Major Garrett is a stud reporter. He blew the lid off the Swift Boat/Kerry story last year and in New Orleans he's uncovered the reason that Hurricane victims who were relocated to the SuperDome didn't receive immediate aid.
The Governor didn't want the people 'getting too comfortable.'
Hugh Hewitt interviewed Garrett yesterday on his radio show. Here's the transcript of that conversation via Radio Blogger:
"HH: Making an encore appearance, and we're very grateful for it, Major Garrett of Fox News Channel. Major, you certainly made waves yesterday. Perhaps the most reported story in America was yours. You followed up on it tonight. What has your investigation into the Red Cross relationship with the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security revealed today?
MG: A couple of things. First of all, it established on tonight's Special Report, that it wasn't just the Red Cross. It was the Salvation Army. Both agencies, both organizations were ready, prepared, pre-positioned, eager, but were thwarted in their efforts to bring supplies, basic supplies...not everything these people needed, but core supplies to the Superdome, and then eventually, the convention center. Why? Because the New Orleans Department of Homeland Security said look. Our plan is to evacuate these people. Marty Evans, the President and the CEO of the American Red Cross, said on camera...you don't have to believe me. Believe her. You can read her own eyes, saying look. We were told if we came in, we would create an atmosphere that would lead people to stay, and give them the feeling that they should stay. And the state did not want that.
HH: Now you said the New Orleans Department of Homeland Security. Did you mean the Louisiana Department...
MG: I'm sorry. Yes. Louisiana. Right. Because it is a state agency that is answerable to the governor, although the governor did not explicitly make this statement, I'm told so far.
HH: Who made this decision?
MG: I've also asked the Red Cross to create for me, and they've promised to do so, a timeline and a paper trail.
HH: Oh, very good.
MG: Now, they are a bit...they're very eager to put together the timeline. They're a little bit more reluctant about the paper trail, because as they've told me, look. We expect all this stuff to be subpoenaed by Congress very soon. I said well, that's probably true, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to get it.
MG: They said yeah, but look. The issue here, Hugh, is the Red Cross knows it's going to have to deal with Louisiana the next time around. And the next time around. And they're always trying to avoid the appearance of sticking it to somebody, if the political leader in charge feels as if the Red Cross is sticking it to them. So they feel that they're in a bit of a tenuous place.
HH: On the other hand, Major Garrett, they're a quasi-public agency, depending upon the good will of the public for their donations.
HH: I think the public wants to know.
MG: And I said look. You guys had no problem posting this on your own website. So I just think it's a matter...I said you know, if you want to give it to me, and then put it on your website, that's fine. But just make sure I'm in the loop, because I want to know who said what to whom. And if that's written down anywhere, the public should see it.
HH: And what did the Salvation Army tell you?
MG: The Salvation Army basically said look. We...first of all, both agencies also want to let people know that they've served the needs of thousands of people who got out, and who got out just a little bit to high ground, north of New Orleans. But they couldn't get in to meet those needs. They asked to get in. They were prepared with their...the Salvation Army has these ever-familiar portable kitchen canteens, is what they call them. They can actually make food, produce food on spot, and distribute it there. People line up. We've seen that at hurricanes and other natural disasters. They were ready. Not allowed in. At first, it was this idea that we don't want to create a magnet at the evacuation site. Secondarily, it became an issue of well, there's lots of water, and we can't assure your safety, so on and so forth. Here's another key point, Hugh. I was very specific with the American Red Cross, president and CEO Marty Evans, and said wait. Tell me clearly. Were you prepared to go in before the levees broke? Before water became an issue of any kind? She said absolutely. Were you denied access before the levees broke? She said we were denied access from minute one.
HH: And did they attempt to renew their request to get in after the levees broke, Major Garrett?
MG: Yes. I am told that the timeline indicates a frequent reasking of this question.
HH: And a frequent denial by Louisiana state Department of Homeland Security?
MG: Right. Because as we discussed last night, their system was this is the shelter of last resort. It is an evacuation site, not a services site. And today, in Louisiana, the Louisiana National Guard said look. Here we were. We had four hundred Louisiana National Guard soldiers at the Superdome. Let's do the math here, Hugh. Four hundred National Guard soldiers coping with thirty thousand evacuees.
HH: Right. Right.
MG: And they said, look. The Mayor told all these people to bring three days worth of food and water. Well, not very many people did. So the National Guard did bring in, on its own, palettes of food, water and things. But clearly, it wasn't enough. Clearly, they were overwhelmed. The numbers were staggering. In the end, it was up to 60,000 people that the National Guard had to supervise, or at least try to supervise at these two places, and eventually move out with the buses. Where did the buses come from? They came from FEMA. 1,100 of them were produced in 72 hours, even though as we all saw, buses were under water all over the city, never used.
HH: What is your understanding of what happened at the convention center? Was the National Guard there insufficient force to prevent the allegations of huge brutality and murder?
MG: No. Clearly not. And the situation in the Superdome was tough for the National Guard, because you had people on various different levels of this enormous complex. And four hundred on thirty thousand, I mean, just forget it. It's not possible. You're doing the maximum, but in proportion to the numbers, it's a minimal effort.
HH: So the pre-positioning of resources around New Orleans was abysmal?
MG: Yes. I mean, I think in a word, you have to understand...and Marty Evans of the American Red Cross said look. The failure from my point of view is, and I don't want to second-guess people, but look. You have to have a realistic, executable plan, and then execute the plan for evacuation. They didn't have it.
HH: Now Major Garrett, when you broke this story last night, it immediately sped across the United States. People are aghast, even though there have been hints about it. You mentioned the O'Reilly Factor the night before. It had been on the website. But none of the other networks are carrying this. Why?
MG: Look, I don't know. And believe me, Hugh, this is not the first time in my career I have found myself with my news judgment saying this is an interesting and important story. Where are my colleagues? I don't know if you remember any of the swift boat coverage, but I covered that story more aggressively, more factually, and with more direct response to key questions from the Kerry campaign, than any other television reporter in this country. And I never lost my relationship with the Kerry campaign, because they always knew my questions were hard and tough and fair, but I always gave them a chance to express their opinion.
HH: Now Major Garrett, this morning, Rush...
MG: Everyone was ridiculed about...everyone who covered the swift boat story was an idiot. You know, well, I've been in this position before.
HH: But this morning, Rush made the blanket statement, and I think he's right, that if it is reported on Fox, the other networks will not consider it news. I believe that's because you're crushing them, and they hate to attribute to you guys a head start on something. But this is a huge story of important, national interest.
MG: They don't even have to attribute it to Fox. They can go to the website. They can call Marty Evans, and get her on camera whenever they want. Look, they don't need to talk to me. All they have to do...I mean, Hugh, I've covered a lot of hard stories, and I've done a tremendous amount of hard digging in my journalistic career. I've got to be honest with you. This isn't an example of it. I mean, it was a pretty basic story. Ask a few core questions, get some core answers, read the state documents, add it up.
HH: We're running low on time, Major Garrett. Was the Salvation Army reluctant to confirm to you? Or were they willing?
MG: No. No. I mean, look. Are they advertising it? Are they calling me up? No.
HH: Senior officials at the Salvation Army?
MG: Yeah. Among the most senior people here in Washington, D.C., who are coordinating their efforts across the Gulf region.
HH: And they were ready to go, and they were blocked as well?