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FEMA's Brown Might Reveal Correspondence with White House

Former disaster agency chief Michael Brown is indicating he is ready to reveal his correspondence with President Bush and other officials during Hurricane Katrina unless the White House forbids it and offers legal support.

Brown's stance, in a letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, follows senators' complaints that the White House is refusing to answer questions or release documents about advice given to Bush concerning the Aug. 29 storm.

Brown quit as director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency days after Katrina struck. He left the federal payroll Nov. 2.

In a Feb. 6 letter to White House counsel Harriet Miers, Brown's lawyer wrote that Brown continues to respect Bush and his "presidential prerogative" to get candid and confidential advice from top aides.

The letter from Andrew W. Lester also says Brown no longer can rely on being included in that protection because he is a private citizen.

"Unless there is specific direction otherwise from the president, including an assurance the president will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify if asked about particular communications," the lawyer wrote.

Brown's desire "is that all facts be made public."

Messages left with the White House were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Two weeks ago, Bush defended his administration's stance on withholding some information, saying that providing all the material would chill the ability of presidential advisers to speak freely. The White House has given thousands of documents about the storm response to Senate investigators.

Brown is set to testify Friday at a Senate inquiry of the slow government response to Katrina.

Contacted Wednesday, he referred questions about the letter to Lester. The lawyer described his client as "between a rock and a hard place" between the administration's reluctance to disclose certain high-level communications and Congress' right to demand it.

"Mr. Brown is going to testify before Congress. If he receives no guidance to the contrary, we'll do as any citizen should do — and that is to answer all questions fully, completely and accurately," Lester said.

The letter set a 5 p.m. EST deadline Wednesday for the White House to reply to Brown. That passed without a response, Lester said.

Some administration officials have refused interviews by Senate investigators or have declined to answer even seemingly innocuous questions about times and dates of meetings and telephone calls with the White House.

The leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have accused the White House of crippling their inquiry after FEMA lawyers prohibited Brown from responding to some questions during a Jan. 23 staff interview.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., did not have an immediate response to Brown's letter.

At that interview, Brown told investigators he was aware of management problems at the agency that were highlighted in a consultant's report months before Katrina. He attributed some of the problems to the agency's merger with the Homeland Security Department in 2003.

"What I wish I had done was, frankly, just either quit earlier or whatever and gone to certain friends that I can't talk about and said we got to fix this — I mean, what's going on is nuts," Brown said, according to a Senate transcript of the meeting.