For all the Bush administration's failures in handling Hurricane Katrina, only one person was made the poster boy for the catastrophe: Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown. Even as George W. Bush was praising him for doing a "heckuva job" in the response, Brown was on his way out; the floodwaters had barely receded when he submitted his resignation. He was later lambasted when emails he sent at the height of the storm came to light; they included lines like "Can I quit now? Can I go home?" and chatter about his clothes. But in the years since, Brown has been on a mission to clean up his image. His latest venture is a health care technology firm, Apokalyyis, Inc., and he has a new book out offering his own take on what went wrong in the wake of the worst hurricane ever to hit the US.
Deadly Indifference is one part apology and two parts passing the blame. While Brown does accept fault for the mishandling in some respects, like not being as attentive to some response details as he perhaps should have been, he spends much of the book pointing his finger up the chain of command, from others at a Department of Homeland Security mired in bureaucracy to a commander-in-chief who couldn't be bothered to take time away from his Crawford vacation to visit the shattered Gulf region. The book's revelations range from the not-so-revelatory—he feels he was "made the scapegoat"—to accusing Karl Rove and Trent Lott (among others) of capitalizing on the storm for political gain. Katrina "was the first time in 160 disasters that I kept smelling politics," Brown, whose jobs since leaving the administration have included serving as a disaster-preparedness consultant and talk-radio host, told Mother Jones. "It was something I never saw anywhere else."
One might ask why Rove had anything to do with the Katrina response at all. And that would be a good question. "Karl Rove became interested in Louisiana for the very practical reason that it had voted solidly Democratic when Bill Clinton won his two terms, and it had voted for George W. Bush in the election that followed," writes Brown. Basically, the state had a large swath of the registered voting population that didn't have a strong alliance to either party. Gov. Kathleen Blanco was the first female governor of the state and the first Democrat to be elected in more than a decade. New Orleans' mayor, Ray Nagin, was a Republican before changing parties in 2002. The storm, Brown asserts, presented a "wonderful opportunity to bring Louisiana solidly with the Republicans."
In a recent interview on ABC News, Brown accused Rove of "micromanaging" search and response efforts—stepping in and making specific requests of FEMA resources to help those identified as allies, "totally irrespective of what the overall game plan was to respond to this disaster."
In an interview this week with Mother Jones, Brown walked back from the term "micromanaging," but maintained that White House interference was a large part of the problem. "Now you have three-way communications going on, which make it even more difficult to make decisions and sometimes even end up making conflicting decisions," Brown says. He has claimed to have emails from the White House demonstrating this and has said he would share them, but has not, so far, made them available.