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Reno: 'No Child Should be in that Kind of Never-Neverland for that Long'

Aired April 19, 2000 - 9:31 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Want to go now to Washington and the Justice Department, this is Janet Reno meeting with reporters, talking first about the issue of computer hackers.


JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... our computer crimes section and the FBI. And I think there will -- further comments will be made at 10:30.

QUESTION: Is it still an open investigation?

RENO: I think the comments should be made at that time.

QUESTION: Elian Gonzalez: You're waiting, like everybody else, for the appeals court ruling. I guess the question that needs to be asked at this point is: Are you -- people have been describing the Justice Department as being in enforcement mode. How soon after an appeals court ruling are you prepared to act?

RENO: Well, it depends on what the 11th Circuit says.

QUESTION: If you get the injunction that you seek?

RENO: I think the time has come for us to await the decision of the 11th Circuit and then take whatever appropriate action is dictated at that time. We will utilize all law enforcement options, if appropriate under the 11th Circuit order. And it doesn't make much sense to tell you what our options are or the timing of them.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, we were told that -- by department lawyers that Lazaro Gonzalez is specifically in violation of Section 212(d)(5) of the INA, and we had some questions about what sanctions or penalties attach, and we're not able to get an answer.

QUESTION: Is there anything that you can tell us about sanctions or penalties that might attach...

RENO: I have not explored the issue of sanction and penalties. I'm interested only in reuniting Elian with his father.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, one of the advisers to the government released a letter on Monday evening describing his concern about imminent danger to Elian in calling for the immediate removal of Elian from what he called a psychologically abusive situation. Your thoughts on his letter and how concerned are you that this may be dragging on a little bit too long?

RENO: I think the court made clear in the ruling in the federal district court. I think the state court has made clear the concern that we all have that every day that goes by in which Elian is not reunited with his father and this matter brought to a conclusion is -- can be disruptive and no child should be in that kind of never- neverland for that long.

QUESTION: Is that creating pressure for you to take enforcement action?

RENO: I think we must take enforcement action based on the facts as they arise at the time, and it is important that this factor be one of those that is considered. But pressure should not be the issue; what's right should be the issue.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, the goal here is reunite the boy with his father. Given television's broadcast of the school where Elian would go once he returns back to Cuba, it's been described variously as looking something like a re-education center. When you hear details of what might happen to Elian when he goes back, does that give you any pause or any reason to reconsider Elian's ultimate return to Cuba or what he might face there?

RENO: What we have focused on is the role of his father. His father had a role in raising Elian. I think everyone who has seen this little boy upon his first coming to this country see how he withstood so valiantly the time in the sea has got to conclude that both his parents did a very good job of raising him. And now it is time for his father to be on with that task.

QUESTION: Are you confident that he is going back to his father and not to Fidel Castro?

RENO: I have no doubts about that, if you talk to his father.

QUESTION: Do you have any concerns about the use of force at this stage triggering violence in Miami?

RENO: I just want to make sure that the little boy is reunited with his father in the safest and least disruptive manner possible.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, do you share the view of his psychologist, who spoke recently, that this boy is in a dangerous situation where he is?

RENO: I am not the expert, and I would defer to the experts.

QUESTION: Do you have any -- do you have any view in terms of, in the aftermath of this videotape, whether or not that has any -- has that spurred any concern of yours that this boy may not be treated as he should? RENO: I have been concerned that the boy has been separated from his father in a most difficult situation, where it appears that he is not able to lead a normal life, get sleep, go to school. And I think it's important that the time comes that he -- quickly -- that he is returned to his father in a safe way, with as little disruption as possible.

QUESTION: Are you influenced in any way, Attorney General Reno, by your prior experience in Miami as a prosecutor, where there were riots or outbreaks of violence that you, as I understand it from looking back at clips -- I wasn't there -- but where you took responsibility or felt some responsibility in certain instances?

RENO: I've never...

QUESTION: Has that experience informed your...

RENO: I've never felt responsible for riots.

QUESTION: Let me rephrase the question, then. Based on your understanding of Miami over the years as a prosecutor, where there had been some violence in connection with the aftermath of cases that occurred there, how does that inform your understanding or how does that influence your understanding of the city and the way you approach this matter?

RENO: I try to take all my experience throughout life into consideration, and I try to address the issue at hand, which is how we get this boy reunited with his father in a safe way that causes as little disruption as possible and that nobody wants violence. So how do we do that if our major focus has got to be to see that the law is enforced and that he is returned and reunited, and we're going to be doing that.

QUESTION: Just to follow up. How is the experience at Waco, similarly, how might that have recalled your experience decision- making process here?

RENO: Each case is different.

QUESTION: Do you see similarities there as to the decision to hold back verses move in and the results in Waco and the results in...

RENO: Each case is different.

QUESTION: How is it different though? I mean how does it...

RENO: If you don't understand the difference, I'm not going to be able to explain it this morning, but I will try.

In Waco, you had people who had killed federal officers, and who had injured others. You had people who had not only defied the law but killed people in the process. There's a lot of difference. And each case has got to be judged on the facts of the case as to how we can best achieve the goals set forth by the law, while at the same time minimizing the chances for violence. RENO: It is important for us to try to work through those issues. And there may come time when there is no other alternative. But we've got to do it in a thoughtful, careful way.

QUESTION: With regard, Ms. Reno, to minimizing the chances of violence, there have been a number of reports suggesting that there were missed opportunities throughout this process, points at which you would have been justified going in and taking the child prior to the temperature being so elevated and the emotions so high. What is your response to that? Do you, in hindsight, feel that perhaps it might have been more prudent to take steps earlier?

RENO: I noticed somebody said that we should have done it when it wasn't an unusual case. I think anybody who has followed this case from the beginning understands that it has never been a usual case, and that in each instance what we have tried to do is follow the rule of law. The rule of law provides different alternatives and different timings.

And I think everybody is in agreement that it should be resolved in the way that is least disruptive to this little boy.

QUESTION: In the Montana Freeman case you waited 81 days, and they finally surrendered. Does that inform your decision as well?

RENO: As I indicated, I think in all these situations you try to draw from experience. But each case is different, and there are factors involved that differ -- that cause you to say, well, you can't apply this thought or this process or this tactic, but you could do this. And you just have got to draw on that, the people around you, their experience and make the best judgment you can.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, your trip to Miami last week, in hindsight, would you do it again? And do you think that in some ways you may have been too personally involved in the case?

RENO: I've heard more comments about that. Somebody said I did the right thing; somebody said I did the wrong thing. Somebody said I was too personally involved; somebody said I was too remote. I guess the best answer is that sign on my wall which says: If I were to read everything bad that people said about me, I might as well close this shop for business.

I intend to keep on doing the best I can, the best I know how, and I intend to keep on doing it until the end. If the end brings me out right, what people said about me won't make any difference, and if the end brings me out wrong, 10 angels saying I was right won't make any difference. And that's Abraham Lincoln, and I think that's the best advice for us all in these circumstances.

QUESTION: Are you aware that you lost some credibility with the family or that you may have been overly trusting in the way that you dealt with them last week?

RENO: I think to treat people as reasonable people, focused on trying to do what's right, is not too trusting. I think perhaps the world can use more people that trust and expect people to be reasonable. And having given them the opportunity to do that, then you take other appropriate action.

QUESTION: Some people have suggested that this has now, in effect, become a hostage situation more or less, that as of the 2:00 p.m. deadline last week when the transfer was made of the parole and the boy was not turned over that the family is now clearly in violation of the law, that they are hostage-takers in this view. Do you hold to that?

RENO: I think these are characterizations that people have made that put labels on a situation. I think you've got to look at all the facts and figure out to unravel this in the way that's as safe as possible for the little boy and causes as little disruption.

HEMMER: Janet Reno, meeting with reporters there at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. The greater bulk of questions directed right at the Elian Gonzalez matter. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals here in the city of Atlanta, still waiting for their decision, their latest ruling. They have had written arguments from both sides, the relatives in Miami and federal attorneys working on behalf of the Justice Department since last Friday, but there has been no final decision given. And Janet Reno saying, she is waiting for that ruling, then will react to it. Asked about concerns. she says I have concern that every day that goes by can be disruptive. "No child" -- in her words -- "should be in that kind of never-neverland." Janet Reno live from Washington this morning.



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