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National Guard escort draws critics

A Louisiana congressman recently used the National Guard to gain entry to his home while emergency workers raced to save thousands of victims in New Orleans.  This has gained national headlines and criticism.  Congressman William Jefferson joined "The Situation" to present his side of the story.
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A Louisiana congressman recently used the National Guard to gain entry to his home while emergency workers raced to save thousands of victims in New Orleans. 

On September 2, Rep. William Jefferson received a military escort to his uptown neighborhood to view the condition of his house and retrieve personal items.  The mission ultimately included two five-ton trucks, a helicopter, and many military policemen. 

Given the strained relief effort, it‘s a story that‘s been reported nationally with cries of indignation. Congressman William Jefferson joined "The Situation" to present his side of the story.

TUCKER CARLSON, SITUATION HOST: My first thought was how at a time when people were literally dying of exposure on roof-tops could you tie up the time of National Guardsmen retrieving stuff from your house?  How could you do that?

REP. WILLIAM JOHNSON, LOUISIANA: The story needs to be told, the National Guards people were with me because my city was in a lawless state.  There were snipers around.  I was told that I had to have an escort, though I didn‘t want one to go to the Superdome, then the convention center, then our time the Wal-mart looting sites, and then uptown to my neighborhood. 

So it was a matter of touring around the city.  It wasn‘t a matter of simply going to my house.  But in any event, Tucker, I did not want to have anyone with me.  I wanted to go myself.  But it was so dangerous, in this city the president could not come in.  They advised him not to come in.  But I wanted to look around. 

CARLSON: I was in the city that night, driving around uptown neighborhood, unaccompanied in a Chevy suburban, and did just fine.  But that doesn‘t change the nature of the question. 

You had the National Guardsmen wait at your home for an hour as you went inside and got your stuff.  That‘s an hour they could have spent helping people. 

JEFFERSON: That‘s not correct.  First of all, it was nighttime.  We got there.  It was dark.  And they were not at my house to help me do anything.  We came into the house, I was in I said, 'Thank you, Jesus.  It hasn‘t been is fine, isn‘t blown down, nobody has looted.'  A neighbor came along, they tried to get him to leave. 

He wouldn‘t.  They asked me to get water for him, because he was out of everything but water.  We got that.  They shouted down the street trying to find the guy. 

We then decide we would knock on the door, left there, who have been Terrapin the storm, to se if he was OK.  He didn‘t answer.  We assumed he was OK after searching, and gave up on that. 

I had told my wife that if I ever got into the house, if we had a house, that our kids who are going away to school, I‘ll get their computers, because they all thought they‘d be back in three days.  I would get the suitcase at the front door and bring it back with me. 

The house was dry.  I did do that.  We were ready to go fairly soon. 

The truck was stuck, which is why I ended up being delayed there. 

CARLSON: And then getting another truck, at one point, a helicopter showed up. 

JEFFERSON: Now, the helicopter was around circling to try to get folks off roof tops. 

CARLSON: Well, according to the National Guard, the helicopter was there 45 minutes and it had to return to base not that long after because it was running out of fuel because it spent 45 minutes hovering over you. 

JEFFERSON: That‘s not true.  That‘s not...

CARLSON: The National Guard is not telling the truth?

JEFFERSON: The helicopter came to see what the service was.  They thought it was someone that needed rescue.  It didn‘t take 45 minutes for us to ascertain that wasn‘t true. 

CARLSON: Congressman, I don‘t think you went in intending to do anything.  I would want to see what was in my city, my.  I feel for you.  Everyone‘s house is wrecked.  I completely understand. 

But here‘s what people watching this at saying.  They‘re saying, “Gee, I would like to get my stuff too.”  It‘d to get a half a dozen National Guardsmen to accompany me to go get my stuff.  I‘d love to have a helicopter hovering over me. 

According to the National Guard the enlisted men in that detail took your stuff and moved it onto the truck like your servants.  I think the average person is looking at that and saying, 'Wait a second, that‘s imperial behavior.  That‘s outrageous.' You‘re basically behaving like a king.  And that‘s wrong. 

JEFFERSON: Well, let me tell you this, I regret having taken the advice of people that wanted me to take guards around with me.  I told my staff I would rather not have anybody with me.  The police told me I was out of my mind.  I should make sure I have.

They offered to go around with me that day.  However, you may have traveled that day, they were very concerned about any official person who was down there, about his safety.  That‘s how it went.  I did not determine how many people would be with me. 

I think the idea was if somebody sniped at the truck, at the National Guard people, they wanted to have enough people there to make sure they took care of the situation, so they made that determination.  I am not telling you that our people don‘t have a reason to have concerns about this, because I myself would have preferred to have gone by myself. 

And if I could do it over again, believe me, I would go by myself and do the whole matter without anybody around, because I would simply take my chances on the security.  I wouldn‘t take advice of anyone. 

CARLSON: Yes.  Because as you know, you‘ve taken some heat from Ray Nagin, the mayor of your city, who said that he hasn‘t even been to his own house. 

But what it tells you to start?

JEFFERSON: I talked to Ray.  I don‘t think we have disagreement.  He didn‘t know what was going on when the questions came up. 

CARLSON: Well, he did, but He said say, quote, it‘s unfortunate you went to your house to get your stuff.  He has not yet, even as of last night, went to his own house. 

JEFFERSON: His house is completely under water.  But In any event, Ray didn‘t know what was going on.  He didn‘t know I had gone to the convention center.  I had gone to the Superdome with the truck, uptown to a Wal-mart site, he didn‘t know I toured anything. 

He was has with the cold question, if I was the guy with soldiers to my house, which didn‘t happen. 

CARLSON: So what do you think?  You are a U.S. Congressman.  It‘s your city.  And you feel like you have to have a half a dozen men with machine guns just to go to your house. 

What does that tell you about how the city of New Orleans failed to protect its residents?  The people without armed guards had to take their chances?

JEFFERSON: I think it‘s terrible.  I think the fact that there was lawlessness in our city was awful.  I think it‘s a huge problem at the time.   I did not, as I told you, I did not fear for myself.

But others decided—they didn‘t want to have the responsibility of having an official person there going around town who might get in trouble on their watch. 

But frankly for me, I can tell you the Lord‘s truth, I was not afraid, it did not matter one bit, I could have gone by myself.  I simply took the advice of people who thought I needed these people around me.  I did not decide on the number of people.

They didn‘t on that because they did not want their people in trouble if some firefight broke out.  So looking back on it, Tucker, will tell you, as I‘ve said before.  Doing it all over again, I would simply take my chances on security and go my own way. 

CARLSON: All right. 

JEFFERSON: And that would be that. 

CARLSON: Congressman William Jefferson.  I don‘t agree with what you did, but I admire you for coming on.  You‘re brave to do it.  It was a tough story.  Thanks for coming on to explain. 

JEFFERSON: Thank you, Tucker.  I understand.