Former FEMA Director Michael Brown offered Chris Wallace and Fox News Sunday an exclusive this morning, and in return Wallace gave Brown a platform from which to tee off on the Bush administration and in particular on DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend. Wallace probed Brown's arguments on occasion, but largely gave Brown free rein.
Highlights from the Brown hit parade:
"I think we had dropped the ball long before Katrina hit in not doing the kind of catastrophic disaster planning that the federal government should have been doing."
"Secretary Chertoff's order for me to stay [in the operations center] in Baton Rouge is one of the tipping points that made this disaster worse."
When Wallace quoted Fran Townsend, Pres. Bush's Homeland Security Advisor, saying:
"Michael Brown chose not to follow his chain of command. That can't happen," Brown blasted back:
"DHS and Chertoff don't provide anything that I need in that disaster. Chertoff can't move one bottle of water. He can't move one MRE, and for Fran Townsend to now come out and say I wasn't following the chain of command completely belies exactly how we operated from the day this administration came in, from September 11 all the way through the Florida hurricances."
When Brown commended Chertoff's predecessor, Tom Ridge, for "staying away" and not "interfering," an apparently shocked Wallace responded: "Interfere? They're your boss!"
As Brown explained it, the problem was that "I'd give an order . . . Chertoff would give a different order. There was this confusion about who was in charge. I should have been in charge there. Chertoff should not have been second-guessing those decisions."
Wallace: "You have said that calling Chertoff was a waste of time." Brown: "Correct."
Wallace then displayed two emails that Brown had sent during the heat of the disaster complaining about his FEMA attire and making inquiries about sitters for his dog. Wallace wondered why Brown had time for these trivialities, yet "you can't take the time to call Secretary Chertoff?"
Brown defended himself, claiming the emails were "a bit of levity" he analogised to a heart surgeon who jokes about playing basketball in the middle of surgery to keep things light and motivate the troops.
Brown then unloaded his biggest guns on Chertoff and Townsend: "They are being disingenuous and looking for a fall guy."
When Wallace asked whether the government is better prepared than it was before Katrina to deal with a disaster, Brown concluded with a very pessismistic assessment:
"Chris, I think we're worse off. [There are] hundreds of vacancies that [FEMA] can't fill. There's confusion about what FEMA is supposed to do and not do. The partnerships between FEMA and state and local governments have been broken and will continue to be broken by the path that the Secretary [Chertoff] is headed down."
Brown's final recommendation was that the American people "demand right now that FEMA be pulled out [of DHS], make it independent, and cut out the baloney."
Finkelstein lives in Ithaca, NY. 'Right Angle', the TV show he hosts, was recently named 'Best of the Best' among public-access shows in his area. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org