Heckuva Email, Brownie

HECKUVA EMAIL, BROWNIE….In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and for months afterwards, former FEMA director Michael Brown was excoriated for his response (or lack thereof) to the crisis along the Gulf Coast. “Brownie” has tried to resuscitate his image a bit more recently, and yesterday told CNN that he received an e-mail before his resignation stating the president was glad to see Brown bear the brunt — instead of him.

Michael Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Friday that he received the e-mail five days before his resignation from a high-level White House official whom he declined to identify.

The September 2005 e-mail reads: “I did hear of one reference to you, at the Cabinet meeting yesterday. I wasn’t there, but I heard someone commented that the press was sure beating up on Mike Brown, to which the president replied, ‘I’d rather they beat up on him than me or Chertoff.’ ”

The sender adds, “Congratulations on doing a great job of diverting hostile fire away from the leader.”

CNN couldn’t verify the email’s authenticity, but it came from an “eop.gov” address, suggesting it came from the Executive Office of the President.

To be sure, there are a couple of degrees of hearsay involved — president told someone, who told someone else, who told Brown — but it’s certainly consistent with everything we’ve seen from the Bush White House from day one. When trouble arises, the buck stops anywhere but the Oval Office. The “leader” has to be shielded.

It’s also entirely in line with how these guys view the “era of responsibility.” Remember this gem from then-Gov. Bush’s 2000 convention speech? “A hundred years from now this must not be remembered as an age rich in possession and poor in ideals. Instead, we must usher in an era of responsibility…. [O]ur nation’s leaders our responsible to confront problems, not pass them onto others. And to lead this nation to a responsibility era, that president himself must be responsible.” Too bad this outlook didn’t last long.

For that matter, Mark Kleiman’s right that the White House should own up to this. At this point, a Bush spokesperson would only say that the email Brown produced is an “old story.” As Kleiman put it, “Either the President said what Brown’s White House source says he said, at a Cabinet meeting, or he didn’t.”