As former FEMA Director Michael Brown testifies today before the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee (Live Video link), here are some highlights from White House spokesman Scott McClellan, from his regular off-camera briefing to reporters this morning.
Taking aim at The New York Times
Without prompting, McClellan raised the NYT and ranted about its front page levee story. He called it "sad and irresponsible that the NYT is rewriting history to fit an inaccurate storyline and conveniently ignoring key facts."
"We knew full well the flooding that was going on and that's why our efforts were focused on rescuing people and the Coast Guard was doing a tremendous job during that time."
"There were conflicting reports coming in in the initial aftermath of the storm in regards to levee system; some were saying it was overtop; some were saying it was breached and, again, we knew of the flooding that going on and that's why were focused on saving lives. The cause of the flooding was secondary to that top priority and that's the way it should be."
Reflecting media reports
McClellan also cited our own Brian Williams' reporting from inside the Superdome, saying that the president's comments reflected media reports, particularly his use of the phrase, "dodged the bullet." Brian reported about New Orleans' residents inside the Superdome on Aug. 29: "Most of them can sense the storm has died down, but they don't know that New Orleans dodged the big bullet."
McClellan also repeated events, comments and briefings to the press made in August 2005, saying the White House issued emergency declarations before the storm and that the president repeatedly expressed his concern. "The president was not happy with the overall response," said McClellan. "There were failures at all levels of government."
"The president told the Governor (Blanco of Louisiana) ahead of the storm, because the mandatory evacuation had not been taking place, 'get those people out of there. Get them out of the path of the storm.'"
On the Senate hearings
"We reiterated the president's view on confidential communications among his senior advisers."
McClellan said the government provided 600,000 pages of documents to the investigating committees, including 15,000 pages of White House documents. More than 120 officials have testified.
He said he hasn't had a chance to watch Michael Brown's testimony today, but will "take a look at it and we'll be glad to respond as needed." McClellan declined to answer when asked if Brown is a credible witness.