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Lockhart: 'Every One Has a Responsibility to Try to Report and Separate Fact from Fiction'

Aired April 24, 2000 - 9:10 a.m. ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We have a press conference at the White House. Joe Lockhart is speaking on Elian Gonzalez.

Let's listen in.


JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... there are a lot of wild claims being made right now. And I think with time people will be able to separate facts from fiction. I think every one has a responsibility to try to report and separate fact from fiction. I think people who are saying things now are clearly by their own comments undermining their own credibility.

I mean, I just -- a sample from yesterday, there are a number of prominent Republicans who have come out and just made what I have to view as wild statements, wildly inaccurate.

Tom DeLay went on television yesterday and said that there was no warrant in this case, that they didn't get a search warrant. It's factually not true and easily knowable, if you're not trying to play politics.

He said -- made the claim that somehow the father hadn't seen the boy in three years and, you know, joining in a chorus from some anonymous people from Florida making the case that somehow he wasn't fit. Well, the INS made a judgment on this based on interviews and based on real information. That's not true. And I think Congressman DeLay knows it's not true.

The family made the absolute absurd argument that somehow the photos that were released on Saturday were doctored, that it wasn't really the boy.

So I think we have a responsibility here. Every one does, every one involved here, to put out the facts and try to separate the fact from the fiction from the overheated and impassioned rhetoric, and from, frankly, those who very clearly have decided that there's some politics to be played here, some perceived political gain, and they're going to play it.

QUESTION: Now that the father does have physical custody of the child, what kind of a legal case do you think the Miami relatives in the appeals process?

LOCKHART: I think the Miami relatives have an equal chance, as does the Justice Department, to go into the court of appeals and make their case.

LOCKHART: There's a hearing on May 11th, that's the proper place for this. The Justice Department believes that the law is clear and their case is strong, but both sides will have their day in court. And that's the way it should be.

QUESTION: Has the legal equation, though, in the view of the White House changed dramatically since the father now does have the kid?

LOCKHART: No, I think the legal -- their -- they never had a legal argument for custody. They had a possession argument for custody. Their legal argument goes to asylum and the ability to who speaks for the boy. That is an argument that will be done the way it should be: rationally and in a court of law, where facts matter and where legal argument and precedent and the Constitution matter, not who can scream the loudest or who can provide the best photo opportunities.

That's where it should be. And that's -- on May 11th, that's where it will be.

QUESTION: Back to the raid itself. Did the president know ahead of time that the raid was going to be carried out by federal agents in SWAT gear with automatic weapons? Did he think that was appropriate?

LOCKHART: The president knew the general details of the raid, and the president does think that it's appropriate. There were -- there was information that there might be guns in the house, out in the crowd. There's in the Miami paper today, there's information about people in the house who had concealed weapons, permits.

These are public servants who were asked to go in there and to perform what potentially was a dangerous job. And I think there's a question that should be asked here on the flip side of that, which is: How could the president, if this had come and turned out differently, could have sat in the Oval Office and talked to the family of those who went in if he had said, "Well, we sent them in unprotected because we were a little worried about the perception here?"

This was done responsibly, carefully. It was a limited operation that took less than three minutes with eight people. I think given -- and ultimately, the most important fact, the most important piece of information here is all of this could have been avoided. None of this had to happen. This happened because the family did not respect the legal process here that dictated the father should be reunited with the young boy. That lack of respect and the unwillingness to go along with what the courts said and what the INS said, led to no other alternative.

QUESTION: Joe, (OFF-MIKE) have any objections to the attorney general or other officials cooperating in a Hill investigation? LOCKHART: No, listen, I think if the attorney general made it very clear that she'll talk to whoever wants to talk to her up on Capitol Hill. You know, I think that the American public should not be surprised that first reaction from Capitol Hill, at least from, you know, many of the leaders, is personal attacks on the attorney general, personal attacks on the president and then an announcement of extensive investigative hearings.

You know, I think ultimately legislating is about making choices. If they make the choice that this is what they want to dominate the next weeks and months and not issues like prescription drugs and minimum wage and patients' bill of rights, that's a choice they make and that's -- you know, we've seen in the past their desire to try to politicize a lot of things and we'll just have to see where we go.

QUESTION: Joe, the father could petition to appeal the asylum appeal. He has said that he doesn't want Elian to have asylum, and he could do that and then take the boy home. Do you still think that they should stay here, considering all the bad faith bargaining that you've said that's been going on? Do you still think that he should be obligated to stay until...

LOCKHART: We believe that the court has been very clear on that subject and the boy will stay here until this case, the litigation in this case has concluded.

QUESTION: Joe, you made some reference to allegations and speculation earlier. One of the allegations and speculation that's cropped up is whether any medication has been provided to Elian. Can you address that?

LOCKHART: Well, I think there was a question raised by one of the family members that the boy was drugged as part of being brainwashed, and I have no information that any of that is true.

QUESTION: What does the president think of the vice president's failure to specifically endorse the raid?

LOCKHART: I think the president believes that the vice president has a different point of view on this case and that his response was appropriate and was limited and was not anything like some of the overblown rhetoric that we've seen from some others.

QUESTION: Do you envision the president meeting with any of the principals in this news story?

LOCKHART: I can't imagine that.

QUESTION: Has he been in touch with any elected officials in Florida, either state officials, city officials, members of Congress...

LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that. He certainly was in the days leading up to this, but whether -- leading up to it. Since the operation, I don't know the answer.

QUESTION: Do you expect the president and vice president to discuss the issue this evening when they meet in New York?

LOCKHART: I have no way of anticipating.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: You have been listening to White House press secretary Joe Lockhart from the White House talking about issues surrounding the custody transfer of Elian Gonzalez. He said that certain facts, certain allegations made over the weekend, he addressed those, saying that some Republicans on Capitol Hill are making the allegation that the INS has no warrant. He said, indeed, there was a warrant to enter the home of Lazaro Gonzalez. Joe Lockhart saying that he has no information that Elian Gonzalez was drugged at any point when the transfer was taking place.

And using very strong language, Lockhart blaming the way this was done on the Miami relatives, saying it was their disrespect for the law, the law saying that custody was supposed to be in the hands of father that forced this heavy-handed measure.



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