Brownie: I Told Ya So

The new Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response Michael D. Brown speaks at his swearing in ceremony at the FEMA headquarters April 15, 2003 in Washington, DC. The nation remains at a code orange alert, the second highest threat level.
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Former FEMA head Michael Brown says newly released tapes show that he did, in fact, know the danger Hurricane Katrina posed to the Gulf Coast and that he warned White House officials about it before the storm hit.

"I'm glad it's coming out because, despite the media reports and the general public perception that I was a dummy, that I didn't know what I was doing, I knew exactly what I was doing," Brown told CBS Washington, D.C., affiliate WUSA-TV in an interview.

The tapes show Brown on a video teleconference warning President Bush, Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff and other top officials of Katrina's looming danger.

"My gut tells me ... this is a bad one and a big one," Brown told the final government-wide briefing the day before Katrina struck on Aug. 29.

Brown said in the WUSA interview that National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield was sounding the alarm about the coming storm and "everyone in the room heard that. Everyone in the room knew the disaster we were facing. It was a disaster we had thought about for two years and had sought funding for so we could do the catastrophic planning to respond to a disaster like that," he said.


Transcript: Aug. 28, 2005 (day before Katrina hit)
Transcript: Aug. 29, 2005
For months since the devastation of Katrina, Brown has been the chief scapegoat for what many see as the Bush administration's most glaring failure in its response to the outcry from millions of victims who went without food or shelter for days after the storm. Throughout the controversy, Brown maintained he and the Bush administration were fully aware of the danger posed by the Category 4 storm and that he tried, sometimes in vain, to speed officials to take action.

"It's been very, very stressful obviously to be called a scapegoat," Brown said. But, he added, "I know in my heart what I was doing, what I was trying to do and the tapes speak for themselves."

The tapes of video teleconferences were recorded over two days: the Sunday before Katrina hit and the Monday it stormed ashore along the Gulf Coast, CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports.

Mr. Bush, who participated in the call from his ranch in Texas, didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

The footage, along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by The Associated Press, show in detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the disaster.