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Special Event

Attorney General Janet Reno Discusses Yesterday's Elian Gonzalez Family Meeting

Aired January 27, 2000 - 9:31 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live right away to Washington, D.C., where Attorney General Janet Reno is holding her weekly news briefing.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: Can you envision any scenario under which U.S. marshals would take the boy from that home, other than if they were absolutely ordered to so by a U.S. judge.

RENO: I don't do "what if's" but I do...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

RENO: I do "what has been," and if anybody worried about that, all they need do is look at the circumstances of yesterday.

QUESTION: The meeting yesterday, how well did it go?

RENO: What?

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the meeting and how well it went?

RENO: I wasn't there, so the people who were there should comment.

QUESTION: Can you clarify the U.S. response? Are you saying that the federal government is ready to step in and would in fact consider something...

(CROSSTALK)

RENO: No. The federal government yesterday made clear that they were not trying to alter the arrangements, and people of good faith sat down, worked out a plan where he could see his grandmothers, and yet there was no attempt to take him and to alter the arrangements. Actions speak louder than words.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, did you let -- the president to say in advance that he would veto citizenship or green card legislation for the child?

RENO: That's not how we do those things.

QUESTION: Does the Justice Department have a position on that legislation?

RENO: There's no formal position that's been taken yet.

QUESTION: Have you been speaking to members about it?

RENO: There has been conversation with members of Congress on the issue.

QUESTION: But not urging them to act one way or the other?

RENO: There's been discussion and a discussion of the implications.

QUESTION: What, in your view, are the implications?

RENO: The -- if we got into a situation where if American children ended up abroad and American parents wanted them returned and a foreign country made them a citizen so they did not return, I don't think people in the United States would be very happy about it.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, let's say -- I don't this is another "what if," but if this child is given citizenship, would it have any real legal effect on the INS ruling that only his father speaks for him in terms of custody or in terms of immigration matters?

RENO: We would see what the legislation said if it passed.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, let me ask...

RENO: You can ask anything you want.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. The decision by you to try to facilitate this meeting between the grandmothers and Elian, which followed your meeting with them last Saturday, can you just take us back to that and let us know why you decided this was the right thing to do?

RENO: He has been paroled in under the authority of the attorney general. His grandmothers very, very much wanted to see him. We had made the initial arrangements with the relatives here, and I didn't see why two grandmothers who loved him shouldn't be able to see him.

QUESTION: Does -- what does Elian say -- what he says, does that have any weight at this particular time, because after the interview with his grandchildren (sic) he was heard to say that he was going to be a citizen soon.

RENO: I think if you put yourself in the shoes of you when you were six years old and think about how you changed your mind about -- or maybe you never changed your mind.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: That's entirely possible.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, a lot of this -- what your decision with the INS is based on the father's wishes. But how are you 100 percent sure that the father is saying what he wants to say? I mean, he does live in Cuba, which is a totalitarian state and...?

How do you know that he hasn't been threatened or that his family hasn't been threatened by the Cuban government to say what, you know, "We want you to say or you're going to prison or we'll take your son away."

RENO: We have -- the INS has interviewed him twice and has reached its conclusions.

QUESTION: How does that explain...

RENO: One of the things...

(CROSSTALK)

RENO: One of the things -- you say, How can you be 100 percent sure? No one can ever really be 100 percent sure. We have interviewed him, have pursued it. On all circumstances I've not made extraneous decisions, but from what I have seen, I think he wants to be with his son.

QUESTION: Can you summarize the argument that's made in your filing in the court this morning?

RENO: No, I'd let it speak for itself.

QUESTION: Has that been filed yet?

RENO: Myron would have to give you the time of filing. I don't know whether it's been filed or not.

QUESTION: It's being filed this morning?

RENO: Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) results of this?

RENO: Let it speak for itself.

QUESTION: Why were there so much police outside -- yesterday outside the house where the little boy is held? Was there any particular concern about security?

RENO: You would have to check with the police and the people who provided for the security.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how you came to reach out to Sister O'Laughlin? And did you do that yourself or did you just suggest that she be contacted? Can you walk us through how that worked?

RENO: INS asked what I thought of the idea and I said it would be a very fine location. Commissioner Meissner and I called Sister Jeanne.

QUESTION: So, it was originally INS's idea.

RENO: I don't know whose idea it was originally, but it was communicated to me by Commissioner Meissner.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, can you recall any time in our history when Congress has enacted legislation to take away custody decisions or decisions about a child from the child's only surviving parent, which is apparently what some people are proposing and whether this type of legislation would pass muster in the most superficial challenge -- court challenge?

RENO: Well, again it's going to depend on just what the legislation says. But I think what we've got to -- we've had a number of issues raised in hearings before Congress with respect to circumstances where one parent will take a child to another country. I think it's important that we recognize that what is at stake here is a bond between a parent and his child, and that that in almost every legal system I know -- certainly in ours -- is something that -- that bond is interrupted only in rather extreme circumstances.

KAGAN: You've been listening to Attorney General Janet Reno as she gives her weekly news briefing, this a day after the two grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez were met to meet with him for the first time in Miami. The attorney general asked quite often about her position on the moves within both houses of Congress to grant Elian Gonzalez U.S. citizenship, the attorney general saying that the Justice Department has no formal position on that, and yet in her answers the attorney general giving the feeling that she definitely would not be in favor of that type of legislation.

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