White House Official Defends Katrina Response

Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep report on the comments of Frances Townsend, the White House assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, about her defense of the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Ms. FRANCES TOWNSEND (Assistant to the President): I reject outright the suggestion that President Bush was anything less than fully involved.

INSKEEP: That's one of the presidential aides defending the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. Frances Townsend is assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism. She spoke at a conference yesterday, just ahead of a fresh round of criticism.

Ms. TOWNSEND: President Bush was highly engaged in the preparation and response efforts beginning when Katrina was a tropical storm. Early in the morning of August 28th, President Bush called Governor Blanco to urge that mandatory evacuation orders be issued for New Orleans. And it was later that day the president also participated in FEMA's daily videoconference. The president personally encouraged state and local officials to take all precautions and get word out to their citizens. He offered the full support and resources of the federal government.

MONTAGNE: Frances Townsend spoke on the same day that government investigators highlighted fraud and abuse in the response to Katrina. A congressional report due out this week says the president's homeland security secretary executed his responsibilities "late, ineffectively, or not at all."

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