Rep. Davis threatens subpoenas

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) yesterday threatened to subpoena three members of the Bush Cabinet and White House counsel Harriet Miers if they do not comply with document requests issued by his select committee on Hurricane Katrina response.

House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) yesterday threatened to subpoena three members of the Bush Cabinet and White House counsel Harriet Miers if they do not comply with document requests issued by his select committee on Hurricane Katrina response.

During a committee hearing yesterday, Davis decried the failure of White House officials to release e-mails and other communication records related to the hurricane and its aftermath. Davis set a hard deadline of Nov. 18 for all federal agencies to comply with his requests.

“If documents aren’t produced by that date, I’m ready to proceed with subpoenas,” Davis said.

Davis chairs the special committee investigating the emergency response to Hurricane Katrina and the resulting flooding of New Orleans. The committee’s creation was a topic of intense partisan wrangling earlier this fall, when three Gulf Coast Democrats agreed to participate despite a party boycott urged by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

The Democratic participants, Reps. William Jefferson (La.), Charlie Melancon (La.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.), still technically do not serve on the committee. But Davis set the Nov. 18 date in response to an inquiry by Melancon, who noted the looming February expiration of the committee’s investigation.

“These are not burdensome requests,” Melancon told Davis, who said that the administration has begun to hand over initial batches of documents but that more progress must be made.

Melancon also placed copies of the individual draft subpoenas mentioning Cabinet members by name in the committee’s record. Most recently, the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks also was forced to subpoena Bush administration documents.

In addition to the White House, Davis’s investigative committee has asked for documents from the secretaries of defense, homeland security and health and human services and from Miers.

Davis said each of these agencies had been increasingly cooperative since a similar subject was raised during a hearing last week but conceded that not all of the requests have been met.

“This is progress, but as you note, it’s not enough,” Davis said yesterday in response to Melancon’s request. “We’re missing some of the prioritized documents we requested on September 30th, and the clock is ticking.”

Some of the communications released so far have been embarrassing for the administration officials involved in the federal response to the hurricane and resulting floods. In particular, Mike Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was criticized for his banter to co-workers in the wake of the disaster.

Davis’s committee has heard testimony from Brown and Marty Bahamonde, the only FEMA official in New Orleans when Katrina made landfall. Lawmakers were frustrated by overt discrepancies between Brown and Bahamonde’s accounts of the federal response, suggesting to some that Brown might be called back to the committee or investigated for possible perjury.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), has been holding its own hearings on Katrina response after an impasse among Senate leaders blocked progress on setting up a bicameral Katrina committee.

The draft subpoenas produced by Melancon call for all documents “received, prepared or sent” before Aug. 23 related to a emergency-response procedures in the case of a hurricane striking the Gulf Coast, as well as all documents transmitted between Aug. 23 and Sept. 15 relating to Hurricane Katrina itself.

Members of the select committee have scrutinized the months and years before Katrina for signs of lax disaster preparation in the Department of Homeland Security, in particular the simulation exercise dubbed “Hurricane Pam” that predicted devastation in the case of a Category 5 hurricane striking New Orleans.