Michael Brown, head of the federal disaster agency at the time of Hurricane Katrina, has reopened a painful wound for President George Bush, charging that the White House knew New Orleans' protective levees had broken far earlier than it had acknowledged.
Testifying to a Senate committee yesterday, Mr Brown said that by the evening of Monday 29 August, his Fema agency had reported to superiors that catastrophic floodwaters were pouring into the city, that fires were breaking out and large numbers of people were stranded.
Conditions, a Fema message said that evening, were "far more serious" than media reports suggested. Nonetheless the following morning, Mr Bush told the country from his ranch in Texas that New Orleans had "dodged the bullet".
Mr Brown quickly became the designated scapegoat for the Katrina debacle. A fortnight after the hurricane struck, he was forced to step down as Fema's director amid public ridicule, with Mr Bush's famous utterance of "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" ringing in his ears.
In his testimony, Mr Brown placed the bulk of the blame for the administration's botched response on a "dysfunctional" Department of Homeland Security. Its obsession with terrorism, he said, had reduced natural disaster relief to the status of "stepchild" of the DHS, set up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Mr Brown's appearance before the Senate's Homeland Security Committee came on a day when the administration's credibility came under fire on a host of fronts - from its rationale for going to war against Iraq, to its disclosure of a foiled terrorist attack on Los Angeles and Mr Bush's links with the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
On Thursday Mr Bush revealed details of al-Qa'ida's alleged plot to fly aplane into an LA skyscraper in 2002. But the city's mayor was furious he had not been told personally of what the President was going to say, while Democrats accused Mr Bush of resurrecting an affair he first mentioned in late 2005 to deflect attention from the row over eavesdropping by the National Security Agency.
Even as it was defending itself on that front, the White House came under unprecedented attack from a top former CIA official for its misuse of intelligence to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. …