Louisiana Releases Documents on Katrina Response
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Louisiana's governor wants the public to hear her side of the Hurricane Katrina story. Governor Kathleen Blanco has released 100,000 pages of e-mails, reports and notes. These are documents that her office also turned over to congressional committees investigating the response to the storm. The governor's documents show an office hard at work and also fighting to save their governor's image amid a battle with the White House. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.
LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:
There are hand-written notes on scrapes of paper, official reports, executive orders and e-mails--lots of e-mails. There are letters from Louisiana Governor Blanco to President Bush asking for help. There are talking points, hundreds of offers of assistance and some cries for help. The most telling documents, though, are e-mails Blanco's top aides sent to each other and to the White House as they waded through the disaster.
Almost from the start, conflict between the state and federal government is brewing. On September 1st, Governor Blanco's communications director, Bob Mann, makes the following notes read here by an actor.
Unidentified Actor: (Reading) `We need the federal government's help to be caring, not controlling. We need them to help us, not bully us. After poor response by FEMA, telling the people of New Orleans that the federal government is still in control is no comfort. Federalized what? They still aren't here. The president's offer was a paper offer that has nothing to do with the reality on the ground.'
SULLIVAN: Governor Blanco sends a letter to the president requesting supplies and asking that he send home the Louisiana National Guard stationed in Iraq. But on Friday, September 2nd, White House aide Maggie Grant e-mails the governor's staff asking for a copy of the letter because the White House can't find it. The conflict came to a head at the end of the first week when the White House was pushing the governor's office to federalize the National Guard. On Sunday, a week after the storm, a staffer sent a warning to the governor's top advisers. Here they call the governor KBB.
Unidentified Actor: (Reading) `Karl Rove is directing effort to put blame on KBB for a mess saying that the reason feds not on ground sooner was that she refused to give up her authority.'
SULLIVAN: White House aide Maggie Grant sends an e-mail denying Rove was involved in a smear campaign, but Governor Blanco's chief of staff, Andy Kopplin, replies that he's not buying it.
Unidentified Actor: (Reading) `Karl's prints are entirely obvious.'
SULLIVAN: In the midst of all this conflict, the White House and the governor's office were both worried about their public image. Here, an actor reads an e-mail dated September 2nd from John E. Anderson, the governor's assistant chief of staff to his colleagues.
Unidentified Actor: (Reading) `We need the governor visiting some shelters, come up with some strategy. We have worked too hard to lose the public relations battle. The governor must look like the leader at all times. She must temper her anger and frustration. She should not do as many briefings; it looks too common.'
SULLIVAN: At the White House, the president's staff was also trying to cast the Bush administration in a favorable light. In one e-mail, dated September 13th, White House aide Maggie Grant asked an official in the governor's office if the White House can send Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to church with the governor.
Unidentified Actor: (Reading) `Hope this helps paid a picture of the day. Please advise what the governor would like to do. We'd love to have someone like Secretary Chertoff attend a service with her.'
SULLIVAN: The governor's staff was besieged with e-mails from agents of celebrities saying their famous clients were coming to town. One set of e-mails reflects the staff's embarrassment that the governor's Web site was still posting a giant welcome sign. There were offers of assistance from everyone from citizens to foreign leaders. On top of all of that, the staff was also receiving urgent calls for help from people stranded on roofs and nursing homes and in flooded hospitals. One staffer sounded desperate as she e-mailed Ty Brommel, director of the governor's world development office. She asked, `What do I tell these people?' He responded...
Unidentified Actor: (Reading) `That's a good question. Everyone is working together. There is just too much to do.'
SULLIVAN: A White House spokeswoman says the White House has not yet reviewed the documents. But she says all levels of government share some of the blame. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington.