Monday, March 10, 2008

Sharpen that Subpoena Pencil

Members of Congress cranked up the heat on the White House to come clean in a number of investigations. The Bush team's history of stonewalling might soon have a breach. The Judiciary Committee filed suit against two White House officials regarding the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. In another case, a House Committee Chair accused the Environmental Protection Agency of "withholding hundreds of communications about its refusal to let California regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks."

But one egregious case of non-cooperation has never been addressed, the White House's refusal to hand over communications involving the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. I've had numerous questions, ones my elected leaders refused to acknowledge, much less answer. I suspect some answers lie in those e-mails and other documents.

President Bush promised a robust investigation into his team's response in Katrina's aftermath. Unfortunately it was neither robust nor impartial. During the days hospital patients suffered in steamy toxic soup, White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend was on a plane to Saudi Arabia. Yes, that would be the same Fran tapped to lead the investigation and the same Fran whose e-mails to Andy Card remained strictly confidential and unavailable to Congressional investigators.

As the White House staff managed the early response to Katrina, it is difficult to assess their performance without some information. Here's what the Congressional investigation had to say about George W.'s hands on management (on page 8):

"The President did not leave his Texas ranch to return to Washington until two days after landfall, and only then convened his cabinet as well as a White House task force to oversee federal response efforts."

I'd like to know when the White House identified hospital patients as high priority for rescue? What steps did they take to get patients and staff out of dead facilities? We know some lingered until September 3rd.

Fran's report failed to mention the hospital with the largest number of patient deaths in her robust investigative report. LifeCare, a long term acute care facility, lost 24 patients during the storm and its aftermath. Weeks prior to landfall, The Carlyle Group closed on its purchase of LifeCare. Did the politically connected private equity firm ask the White House to leave its facility out of the report? It helps Carlyle enter those wrongful death civil lawsuits with the feds silent on the matter.

As the nation watched hospital staffs post window signs indicating their patients horror, who knew what in the White House, and when? And why was Fran's investigative tome so sorry? She noted her fear of being subpoenaed when she left office earlier this year. The American people deserve to know some answers and it might take more subpoenas and court actions, a familiar pattern with the secretive Bush administration.

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