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'The Abrams Report' for September 5

Read the transcript to Monday's show

Guest:  Lieutenant Pete Snyder; Charles Foti; Randy Flowers; Bruce Dunagan, Sergeant Cathy Flinchum; Jim Hood

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  I‘m live in the heart of Biloxi, Mississippi.  In the heart of town, only feet away from city hall, feet away from the library in town, feet away from the local bank, feet away from where the Hard Rock Cafe, the brand new Hard Rock Cafe was supposed to open on Thursday.  But as you can see, this is now a city that has been devastated by Katrina. 
A hundred and thirty-nine confirmed dead.  There are still search and rescue teams out here, they are still out there trying to assess all of the damage in town.  This even a week after Katrina hit.  It is, of course, a familiar story, a story that we have been hearing about in New Orleans for the past week.  And that remains our lead story.  There, search and rescue efforts continue, people still being blocked off of rooftops.  The waters still a huge problem in New Orleans.  But there is hope finally. 
Before we get to that, the Department of Homeland Security is finally releasing numbers for the area.  For the first time, here‘s what we know.  They say that they have saved 22,00 lives, that 230,000 people are in shelters, that they have served 8.5 million meals, 38,000 National Guard and 4,000 Coast Guard are working in the area.  Of course, this does not answer the question that so many have asked, which is:  How many have died as a result of this?  Still no answers to that.  How many might have been saved if things had gone differently, that is a question we will never know the answer to. 
President Bush was in the region, he was in Baton Rouge.  He was in Poplarville, Mississippi, he was meeting both with residents and with officials in the area, but the lead story remains New Orleans, and that‘s where our own Michelle Hofland is standing by with the latest—Michelle. 
MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Dan.  A clearer picture is beginning emerge and just that number of people, the extent of the death toll in this area.  On the “Today” show, the mayor of New Orleans warned that body count in his town alone could be as many as 10,000.  About 70 miles from here today, a makeshift morgue has been set up in a town that used to be a leper county (SIC).  St.  Gabriel, Louisiana. 
In that town right now, the feds has set up a morgue; they have a whole convoy of refrigerated cars that went in there today.  They believe that they can handle up to 5,000 bodies at that location.  A few blocks away from here, our NBC crew was going door to door with some crews that were looking at homes and trying to count bodies to see how many people may have died in some of these homes.  And this is an area that isn‘t even affected by water and, Dan, in these homes they found in one home alone nine people who died inside that home.  Still, countless other people have died in the floodwaters, and many—what they are trying to do is pull the bodies who are still in the water around this area out of the water and bring them to the morgues and get them back to be identified and to determine the exact cause of death. 
But, still, the rescues continue around the New Orleans area.  The Air Force says they have already rescued 3,700 people.  Now, that doesn‘t even include the National Guard, the volunteers, and all the others who have been plucking bodies and people off of rooftops and in their homes throughout the New Orleans area, but there are still a number of people who are too stubborn or too scared to leave their homes them are staying in their homes, surrounded by water.  Some today decided they were going to give up and get out and come to dry land.  But others are still staying behind and saying, “I want to stay here.  I‘m going to try to stick it out.” 
Here in the New Orleans area, it looks like the military has invaded.  The 82nd Airborne is here, the Calvary is here, the Marines, thousands of military people are in the streets around the area trying to keep order in the New Orleans area. 
Dan, back to you. 
ABRAMS:  All right, Michelle Hofland, thanks very much appreciate it.
All right, let‘s check in with Lieutenant Pete Snyder from the Louisiana National Guard.  Of course, they are the ones who are on the ground there dealing with a lot of the law and order issues. 
Lieutenant thanks a lot for taking the time.  We appreciate it.  First, let me just ask you a slightly related issue, and that relates to what Michelle was talking about, and that is about the rescue effort.  Do you have any sense of how many more days the rescue effort is going to continue where they are literally plucking people off the tops of roofs? 
PETE SNYDER, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD:  Well, I would say it‘s going to continue indefinitely, with over 16,000 National Guardsmen performing the missions, with over 300 aircraft, in and around the greater New Orleans area, and with over hundreds and hundreds of boats that belong to state agencies, federal agencies, and even private sportsmen in Louisiana, there‘s no need to set a timetable on this.  We‘re dealing with rescues, and as long as it takes, we‘ll be in the air, on the water, and on the land looking. 
ABRAMS:  But I think that some people are wondering, though, what we‘re talking about in terms of days, meaning the fact that there are still people who are in need of rescue on the tops of their roofs.  Is there any sense as to when—when the—at least the first round, at least when they can say, “Look, we have been to every area.  We now have a sense after what we‘re dealing with.  We have pretty much covered the city.”  Any sense of when that time will come? 
SNYDER:  I think we‘re seeing a different type of rescue now.  We‘re pulling individuals out of housing complexes that necessarily are not on their roof.  They‘re leaning out of windows, they‘re leaning on ledges so as our helicopters move around, it‘s not as easy to pick individuals off of roofs.  So, we seem to have moved into a new type of rescue. 
ABRAMS:  But, we‘re certainly not talking about the next 24 hours, where you‘ll be able to look back and say, “Look, we‘ve pretty much completed that part of the mission?” 
SNYDER:  Absolutely not.  I was down range today, and when I was flying in, within half a mile of the Louisiana Superdome, Coast Guard, National Guard, and Navy helicopters were pulling individuals from the housing areas in and around the Superdome. 
ABRAMS:  All right, so is—in terms of law and order, is the city under control 24 hours a day at this point? 
SNYDER:  Without question.  The Louisiana National Guard, along with 29 other states are joining together with local law officials, with state law officials and with federal law officials to provide the security necessary so our rescue efforts can continue, so our recovery efforts can continue.  There‘s no doubt we are providing the resources necessary to ensure that safety is brought to the citizens and the rescuers of New Orleans. 
ABRAMS:  Lieutenant, thanks a lot for taking the time.  I know this is a busy time for you.  We appreciate you coming on the show and appreciate everything you are doing out there.  Thanks. 
All right.  Attorney General Charles Foti from Louisiana joins us now. 
Mr. Attorney General, thank you for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 
Let‘s talk about what‘s happening now from a law enforcement point of view.  What do you view, right now, the role of the attorney general?  I assume that you‘re not dealing yet with the prosecution of the looters, etc.  What would you consider to be your primary goal in terms of the Attorney General‘s Office, right now? 
CHARLES C.  FOTI, JR., LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL:  To help set up the courts again in Orleans, St.  Bernard and Plaquemines, to a lesser extent, Washington, and St.  Tammany, Jefferson.  They will—the surrounding parishes, except for Orleans, Plaquemines, and St.  Bernard will be back up and operating probably by the end of this month.  We just had a meeting this morning with the Chief Justice Pascal F.  Calogero of the Supreme Court, Katie (PH) Justice, Katie (PH) Kimball, and a number of other people to talk about setting up the justice community, how we put judges back to work, how we make the civil and criminal work. 
Now, what we have done in the meantime to help with the law enforcement effort out on the streets, the Attorney General‘s Office and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections has set up a temporary booking and holding area in the city of New Orleans in the downtown district, which was opened up Sunday.  And so that will give the process, then we‘ll move those people off that site probably in the next day or so to Hartford (PH), which is in St.  Gabriel, where they will get an initial meeting before a judge.  So the process of getting it set up is ongoing.  Absolutely the rule of law is in place, they have—they have the looting under control and now is a question about finishing the rescue effort and then the cleanup. 
ABRAMS:  Mr. Attorney General, we have heard so much about the criminal chaos that has been going on in New Orleans.  Have there been a lot of people arrested?  And, if not—in connection with that, and if not, do you have hope that many of the people who have just made this horrible situation worse will be caught and brought to justice? 
FOTI:  Well, a few of the people that have made this horrible situation worse.  With the help of the FBI, the DEA, the state police, the sheriff, the chiefs of police of the state of Louisiana, and New Orleans Police Department, the National Guard, they are all down there to do that, OK?  So from process, the first step to establish it is to have this temporary holding facility.  We probably have brought in from the surrounding parishes about 150 to 200 people over the last since Sunday, so it‘s well working.  We‘re pushing it forward, still evacuating what other people are left, going door to door.  Some people refuse to leave.  Now, you won‘t believe that, but some people.  And they tell them that it may be another month, but they still refuse to leave.  But, we‘re getting people out so we can restore not only the city of New Orleans, but St.  Bernard and Plaquemines Parish and help Jefferson Parish too.  But Jefferson Parish has problems, but not as significantly as the rest of the parishes.
ABRAMS:  And I want to follow up that in a moment, but I want to tell my viewers we‘re looking at live chopper shots of rescues continuing in New Orleans. 
FOTI:  Yes.
ABRAMS:  You are watching live pictures of what is happening as we speak, and you heard there the National Guard lieutenant telling us that this is not going to be something that will be completed in the next 24 hours.  That this is going to go on for days and days.  These continuing rescue efforts, where—we‘re watching now one from a roof, that we‘re not just talking about rooftops, we‘re talking about people today literally leaning out of their windows, being plucked out by National Guard and other officials who are there to help in this effort. 
All right so, Mr. Attorney general.  The question that I think that so many have is can we have faith that some of those who have really made a horrible situation worse are going to end up facing justice?  Meaning, after all of this calms down, are you going to be hauling in people or are the local D.A.‘s going to be hauling in people to try and get some answers, asking for descriptions by witnesses of the people that they saw, trying to follow up, trying to figure out who these people were, etc.? 
FOTI:  Without a doubt, and I assure you that will be done.  We will talk with witnesses, we will gather evidence, we will write reports, and we‘re talking about the FBI, the DEA, the Marshals Strike Force, NOPD, the sheriffs, the chiefs of police, their men, and the National Guard.  One of the reasons why we have the booking station is so that they can put this information down at the time where they make the arrest.  Now, there are other crimes that occurred and we have to find those witnesses and we will attempt to find them and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law and basically throw away the key. 
ABRAMS:  Good.  Well, that‘s good to hear, because there needs to be a sense out there that this is not just something in the past.  What‘s the story in New Orleans, at least, with regard to looting?  Do you believe, as the lieutenant from the National Guard said, that that this is really now under control? 
FOTI:  I think in any jurisdiction, in any city, hamlet or rural area, there‘s always some criminal element, but for the main part where you‘re talking about looting, where you‘re talking about chaos, that is not going to happen anymore.  I think that is under control.  There will be some crimes that are committed, but as we bring more and more people out, we will take care of that. 
ABRAMS:  Very quickly, has a lot of evidence from a lot of cases been destroyed, and is that going to have a major impact on the criminal justice system? 
FOTI:  We won‘t know until be we get into the buildings and we‘re sending teams now as an attempt to see what we can salvage.  We‘re going to pull the computer, the computer records and pull the case files to make sure we have those case files and if they have been destroyed to rebuild them.  This is a major, major catastrophe, and we are working very diligently to restore the criminal justice system. 
ABRAMS:  All right.  Mr. Attorney General, thank you for taking the time, and we‘re going to keep following up with you about this and watch to.
FOTI:  Make sure everybody praise for everybody. 
ABRAMS:  For sure.  Thank you very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.  We‘re going to continue to be following those live pictures from New Orleans.  We‘re going to take a break.  We‘ll be back in Biloxi, Mississippi.  I‘ve been talking to the residents, the officials here.  There are problems here in Biloxi, as well.  Be back in a minute. 
ABRAMS:  You would think that looting would be a nonissue at this point, a week after Katrina hit the coast here in Biloxi, Mississippi.  But apparently that‘s not the case and when you think about the value of these houses that you‘re seeing here, or at least the value of what these houses were, you‘re talking about many homes who are worth over $1 million.  These were grand, three-story homes.  Randy Flowers lives right next door, renting a house from the same people who own this house. 
And Randy, you were sort of telling me where things used to be in this house, and explaining to me that there really were and still are a lot of valuable items inside. 
RANDY FLOWERS, BILOXI, MI RESIDENT:  Yes.  Yes sir, there sure were.  Basically just a big, beautiful southern-style mansion located on the gulf coast, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, and the storm surge came in.  A lot of—and just after the storm surge went out, we had hurricane force winds. 
ABRAMS:  And the house is literally moved, Right? 
FLOWER:  Yes, it was completely moved backwards.  As you can see, it‘s just completely sank down off the foundation.  This piece of wood right here is from the pier that was out in the gulf.  And just totally knocked down and destroyed, and before the hurricane force winds had ever died down.
ABRAMS:  Ceiling fan.
FLOWERS:  We did have looters just coming up in here.  Initially, the very first night, we ran off eight looters. 
ABRAMS:  Really? 
FLOWERS:  They completely looted the B.P.  gas station on the corner that was completely decimated by the storm surge, and by the wind before anything had happened.  And as late as last night, which would be day seven after the hurricane, we still have a looting problem.  The Biloxi Police Department reacted as fast as they can to get up to it and the looters last night were caught, so that‘s a definite plus.
ABRAMS:  Are you talking about artwork back here and books and I guess there‘s also personal membranentos, I don‘t know. 
FLOWERS:  Yes, sir.  Photographs, different artworks, just fine china that‘s lying around, it‘s really amazing that a house can be this destroyed and laying out in the back yard are pieces of china that are not hurt at all.
ABRAMS:  Is it particularly frustrating for you we‘re talking about a week later now, you‘re still dealing with issued like looting? 
FLOWERS:  Not so much for myself.  Some of the people who have totally lost everything farther down in east Biloxi, I can see where it is, and I can see where they‘re worried about it.  The Biloxi Police Department did the best necessity can—excuse me—could after the initial storm surge was over to try to secure the area, but there was too much area and too much place, and just the devastation they couldn‘t even get through. 
ABRAMS:  It‘s not New Orleans we‘re talking about in terms of the—not just the devastation, but the aftermath. 
FLOWERS:  Yes, sir.  It‘s not just New Orleans.  Biloxi had the problem.  We seem to be dealing with it a lot better then New Orleans is from what I‘ve heard on the radio reports.  We don‘t have television or running water or anything down here. 
ABRAMS:  Well, you were telling me before that people haven‘t really been walking around in here a whole lot.  That‘s probably a good idea for us to not be here for a whole.
FLOWERS:  You might want to get out—i‘m not going to guarantee it‘s entirely safe. 
ABRAMS:  Yeah, yeah.  Well, thanks a lot for doing this.  We really appreciate it.  Good luck to you. 
FLOWERS:  No problem.  Thank you very much.  And hopefully y‘all will get to come get the gulf coast after everything is rebuilt and see how beautiful it really is. 
ABRAMS:  Yeah. 
ABRAMS:  I‘m joined now by the police chief here in Biloxi, Bruce Dunagan. 
Chief, thanks very much for taking the time, we appreciate it.
ABRAMS:  So, are there rescue efforts?  We‘ve been watching in New Orleans, we‘ve been watching pictures from New Orleans of people literally still being plucked from buildings, etcetera, and they‘ve got a different problem there and that is the water.  But, are rescue efforts still going on here? 
DUNAGAN:  I think ours are pretty much culminated and the fire has been doing that with their assistance, and they‘re more into the recovery and looking for human remains at this point.  I don‘t think after one week—I didn‘t realize it‘s been seven days since the hurry contain, I think that‘s in their opinion probably not going to find anybody alive. 
ABRAMS:  We were just talking to a man who was saying he‘s been fighting off looters that he—he lives a couple blocks from the public safety office.  He said last night he had to call the police because there were people trying to loot.  Has that been a continuing problem? 
DUNAGAN:  It has, as I said last week to some of the media, you know, there‘s about one tenth of one percent of population, you know, you have the best of people, and then you‘re going to find the worst, and that‘s what we‘re seeing in people.  And we caught 17 looters, I think last night, we caught those that looters you‘re speaking of, and continuing it on.  The power is coming on in the city, but in those dark areas where the power is not on, I think we‘ll continue to see that.  I had a number of our officers had been working—some of them worked 18-hour shifts last night, volunteered, and said they didn‘t want any extra pay for it, they wanted to do it in the free time to go out and get looters, so we put additional teams out just to do that.  Well, there‘s still people living on—as you‘ve seen on the east end of town, some of these structures, there‘s not much there, but have you have those families trying to survive, under them, they have nothing else, and we‘re still out try to, you know, take care of their needs and protect them. 
ABRAMS:  Are you having the problems that New Orleans is having in terms of the morale?  And when I say morale, I don‘t mean in terms of the cause of what they‘re doing, I mean in terms of what they are seeing every day.  This is affecting their lives, they‘ve lost their homes, etcetera. 
DUNAGAN:  Well, we‘ve had 17 or 15 or 17 of our police officers lost all of theirs.  They‘re still there at work.  Morale is still up, that‘s one of my biggest challenges, is keeping it up.  But not one of them has complained.  You know, we have to stay professional, and stay strong.  The public is looking for us for direction, and somebody to go to, and when law enforcement starts falling down, then you‘re going to see the whole community falling down. 
ABRAMS:  What do you think of the move by the New Orleans officials to give a vacation, in essence, and I guess vacation is probably a wrong word, but a time of healing for some of the police officers there.  Saying you know what, National Guard‘s there, our people need a little time to cope. 
DUNAGAN:  Sorry to say, I haven‘t seen much on the outside.  I have to ask reporters what‘s going on outside of Biloxi, because I‘m focused here.  However, we‘re doing the same thing.  We‘re, you know, getting outside assistance from other agencies, North Carolina, I‘m talking about other law enforcement agencies, and some of the military M.P.‘s, and we can send a few our people home, try to clean up a little bit, take a little break, get needed rest and the come back on the job.  So, we start—we have started that also, and it‘s—but, it‘s much needed for most of them.  I‘ve been living out of my office, you know, my office is city hall.  That‘s where everything is going on in the police department, so—but I‘ll continue to stay there, and that‘s my job. 
ABRAMS:  I‘m going to let this fire truck pass, and ask you one final question.  And that is early on, literally in the days after Katrina hit, there were people in parts of Biloxi saying, “Where is our help?  Where are they?”  What happened?
DUNAGAN:  Well, as a—well, let‘s see, Monday at probably about 5:00, about this time I guess it was, it was tropical storm winds, and at that point we had to be self-sufficient, because we were pretty much cut off, communications down.  We had three shelters that law enforcement was staffing, the city was staffing, and we had a lot of people in those shelters.  There was only a limited amount of food and water.  As a matter of fact, some of the grocery stores had been blown out, probably would have been looted.  You know, I never thought as police chief I‘d give the order we need to go in and inventory those assets, and between police and fire, we took the water and food we needed to give to those shelters, and we‘ll have a receipt, so when the owners, you know, we‘ll owe them.  We actually took command of that.  We had to be self-sufficient for almost five days in Biloxi until we could get assets. 
ABRAMS:  There was just no way—the answer, I guess, is that the communication was a big problem, in terms of knowing Wednesday or Thursday that there were people who need help? 
DUNAGAN:  Right.  And we had our 800 radios, the police radios, but that was about all that was functions, everything else, cell phones, telephones, other kind of communications.  I actually sent a, it was like in the Napoleonic Wars, I sent a messenger down to the OEC at the Gulfport in a car, and get a written response.  I mean, it‘s pretty bad what you have to do that, but that‘s the way we had to do some things.  And the big plan, you know, as you know, this storm was way bigger, and it is still taxing resources nationally and statewide, but we are coming to bear.  I don‘t blame anybody.  You know, you just have to improvise and kind of get with the program, so to speak, but we had to take care of our citizens and our people, and I think we‘re doing a very good job of that. 
ABRAMS:  Chief, thanks for taking the time, we appreciate it. 
DUNAGAN:  Thank you, sir. 
ABRAMS:  As we continue in a moment with our coverage from Biloxi, Mississippi, but we are also continuing to watch in New Orleans where as we speak, rescue efforts are continuing.  And later in the program, President Bush decides the John Roberts shouldn‘t just be on the Supreme Court, he should be the chief justice of the Supreme Court.  This, after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died over the weekend.  We‘ll tackle that issue later in the program. 
We‘ll be back in Biloxi in a moment. 
ABRAMS:  I‘m back in Biloxi, Mississippi, around the corner from the main strip where I was a moment ago.  City hall, the library, I‘m behind what was a law office, and actually behind the library, as well, as you can see, just complete and total devastation, here in Biloxi.  In a moment, wheeling talk to the Mississippi attorney general. 
But, first, these unbelievable live pictures continue from New Orleans, where we continue to have chopper shots up of rescues, as we speak, in that city.  As we look at these pictures, let‘s check in with Sergeant Cathy Flinchum of the Louisiana state—police. 
Thanks very much for taking the time, we appreciate it.  I asked, earlier, the National Guard this question, and I am wondering if you have any thoughts on this, and that‘s with regard to timing.  Is will any sense among officials there about how long these rescues will continue.  And I know they‘ll continue until you feel that they‘re completed, but have you gotten a firmer sense of how much more space, how many more buildings, how many more people, could need rescues and how much time that will take? 
SGT. CATHY FLINCHUM, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE:  No, I don‘t have an exact time on it.  What we‘re finding is we have enclaves of people that went into hiding due to the violence, due to the storm, and now that they‘re seeing patrols come out of street, they are starting to come out, they‘re starting to know that it‘s safe to come out so that they can be rescued.  And that‘s going to continue until we‘re sure all of the people have been safely taken out, and I don‘t want to put a timeframe on it because it‘s going to continue until we‘re absolutely sure that there‘s nobody else left to save. 
ABRAMS:  Do you have any information about these four to 500 New Orleans police that are unaccounted for at this time? 
FLINCHUM:  No, sir.  I don‘t have any information.  Again, we hear the rumors like everyone else, but I don‘t have any knowledge of that. 
ABRAMS:  Has the Louisiana state force been put in the position of effectively filling in for some of these New Orleans officials?  Or had the National Guard really taken over that role? 

FLINCHUM:  Well, sir, I can tell you, we have over 800 Louisiana state troopers assigned to Hurricane Katrina operations, we have sent every available person that we have, state police has held nothing back.  As a matter of fact, some of these people that are involved in the operations have lost everything.  They are troopers that are from the New Orleans metro area and they continue to work, they continue to be loyal, selfless service, show courage, and they‘re out there as we speak continuing their mission, continuing to save lives, and we‘re extremely proud of them. 
ABRAMS:  Tell me a little bit more about that, meaning if they‘ve lost their homes and they‘ve lost everything, as you say, has it come to the point where the police force, people are saying come stay at my house or come stay with me, I‘ve got a place for you? 
FLINCHUM:  Absolutely.  We are a big family here, and we take care of each other when one of our brethren is in need, absolutely.  We step up to the plate.  We have some relief funds, right now, that are becoming operational and, not only will be take care of those folks in our New Orleans metro area and the surrounding parishes, but we‘re also going to take care of each other, because we‘re victims of the catastrophic storm also. 
ABRAMS:  Real quick.  Let me ask you about the delays in getting to a lot of these people.  What is the—what is the perspective from the Louisiana state police?  I mean, how did this happen, why did it happen, do you think? 
FLINCHUM:  Sir, I wouldn‘t like to speculate on that on that.  All I can tell you is that state police has sent every available resource.  We‘re getting to everyone person we possibly can, and we worked with the resources we had at the time and we saved people, we‘re going to continue to save people, and we‘re going to be in there until our mission is done. 
ABRAMS:  But you—but it must have been at the very least a frustrating experience.  I mean, either it was frustrating to have to watch from the outside or there were mistakes made.  Fair? 
FLINCHUM:  Um, any time that you can‘t get to a person that is in need of assistance or in need of help, it‘s frustrating, especially being in the law enforcement field, when you take that oath, you swear to protect life, property, so the frustration is high there.  But, again, to point fingers or anything, we did the best we could with what we had, and we‘ll continue to do so. 
ABRAMS:  And I have to tell you, Sergeant, I agree with you in the sense, I think, right now the primary issue is getting the rescue efforts done.  We can deal with the issue of who‘s to blame down the road.  Sergeant, thanks very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it. 
FLINCHUM:  Thank you for having me, sir. 
ABRAMS:  We are going to take a break when we come back, we‘ll talk to the Mississippi attorney general.  I am live in Biloxi, Mississippi.  We‘re talking a lot about New Orleans, but there is a lot to tell you about what‘s happening here in Mississippi.  And when we come back, I‘ll show you some of the efforts that are being made here.  Some of the positive stories, some of the generosity from the local people. 
And later in the program, Judge John Roberts could be Chief Judge John Roberts.  We‘ll talk to you about that in a moment. 
ABRAMS:  We‘re continuing live coverage from the gulf region, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina there continue to be rescues as we speak.  Back in a moment. 
ABRAMS:  This was is a site we came upon a couple of hours in Biloxi, Mississippi, where a team of volunteers from Panama City, a team of restoration experts, that‘s what they do, that‘s their business.  They came as a company to Biloxi, to help out.  They literally—we saw them walk up to the local police officials and say, “Hey, is there anything we can do?”  He says, “Yeah.  Why don‘t you go over there and see what you can do in terms of organizing that area?”  This team of guy in red shirts walked out and they started organizing and dealing with some of the debris; one of the really moving moments that we witnessed today as we walked around Biloxi, Mississippi, one of the areas hardest hit by Katrina. 
We‘re back now live, where you can see the affects of Katrina here, literally, on a street which is central Biloxi.  A city known for its casinos and known for the good-hearted people who live here, it is a city that, as you can see, has been devastated. 
I want to check in with the Mississippi attorney general, Jim Hood who joins us now. 
Mr.  Attorney General, thank you for taking the time.  We appreciate it.  I was talking with the police chief a few moments ago about some of the looting, etcetera, some of the arrests.  Let me ask you, in terms of the prosecutions of these people, would you expect that this would be treated as a more serious crime than if, for example, someone had just been arrested in another time for stealing at a supermarket or stealing at an electronics store? 
JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Absolutely, yes.  We intend to prosecute those, and nobody‘s going to have any sympathy for a looter, someone that‘s just going in there, running out with C.D.‘s and stuff like that.  And in some stores, people were going in and getting water, and like Wal-Mart just opened their store down at Waveland, where I was down there, and people were getting necessary supplies.  So, we‘ll be dropping the hammer on those people, so to speak. 
ABRAMS:  And that‘s, I think an important distinction to make.  And I would assume, the prosecutal discretion will be used in saying, Look, are these people breaking into a store because they had nowhere else to go, or were these people who were just taking advantage of the situation? 
HOOD:  Right.  Yes.  We will use prosecutorial discretion in addressing those looters.  You know, but that‘s really gotten a lot of attention, whereas it really has not been that great of a problem.  People down there are just trying to survive.  I‘ve had to actually fly down there to speak to a sheriff.  We had zero communications with none of the three sheriffs in the three counties that are on the gulf coast.  You know, we didn‘t have any satellite phones.  I assumed that each chief of police, mayor, and sheriff would have had that.  I had to spend time to actually fly down there to find out what they needed.  I mean, the sheriff‘s department lost 40 of their 50 vehicles in Hancock County alone, I was down there, and the sheriff had about 20 of his deputies to raise their hands if they lost their house, and every one of them raised their hands.  They had nowhere to go, they had no clothes, they had the clothes on their back.  So, Wal-Mart pitched in, and you know, we shipped a truckload of clothes down there to that department.  And a lot or people that pitched in, but It‘s been difficult.  I also had to fly over to Jackson County to communicate with law enforcement.  That‘s a mistake we won‘t make again.  I‘ll make sure that we have better communications in the future. 
ABRAMS:  Yeah, I mean, the police chief was even saying at one point he had
to literally send a messenger to get a written confirmation of something
you could usually do on the telephone.  Mr.  Attorney General, thanks very
much for taking the time to come on the program.  We appreciate it
HOOD:  Sure.  Thank you. 
ABRAMS:  When we come back, John Roberts was nominated to be on the U.S.  Supreme Court by President Bush many weeks ago, but now with the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist over the weekend, the president has shifted gears and said he wants Roberts to become the chief justice.  Will it happen?  How will it impact Roberts‘ hearings?  Got full coverage, coming up. 
ABRAMS:  We‘ve got breaking news to report to you out of New Orleans.  We are getting reports from the officials there that they now believe they have repaired the 17th Street canal levee.  Now, remember, is one of the levees, arguably the most significant one, that was overtaken by water and led to some of the major flooding in New Orleans.  Not only do they believe that they have now repaired it, but they are literally pumping water out of New Orleans now in exactly the way that it is supposed to work.  And we are going to keep you updated on that, what it means, etcetera, throughout the evening here on MSNBC, but that is a major development in New Orleans when you talk about what they need to do.  And one of the things they needed to do was to repair these levees and now a major levee there at the 17th Street canal has apparently been repaired and now water being pumped out of New Orleans. 
We move on to the story that came, really, today.  And that is that the president announced that John Roberts, his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, will be not just the nominee for an associate justice on the Supreme Court, but the president now wants John Roberts to be the chief justice.  This coming after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died on Saturday evening with his family present.  It came as a surprise, despite the fact that he been ill for a long period of time.  His death still came as a surprise to his fellow jurists on the court, it came as a surprise to the president, and to many others.  And so the question is why did the president decide that John Roberts should be the chief justice?  Why not one of the people already serving on the court?  Who better to better to ask than Jonathan Turley, our friend from George Washington University Law School, also an NBC News legal analyst. 
Jonathan, we wanted you on the show because you‘re a straight shooter.  I didn‘t want to get into the political side of this.  I wanted someone who‘s going to give it to us straight.  Why did the president decide now that Roberts should be the nominee for chief justice, he did it so quickly after Chief Justice Rehnquist‘s death? 
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  You know, it was a brilliant move.  John Roberts has two things that the president must value.  One is that is he a committed conservative.  He—I doubt there will be people to the right of John Roberts on this court, despite all the speculation, and second, he‘s relatively young.  If the president succeeds, John Roberts will guarantees that the chief justice of this court will remain a hard-right conservative for decades, so the court might change, the country might change, but that chief justice position will be solidly conservative for 20, 30 years. 
ABRAMS:  But what—I mean, what about Justice Scalia.  I mean, you really think that Roberts, it‘s safe to say, is going to be more conservative than Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas? 
TURLEY:  I think Roberts is as conservative as Scalia.  There‘s so much speculation about this that I don‘t understand.  I happen to think John Roberts is a superb nominee.  He‘s very smart and well qualified.  And I think this president deserves a conservative nominee.  But, I don‘t understand al of the speculation.  He has been consistent from the time he cut his teeth at the,  really at the knee of Bill Rehnquist as his clerk, and later in the Reagan administration, and he‘s made it perfectly clear, in my view, how he feels about very fundamental issues like privacy, and affirmative action, and other areas. 
ABRAMS:  So, with that in mind, I think much more important than the fact that Roberts is chief justice or not chief justice, you know, like the chief justice gets to decide if he‘s in the majority or if she‘s in the majority, who gets to write what opinions, deals with a lot of paperwork.  The much more important issue now is who will President Bush choose as his second nomination to the court?  Two questions, when do you think that will come, and do you think he‘s going pick someone who might be even more controversial than Roberts? 
TURLEY:  Well, in some ways, as you know, by picking Roberts to replace Rehnquist, it takes a little heat off, because it‘s a trade of one conservative for another.  Replacing Sandra Day O‘Connor was symbolically difficult with a conservative.  So, many people will look for someone more moderate.  Now, all of that seems to inure to the benefit of Attorney General Roberto—Alberto Gonzales.  Gonzales is not liked much by conservative groups, but the president can point to Roberts and say, “Look, I gave you a hard-right conservative in the body of John Roberts as chief justice.  Loosen up a little bit and let me put Gonzales on the court.”  Gonzales is not just a friend of the president‘s he would be a legacy appointment, as they say.  That is, the first Hispanic to be put on the court. 
ABRAMS:  Jonathan Turley, as always, thanks for coming on the program.  We appreciate it. 
TURLEY:  Thank you. 
ABRAMS:  We‘ll be right back. 
ABRAMS (voice-over):  This is the coastline in Biloxi, Mississippi.  All of these homes were private home on the water right near many of the local casinos, here.  But now right in the heart of it is what was a gas station.  And we‘ve talked a lot about the various centers that have been set up, public safety, etcetera.  This really isn‘t any of those.  This is just an area where locals have come and brought boxes and boxes of clothes, of water for people to take what they need.  And it‘s been striking to watch people come here.  People aren‘t carting away all of the water at once.  People aren‘t carting away all the clothing.  They literally seem to be taking exactly what they need.  And it seems that‘s really the story this week, in Biloxi. 
ABRAMS:  As we conclude live from Biloxi, Mississippi, I should just say, you know, when you go to trials and I‘ve covered a lot of they much it is nice to be there, it‘s helpful to be there, but a story like this is different to really understand it, you kind of have to be here.  So I say goodbye, for now, from Biloxi.  Tomorrow we‘ll be in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as we continue our coverage. 
“Hardball” Chris Matthews up next.
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