"I should have cancelled it quickly. I did not have good situational awareness of what was happening," he said. Philbin who himself was heard off-camera asking Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson, his boss, a question, said he feels terrible about what happened.
"I can definitively tell you that there were no discussions or conversations about setting up a fake news conference." He said he was told by staff members that the announcement to media about the last-minute press event had gone out early enough for reporters 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.
Despite the fact that Admiral Johnson called on members of the FEMA staff by name during the press conference, Philbin said that Johnson, the second in command at the agency, did not realize it was FEMA staffers and not members of the media who were asking questions.
"I am not aware that he knew what was happening and all of sudden staff were asking questions," Philbin said by phone. "When the staff began asking questions I should have intervened and I didn't."
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."
Philbin said 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. He added that he is looking at his options for what is next in his career.