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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Former FEMA Director Michael Brown; President Bush's Poll Numbers Head South; Israeli Firm Endorses Dubai Port Deal

Aired March 2, 2006 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're now in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you the day's top stories.
Happening now, a leading target of Katrina anger -- tonight, the former FEMA chief, Michael Brown, what does he think of a video Democrats are pouncing on? What does it say about the president? Michael Brown joins us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour.

Also this hour, President Bush celebrating overseas, under fire here at home. It's 5:30 a.m. Friday in New Delhi, where Mr. Bush has sealed a new deal, but his political stock with Americans is sinking. We have brand new poll numbers.

And surprise support for the Dubai port deal -- what does an Israeli company know that critics of the deal don't? It's 7:00 p.m. in Washington, where reaction is still coming in to our exclusive report.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We will get to my interview with Michael Brown here in THE SITUATION ROOM momentarily -- but, first, President Bush in India with a new nuclear agreement under his belt. His latest stint on the world stage may not be giving him, though, enough distance from his domestic political troubles.

Tonight, our brand new poll shows Mr. Bush's approval rating down to only 38 percent. And that's not the only number the White House may find disturbing.

Our CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president in New Delhi. We will get to her in a moment.

First, though, let's go to our other White House correspondent, Dana Bash. She's here in Washington -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, while the president is in South Asia, top officials are back home struggling to diffuse the ports controversy, but, with this poll, new proof they have their work cut out for them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): In New Delhi, he tosses rose petals, a tribute to Gandhi, but, as the president takes the world stage, there's fresh evidence of mounting political troubles back home.

A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows, only 17 percent of Americans agree with Mr. Bush that it's OK for an Arab company to run U.S. port operations. Two-thirds disagree. And the controversy is eroding his biggest strength, fighting terrorism.

Only 47 percent of Americans approve of how the president's handling terrorism, the lowest ever, and a seven-point drop since just last month.

Republican Congressmen like Mark Foley have broken with the president over the port controversy in droves.

REP. MARK FOLEY (R), FLORIDA: And I have supported him wholeheartedly on so many positions. On this one, they're wrong.

BASH: Worried, and for good reason -- their biggest asset is eroding, too. Asked which party is stronger on terrorism, 45 percent of Americans say Republicans, but 40 percent say Democrats, a new high for the party.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: Our members are looking after their districts. They're looking after their own political hide. And I think the president's -- you know, ranks below that in the priority. That's traditionally how it has worked.

BASH: Especially when they see Americans losing confidence in the way the MBA president is running the country. Fifty-nine percent, nearly six in 10, say the president cannot manage effectively. Fifty- eight percent say he is not paying enough attention to what his administration is doing.

JOHN BRABENDER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: People are not feeling good about themselves and this country right now, and that's the biggest challenge.

BASH: John Brabender works for GOP candidates. Though cautious about polls eight months before Election Day, he says Republicans are looking for independence, and that could mean trouble for the Bush agenda.

BRABENDER: I don't think that it's time to say, hey, this president's a disaster; we're going to run away from him in any way. On -- on the other hand, I think that there are some things that the White House has to get in order.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Asked, Bush aides, what they think their overriding and defining problem is, Wolf, they still stay Iraq.

Now, look at this poll number. A stunning 73 percent, nearly three-quarters, of Americans think there will be a civil war in Iraq over the next year. Experience tells this White House, it's hard to overcome powerful images. There, you see that poll number.

It's hard to overcome powerful images of violence on the ground, no matter how hard they try -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana Bash, reporting for us.

President Bush says a terror attack in Pakistan today will not deter him from traveling there later in the week. An American diplomat and at least three other people were killed in a pair of explosions right near the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.

Mr. Bush spoke about the blast in India, where he engaged in some tough negotiations over a landmark nuclear agreement.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president, joining us now from New Delhi -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello, Wolf.

Of course, both sides desperately wanted this deal, and really just to save face. After a lot of time and attention leading up to this very important trip of the president, both sides capitulated under pressure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): A big win for President Bush in India, but not yet a done deal, a nuclear energy agreement between the two countries that potentially could crack open India's nuclear program and lead to billions of dollars in U.S. business.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's in our economic interests that India have a civilian nuclear power industry, to help take the pressure off of the global demand for energy.

MALVEAUX: After eight months of negotiations and a flurry of overnight diplomacy in New Delhi, Thursday morning, the leaders laid out the plan. The U.S. will share nuclear know-how and nuclear fuel with India.

In exchange, India will separate its civilian and military nuclear programs and subject its civilian program to international inspections. This is a significant depart from U.S. policy, which isolated India for 30 years for refusing to sign on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and then testing a nuclear weapon in 1998.

But now India is the world's largest democracy, hungry for energy, and, U.S. officials say, worthy of being rewarded.

BUSH: We're cooperating on the military front. We have worked as partners in responding to the tsunami.

MALVEAUX: But Mr. Bush recognizes, it will be a tough sell to Congress, which has to change the law for the deal to go through. REP. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: One week after he gave away our security at our ports to the Dubai government, he is now handing over, in this agreement, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has protected the world for 30 years, to the nuclear salesman of our planet, who will now be able to sell nuclear power plants.

MALVEAUX: As Mr. Bush looks ahead to his next stop, Pakistan, a pair of explosions went off in Karachi, outside the U.S. Consulate and Marriott Hotel there, killing four people, including an American diplomat, and wounding 50 others.

But Mr. Bush insisted, he would keep to his schedule.

BUSH: Terrorists and killers are not going prevent me from going to Pakistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And even staying overnight -- U.S. officials, of course, saying that Pakistan is an ally in the war on terror, but, also, of course, a battleground for terror -- those same officials saying that, despite Pakistan's pleadings, it will not get the same kind of nuclear energy deal like India because of its long history of spreading nuclear technology and secrets -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux on the scene for us in New Delhi -- Suzanne, thank you very much. Safe travels over there.

CNN's Zain Verjee is joining us now for a closer look at news making headlines right now. She's at the CNN Center in Atlanta -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a few hours ago, senators overwhelmingly approved a compromise to renew the Patriot Act.

Some provisions of the law are set to expire next week. Now, supporters say that the new legislation better protects privacy rights. The White House applauds today's vote, saying that the Patriot Act is a key tool in the fight against terror. The House is expected to approve the new legislation next week, and then send it to the president for him to sign it.

A firefighter is in critical condition at this hour, with severe burns, as a series of wildfires sweeps across Oklahoma. Authorities say the most serious fires are now under control. Several hundred people who were evacuated are now returning to their homes, but the fires destroyed 40 homes. In the past two days, some 8,000 acres were charred.

A former nurse who murdered at least 29 nursing home patients is -- will be imprisoned for the rest of his life. Charles Cullen was sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms by a New Jersey judge today. He claims to have killed up to 40 people during his 16-year career.

The courtroom was filled with relatives of Cullen's victims. Some told him to burn in hell. Cullen avoid looking at them, and he didn't make any apology -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

Let's go up to New York -- Jack Cafferty standing by once again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf.

We are raising a nation of little butterballs, who climb out of their cribs wearing extra large Pampers at an ever-earlier age, only to waddle off toward the kitchen in search of a chocolate milkshake. When they're just a little bit older, we begin stuffing them full of cereal laced with sugar, along with cream-filled and frosted Doodles and Yodels, Twinkies, doughnut, cupcakes, and potato chips.

When they're old enough to be seen in public, we then race them to the golden arches, where they cram their mouths full of cheeseburgers and fries and more milkshakes. Many of our children reach adulthood having no idea what broccoli or cauliflower are. And we wonder why they're overweight.

A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows most Americans think this is a serious problem. Sixty-seven percent of us say it's either extremely serious or very serious. Only 3 percent say obesity in kids is not a serious problem.

Here's the question: What should be done about the growing number of overweight children? You can e-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com, or you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

I'm going to go up to my office now and have a doughnut -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, thanks very much -- serious subject, though, indeed.

Coming up, a surprising letter showing support for that controversial port deal -- you will hear who was behind it. This is a CNN exclusive.

Plus, why did the former president -- that would be Bill Clinton -- why did his name come up in the congressional hearings today?

The former FEMA director, Michael Brown, live here in THE SITUATION ROOM, that's coming up as well. We are going to ask him some of the tough questions about what really happened before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.

And violence and curfews, the situation right now in Iraq -- all that coming up.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: His response to Hurricane Katrina made him the ex- director of FEMA. Were those higher up more to blame? I will ask Michael Brown. He's about to enter THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're standing by for Michael Brown, the former FEMA director, to come into THE SITUATION ROOM -- that interview coming up.

But, first, a CNN exclusive -- a new twist in the port security controversy.

As we told you first here on CNN, the chairman of Israel's largest shipping line is strongly endorsing the Dubai port deal. This support is somewhat surprising, considering the Arab world's boycott of the Jewish state.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): In a letter to Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, Idan Ofer, the chairman of ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Limited, says he wants to put his support for the deal on the record.

He says ZIM has been pleased to have D.P. World as -- quote -- "our business partner, supporting our operations by providing services at key marine terminals around the world, included in the UAE," United Arab Emirates.

He goes on to write this: "As an Israeli company, security is of the utmost importance to us, and we require rigorous security measures from terminal operators in every country in which we operate, but especially in Arab countries, and we are very comfortable calling at D.P. World's Dubai ports. During our long association with D.P. World, we have not experienced a single security issue in these ports, or in any of the terminals operated by D.P. World."

After receiving a copy of the letter, I called Mr. Ofer in Tel Aviv. He confirmed its authenticity, and explained his motivation in sending the letter to Senator Clinton. He said he was now planning to write a similar letter to Senator Chuck Schumer, also from New York.

He was anxious, both of them knew of ZIM's longstanding relationship with D.P. World, which he says maintains the -- quote -- "highest security standards in its terminals worldwide."

A spokesman for Senator Clinton says this letter was one of scores received on both sides of the ports issue, but adds, "We would prefer to learn about the security impact of this deal through the full 45-day investigation mandated by law."

Could or should the Arab boycott issue still sink the ports deal? The reality is that Israeli goods can be found throughout the Middle East. ZIM subsidiaries send ships into Dubai's ports with other countries' flags to skirt the boycott. And the reality is that a top executive from a state-owned Arab company can call an Israeli shipping line a very sound customer.

We handle their operations in a number of ports throughout the world, and because it's good commercial business for us. They wouldn't come us to unless we did a good job.

BLITZER: Does the emir know this?

EDWARD BILKEY, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, DUBAI PORTS WORLD: Absolutely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A leading Democratic critic of the ports deal says he doesn't care what the Israeli shipping line says. That senator, Chuck Schumer, of New York, says the deal -- he still strongly opposes the deal.

The port security storm has blown right into a high-profile political marriage. Are Bill and Hillary Clinton on the same page right now, as far as this deal is concerned?

Our Brian Todd has been looking into this part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, new information is emerging that raises questions about Hillary Clinton's opposition to the ports deal, balanced against her husband's ties to Dubai.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): As long as we have known about it, Hillary Rodham Clinton has hammered against the deal for Dubai Ports World to take over operations at major American ports.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: This process is a failure of judgment. In the post-9/11 world, port security is too important an issue to be treated so cavalierly.

TODD: But CNN has learned that, at the time Senator Clinton first began her public opposition to the deal, officials from Dubai Ports World called her husband, Bill Clinton, while he was in Pakistan in mid-February. A spokesman for the former president said -- quote -- "He told them that he didn't know the details about the deal, but that he felt that any ports deal should be subject to the full scrutiny process and should also take steps to make ports safer."

But Bill Clinton's ties with the Arab Emirate go beyond that phone call. CNN has obtained a Senate financial disclosure form for Hillary Clinton for 2002. It says Bill Clinton received $450,000 for two speeches he made in Dubai that year.

STEPHEN HESS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Bill Clinton has been a very active and very successful public speaker around the world since he has become an ex-president.

TODD: And, experts point out, so have other former presidents.

But two senior officials in the government of Dubai tell CNN that that government donated half-a-million dollars to Bill Clinton's library, information not denied by the Clinton spokesman. Those officials said that Clinton has visited Dubai four times in the past three years. The Clinton spokesman said, that's about right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: In addition to that, the chief operating officer of Dubai Ports World told a House committee this afternoon that Bill Clinton had spoken to the sultan who oversees the company, recommending they hire former Clinton Press Secretary Joe Lockhart.

The COO, Edward Bilkey, said the company eventually turned down that recommendation. Clinton's spokesman said he didn't know about that exchange. Our phone calls to Joe Lockhart were not returned.

We called Hillary Clinton's office to ask if there was any disconnect over the ports deal between her and her husband. They referred us to Bill Clinton's office. His spokesman says he doesn't see how the former president's speeches and trips to Dubai are relevant to this port story.

The spokesman says, the former president supports his wife's efforts to block the deal, and the two of them are -- quote -- "in lockstep on the issue" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting -- Brian, thanks very much.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former FEMA director, Michael Brown, he's standing by. He's live in THE SITUATION ROOM. Was he set up as a scapegoat for the government's failures after Hurricane Katrina? And what does he think of the president and the secretary of homeland security right now? We are going to ask him some tough questions.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our interview with former FEMA Director Michael Brown coming up momentarily.

Zain Verjee, though, joining with us now with a quick look at some other stories making headlines around the world -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, Iraqi authorities are temporarily banning cars and trucks from Baghdad. Only official vehicles will be allowed on the streets during daytime hours tomorrow. An overnight curfew is already in effect.

It follows a wave of sectarian strife that has claimed more than 400 lives in the past nine days. In the latest violence, more than two dozen people were killed across the country today.

Some $30 million in aid money that had been given to the Palestinian government is back in Washington tonight. The Bush administration demanded that the money be returned after Hamas won Palestinian elections in January. And the Palestinian Authority is promising to refund an additional $20 million in aid. Hamas is on the list, in the U.S., of terrorist groups. In Kenya, East Africa, intimidating reporters into silence -- masked police commandos charged into the offices of one of the main newspapers and smashed printing presses today. They also burst into one of the main TV stations and seized equipment and disrupted broadcasts.

Three reporters have been charged in what officials call a case of national security. Journalists in Kenya have aggressively been reporting on corruption scandals involving the government. Three government ministers have been forced to resign, after being implicated in those corruption scandals.

Thousands of Kenyans are condemning the media raids, as are many in the international community.

The roundup goes on of suspects in last month's huge cash depot heist in London. A 14th person has been arrested. And three suspects, two men and a woman, made court appearances today. They're charged with being involved in the robbery of $92 million. Fourteen employees were held hostage during the heist. And they have yet to return to work -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

Just ahead, the former FEMA director, Michael Brown, joins us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We are going to talk about the video of a government briefing the day before Hurricane Katrina hit and its implications about who knew what -- Michael Brown coming up next, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As all of us have now heard a million times, the president once told him, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

So, why is he out of his job as FEMA director? And does Michael Brown have hard feelings toward the White House, toward the news media?

He's standing by. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We are going talk with him right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Still more finger-pointing tonight over the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Democrats are accusing the Bush administration of withholding critical information. I will get to former FEMA Chief Michael Brown and his take on that in just a moment. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But, first, CNN's Mary Snow, she is joining with us the latest accusations -- Mary. MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, top Democrats are using a video of the president being briefed on the day before Katrina hit as ammunition against the White House, but some leading Republicans say the tape doesn't tell us anything we didn't know before.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 28, 2005)

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR: All right, let -- everyone, let's go ahead and get started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW (voice-over): The video was all over TV newscasts. And Democrats were watching. They say the president was clearly warned that Katrina would likely be devastating.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 28, 2005)

BROWN: My gut tells me. I told you guys (AUDIO GAP) my gut was that this (AUDIO GAP) a bad one and a big one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The video is an eloquent statement, speaks very clearly to the fact that there was a predictable tragedy that was about to befall our -- the people of that region, and the administration's response was inadequate.

SNOW: House and Senate Democratic leaders today are renewing calls for an independent commission to investigate the Bush administration's Katrina response.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says, the video clips confirm what he says he suspected all long.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: That they have systematically misled the American people to hide the basic incompetence of the recovery and the response.

SNOW: A spokesman for the Republican who led the House investigation of the Katrina response, Tom Davis, says there is nothing new on the tape.

And, today, the White House denies there's anything incriminating on it.

TRENT DUFFY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I have to reject this notion that the president wasn't aware of the warning. He absolutely was.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: In a CNN interview today, Deputy White House Press Secretary Trent Duffy was asked if that video vindicates Michael Brown's contention that officials got bogged down in a fog of bureaucracy.

Duffy says President Bush already has acknowledged that he wasn't satisfied with the Katrina response -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you very much.

And the former FEMA Director Michael Brown is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks, Mr. Brown, for joining us.

Jeanne Meserve, our homeland security correspondent, is joining us in the questioning.

The president of the United States, in that briefing that was conducted on August 28, the day before the hurricane hit Louisiana, listen to this. Listen to what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 28, 2005)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was wrong when he said that the federal government was fully prepared.

BROWN: Well, yes, Wolf, but I think we need to look more beyond just that clip. We weren't prepared because FEMA had been marginalized over the previous two or three years. I had been screaming internally that the budget cuts, the personnel cuts, what they were doing within Homeland Security, was in effect marginalizing FEMA. And I predicted that at some point -- in a very specific memo to both Tom Ridge and to Chertoff -- that at some point FEMA would fail. I just doesn't expect to be in the middle of that failure.

BLITZER: So who deserves the blame for that failure?

BROWN: I think it really belongs with the Department of Homeland Security. I really think that Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, because they had ample opportunity. If you go back and you read the 2003 letter to Ridge from me, and you read the 2004 and 2005 memos about our budget, in every single one of those, I keep repeating FEMA is going to fail because of these actions.

BLITZER: So you raised the alarm bells. Jeanne, I want you to pick it up.

MESERVE: Yes, you paid the ultimate price. You paid with your job. Should Michael Chertoff do the same?

BROWN: Well, it appears to me that, you know, when Michael -- when Chertoff does things like tells me that I've got to go to Baton Rouge and plop my butt down on a seat in Baton Rouge and run a disaster from there, I think that shows naivete about how disasters are run. And you've either have to get with it, or move on.

MESERVE: Should he lose his job?

BROWN: Well, I think so.

BLITZER: We have an excerpt of what he told me on "LATE EDITION," complaining about what you were doing on day two, day three, of this hurricane. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I do want to respond to Mr. Brown's statement that was wrong in making him go back to Baton Rouge. On Tuesday, he was flying around with politicians. He was doing interview shows. And the basic planning, which was getting buses to come into the Superdome and pick people up, had not been done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's basically suggesting that you were show boating, if you will, for your own public relations purposes.

BROWN: I have no public relations purpose, and I never did at that time. The purpose -- what he doesn't tell the American public is that that was a trip specifically to Mississippi to meet with Governor Barbour and his team to find out what they needed, how could I help them.

And I think the other thing that he really misleads the American public about is that I should have been back there planning about the buses. That's the role of state and local governments. They should have been doing that.

MESERVE: In the transcripts of the 29th briefing, you talk about conversations you had that morning with the president. This is the day of landfall. And you say you talked to him about a number of things. He's asked questions breaches of the levees. How did the president know to ask about breaches of the levees? Did he have reports in hand at that time already that that had happened in New Orleans?

BROWN: There's no question in my mind he probably had those reports, because we were feeding in the Homeland Security Operations Center, into the White House sit room, all of the information that we were getting. So he had to have had that information. Plus, I think the president knew from our earlier conversations that that was one of my concerns, that the levees could actually breach.

MESERVE: So are you saying when you said recently that it was baloney that the White House didn't know about the breaches on Monday night -- are you saying that the president knew about the breaches on Monday morning?

BROWN: He knew that was a potential, because my testimony has been...

MESERVE: And he knew there were reports of them?

BROWN: Well, yes. He knew about the reports of potential breaches. Now, I think we're drawing a fine line here. Because even I have testified that I didn't know whether we had a breach of the levees or the levees had been topped. But somehow in the 11:00 to 1:00 timeframe, that became clear because we had sent someone out to actually look at them and see.

BLITZER: This is a sensitive subject. This is Monday, the day the hurricane comes into New Orleans, to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. And people were already very worried about those levees being breached. A couple days later, on September 1st, a Thursday, listen to what the president of the United States said on "Good Morning America."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What is he talking about when he says no one anticipated the breach of the levees, if everyone seemed to be anticipating that possibility on Monday?

BROWN: Right. I think that was fairly typical of the president. I think what he was really saying -- and I'm defending the president in this regard -- I think he was saying that we really didn't anticipate that it was going to happen because the storm was beginning to decrease. Yes, I was still worried about it, because I knew what the potential was. But I think the president was speaking honestly at that point that he didn't really anticipate that they would be breached because of all this conflicting information.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeanne.

MESERVE: The White House has put out a report on the Katrina response. So has the House. The House report considerably stronger in tone. Do you think that the public knows yet the full story of what happened with Katrina?

BROWN: No, they don't. Because what they don't -- everyone's focused on Katrina, and Katrina is just the symptom of a much more serious problem within the Department of Homeland Security. And that is what is the role of FEMA and how do we maintain relationships and partnerships with state and local governments so we can do our job?

MESERVE: Well, but it comes down to life and death. And what people want to know is why people died in that city. And can you explain why that happened, why there wasn't a grasp that that was happening. Why you were sending and receiving e-mails about your clothing? BROWN: Well, before I talk about the clothing e-mails, let's go back to about how and why people died because I think there is blame for everyone in that regard. There are reports -- and I did. I actually called the president on Saturday and said Mr. President, I want you to call Nagin and Blanco, and as the president, order them to do a mandatory evacuation. Because there were going to be people who could not evacuate or would not evacuate.

And I think the mayor bears some responsibility. I mean, I've heard him testify about, you know, I couldn't get drivers. You know, get cops in there, get firefighters in there, get public works people in there to drive busses. I don't care if they don't have a commercial driver's license, drive them and get those people out of there.

MESERVE: Now, congressional investigators say one of the reasons they don't have the full story is that they haven't gotten e-mails from the White House about White House communications. Is the White House stonewalling?

BROWN: I don't know what the White House is doing. Look, we -- before I testified in front of the Senate, we sent the White House a letter because I was going to be under oath in front of an equal branch of government. And I didn't know whether to -- whether the White House was going to invoke executive privilege and limit what I could say or not. So we gave them that opportunity. And I'm not going go up and perjure myself in front of the U.S. Senate. So under oath, I told the truth.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. But you say the American public still doesn't know the truth of what happened. Democrats are calling for an independent commission right now to investigate, not a House investigation or a White House investigation, but an independent commission. Is that a good idea?

BROWN: I don't think it's necessary.

BLITZER: Well, how would the American public going to know the truth then?

BROWN: Wolf, it's so simple. They need to look at how Homeland Security is operating, what's happened to FEMA. And if they will have the guts to pull FEMA out and say, you know, we made a mistake and this is not going work, and restore FEMA to its ways of doing business with its budget, that will fix the problem.

BLITZER: In other words, take it out of the Department of Homeland Security.

BROWN: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, hold on one second, guys. We're going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about. Much more with the former FEMA chief, Michael Brown, here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm going ask him, among other things, about the news media. He had a unique vantage point on how we were doing covering this storm.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back now live with the former FEMA Director Michael Brown and our CNN homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, helping us in the questioning.

Listen to what the president said on September 2nd, 2005, a quote all of us will forever remember.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I want to thank you all for -- and Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director is working 24/7.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. I want you to respond, because we've heard that quote a million times. Within a few days after, guess what, Brownie? You weren't doing a heck of a job.

BROWN: God bless the president, but he was really trying to muster the troops and let FEMA people know that he respected and appreciated all of the work that we were doing. And I was the guy there that got the accolades.

BLITZER: But what happened between the time of that soundbite and a few days later when you were recalled back to Washington, and within a few days you were out?

BROWN: Well, I think it reached a point where Chertoff believed that whatever we were doing -- I mean, it was a disaster. No disaster is (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: But you can't just blame Chertoff. You have got to blame the president, too.

BROWN: Well, ultimately you're right. I mean, I served at the pleasure of the president. So I'm certain at some point the president may have said, hey, Chertoff, get Brownie out of there or whatever.

But I don't hold that -- I serve at the pleasure of the president, so I don't hold that against them.

But I think -- I think it did reach a point where they were as frustrated as I was in how things were going, and so it's easier just to let's pinpoint somebody, let's pull them out, and so now we can say to the world, we're fixing things.

BLITZER: Clarifying I want Jeanne to come in in a second. Clarify the whole sort of attack on you, the ridicule of those e-mails that came out, that you were getting memos, while people were dying, they were saying one day maybe you should wear the blue shirt not the red shirt -- you know, your attire. Because that made you sound so vain and ridiculous.

BROWN: It did. And the first thing I would ask you, Wolf, are you willing to give me every e-mail you have ever sent Jeanne Meserve?

MESERVE: There wouldn't be very many.

BLITZER: No.

BROWN: No, not about to do that. But in all seriousness, my father-in-law was a surgeon, and I've represented a lot of doctors, and they've always talked to me about their sense of humor in the middle of doing some critical operation, an open-heart surgery with an individual's heart in their hands, and making jokes about let's go play basketball. And the purpose of that is to bring some levity into a very serious situation.

And all I was trying to do was inject a little humor into my staff that was working 24 hours a day, and just, they were exhausted, and you try to bring a little humor into the situation to encourage them to keep fighting and going forward.

MESERVE: But you also wrote a memo to Secretary Chertoff just a couple of hours after landfall, about disaster officials, and you said to him, part of their purpose is to convey a positive image of disaster operations to government officials.

BROWN: Yes, and that...

MESERVE: (INAUDIBLE) image-making.

BROWN: That has been taken totally out of context, which frustrates the heck out of me.

MESERVE: But you put it together with the e-mails...

BROWN: I understand that. But Jeanne, that message was to get what we have -- what we call community relations specialists. Those are people that go out into the field to find disaster victims that -- not in New Orleans, but let's say in rural areas, where they don't have communications, to give them the information about how to get registered, and we need to make certain that they do a have a positive image, that they're there to help, that they are working in a positive way.

MESERVE: I want to go back to the president for just a moment. First, can you clarify, did you speak specifically to the president yourself the day of landfall and tell him about those reports of levee breaches?

BROWN: Yes. There are e-mails that show that I had numerous conversations with Joe Hagen, and as I testified...

MESERVE: But did you talk to the president?

BROWN: Well, as I've testified...

BLITZER: He's the deputy White House chief of staff.

BROWN: Deputy White House chief of staff. And as I've testified, it was very often that the president would get on the phone, either before or after I've talked to Joe Hagen or Andy Card, and yes, during that day, we had discussions.

Now, what I don't recall -- and maybe we can rebuild it through the e-mail trail or something, or through the phone logs -- is when I had those discussions. But I can tell you this unequivocally, they occurred throughout the day.

MESERVE: And they occurred directly with the president?

BROWN: Yes, on at least -- on at least a couple of occasions.

MESERVE: And you specifically talked levee breaches with the president?

BROWN: Yes. Because that, again, that was almost foremost in my mind and my concern.

BLITZER: As you remember, and all of our viewers remember, Jeanne was there in New Orleans that day of landfall, and I remember when I was debriefing her, at one point she said -- and I'll never forget this because I had chills and our viewers had chills -- she said, "Wolf, this is Armageddon." What time was that on Monday?

MESERVE: It was before 6:00 on Monday.

BLITZER: Armageddon. It was -- and the next day, Chertoff goes to Atlanta for some bird flu conference and you're running around doing things that suggest you didn't really appreciate the enormity of this crisis, when our own reporter said Armageddon has happened here, and we saw those images at the Superdome, the Convention Center. And the image that we're left with, you guys were out of touch.

BROWN: And Wolf, that's a mistake that I've admitted publicly in many places, is that we have this tendency in D.C. to speak from the talking points, to put together, you know, our arms around everybody and say what a good job we're doing, and we're going to, you know, get this thing under control. And I think a serious mistake that I've made was not leveling with the American public and describing to them exactly how bad this catastrophe was. I should have done that.

MESERVE: You talked in your congressional testimony about talking directly with the president, that this was something you did as a matter of course, indicating that you had a very cordial relationship. Since you left your job, have you heard from the president?

BROWN: No, I have not.

BLITZER: Are you disappointed about that?

BROWN: Well, you know, look, I'm a big boy, and I don't need to hear from the president. It would have been nice to have had an "attaboy" or, you know, thanks for service or whatever, but I'm not asking for that. I did my service. I know in my heart that the fight that I carried on within DHS to protect FEMA and to help FEMA -- and I also know what I did in 2004, those hurricanes in Florida, and the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster and the 160 disasters I successfully handled, I know what I did, so I can hold my head high.

BLITZER: All right, hold on a second, because there's a lingering issue I want our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton update us on. Abbi has some e-mail that was released by Michael Brown to Congress. Based on this e-mail, one congressman now raising questions about the Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his role in awarding $236 million federal contract with Carnival Cruise Lines. The cruise ships intended for Hurricane Katrina evacuees sat half-empty for weeks in the Gulf Coast. Abbi, what are you finding?

TATTON: Wolf, the e-mails, the e-mail exchanges are available online between Michael Brown, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and official from Carnival Cruise Lines by the name of Rick Cooper. You can go online and read them. It's from the week of Hurricane Katrina. This one from two days after the storm, from Jeb Bush, forwarding an e-mail from Rick Cooper to Michael Brown, saying "I will pass this on to Mike Brown. He will respond quickly."

The response does come quickly, two-and-a-half hours later from Michael Brown saying, "this was a great idea." Congressman Henry Waxman has asked for an explanation from Jeb Bush about this matter. Jeb Bush's office has said that any suggestion of intervention is completely unfounded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you make of that?

BROWN: I think that Henry Waxman is trying to make a mole -- a mountain out of a mole hill here. Because what Jeb said is absolutely true. Carnival Cruise Lines was making an offer to help house disaster victims in the cruise ships, and he wasn't getting through the bureaucracy -- surprise, surprise.

MESERVE: One of many.

BROWN: Yes, surprise, surprise. And so Jeb forwarded that to me, and I immediately forwarded it to my housing director to take it under consideration. So for Waxman to come out now and try to make some big deal that Jeb Bush somehow was doing something I think is just disingenuous, and it shows how this has become so partisan and so inflammatory that, you know, people need to take a deep breath about some of this.

BLITZER: Jeanne, unfortunately, we have got to leave it there, but we'd like to invite you back and join us if you're going to be in town. Are you living still in Washington?

BROWN: Back and forth between here and Colorado.

BLITZER: If you want to come back tomorrow, we'd love to continue this conversation.

BROWN: Sure.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Michael Brown, for joining us. Jeanne Meserve, as usual.

Up ahead, what should be done about the growing number of overweight kids? It's our question of the hour. Jack Cafferty is standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The bottom line, the Dow, the NASDAQ, the S&P all posted modest losses, check it out. Let's go up to New York, Jack Cafferty's got "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: A new poll shows most Americans think the number of overweight children in this country is a serious problem. We want to know what you think ought to be done about the growing number of overweight kids.

Dan in Pennsylvania writes: Throw out all the PlayStations, Game Boys and iPods and introduce our kids to lawn mowers, dishwashers and paper routes.

Alan in Boston: As a pediatrician, I treat overweight kids every day. No matter what I advise these families, it's not a fair fight because parents are up against billions of dollars of advertising and marketing by the food industry, which wants us all to eat more. The best single thing we can do to protect kids from obesity is to ban all advertising aimed at children.

Jay in Russellville, Arkansas: The increased number of obese children in America is directly linked to increasing poverty. If a mother is on her last $5 and with that money she can either choose to buy her kid one salad or five double cheeseburgers, which one do you think she's going to pick? The food industry needs to make healthy choices more affordable if the obesity crisis is to wane.

Phil in Leander, Texas says: It's easy. Turn these heavyweights care and feeding over to FEMA. They won't get anything to eat or drink for weeks.

And Mark in Chicago, Illinois: Perhaps the federal government could sponsor giving kids as many fresh fruits and vegetables to eat at school as they can. They could call the program "No Child Left With a Fat Behind."

BLITZER: Not a funny subject, that's an important subject, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Oh, it's a very funny e-mail.

BLITZER: Very funny e-mail. Thanks, see you tomorrow. Let's check out what's coming up at the top of the hour on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Do you get e-mail like that, Wolf? BLITZER: I get a lot of e-mail. Most of it I don't read.

ZAHN: It's somewhat pretty scary to read. At the top of the hour, stories about exactly opposite responses from people who come face-to-face with terrorists. We're going to hear for the first time from two men who actually pointed their fingers at September 11th co- conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. What did they see? What did they hear that made them so suspicious?

Also, the gate agent who looked two of the 9/11 hijackers right in the eye and despite misgivings, gave them boarding passes to get on a plane.

Plus, is she or isn't she? Is Hillary Clinton running for president? We're going to see why some Democrats and Republicans hope so. The lightning rod action continues on the political front, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Paula, we'll see you at the top of the hour.

Still ahead, the hassle of airport security. New technology could soon help streamline the process. We're going to show you what the future may hold.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All this week CNN is looking at the future of security. Since 9/11, America's airports have made many changes, but what is still needed? CNN's Miles O'Brien has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a trade off between being safe and being efficient. What's missing right now is a consistent security system in all airports. And the ideal state for me would be an all- in-one system, whether it puffs you, X-Rays you, puts you on a conveyor belt. But you're moving the whole time. I have nothing to hide, I travel every week, I just want to be as efficient as possible.

As for the future of security, I'm not sure what direction we're headed. I would like to know, where are we heading for my safety?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Garry's wish is shared by many, to feel secure when flying, but not to waste time on inefficient screening systems. So how close are we to getting the best of both worlds?

(voice-over): The future of airport security is this man's mission, chief technology officer for the Transportation Security Administration, Randy Null.

RANDY NULL, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: Since 9/11, there is a lot more research and development. The explosives trace portals are the newest deployment that we've had.

O'BRIEN: As passengers walk through these so-called puffer machines, quick bursts of air dislodge and collect tiny particles from the person and test them for explosive materials, all within eight to 10 seconds.

Also in the works, a machine that captures images like these. It's an X-Ray device with the power of Superman. The machines may make security types happy, but many passengers may feel violated.

NULL: We need things that will allow us to replace equipment rather than add equipment. We'll actually be doing better things, but doing them less intrusively and faster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

That's it for us, don't forget we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays, 4-to-6 p.m. Eastern, back at 7 p.m. Eastern. As you just heard, Michael Brown returns tomorrow for part two of our interview. "PAULA ZAHN NOW" starts right now. Paula?

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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