I too saw the Chertoff press conference Jon Cohn notes over at TPMCafe, or at least the part of it in which Chertoff trotted out what I guess is going to be the 'double-up justification' for the slow federal response to Katrina.
As Jon wrote: "Chertoff says this was a unique, unpredictable one-two punch -- of a hurricane *and* a flood from a breached levee -- that nobody anticipated."
I actually thought I heard him parse it into three events. But I was writing as I listened; and press reports bear out Jon's recollection.
But in any case, same difference: this is truly a parse for the ages.
The one snippet of the transcript I was able to find online has Chertoff saying: "We were prepared for one catastrophe. The second catastrophe, frankly, added a level of challenge that no one has seen before.â
Clearly, clearly, the hurricane and the flood were part of the same natural disaster. This isn't like a tornado being followed up by an earthquake. The flooding is part of the hurricane. It's almost surreal to even have to argue this point it's so obvious. But there it is.
Clearly, the White House is pulling out every stop to argue for the impossibility of predicting what happened. But remember, everyone seems to agree that a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane would have created a storm surge that overtopped the levees. I want to go back and check all the details on this. But my understanding is that Katrina -- which was coming into Louisiana as a Cat 5 -- ratchetted down in final hours and actually hit NOLA as a Cat 3. This is part of what created that brief period in which it seemed that the city emerged more or less intact. The immediate storm surge didn't overtop the levees. But then levees failed and/or some were overtopped.
Whatever the details on that point, whether levees failed or were overtopped, the feds and everyone else had every reason to believe over the weekend that the city was going to be flooded. This scenario was not only predictable, but actively predicted as a likely scenario.
One other point: at Chertoff's press conference, he introduced someone as Deputy Director of FEMA. I assume it was this guy noted by Al Kamen in the Post's Inside the Loop column back on August 1st ...
Michael D. Brown , who runs the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, sent around a memo a couple of weeks ago saying "effective immediately," his chief of staff, Patrick Rhode , was the acting deputy director.
This caused some head-scratching, because there is no official deputy director position at FEMA, because there is no official director. The last person to hold such a post was Brown, before FEMA got folded into DHS. (Brown is now officially DHS undersecretary for emergency preparedness and response.)
A recent strategic review called for naming a deputy director, but Congress hasn't approved that plan and agencies don't usually go ahead without congressional blessing. Even more curious, it's not clear whether DHS or the White House, which approves such personnel moves, had signed off on Brown's move. FEMA says its general counsel approved the action.
Brown is widely expected to be leaving soon, and there has been some FEMA speculation that this is his way of trying to pave the way for a successor. Rhode had been associate administrator of the Small Business Administration.
(ed.note: Thanks to TPM Reader PR for the catch.)