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Transcript: Chertoff on 'FOX & Friends'

Following is the full transcript of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's appearance on FOX News Channel's "FOX & Friends," Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2005, as provided by the Federal Document Clearing House:

BRIAN KILMEADE, 'FOX & FRIENDS' HOST: How prepared is the federal government for Rita's impact? Joining me right now from the White House lawn is Michael Chertoff. He's the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Welcome back, Mr. Secretary. Thanks for joining us.

U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Good to be here, Brian.

KILMEADE: Well, right now what could you tell the people of Texas, Louisiana and the surrounding Gulf Coast area about what's heading their way?

CHERTOFF: Well, we're looking at the possibility of a Category 4 storm hitting the Texas coast. And although right now we're predicting somewhat south of Galveston, you know, these things are not precise and I think everybody's got to be mindful, they've got to be tuned into what local officials are saying about evacuation, because the storm could alter course within a range of possibilities.

• Click here to track Hurricane Rita.

KILMEADE: Well, a range of possibilities — for example, is there anything to make you believe that a Category 4 won't be slamming Texas and the people of Galveston won't be hit?

CHERTOFF: I'm operating on the assumption that a Category 4 will hit Texas.

And one thing I want to make clear is ,people talk about the eye of the storm but this is a big storm and it's going to have an impact along the entire coast. And therefore people shouldn't focus only on where the center of the storm is, they should focus on where the impact can be felt in terms of wind, rain and storm surge.

KILMEADE: And, of course, we've heard a lot from what happened with Katrina, as we try to recover there.

Now, I understand Governor Blanco says can we have a state of emergency right now because the levee system in New Orleans in particular can only take three to six more inches of water, and even if it's not hit directly — there's only a 5 percent chance it will — the three to six inches is a very real possibility.

CHERTOFF: Sure it is, because, Brian, remember, even at the margins of the storm, there's a lot of rain, there's a lot of wind. And although it doesn't look now that a hurricane is going to hit New Orleans, we do have to worry about water and wind and storm surge hitting New Orleans. And New Orleans is in a weakened state.

KILMEADE: Mr. Secretary, what have you learned from seeing what took place in Katrina just weeks ago that's helping you right now at your job for the people of Texas and the surrounding area?

CHERTOFF: Well, we've been in very close contact with the governor, with the state emergency managers, talking about their evacuation plans. They've got buses and other vehicles available for people who can't drive themselves out. They're moving very early on the issue of evacuation and I'm hopeful people will take it very seriously this time.

One of the things we're doing is making our air assets available, to the extent they're needed, to help move people out of the areas that are threatened in Texas into other parts of the state or other states.

So this early jumping on the problem with the state being closely connected with them I think is going to be the key to getting people out of the way.

KILMEADE: How frustrated are you with Mayor Nagin ignoring the president for hours, ignoring the vice admiral for hours and making a decision to repopulate New Orleans, which clearly looks like a foolhardy move? At what point can you grab the power from local authorities, because ultimately you're responsible?

CHERTOFF: Well, Brian, of course, I think we all want the same thing. We want to rebuild New Orleans, we want to do it in a way that's safe, secure and preserves public health.

I think the mayor was wise, recognizing the storm was coming into the Gulf, to stand down from repopulating. When the storm passes, we want to work with him to make sure he's got all the information he needs, everything we can give him in terms of the facts about the strength of the levees and the public health situation, so he can exercise his powers. He's the mayor here; he's obviously the chief elected official. The governor is also the chief elected official of the state. We want to help them with all the facts that we can give them to make a wise decision.

KILMEADE: I know you don't want to do finger-pointing, but being that we're not out of hurricane season by a longshot yet, looking back, in that 36 hours before you put in National Guard troops, if you could do it again, would you have put them in sooner?

CHERTOFF: Well, actually, I think there were National Guard troops on the ground even before the storm hit on Sunday. There were National Guard troops deployed in various parts of the city.

There'll be an opportunity in the next weeks to go back and look at what was done, what could be done better, what was done well and should be done maybe even with redoubled efforts.

And remember again, you were dealing with what was an unprecedented storm. As you look back and compare it to other storms historically, there's never been one quite like this, with the double blow of the storm itself and then the subsequent break in the levee and the flooding of the city.

So it's a unique challenge, it has tested our abilities beyond any test we've ever faced. To the extent we have to fix some things, we're going about fixing those as we speak.

KILMEADE: How difficult was it to dismiss Mike Brown? And how much was his fault?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, Mike Brown — I understand why he resigned. I think Mike did everything in his power, again facing an unprecedented situation, to cope with what he was facing. So I think, you know, people ought to be charitable to him and recognize that he faced something that we've never faced before. And he used all of his energy and all of his ingenuity to carry out his responsibilities and I think we wish him the very best.

KILMEADE: Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, thanks. And we'll be watching, just like you will.

CHERTOFF: Thanks, Brian.

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