Panel May Subpoena Bush Aides on Storm

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Democrats yesterday pushed a Republican-led House panel investigating the response to Hurricane Katrina to vote today to subpoena the White House, saying the Bush administration is refusing to produce key documents to "run out the clock" on the three-month-old investigation.

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) wrote members of a House select investigative committee on the eve of a hearing today into the state's response to the Aug. 29 storm. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) is scheduled to testify about 100,000 pages of documents she released this month.

White House officials told House investigators Dec. 1 that it would take more than a year to review 71 million electronic records for e-mails from top officials, Melancon said. He said Bush aides raised separation-of-powers concerns and added: "You're not getting Andrew Card's e-mails." Card is President Bush's chief of staff.

Melancon said the White House has also declined to release e-mails of Card's deputy, Joseph Hagin; homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend; and Townsend deputy Kenneth Rapuano. He said the information is important because, for instance, newly disclosed Department of Homeland Security records show that top officials realized the severity of flooding in New Orleans late Aug. 29, earlier than previously acknowledged.

At 9:27 p.m., a senior Homeland Security official told colleagues of unconfirmed reports of extensive flooding, "far more serious" than thought. The department reported to the White House Situation Room "a quarter-mile breach in the levee near the 17th Street Canal" at 10:30 p.m.

Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and others have said they learned of catastrophic levee breaches the next day, possibly delaying the federal response or contradicting the internal reports, Melancon said.

Department spokesman Russ Knocke said: "The lack of situational awareness from the Battlefield Command was extraordinarily frustrating. We simply lacked visibility on the day of landfall and the day following landfall."

The House investigation is scheduled to wrap up by Feb. 15.

A spokesman for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said Davis will decide today whether to seek a subpoena "based on whether he's reached a satisfactory agreement with the administration" on how to get information about top officials' actions.

Davis asked for White House and agency documents Sept. 30 and warned last month that he would be ready to order subpoenas if the administration did not respond by Thanksgiving.

Bush spokesman Trent Duffy challenged Melancon's charge of stonewalling, saying the White House has sent 450,000 documents.

"We're working to provide the information they need . . . and we're continuing to have discussions with Congress about" submitting the White House's own comprehensive review, led by Townsend, Duffy said.

Aides reviewed e-mails of Homeland Security Council staff and released some of their records and White House situation reports, and offered to make senior officials available for background briefings.

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