What Did he Know?

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 3, 2006; 10:33 AM

" I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees ."

To hear President Bush's critics tell it, that is the new "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

Since the AP released the videotaped Katrina meetings, liberals have been ripping the president for claiming he didn't know the extent of the devastation in those crucial early hours.

This is in no way a defense of the absolutely awful administration response to the hurricane, but the tape doesn't quite show Bush being told the levees were breached or were about to be breached. A government official named Max Mayfield--he's director of the National Hurricane Center-- says there is great concern "whether the levees will be topped or not," which is still a huge deal, but not a full-scale breach.

In fact, we've already had transcripts of the meeting, so all this did was provide television with some much-needed pictures. (In fact, all the networks had the FEMA video in their archives but didn't realize the news value.)

NBC's Lisa Myers yesterday obtained a videotape of another meeting in which Brownie--who's been blaming just about everything on the White House and Chertoff--said Bush was "really engaged" and "asking a lot of good questions." On that tape, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco reports that the New Orleans levees had not been breached.

So is this a big story or not?

I don't think there's much question at this point that Bush and his top deputies weren't engaged enough in those crucial early hours, and he did get a pointed warning about the Superdome. Lives could have been saved if the feds had mobilized sooner.

But like just about everything else--Iraq, the ports deal, you name it--the botching of Katrina is seen through partisan lenses. Liberals believe that Bush not only blew it but engaged in some kind of coverup, while conservatives tend to fault Blanco and Nagin more.

On the left, Crooks and Liars says: "Bush is busted for lying about the fact that nobody knew the levee's would possibly have been breached."

HuffPoster Toby Barlow goes for the corporate analogy:

"There he is, on video, for the world to see, the CEO President making empty promises and offering hollow assurances to state officials. Enron's Jeff Skilling couldn't have done it any better.

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