ABC News’ Rick Klein (@rickklein) reports: Former FEMA director Michael Brown is out with a new book that makes an explosive charge: that Bush White House political guru Karl Rove sought to “micromanage search and rescue efforts from afar” in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Brown’s clear implication was that Rove was playing political favorites in the wake of the tragedy. Brown writes that “Karl Rove became interested in Louisiana for the very practical reason” that a once solidly Democratic state could be turned red.
On ABC’s “Top Line” today, we asked Brown if Rove sought to inject himself into response and recovery efforts after Katrina.
“Oh absolutely, and it’s amazing to me that – that you guys shouldn't be surprised by that,” Brown told us. “What was happening was — it boils down to this: Everybody was trying to gain some sort of advantage during the storm.”
“And if you had a favorite parish, or you had somebody you were trying to help, Karl was stepping in and he was making phone calls back to my staff saying, ‘Why aren’t we doing something over here?’ or 'Let’s go do this over here,’ or ‘This person in this parish needs this.’ Totally irrespective of what the overall game plan was to respond to this disaster.”
Rove responded to Brown’s charge that he sought to “micromanage” the Katrina response with a terse statement to ABC News: “Any such suggestion is not accurate.”
Asked if Rove reached out directly to him, Brown said no, but he said Rove did contact members of his staff. Brown said he has e-mails that prove that, and promised to provide them to ABC News. (We’ll follow up on that promise.)
“We have an e-mail trail coming from the White House talking about things where they would say, ‘Look, go focus some energy and time on Parish X’ for example. Or in Parish X the parish president might say 'I'd like to do X, Y, and Z,’ and I would say, ‘No you can't do X, Y, and Z ’cause it’s against the regulations, but we'll fix this for you and take care of it.’ And that would get countermanded by Karl or somebody in the White House.”
He continued: “There are people, members of my staff who'd come to me and say, 'I've got a call from Karl that says we need to do X, Y, and Z in a particular parish.’ Is was that kind of – guys, I don't want to call it manipulation but, it was this desire to everybody for some reason to get their fingers in what was going on in Katrina. … I would describe it as a cluster you-know-what. And that’s what it turned out to be.”
Brown – made famous as “Brownie” by President George W. Bush, who praised him as doing a “heckuva job” in the aftermath of the devastating 2005 storm – was pushed out of his position as FEMA director after a response that was widely criticized as disorganized and inadequate.
Brown’s book – “Deadly Indifference: The Perfect (Political) Storm” – gives his side of the well-documented events surrounding Katrina. And he argues that FEMA remains ill-equipped to respond to natural disasters.
"It remains a mess, and it will always be a mess as long as we have” an agency that’s subjected to political whims, he said. “Every single disaster affects two US senators, at least one United States congressman, and a governor, and a president. So politics becomes an inherent part of the attempt to manage what is going on, and so FEMA gets damned regardless of what it does.”
We also got Brown’s take on the emerging 2012 presidential field. Mitt Romney – who’s announcing his candidacy today – lacks “passion,” while Sarah Palin – who happens to be in New Hampshire today as well – displays a “shrillness” that she needs to overcome, he said.
“I will support probably any Republican against the current administration. Mitt Romney is, I think he typifies what Republicans and conservatives look at and say, 'no, there’s no passion, there’s no fire in the belly.' It’s kind of the go along and get along — I just don’t think he’s the right person at the right time.”
He went on: “I've never met Sarah Palin — she wasn't governor when I was in the administration or anything – again, it’s the shrillness. And I think she needs to decide now, ‘Are you going to run for president or are you going to continue to be a media darling?’ Do one or the other and stop this, the bus tour and everything else. It’s a wild – it is a total wild field.”
Watch the full interview with Michael Brown HERE.