good a job—it's easy for you people to say that they didn't do a good job. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What do you mean, “you people.” Hey, hey, look on your map.  I live in Pensacola, Florida, I've been through more hurricanes than you've ever been through in your life.  So don't tell me you people don't understand hurricanes.  I understand it a lot better than you do. 

RODRIGUEZ:  I don't think you have been through a damn thing that I haven't been through in my life, because I've been through a hell of a lot of Hurricanes.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, have you really? 

How many hurricanes you been through, buddy?  Let's have a contest.  You've been through two hurricanes.  You've been through Betsy and you've been through Katrina.  So don't tell me I don't understand hurricanes.

RODRIGUEZ:  That's the problem, you're just like everybody else.  You don't know what you're talking about.  You don't know what I've been through.

SCARBOROUGH:  Actually, you know what separates me from everybody else?  I've actually ridden through hurricanes.  I know what it's like to believe that your house is going blow apart at 3:00 in the morning when you're looking up.  And I've seen officials, and I saw it during Ivan, I've seen local and state officials actually do their job.  They actually nationalized the National Guard when it was time to nationalize it. 

You all didn't.  You want to blame the president.  The president and Republicans want to blame you.  Why don't you just step up and say, we screwed up.  Everybody screwed up. 

RODRIGUEZ:  I'm not going to say we screwed up.  If they knew, the federal government knew that we were going to get flooded, which we all figured that we were, hoping that we wouldn't, why in the hell didn't they have buses down there to help us?  Because they had to know that ours was underwater. 

Why in the hell did FEMA turn down the request for 300 boats prior to that by the state?  That's a lot of things that they didn't do at the federal—where were the helicopters?  I spent two nights on a roof, my friend.  I slept on a goddamn roof.  I guess you were sleeping in some hotel. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, you know where I was?  I was over in Mississippi.  So don't tell me what I know.

RODRIGUEZ:  Don't tell me what the hell the state didn't do because I've seen the state working and I've seen local. 

SCARBOROUGH: Doug Brinkley, I want to bring you back in here for one point.  The point is we've got local officials still blaming the president, still blaming the feds.  You've got the feds blaming the local officials.  Why can't these people just come forward and admit, everybody screwed up on all levels, right?  . 

BRINKLEY:  The people who did a good job in the federal government were the U.S. Coast Guard.  They had moved their assets up to Alexandria, Louisiana.  So unlike the National Guard that was trapped in Jackson Barracks or the City of New Orleans that had buses that got flooded, the Coast Guard under Captain Paskewich had moved to Alexandria. 

So to every single Coast Guard, they didn't lose a helicopter.  They worked around the clock.  It was a model operation, the Coast Guard.  So while we're all talking about who screwed up, we should also remember what a great job the Coast Guard did.  And they did so because they learned from Ivan, they brought their assets out of the bowl of New Orleans, put them in Alexandria, created a center to do search and rescue. 

And they didn't have many of the guys in the Coast Guard lost all their homes.  Many of them lived in New Orleans East.  They got wiped out.  They didn't have one person in the Coast Guard who didn't show up for duty.  Compare that to something like the New Orleans Police Department.  So the Coast Guard is a great success story. 

SCARBOROUGH:  There are some great success stories and a lot of people put their lives on the line and we thank them for it.  And I thank you Doug Brinkley and Henry Rodriguez. 

Remeber, the important thing about these tapes, it's the second rewrite of history.  Six months to the day after Katrina hit, what does it show us?  That Michael Brown may have been a scapegoat.  This may have been the guy who was issuing all the right warnings, but he wasn't listening because the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and Baton Rouge and New Orleans wouldn't listen to him.