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Brownie: I Told Ya So

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.

The video prompted Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill to reiterate their calls for a new investigation into the federal response to Katrina. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Thursday the video "points out the need for an independent commission" to review events surrounding the hurricane.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the video "confirms what we have suspected all along, that this Administration did anything they can to hide what really happened." He said the administration "systematically misled the American people."

The Republican-controlled House and Senate have conducted separate investigations of the Katrina response. Democrats in the House, other than those from the affected states, refused to participate in the inquiry, insisting that an independent commission was needed.

The footage – along with seven days of transcripts of briefings obtained by AP – show in excruciating 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 unprecedented disaster.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns'' about the levees and Brown warned the president and senior administration officials that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about ... their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

The White House and Homeland Security Department urged the public Wednesday not to read too much into the video footage.

"I hope people don't draw conclusions from the president getting a single briefing," presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said, citing a variety of orders and disaster declarations Mr. Bush signed before the storm made landfall. "He received multiple briefings from multiple officials, and he was completely engaged at all times."

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said his department would not release the full set of videotaped briefings, saying most transcripts from the sessions were provided to congressional investigators months ago.

"There's nothing new or insightful on these tapes," Knocke said. "We actively participated in the lessons-learned review and we continue to participate in the Senate's review and are working with them on their recommendation."

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a critic of the administration's Katrina response, had a different take after watching the footage Wednesday afternoon from an AP reporter's camera.

"I have kind a sinking feeling in my gut right now," Nagin said. "I was listening to what people were saying, they didn't know, so therefore it was an issue of a learning curve. You know, from this tape it looks like everybody was fully aware."