Former FEMA Director to Testify About Katrina

Michael D. Brown, former director of FEMA, has said through his lawyer that he will testify about communications with a number of White House officials.
Michael D. Brown, former director of FEMA, has said through his lawyer that he will testify about communications with a number of White House officials. (By Jean Dixon -- Associated Press)
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006

Michael D. Brown, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was rebuffed in his request for a claim of executive privilege and plans to testify to a Senate panel today about his calls and e-mails to President Bush and top White House aides in the Hurricane Katrina crisis, Brown's lawyer said yesterday.

White House Counsel Harriet Miers declined to offer Brown a legal defense for declining to testify or respond to a Feb. 6 letter advising that without such protection Brown "intends to answer all questions fully, completely and accurately," said Brown's lawyer, Andrew W. Lester.

Lester wrote that Brown will testify if asked about communications with Bush, Vice President Cheney, Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin, domestic policy adviser Claude A. Allen and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

As the federal official in charge of the disaster before he resigned, Brown is "between a rock and a hard place," his lawyer said. "On the one hand he desires to answer fully any and all questions the Committee may have," Lester wrote. "On the other hand the President's statements indicate concern that the President be able to 'get unvarnished advice from [his] advisors.' "

House and Senate investigative committees have battled the White House over its refusal to make available top aides and their correspondence from the response to the storm. Instead, the White House has provided 15,000 pages of records and briefings by a deputy White House homeland security adviser.

Bush spokesman Trent Duffy declined to comment on Brown's letter. But Duffy noted a Jan. 26 news conference in which Bush, while declining to cite Brown by name, defended "people who give me advice" from being forced to disclose such conversations, citing a "chilling effect on future advisers."

In testimony to a House committee in September, Brown did not discuss such conversations on the advice of counsel, although he estimated that he communicated with the White House "30 times" during the weekend before Katrina made landfall on Monday, Aug. 29. That included "several" calls to Bush to help speed evacuations by Louisiana and New Orleans leaders.

Yesterday, Lester said that Brown "is planning to testify by answering all questions."

Brown could shed light on the White House's lack of awareness of events on the day of Katrina's landfall. Documents released by the Senate show that although the Homeland Security Operations Center reported at 6 p.m. Aug. 29 that no New Orleans levees had been breached, authorities received no fewer than 16 reports to the contrary before then.

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 29, levee breaks were reported by sources including New Orleans and Louisiana homeland security officials, the Transportation Security Administration, the National Weather Service, FEMA officials, White House Homeland Security Council and Homeland Security Department "spot reports," the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, and the American Red Cross.

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