"I Should Have Cancelled" Fake FEMA Press Briefing
John "Pat" Philbin, the now former director of external affairs for FEMA, told CBS News that he should have stopped the press conference that the agency held last week without any media present.
"I should have cancelled it quickly. I did not have good situational awareness of what was happening," he told CBS News in a telephone interview.
Philbin himself was heard off-camera asking Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson, his boss, a question. He now says he feels terrible about what happened adding that the FEMA press office was under considerable pressure to get information on the California fires out to the press and was working on little sleep.
"I can definitively tell you that there were no discussions or conversations about setting up a fake news conference."
Philbin said that Adm. Johnson, the second-in-command at the agency, did not realize it was FEMA staffers and not reporters who were asking questions, despite the fact that Johnson called on members of the FEMA staff by name during the press conference.
"I am not aware that he knew what was happening and all of sudden staff were asking questions," Philbin said. "When the staff began asking questions I should have intervened and I didn't."
He said he was told by staff members that the announcement to reporters about the last-minute press event had gone out early enough for the media to get to the FEMA headquarters.
FEMA staffers announced the briefing just fifteen minutes before it was set to start, not enough time for more than a camera crew to get to the event, which was broadcast on cable channels.
DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has called for disciplinary action for the fake news event, which was held last Tuesday at the height of the California fires. But Philbin's departure from FEMA is not related to any disciplinary action within DHS.
Philbin had long-standing plans to retire last Friday and begin a new position today at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But the ODNI is distancing itself from Philbin and said in a statement today, "We do not normally comment on personnel matters. However, we can confirm that Mr. Philbin is not, nor is he scheduled to be, the Director of Public Affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence."
Asked what's next for him, Philbin said, "I have lots of experience, I know how the government works. I have credentials in government and academia and I am looking at my options."