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Bush’s Horse Out of the Race?

Is FEMA director Michael Brown about to get the ax? Brown has come under increasing fire for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, and now sources saymembers of the Bush administration are agitating for his dismissal. In fact, itseems Brown’s curious qualifications for the top post have long been asource of embarrassment in the West Wing. His official government bio, forexample, completely omits his last job before joining the administration in2001: a nearly 10-year stint as an official with the International Arabian HorseAssociation. Details of his parting from the group remain murky. According to aformer IAHA board member, Brown was pushed out in 2000 after questions wereraised about a $50,000 check he received from a horse breeder. Officials at theIAHA, however, dispute the claim. “He wasn’t fired from thejob,” said Steve Joseph, senior director of marketing for the group.“There was an agreement of separation, a…what do you call it? Oh, yeah,a separation agreement.”

Before joining the IAHA in the early ’90s, Brown, who ran for Congressin 1988 and lost, worked as a lawyer in Oklahoma, where he had his soleexperience working in crisis situations: In the mid-1970s he supervised theemergency services department in the small town of Edmund. Thanks to a longtimefriendship with Joe Allbaugh, George Bush’s campaign manager in 2000,Brown was able to leap from the world of high-priced horses to the governmentagency charged with responding in times of national crisis.

“I was astounded when he went into that position,” said Mary Anne Grimmell, a former president of the IAHA who worked with Brown. “I don’t know what it takes to be appointed, but it sounded like quite a step. To go from being commissioner of judges and stewards for the Arabian Association to go to a national position? I mean I can see him being an assistant director or one of those people tucked off in some little corner, but to be director? It justastounds me.” Grimmell said she had few doubts about how Brown landed the job. “A friend of his got him the appointment. He said to me that if Bush was elected that he would have a job in the administration. And he did,” she said.

But his tenure at FEMA may be coming to a close. As the Katrina controversyhas mounted in recent days, sources say many White House advisers have beenpushing for Brown’s immediate dismissal. While the president has so farresisted calls for Brown’s head, the administration has gone to greatlengths to push Brown into the background, with Homeland Security secretaryMichael Chertoff now doing most of the talking on behalf of the relief effort.Chertoff’s appointment of a new deputy, U.S. Coast Guard admiral ThadAllen, to oversee relief efforts is another sign, sources say, that Brown may beedged out soon.

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