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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

President and First Lady Bush Speak on Katrina Anniversary; Boulder, Colorado, Prosecutors Hold News Conference on John Mark Karr; Fugitive Polygamist Warren Jeffs Arrested

Aired August 29, 2006 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan.
We're going to bring you a third hour of CNN LIVE TODAY today because we're watching a number of live events.

Number one, we are keeping an eye in Boulder, Colorado. The district attorney there holding a news conference there within the next few minutes, as we understand it, talking about John Mark Karr, how that case went this direction and what happens to him now.

Also, President Bush is in New Orleans today. He'll be speaking on recovery. President Bush and Mrs. Bush just wrapping up a morning prayer service at the St. Louis Cathedral.

We're also keeping an eye on Ernesto as that tropical storm gets closer to Florida. What is the latest tracking prediction? Chad or one of the meteorologists -- oh, actually Jacqui Jeras will be along to bring us the latest on that.

First, though, to another story that just broke this morning. The FBI has one of its 10 most wanted in custody today.

Here is what we know right now about Warren Jeffs.

Police arrested the fugitive polygamist near Las Vegas. It happened during a routine traffic stop. Jeffs is wanted in Utah and Arizona.

He's accused of sexual misconduct with a minor and arranging marriages between underage girls and older men. He leads a fundamentalist Mormon sect that permits polygamy. Jeffs himself is said to have about 80 wives and about 250 children.

The FBI will discuss the arrest of Warren Jeffs this afternoon. That news conference set for 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

You'll see it live here on CNN as well.

We've been doing a lot of reporting on Warren Jeffs in recent months.

Our Gary Tuchman went to the area between Arizona and Utah and filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Colorado City, Arizona, the American flag flies. But most of the citizens pledge allegiance to Warren Jeffs.

(on camera): What do you think of the man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's awesome.

TUCHMAN (voice over): The FBI fugitive has instructed his followers not to talk to the news media. Almost always that demand is strictly obeyed.

(on camera): Can I ask you a quick question? I'm Gary Tuchman with CNN. I just wanted to check with you, do you have any idea where Warren Jeffs is? Any idea at all?

I just wanted to ask you if you have any idea where Warren Jeffs is.

(voice over): The police department, where the chief is also a member of Jeffs' FLDS church, doesn't return repeated phone calls.

(on camera): Anybody there?

(voice over): And the cops have no interest in speaking when we stop by. They don't even speak to a county attorney special agent who's been here for 18 months investigating Jeffs and his supporters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it is bizarre, but then again, we are here in Colorado City. Every one of the police officers are FLDS members. You know, they've sworn to follow Warren Jeffs.

TUCHMAN (on camera): We travel a lot in this job. Rarely do we go anywhere where we feel so unwelcome as this place. For the most part, when we come up to people, they scatter.

Can I ask you a quick question?

(voice over): But in this town of about 9,000, where Warren Jeffs lived in this house before he went underground, some coaxing did result in some comments.

(on camera): Hey, do you know where Warren Jeffs is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir. Ain't nobody seen him for two or three years that I know of.

TUCHMAN: What do you think of him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a great prophet. And you're damn fools for bothering him, because your ass is going to get hung one of these days when you look up from hell and look at him in the face.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Jeffs' very passionate followers also believe his father, Rulon, was a prophet. Rulon died in 2002 and is buried here in town. Warren Jeffs has been the FLDS leader since then.

(on camera): Do you have any idea where Warren Jeffs is right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't.

TUCHMAN: When was the last time you saw him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About three years ago.

TUCHMAN: So do you think he's been back to Colorado City at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He could have. I mean, that's none of my business, though.

TUCHMAN: How come? You're a follower of him, and you think he's a prophet, and you think he's the greatest man on earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He does what he needs to do and I don't have to know about it.

TUCHMAN: And how are you able to continue following his way if you don't see him or hear of him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The words that he's already given us.

TUCHMAN (voice over): Investigator Engels says his presence is not welcomed either. And he's occasionally harassed.

GARY ENGELS, MOHAVE COUNTY, ARIZONA INVESTIGATOR: Sometimes if they're stopped at a stop sign or something, they'll try to take off real fast, throwing gravel on my vehicle or the diesels, you know. They'll accelerate real fast, blowing a lot of black smoke out.

TUCHMAN: Well, lo and behold, we got a similar experience. The FBI may have Warren Jeffs on its 10 most wanted list, but what most people here want...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys are all damn idiots.

TUCHMAN: ... is for us to get out of town.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Colorado City, Arizona.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: From Colorado City to Colorado -- Boulder, Colorado, you're looking at live pictures. There is district attorney Mary Lacy. They are about to begin a news conference talking about what has happened in the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation.

John Mark Karr, you've probably heard by now, will not be facing charges. The DNA was not a match.

Let's go ahead and listen in.

MARY LACY, BOULDER COUNTY D.A.: Good morning. I'm going to start by introducing the team.

You know their names from the plaques that are in front of them, obviously, but to my right is chief investigator Tom Bennett, who I believe has close to 30 years of homicide and other major crime investigation experience. To my left is my first assistant, Peter Maguire. And to his left, my assistant Bill Nagel.

These are the people that I consulted with in making decisions, but I want to make it absolutely clear up front the decisions were mine, the responsibility is mine, and I should be held accountable for all decisions in this case.

Having said that, let me start by saying, these have been a very difficult few days for all of us. And I'm sure you can imagine that.

Last night, as I was preparing to leave, I received a telephone call from a gentleman in Longmont. And he said -- this was a voicemail -- he said, "You should be tarred and feathered and run out of town. And I want you to call me and tell me that you're going to resign."

You know, that's -- that's pretty harsh. And it's not just one. There were a lot of calls like that.

I called him back, and he said, "Well, first of all, I'm surprised that you called me." But he started with a series of questions. And I'm imagining that his questions are the same questions on the top of your minds.

So, his first question was, "Why didn't you surreptitiously take DNA in Bangkok before you took this person into custody?"

We did. We took surreptitious DNA on multiple occasions. Immediately upon locating this person who went to mail boxes to pick up a package that we sent to him, two different officers took DNA off of the bicycle that he rode back. On a separate occasion, they obtained a cup that he used to drink from and a tissue or wipe that he used to wipe his hands.

The bottom line is that after we did that, our expert -- and we put a great deal of respect in our expert from the Denver lab -- said that the sample in the underwear of a victim was a mixed sample and that we do not want to compare a mixed sample with a mixed sample. We need a pristine sample.

That means a buckle swab. A buckle swab can only be taken by consent or by court proceeding or court order. We couldn't get his consent because we didn't know he was under investigation, and we couldn't alert him at that time.

The -- this gentleman had a number of other questions. And, you know, I'm going to have to rely on the people here today to help me out to answer the specifics of the dates and times.

This investigation took place over a period of approximately 90 days or more. We were successful for 99 percent of the time keeping it away from media attention. Even though many people knew about it, it didn't leak out to the media to the public, and we're proud of our staff for accomplishing that.

The fact of the matter is that we didn't have much control or, in fact, any control when we're dealing with a foreign government halfway around the world. They were helping us in every way possible. And we thank them from the bottom of our heart. But they have a different process for media than we do, and we couldn't prevent them from talking to the press. And, of course, at some point it was inevitable it was going to happen.

Is there anything else that I need to cover at this time?

You know, the other thing I'd like to address right up front is I understand that there are people who are angry -- because I've received the e-mails and the phone calls -- that they're not included in this, this morning, and -- and for some reason they think that our office excluded them. And so -- and of course the citizens aren't here, and those are the people that we really owe an accounting to and why we're doing this, this morning.

We didn't exclude anyone. We relied on the media consortium to decide who would be present this morning.

We did set the number. And, you know, that was in the main part my reaction. Quite frankly, last week at that press conference I was just a bit overwhelmed by people basically screaming from all different direction. I didn't fell like I could answer anybody's question in a way that they would want it answered.

And we really wanted today to give you the information, to allow you to have time to come -- come to us with your thoughtful questions and to give you thoughtful answers and to make sure that every one of you got your questions answered, as opposed to feeling like you have to compete with somebody else to get your question answered. So that's why we did it.

I expect to get calls from the citizens. I have responded to e- mails and calls from citizens. I will continue to do that to the extent possible so that people feel like they understand what's been going on and why we did what we did at any different place and time.

And every one of you here knows that hindsight is 20/20, and that, you know, after the game is over it's easy to criticize what people have done and what decisions have been made. What I can assure you is that very intelligent, educated, experienced people consulted on a daily basis and questioned each other about what the options are, what are the better options, and what are the not so good options in this case, what decisions we make, and what's going to happen as a result of the decisions that we make. So we didn't go into any of this without talking and thinking about it.

Now, are there any other statements that any of you want to make prior to opening it up to questions?

Let's open up to questions then. And I think Carolyn (ph) is going to help us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe you had your hand up first in the blue with...

QUESTION: Why wasn't the federal charge unlawful flight to avoid prosecution used to extradite him and then get a DNA sample in California?

PETER MAGUIRE, FIRST ASST. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Do you want me to take this?

LACY: Sure.

MAGUIRE: There was what they called a UFAP warrant issued in this case. There was one in San Francisco. That was done through our coordination with the Office of International Affairs at the Department of Justice.

The problem with that is, if we would have had to bring him back on that, we would have had to go through the international extradition process, which would have required us to get a provisional arrest warrant in Thailand. We would have then had 60 days. We would have to submit independent affidavits, prosecutors' statements, and many, many formal proceedings in order to get over there that would have had to have been translated.

It actually would have greatly slowed down the process. And we were in consultation with the Department of Justice and the ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, and the embassy in Thailand on most expeditious process in order to be able to get him back.

QUESTION: What was the risk in doing it -- not doing it that way?

MAGUIRE: Well, because in doing it that way we would have ended up with him being in custody over there at a tremendous expense and time consumption. I mean, it's a slow process to go through the international treaties.

LACY: It's also an expensive process, because all of the documents have to be translated at the Department of Justice cost, which is $80 to $85 a page. We have to pay for two U.S. marshals to bring the suspect back.

(ALARM RINGING)

LACY: Oh, my god. I suspect we're going to have to leave. We'll come back at the earliest time and resume.

Well, wait just a minute. And then we'll come -- we had nothing to do with this.

KAGAN: Well, yet another thing going wrong for this D.A., Mary Lacy. A defensive district attorney talking about why they've done what they've done in bringing back John Mark Karr from Bangkok, Thailand.

This news conference just a few minutes into it. And it appears there's a fire alarm or some kind of alarm going off in the building where they are. It looks like they're going to take a break.

While we wait and see what they decide to do, let's go ahead and bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, a defensive district attorney, but the governor of even his own state of Colorado said this was the most extravagant and expensive DNA test done in Colorado history. And as you could hear Mary Lacy say, a lot of people had other ideas about how this might have been done.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, and you can see that she is trying to address the problems. And that was an interesting fact that she disclosed, that they did try to do the surreptitious DNA test and they did not get a sample that they could usably or reliably test against the evidence in the murder scene.

It doesn't totally address the question, because there were other ways. They could have had him arrested by the Thai authorities. And the Thai authorities could have taken a sample.

But, you know, they obviously thought this process out. They made a judgment. It turned out to be a wild goose chase. And they are obviously defensive at this point.

But the question is not in retrospect was it the right decision. The question is, given the facts that were available to them at the time, was it the right decision? It still might be wrong, but that's the only fair way I think to address whether what they did was right or wrong.

KAGAN: It sounds like they might have fixed the fire alarm. Let's listen back in.

TOOBIN: OK.

LACY: ... alerted the commissioners that that was a potential of what could happen. It became inevitable that we had to bring him back by another procedure, because the Thai government designated him as an undesirable person. And once he's designated as an undesirable person, which was based on several different factors, including our e- mails and the information we sent over there, they want him out of the country. They expel him within 24 to 48 hours.

So that made our expeditious route something we absolutely had to follow.

QUESTION: You've released all the e-mails. At least all the e- mails that we have seen. And everyone in this room has read those e- mails, and clearly you are very familiar with those e-mails.

Everything in those e-mails is publicly available and has been on the Internet for years. So, you, or I, or anybody in this room could have concocted a story and fantasized exactly like he did.

When you brought him to Boulder, Colorado -- and this was several days, five days you had -- you knew who he was, then he was arrested in Thailand, then you had time, he was brought to California and then here, in that period of time, when you brought him, when he stepped off the plane in Boulder, Colorado, what other evidence did you have? Phone records, credit card records, witnesses, anything that could place him in Boulder, in the state of Colorado, any time around Christmas of 1996?

What did you have that said, other than his bizarre statements in these e-mails, which any of us could have conducted, what else did you have that placed him here?

LACY: Well, let's start with the fact that as far as we can tell, there is no physical evidence in this case that has not been in the public domain. The ability of our office or any law enforcement to connect this crime to a person based on something they know about it, that no one else knows, was gone a long time ago. That's impossible.

So yours is a good question. And, you know, we check every time something comes up. It has been in the public domain.

I mean, for instance, there were a couple of references which we weren't sure were in the public domain. One was the fact that JonBenet had received the bracelet on her arm from her mother as a Christmas present. But that's in the public domain. It's in the autopsy report.

The other one was the presence of the mucus from the nose under the tape. Not over it, but under it. You could -- I mean, a child is going to have a runny nose. It's not going to take a leap of faith to come up with that.

QUESTION: For instance, what else did you have? What else did you have?

LACY: Well, I'm laying that -- the groundwork for that, because that was impossible.

What we had to rely on was an attempt to try to verify this person's creditability. And so what we were looking at was approximately four or five hundred pages of e-mails. Are the other things that he has told us, since there's nothing in the crime, are the other things he's told us, can we verify those?

And if you've read these, you all know that there's some pretty bizarre facts that he's alleged in the e-mails. We have been -- we were able to verify that in fact these things had occurred, that he wasn't fantasizing about what he was saying in his e-mails, that when he talked about his mother burning him when he was a child, his mother did burn him when he was a child.

Now, when we read that, we didn't think that that was accurate. There -- his occupation...

QUESTION: Trying to understand, getting to the point, how is that related to the Ramsey case? Because he was a pedophile in Thailand, because his mother burned him, what did that have to do with him concocting a story which you or I could have concocted? And what specific other evidence -- you had time to check his credit records, his -- his phone records, everything. You had that time before he stepped off a plane here in Boulder.

LACY: We started immediately upon his detention checking background and checking credit card records. We checked financial records.

Frankly -- and the first thing that we wanted to do was to determine whether he was in Boulder on December 25, 1996, from May, when we learned of this. And there are a lot of different ways, background checks and databases, that you can use to establish that.

We were not able to establish he was in Boulder, but as importantly, we were not able to establish that he was not in Boulder. It didn't help us either way. And that remains the information -- the best information we have at this time.

There's circumstantial photographic evidence of his three sons in Atlanta with the in-laws at Christmastime. He's not in the photos.

The wife and he were, to a great degree, estranged at the time. So the former wife -- who we find to be very credible and very helpful and very cooperative, she did everything she could to dig up every document photo she could find. And she interviewed with officers for some 10 to 12 hours -- was unable to establish.

And when actually asked, "Can you state he was with you?" She had to say, "No, I can't." "That's not my best recollection," is what she said, "but I can't state that."

So, in answer to your question, we started immediately, as well as calling in the Boulder Police Department, who started immediately to help us establish that.

Is there anything that you want to add to that, Tom? Because certainly you were part of that time period, in what was being done investigative-wise.

THOMAS BENNETT, CHIEF INVESTIGATOR: Yes. We reached out to quite a few agencies around the country where this gentleman had resided at previously. We solicited assistance from a good number of agencies.

A thorough background was done. And the closest time frame we've come up with thus far is, we know his whereabouts up to December 23, 1996.

QUESTION: So, bottom line, you had no evidence when he stepped off the plane in Boulder. You had absolutely no evidence, other than his bizarre e-mails, which you agree that you -- that a person could have concocted, that's the only thing you had that would place him at this crime scene? In other words, you had nothing, essentially, other than his statements?

LACY: We had probable cause to arrest him based on our having tested other statements within the e-mails and the telephone calls, which is typically how we test credibility on someone. Are they prone to lying about other things in their lives? Because if they're lying about other things, they're probably lying about this, too. We also had taken advantage of a forensic psychologist who deals with cases of this nature.

KAGAN: So, we've been listening in to this news conference. That is Mary Lacy, the Boulder County district attorney, talking defensively about why they made the call to bring John Mark Karr back from -- back from Bangkok, Thailand.

And if you'd like to continue to listen in, you can just go to cnn.com/pipeline.

We, though, are going to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, to talk about what we heard or what he heard there.

Jeffrey, basically, he's not the guy. If he is the guy, and they wait, then they look silly. Instead, they bring him here, he's not the guy, now they look silly.

TOOBIN: Yes. Daryn, they look silly.

KAGAN: Yes.

TOOBIN: I think we're agreed on that.

But what Mary Lacy was trying to say was, we took his statements and we didn't just look at what he said about the Ramsey murder, we looked at everything he said. And as far as we could tell, the other things he said were truthful. So that gave us more confidence that what he said about his involvement with the Ramsey killing was true.

The problem, as the questioner was pointing out, is that they had no other corroborating information. They had no information that he was in Boulder. They had no forensic ties between Karr and the murder scene. All they had were his words, and that was the entire basis for getting him back into this country for the now famous DNA test.

So, the question was, was that the right call for Mary Lacy to make? The voters in Boulder County will probably make that decision next time she's up for re-election. And that's really -- that's really it.

It's -- these are tough judgment calls. She decided to make the arrest, bring him back, spend the money. And it turned out to be for naught.

KAGAN: Let's talk about the future. First of all, what happens to John Mark Karr now? TOOBIN: Well, there'll be a hearing this afternoon to determine when he goes back to California to face the misdemeanor child pornography charges.

He will certainly not dispute that he is John Karr. The interesting question there will be, will he get out on bail? I suspect now. People charged with misdemeanors usually do get out on bail, but the fact that he fled before, the fact that he has no ties now to either community in Boulder, or in Petaluma, where he's charged, means he'll probably go back in custody.

The charge faced -- where he faces is only a maximum of a year in prison, where he's already served some time. So I suspect even if he pleads guilty, even if he's convicted, he's not going to be doing much more time in prison based on what -- what he's charged with. So...

KAGAN: And then he's free to go do whatever he wants to do. And...

TOOBIN: The odd prospect of John Karr being out -- out among us.

KAGAN: Go figure.

What about this case? I mean, you also heard the frustration in Mary Lacy's voice saying, everybody knows everything. Or you can know everything if you want. The DNA is contaminated. Where does this investigation go from here if it's not John Mark Karr?

TOOBIN: I think it goes nowhere. You know, I think most of us who had followed the case years ago thought it was a cold case never to be revived until two weeks ago. Of course, then we had this bombshell arrest of John Karr.

But I think -- I would say they're back to square one. But I think they're even before square one. They're nowhere.

This case is essentially over unless someone else comes forward and claims involvement. Or if there's a cold hit on the DNA database. There are DNA databases that, you know, lots of people are in, and they can run the DNA of the person found on JonBenet's clothing through those databases. But those cold hits are very, very rare. And outside of that, I can't imagine that this case is going to go anywhere.

KAGAN: And there's a little girl, a victim 10 years ago. It's just sad. It's just really sad.

All right. Jeff, thank you.

TOOBIN: OK, Daryn.

KAGAN: We have been watching what Tropical Storm Ernesto has in store, for Florida in particular.

Jacqui Jeras is taking a look at that.

Hi, Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Daryn.

(WEATHER REPORT)

KAGAN: We're also looking back at Hurricane Katrina. These are pictures taken of President Bush and Mrs. Bush not that long ago at the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. They are there today.

In the next few minutes, the president expected to begin a speech focusing on the recovery of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast. You'll see those comments here on CNN.

Right now we fit in a quick break.

We're back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAGAN: We're watching events in New Orleans. You're looking at a site where -- this is the Morial Convention Center. Actually, it's Warren Easton High School, and President Bush very soon will be speaking there on recovery and as it goes along the Gulf Coast.

Just a few minutes ago, in anticipation of the president coming and his speech, this happened. Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen arrived; so did Russell Honore, the lieutenant general who was commander for the joint task force for hurricane recovery. And they got a rousing welcome.

Now it's Mrs. Bush, introducing President Bush. Let's go ahead and listen in.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Hey, everybody. Please be seated.

We're a little late because we've been in the library here at Warren Easton, with the award grant winners of the Laura Bush Foundation, the 10 schools in Louisiana and Mississippi that have just won grants to restock their libraries.

And it was really fun for us to have the chance to meet with the librarians and the students and the principals of these 10 schools that are across the Gulf Coast.

School people know they have to get to work right away. And, really, one of the great signs of recovery all along the Gulf Coast are the schools that are up and going again. A lot of them are in temporary buildings or portable buildings, but they have plans to rebuild.

And it's really a thrill to get to meet with the people who have worked so hard to make sure students all across the Gulf Coast get to go back to their own schools.

We know that families can't move back unless there's schools for the kids. And so, education is one of the most important parts of the recovery.

Today, on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we look back on a year of recovery, and we look ahead to a stronger and more vibrant New Orleans. This city occupies a unique place in America's cultural landscape, and the recovery won't be complete until New Orleanians return home and the culture is restored.

Recovering from our country's worst natural disaster requires everyone to do his or her part. First responders and volunteers provide compassion and aid. Friends help friends, and strangers help total strangers. Local and federal governments are working on the big pieces of the recovery: rebuilding levees, housing and the economy.

Many others have joined the efforts. The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities have awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gulf Coast cultural institutions.

This October, in partnership with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, we'll mark the 40th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act with a summit here in New Orleans. At the summit, we'll evaluate the progress made during the last four decades of preservation, and we'll determine our strategy for protecting America's rich national heritage, including the culture and history of New Orleans, into the next century.

America's private-sector institutions -- corporations, private citizens and philanthropic organizations -- have a very important role to play. Charities like the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund have supported churches, synagogues and other houses of faith across the Gulf Coast as they rebuild.

But the best hope for a bright future is new schools. Schools are essential, because until there are places for children to learn, families can't come home.

We just announced the Laura Bush Foundation's Gulf Coast school library recovery grants. Twenty schools in Louisiana and Mississippi have now received more than a million dollars to help restock their libraries.

(APPLAUSE)

In the year since Katrina, outsiders have made tremendous contributions to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast rebirth, but the most important recovery work has been done by the local people, who are rebuilding New Orleans because it's their home.

I've been privileged to meet with many of these people, with school superintendents, teachers and homeowners, and to see their extraordinary work firsthand.

Through their determination, this region will be rebuilt. But everybody has to pitch in, including neighbors all across America. We need more Americans, especially teachers, to move to the Gulf Coast and rebuild their lives here, to invest in new communities by building better schools, working for justice and equality, and sharing time, prayers and love with neighbors who are still grieving.

And until the Gulf Coast has recovered, love, support and prayers will continue to be with you from families all across America, including mine.

Ladies and gentlemen, my husband, President George Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Good morning.

From our beginnings as a nation, the church steeple and the schoolhouse door have been enduring symbols of the American community. And so it is today in New Orleans.

Earlier this morning, we gathered at St. Louis Cathedral in the presence of a just God who asked us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And now we stand inside Warren Easton Senior High School. Warren Easton is the oldest public school in New Orleans. In a little more than a week, its classrooms will again be filled with young men and women who will write the future of this great American city.

And that future draws from a rich past: the music of Fats Domino, the stories of Tennessee Williams, shotgun houses and iron lattice balconies, seafood gumbo, red beans and rice on Mondays.

(LAUGHTER)

Over the course of nearly three centuries, a city that was once the center of slave trade has been transformed to a unique and great American city. The city is a story of hope and dignity and perseverance. And it is these qualities that have seen you through trials of war and prejudice and natural disaster.

One year ago today, your beloved New Orleans and surrounding parishes and counties and the great state of Mississippi were struck by a cruel hurricane. And here in this city, there was flooding on a biblical scale.

Less than three weeks later, with many of the homes and churches and schools still under water, I came to Jackson Square. I said we could not imagine America without the Crescent City, and pledged that our government would do its part.

Today, Laura and I have come back to discuss that pledge and your future.

I want to thank Don Powell, the federal coordinator of the Gulf Coast rebuilding, who's with us today. I appreciate Admiral Thad Allen, who is now the commandant of the United States Coast Guard, who's with us today. And I want to thank Lieutenant General Russ Honore.

I appreciate the members of the congressional delegation who've joined us today: Senator Mary Landrieu, as well as Senator David Vitter and his wife, Wendy. Thank you both for being here.

I want to thank Congressman William Jefferson and Andrea, Congressman Bobby Jindal, and Congressman Charlie Melancon and his wife, Peachy. Thank you all for joining us. Proud to be working with you.

(APPLAUSE)

I noticed that Mary brought her brother, Mitch, the lieutenant governor of the great state of Louisiana. Mitch, thanks for coming.

I want to thank the attorney general of the state of Louisiana. General, thank you for joining us. He's an alumnus of Warren Eastern Senior High School.

I appreciate so very much the superintendent of schools, state superintendent of schools, Cecil Picard, is with us today.

I thank all those state and local officials who've come.

I appreciate Jean Case, who's the chair of the President's Council on Service and Civic Participation.

I want to thank one of the fine, fine citizens of your state, a man who brings great dignity in anything he does, and that's Dr. Norman Francis, who's the chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

(APPLAUSE)

I want to thank Lexi Medley, who's the principal of Warren Easton Senior High School.

(APPLAUSE)

And happy birthday.

Today's her birthday.

(APPLAUSE)

We're not telling, are we?

(LAUGHTER)

Yes, 25, OK.

(LAUGHTER)

I want to thank all the school administrators, teachers, librarians and students who are here from not only -- they're not only here from New Orleans, but they're from around the area, including Mississippi. Welcome. Thanks for coming.

(APPLAUSE) When the waters broke through the levees a year ago, southern Louisiana was consumed by flood waters, and New Orleans faced the greatest disaster in its history. Eighty percent of your city was under water.

Thousands of businesses were hurt. Tens of thousands of homes were damaged and destroyed. And hundreds of thousands of folks fled the region in perhaps the greatest dislocation of American citizens since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

Your fellow Americans offered you more than sympathy. They responded with action. Those of you who were stranded off rooftops looked to the sky for deliverance, and then you saw the Coast Guard choppers come. Members of the Louisiana National Guard, who had just come back from Iraq, stepped forward to bring food and water and ice.

On every street, in every parish, there were constant acts of selflessness. Doctors and nurses stayed with patients. They went without food so that the sick and the infirm might be able to eat.

Fishermen used their flat-bottom boats to form the Cajun Navy and pulled women and children and the elderly out of flooded homes and brought them to dry ground.

Volunteers embraced frightened boys and girls with warm blankets and loving arms to reassure them somebody cared.

And in these and countless other acts of courage, we saw the very best of America.

Unfortunately, the hurricane also brought terrible scenes that we never thought we would see in America: citizens drowned in their attics; desperate mothers crying out on national T.V. for food and water; the breakdown of law and order; and a government, at all levels, that fell short of its responsibilities.

When the rain stopped and this wounded city was laid bare, our television screen showed faces worn down by poverty and despair. For most of you, the storms were only the beginning of your difficulties.

Katrina exposed the big things that need repairing, yet its most devastating impact has been on the rhythms of everyday life.

Some of you still don't know whether you have a neighborhood to come back to. Others of you, who made the decision to return, are living in trailers. Many are separated from their loved ones and simply long just to go to church on a Sunday afternoon with somebody you care about.

Many of you find yourself without jobs and struggling to make due without the convenience of a supermarket nearby.

Many fear for your safety because of violent criminals.

The challenge is not only to help rebuild, but the challenge is to help restore the soul. I take full responsibility for the federal government's response. And a year ago, I made a pledge that we will learn the lessons of Katrina and that we will do what it takes to help you recover.

(APPLAUSE)

I've come back to New Orleans to tell you the words that I spoke on Jackson Square are just as true today as they were then.

Since I spoke those words, members of the United States Congress from both political parties came together and committed more than $110 billion to help the Gulf Coast recover.

I felt it was important that our government be generous to the people who suffered. I felt that step one of a process of recovery and renewal is money.

I also put a good man in charge of coordinating the federal response for local rebuilding. I've already introduced him; his name is Don Powell. He's a good fellow. He's no-nonsense. He's a good listener. And when he finds hurdles in the way between intentions and results, he works to remove them. He's on the job now, and he's going to stay on the job until we get the job done.

And I appreciate you, Don, for your service.

(APPLAUSE)

To make sure that we keep our promises and to make sure this good area recovers, we have got to give assurance to the citizens that, if there is another natural disaster, we'll respond in better fashion.

Every department of my administration has looked at its response to last year's hurricanes and has recommended practical reforms, things to do, to make sure that the response is better.

Secretary Chertoff has increased manpower and training for FEMA, has strengthened partnerships with Red Cross and the Department of Defense, improved communications among local, state and federal emergency teams, and has expanded supplies so that FEMA can feed up to a million people for about a week.

We looked at what went right and we what went wrong, and we're addressing that which went wrong.

In Louisiana, we have prepositioned supplies in advance of this year's hurricane season. The people of the Gulf Coast can know that, at the federal level and at the state level and at the local level, we've all assessed, and we're now working together in better fashion. We're better prepared.

And step one of rebuilding is to assure people, if another hurricane comes, there will be a better, more effective response.

Secondly, in order to make sure that...

(APPLAUSE)

In order to make sure that people understand there's hope and renewal in this area, they've got to have confidence in a stronger levee system.

It became clear to me in the first of my many visits down here that people said, "It's fine, you can talk all you want. Just get the levees stronger."

(LAUGHTER)

I think that was your message, Senator.

(LAUGHTER)

The Army Corps of Engineers has been working nonstop -- and I mean nonstop -- to repair the damage and make 350 miles of the system stronger.

I say 350 miles. Most people in America don't understand the nature of your levee system. They're extensive and required a lot of work, including rebuilding I-walls with T-walls. That strengthens the foundations of levees.

We're storm-proofing the pumping stations, and the pumping stations' capacities are being increased. We're elevating electrical systems so they can work during a flood.

Today, almost the entire flood protection system around New Orleans has been restored to pre-Katrina level, and in many places the system is now better than it was before Katrina.

We're working to make the levees stronger than ever by 2010, and we will study what we need to do to give New Orleans even greater protection.

One thing that the American people have got to understand is that, in order to make sure the levee system works, there has to be a barrier system to protect the state of Louisiana. I strongly urge the United States Congress to pass energy legislation that will give the state of Louisiana more revenues from offshore leases so they can restore the wetlands.

(APPLAUSE)

The Army Corps of Engineers has been working with local citizens in difficult circumstances. I've been on the levees; I've seen these good folks working.

One such fellow is Kevin Wagner. He's with us today. He's an engineer whose house had 12 feet of water after the storm. I think it's important for people to listen to what Kevin said.

He said, "For me, it's personal. My whole family lived down there in St. Bernard Parish. Everyone who's working on this effort has the same motivation and the same sense of urgency." There is a sense of urgency. And I want to thank those in the Corps and those who are helping the Corps send reassuring messages to the people who live here and the people who want to move back here.

More hope for New Orleans means we got to get rid of the broken furniture and old refrigerators and get rid of the wreckage. You can't rebuild until you remove the rubble.

The sheer tonnage of debris in Louisiana is many times greater than any previous disaster. And after many months and more than $1.8 billion from the federal government, from the taxpayers, more than three-quarters of the debris has now been cleared.

You know, it's amazing when you really think about the effort -- of course, government has a part, but the truth of the matter is a lot of the effort, a lot of the success and a lot of results were achieved because of faith-based and community groups.

Groups like Katrina Krew mobilized thousands of volunteers, ranging from students on spring break to moms and retirees.

Isn't it interesting to have a country where people are willing to show up to help clean out houses and remove debris for someone they don't even know? It's a spectacular nation, isn't it, when compassion overflows to overwhelmingly?

(APPLAUSE)

The Krew's founder, Becky Zahiri (ph), is with us. She left; then she came back. And she said, "I went and visited other states, and they were beautiful, but they were not home."

That's the spirit that we're trying to capture. That's the spirit we want people who are watching from afar to understand. Their home is beginning to be. The debris is getting cleared.

As a matter of fact, in order to make sure that the federal -- that we continue to clean the remaining debris, the federal government has agreed to pay 100 percent of reimbursement costs to the end of the year on the five hardest hit parishes.

(APPLAUSE)

We need to get homes available for people. A renewed New Orleans is a New Orleans with new homes; everybody understands that.

The people here and those who have left, they all tell me one thing, particularly those who left: "I miss New Orleans," is what they say.

But we've got to make sure they have a place to move to. Trailers are only temporary. The goal is to make sure that communities are restored because there's new homes. That's the goal. And we will help.

I want to thank the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Dr. Francis and his team have done a really good job of developing a strategy, a plan, to help renew communities through homes.

You know, when we first got going in this deal, we had choices to make. And a lot of people said, "Why don't you just take it over, Washington? Why don't you make all the decisions for the local folks?" That's not the way I think. I trust the people like Dr. Francis and the parish presidents and the mayors and the city councilmen to make the right decisions for the people of this community.

And so, the federal government is working with the Louisiana Recovery Authority to help people get back in their homes. And we've appropriated more than $10 billion to help people achieve that dream. Under this program, eligible homeowners will receive up to $150,000 for damage not covered by insurance or other federal assistance.

All of us agree, at all levels of government, that we've got to get the money as quickly as possible in the hands of the people, so they can rebuild their lives and help this city recover. A more hopeful New Orleans means replacing the school system that didn't work with one that will.

And I congratulate the good people of New Orleans and the LRA for coming up with a novel plan to address failure that had caused -- in many cases, was the root cause of poverty.

I'm excited for you about the innovative charter school system you have put in place. I applaud you for thinking differently. I can't thank you enough for seizing the moment, to say to the good folks and the families, "We will do a better job with the school system here in New Orleans."

(APPLAUSE)

I know Margaret Spellings was down here recently -- she's been down a lot, and she should -- to provide about a billion dollars to help the school system, to get people back in school.

The federal government has helped.

It's very important, however, that people understand that the best way to make sure the school system delivers excellence is there be local control of schools, that people be in charge of the future -- that local people be in charge of the future of the New Orleans schools.

Warren Easton Senior High School is a new charter school. One year ago, the classrooms and corridors were covered by about 10 feet of water. Like many other schools in New Orleans, Warren Easton is now reopened.

When you say "charter school," it means the funding actually follows the students, which makes schools more accountable to parents. It means parents will be more involved in the schools.

By reopening as a charter school, Warren Easton is providing a new model. The motto of this school is, "We believe in success." A revitalized New Orleans needs a reformed public school system where everybody can say, "We not only believe in success, we see success for the good of a future of this state."

(APPLAUSE)

Laura mentioned that the first lady's foundation established a Gulf Coast school library recovery initiative, and they started giving more grants today to help libraries restock. Her view is the view of many in that the center of a school is the library. Without libraries, schools can't realize their full potential.

And so, she and her foundation and folks in the private sector have awarded more than a million dollars in grants to 20 schools, including $70,000 to the library here at this high school.

(APPLAUSE)

Nancy Hernandez (ph) is the librarian.

(APPLAUSE)

She is a graduate from this high school. She puts it this way: "I think the library is the heart of the school. For a child, there is nothing that can replace the joy that comes from a book." And she is right.

And I want to thank you, Laura, for helping people realize dreams with new books, in the midst of helping this public school system recover.

(APPLAUSE)

New Orleans' school system is enriched by the religious schools here. And the Cathedral Academy had been educating in New Orleans for nearly three decades.

It's an interesting story I'm about to tell you. Last October, Cathedral Academy became the first school to reopen. That was last October. Sister Mary Rose is the principal, and she believes this: No child would be turned away from her school's front door.

For 10-year-old Aliyah Carr (ph), who's with us today here, the return to school was a day she will never forget. I love what she said. She said, "I was so happy, I could hear the choir singing in my head. It was a long time before I thought I'd see a school again. And I'm so glad to be walking these halls."

Aliyah (ph) says it better than I can. Education is the gateway to a brighter future. Education provides the light of hope for a young generation of children.

It's really important. I look forward to working with the federal government to provide opportunity scholarships for the poorest of our families, so they have a choice as to whether they go to a religious school or a public school. It's good for New Orleans to have competing school systems. It's good for our country to have a vibrant parochial school system. And I applaud those who are very much involved with the Catholic school system here in the great city of New Orleans.

(APPLAUSE)

I predict a year from now, people are going to be wondering where they can find workers and wondering what they're going to do about their equipment shortages, supply shortages. I see an incredibly bright future for the entrepreneur.

A lot of the revitalization of New Orleans and the area, surrounding area, is going to come because there is more businesses opening and more shops reopening.

I believe that government has a role to play in encouraging entrepreneurship. And so I worked with members of the United States Congress, both political parties, to pass GO Zone legislation.

GO Zone legislation gives entrepreneurs and small businesses tax incentives to invest in this area, to help jumpstart this economy and provide jobs.

The GO Zone legislation is set to expire. The United States Congress needs to extend this good piece of legislation.

(APPLAUSE)

There's a guy named Joe Peters. He's here with us.

Where are you, Joe? Somewhere. Got a lousy seat.

(LAUGHTER)

I want to tell you what he said. He's a Vietnam vet. He runs a tire store on St. Claude Avenue. Right after the flood, the waters went up to his desktop. He and his workers, though, reopened the shop. They had a job to do. They were fixing tires for police cruisers and family cars that were trying to get to safety. They were providing an important service.

Here's what Joe says about this city's future. See, he's an entrepreneur; he's a can-do person. He believes in the future. He said, "This ain't nothing. This is New Orleans. We were here before there was a United States. You cannot kill a city like this."

(APPLAUSE)

And I have returned to make it clear to people that I understand we're marking the first anniversary of the storm, but this anniversary is not an end. And so I come back to say that we will stand with the people of southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi until the job is done.

(APPLAUSE) A lot of work has been accomplished, and I congratulate the people here. But there's more work to be done.

The work ahead includes making sure that your streets are safe. And to make sure that people understand we at the federal level understand we still have a continuing commitment, Attorney General Al Gonzales came down here. And he announced a new Justice Department initiative to send more federal agents and prosecutors to New Orleans to help local law enforcement crack down on violent crime.

If you want there to be renewal and recovery, like we all do, you've got to crack down on violent crime. You've got to send a message that the streets of New Orleans are safe. And we'll help you do so.

The work ahead includes...

(APPLAUSE)

Last night I had dinner with your parish presidents and Mayor Nagin and Oliver Thomas and the good doctor and a lot of other good folks. And one message was clear to me: that, for this city to recover, there needs to be help on infrastructure. There needs to be better sewers and better infrastructure around which a new New Orleans can emerge.

I listen carefully. And to the extent there's bureaucracy standing in the way, me and Don Powell, or Don Powell and I -- excuse me, darling -- Don Powell and I...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

... Don Powell and I will work to get rid of them.

We can also -- we'll work with your leaders to achieve a larger goal, and that is this: to rebuild a New Orleans where every child who grows up here feels a great part of the American promise.

That's the challenge. And we've got a role to play, and we'll play it. That's what I'm here to say. We'll play it.

But I also want to remind you that the federal government cannot do this job alone, nor should it be expected to do the job alone. This is your home. You know what needs to be done. And a reborn Louisiana must reflect the view of the people down here and your vision and your priorities.

The state and parish authorities have a responsibility to set priorities, and they're doing so. We all have a responsibility to clear obstacles that stand in the way of meeting goals. And we got to make sure the money that has started to flow continues to flow.

At this critical moment, there are a lot of people making big decisions about where their future lies. I understand that, and so does the LRA and Governor Blanco and local authorities. We all understand that. We know there are people weighing a big decision.

We want to make sure that when they do make the decision to rebuild that the rules are clear and that the zoning decisions by local authorities make sense. That's a local decision to make. But we are going to make sure that work closely together to clear up any ambiguity.

See, we want people coming home. We want the rules clear, so when people come home, they know that they'll be coming to a safer, better place.

I appreciate the fact that state and local authorities are working together and making tough decisions. It hasn't been easy. But the storm was a big storm that created a lot of damage.

And the good folks down here are working together. They're thinking smart. They've got a plan, a strategy, to help rebuild. And the federal government will stand with you.

The private sector has a responsibility to help down here. You know, during the storm, American companies showed a lot of resourcefulness to get supplies and relief to the affected areas. And I know everybody down here thanks corporate America for doing that.

But now that the immediate crisis has passed, the people of this region are looking to corporate America to see if they're here for the long haul.

So I ask America's business leaders to show the people here the same commitment you showed during the flood. New Orleans is going to rise again. And by planting your corporate flag here now and contributing to this city's rebirth, you'll gain some loyal customers when times get better.

(APPLAUSE)

The people of this city have a responsibility as well. I know you love New Orleans. And New Orleans needs you. She needs people coming home. She needs people -- she needs those saints to come marching back. That's what she needs.

(APPLAUSE)

New Orleans is calling her children home. I hear it from all the local officials. They said they've got a plan in place and money coming to make New Orleans a hospitable place.

One woman who's come back is a woman named Samantha George. She's with us today. A year ago, the future looked bleak for Samantha and her four young daughters. Their home in mid-city had five feet of water in it. Everything they owned was gone. And so they left, and they went to Mississippi and Georgia, as this good mother searched for work.

At one point, Samantha and her daughters were living in cars. She felt alone and abandoned. And that's when she walked into the office of Catholic Charities and met a lady named Peggy Matthews, who's also here. Peggy wiped the tears off Samantha's face. She gave her love and encouragement. Samantha agreed to enroll in Peggy's job-training class and give it one more try, and within two weeks, she found work.

And at the same time, Catholic Charities helped her with food and clothes and diapers and a gift card to Wal-Mart that allowed her to buy the uniform she would need for her new job. She found help and love.

Catholic Charities also helped Samantha find a house in the Carrollton neighborhood near Lafayette Academy. It's a new charter school that her daughters will be attending very soon. Recently, she found a new job she loves. She's now a nurse.

For the first time in her life, Samantha says she feels a sense of ownership and control over her future. Here's what she says: "I was just hoping for some motivation so I could keep going. I think God sent me to Catholic Charities. And I think of myself as blessed, because now I'm able to help other people who cannot help themselves."

Samantha's story is a story of renewal. And it may sound like a familiar story to people who know the history of New Orleans. It's always been a city of second chance.

When your first settlement was leveled by a storm, you rebuilt again. When fire struck, you replaced the wood buildings with brick. When you were ravaged by war and epidemics of malaria and smallpox and yellow fever, you picked yourself up and you prospered.

And when the hurricanes hit in the past, you cleaned up, you salvaged what you could, and you rebuilt. Every time New Orleans came back, louder, brasher and better.

(APPLAUSE)

We see the same resolve today.

In keeping with the tradition of this city, New Orleans again looks to music to express her feelings. And these feelings were captured on a benefit album called "Higher Ground."

One of those songs is called "Come Sunday," written by Duke Ellington. In her rendition of this classic, Cassandra Williams (sic) implores a loving god to please look down and see my people through.

Sunday has not yet come to New Orleans, but you can see it ahead. And as you approach that joyful day, you can move forward with confidence in your abilities, trust in the compassion of your fellow Americans, and faith in a loving god who makes a path through mighty waters.

God bless.

(APPLAUSE)

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