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Conyers Decries White House Attempts to Evade Accountability

Congressman John Conyers, Jr.
Michigan, 14th District
Ranking Member, U.S. House Judiciary Committee
Dean, Congressional Black Caucus

Conyers Decries White House Attempts to Evade Accountability

Requests Nonpartisan Legal Assessment of Hurricane Katrina Responsibilities

Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee sent the following letter today to the Congressional Research Service to review the law and legal requests pertaining to Hurricane Katrina:

September 7, 2005

Ms. Elizabeth Bazan

Mr. Charles Doyle

American Law Division

Congressional Research Service

The Library of Congress

101 Independence Avenue, SE

Washington, DC 20540-7500

Dear Ms. Bazan and Mr. Doyle:

I write to request that CRS review the applicable law and legal requests pertaining to Hurricane Katrina, and confirm whether or not the necessary steps were taken to give the Federal government in general, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in particular, the legal authority needed to act to save lives and mitigate the damage stemming from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.

Given that the Administration has described the Hurricane as the largest natural disaster in our nation's history, it is inconceivable to me that they would permit a bureaucratic issue to interfere with the performance of its job. However, it appears to me that the State of Louisiana took all necessary and appropriate actions to permit federal engagement. Some in the White House and Congress appear to want to derail any inquiry of this matter by labeling attempts to assess accountability as a "blame game." In my view, such labeling is not only misguided, but has potentially deadly implications, as it is essential to determine what went wrong and who is responsible so that we can correct shortcomings and avoid a similar debacle in the future.

An immediate review of the legal authority is necessary due to the continuing confusion in the media and the public concerning whether or not FEMA's actually had the necessary authority to respond under the law. For example, Monday's New York Times reports that "the administration is ... working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials in New Orleans and Louisiana, who, as it happens are Democrats."1 I also understand that White House officials provided information to the Washington Post claiming that "[A]s of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency,"2 and to Newsweek, asserting that "Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco seemed uncertain and sluggish, hesitant to declare martial law or a state of emergency, which would have opened the door to more Pentagon help."3

My own review of the facts and law indicates the following:

* The Stafford Act, the relevant statute concerning natural disaster relief, provides that "[a]ll requests for a declaration by the President that a major disaster exists shall be made by the Governor of the affected State."4 The Act goes on to specify that such a request is "a prerequisite to major [federal] disaster assistance" and details various information which is to be included in such a request.5

* On Saturday, August 27 and Sunday, August 28, Gov. Kathleen Blanco wrote to President Bush requesting that the president "declare an emergency for the State of Louisiana due to Hurricane Katrina." The letters reference the Stafford Act and itemize the severity and magnitude of Hurricane Katrina and specifically requests federal assistance.6

* On Saturday, August 27, President Bush issued a Statement on Federal Emergency Assistance for Louisiana. He "declared an emergency exists in the State of Louisiana" and by its terms "authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency to the local population." The White House statement also references the provisions of the Stafford Act.7

*The DHS website provides that "in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other large scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort."8

For your convenience, I have attached copies of all of the above materials to this letter.

In my judgment, it would appear to be relatively straightforward that the Governor's letter, combined with the declaration by President Bush granted DHS and FEMA full and complete authority to respond to Hurricane Katrina and to provide necessary aid and assistance to Louisiana and the other affected States. However, it would be extremely helpful if you could confirm to me whether or not I am reading the law correctly.

Given the importance and urgency of this issue, I would ask that you please provide us with a detailed analysis no later than Monday, September 12, 2005. Please feel free to contact Perry Apelbaum or Ted Kalo of the Judiciary Committee staff, at 2142 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel. 202-225-6504, fax 202-225-4423), with any questions or requests for any additional information.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this issue.


John Conyers, Jr.


1Adam Nagourney and Anne E. Kornblut, White House Enacts Plan to Ease Political Damage, The New York Times, Sept. 5, 2005.

2Manuel Roig-Franzia and Spencer Hsu, Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting, The Washington Post, Sept. 4, 2005.

3Evan Thomas, The Lost City, Newsweek , Sept. 12, 2005.

442 U.S.C.A. ยง 5170 (2005).


6Letter to President Bush through FEMA Region VI from Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Aug. 27, 2005. Letter to President Bush through FEMA Region VI from Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Aug. 28, 2005.

7White House Statement on Federal Emergency Assistance for Louisiana, August 27, 2005.



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Let's tell it like it really is.

FEMA or the Dept. of Homeland Security had acted too soon it would not benefit my (bush) photo-op. Therefore a delay will have to be enacted to arrange the props. I must strum the guitar and help Senator (AZ) John McCain celebrate his birthday before attending to any minor duties, such as a MAJOR hurricane. Peons can wait. Photo-ops cannot.

and a Brain??

Conyers for President 2008!!!

and a Brain??

Conyers for President 2008!!!

It's unfortunate though that a lot of what he is doing may be futile. Without a platform in the MSM, who is going to hear what he has to say but us? I sure hope I'm wrong on this - he is someone I deeply respect and admire and believe the rest of the country needs to hear what he has to say.

Partners in crime with the notoriously corrupt Big Oil industry, who is wrecking everything in its path to get Peak Oil.

EXXON Mobil must be boycotted. Congress must be impeached, the leaders of the Congress I mean. Those leaders are the praetorian guard.

Tom Delay and Dennis Hastert. They are fellow crooks HOLDING THE KEYS to removing Bush & the psychos from power. They are crazily greedy and influence spreads everywhere...

I call upon all americans and the real leaders, to force them out of their jurisdiction and to recuse themselves. Delay must sit down and let the Feds finish indicting him, and he must then RESIGN.

We must then force Delay to resign completely and sit down rather than face jail, for out of country bribes. The same thing must be done with Hastert, who officials know was bribed by Big Oil partners in Turkey. The time is NOW.

Remove the praetorians.....Bring back Congress and IMPEACH.

Doug Eldritch

Come on, the State and City governments knew that the possibility exisists for a catastrophe such as what happened after Katrina came through.
You mean to tell me that the Mayor knew that alot of people in the city, had no means of leaving the city, when an evacuation is ordered, because of their economic situation, yet had not ordered 1 school bus or other means of public transportation to start evacuating the city, when the order to evacuate was issued?
The City and State governments know the particular needs of any city better than any federal institution would, so the blame for the travesty that occurred at the Superdome and Convention center, rest squarely on the shoulders of the Mayor of New Orleans and Governor of La.

And with everyone who had the means getting out of town, who was going to drive the school buses?

You need to listen to Mayor Ray Nagin's WWL interview, which happened on Thursday last week:

He talks precisely about buses and his requests for outside help that went unheeded.

As far the governor is concerned, she also made the appropriate requests for federal help (as the Conyers letter above states), writing to Washington twice in advance of the hurricane.

In fact, as the Conyers letter above also states, Mr. Bush declared a state of emergency on Saturday, two days before the hurricane hit, giving at least an initial indication that he grasped the severity of the situation.

Then, while people were dying in the streets for lack of food, water and medicine, Dubya went to fundraisers.

This is not a question of playing a political blame game. It's a question of blatant federal indifference and incompetence, regardless of party affiliation, that needs to be dealt with immediately, in order to minimize loss in any future such natural disaster.

Doing nothing only invites further tragedy.

Just wondering, by the way:
What's more important to you - Your party or your country?

John Perry

Thank you Mr. Conyers.

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