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Elian Gonzalez Case: Lawmakers Call for Congressional Hearings Into Weekend Seizure of Boy; Psychiatrist Recounts Father-Son Reunion

Aired April 24, 2000 - 2:00 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: In the Elian Gonzalez case, leaders in Miami's Cuban-American community are calling for a massive work stoppage tomorrow to protest Saturday's seizure of the boy from the Little Havana home of his relatives. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling for hearings into the raid, which was executed by armed government agents even as some thought a deal was close.

Elian's Miami relatives, who are in Washington, are expected to make another attempt this afternoon to see the boy at Andrews Air Force Base. They were denied access to the base on two previous attempts over the weekend.

Elian was reunited with his father within hours after he was taken by force out of Miami. About all we know of his current situation is from these photographs provided by the attorney for Elian's father.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: In vivid contrast to that image of domestic tranquility is this now-famous image of the boy being forcibly removed early Saturday from the home of his Miami relatives. It is this picture perhaps more than any other element that is causing much of the agitation in both Washington and Miami.

CNN senior White House correspondent John King joins us now with more on the political fallout from Saturday's law enforcement action -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lou, we are just beginning to get a sense of the intensity of that political fallout. And, indeed, you are correct: It is that picture and the other pictures showing the use of force to seize young Elian Gonzalez that some Republicans in the Congress are saying was inappropriate on behalf of the administration, Republicans saying there will be hearings on this case soon.

Now, the administration says it believes those hearings are unnecessary, says it acted appropriately. But it says, of course, it will cooperate with the congressional investigation.

Of course, likely to be the first and the principal witness would be the attorney general, Janet Reno. She was here today at the White House. It's an annual tradition to have the Easter egg roll here, and the attorney general comes every year to read a story to many of the children who come here. She kissed a baby, she signed many autographs, some of those on hand offering words of support. She refused, though, to answer any shouted questions about the Elian Gonzalez case.

Still, the administration making a very forceful defense of its actions, the White House press secretary, Joe Lockhart, saying today the president and the administration acted only after those negotiations broke down, and the administration having very tough words for the Republicans in Congress, including the number-three man in the House Republican leadership, Tom DeLay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are a number of prominent Republicans who have come out and just made what I have to view as wild statement, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, in defending the use of force, Mr. Lockhart said there had been reports that there might be guns either in the house or in the crowd. And senior Justice Department officials telling CNN that Marisleysis Gonzalez, the young boy's cousin, had made what they considered a veiled threat just two days before the raid, these Justice Department officials quoting her as saying, quote, "there are more than just cameras in..."

(AUDIO GAP)

... sensitive to the criticism of the use of force, saying they had no choice, that those agents had to be armed just in case there was a confrontation -- Lou.

WATERS: John, a lot of second-guessing going on. The "New York Times" is saying that the action down in Miami on Saturday morning was precipitous, that the administration should have sought a court order -- a federal court order -- first, demanding that the boy be returned to his father. Is there any second-guessing within the administration about this?

KING: If there is second-guessing, administration officials keeping it to themselves. Their public line is that there have been for months negotiations. For months, the administration has made clear that those relatives did not have legal custody of the son. They say the attorney general also made clear that the time was running out, that there had to be a peaceful transfer of the son to the father. The administration promising to defend that position now in what looks like inevitable congressional hearings.

WATERS: All right, John King, senior White House correspondent.

Natalie, what's next?

ALLEN: Well, ever since Elian was removed forcibly from the home of his relatives, many people have wondered how he's doing.

One of people who knows first-hand about Elian's mental state in the hours after that raid is the psychiatrist who traveled with the boy on the plane from Miami to Andrews Air Force Base.

Today, the doctor spoke for the first time about Elian's demeanor during that trip, beginning as they waited at Watson Island to board a helicopter which would take them to the plane that would fly them to Andrews.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. GUSTAVO CADAVID, PSYCHIATRIST: Let me describe the situation: It's dark, helicopter coming down, there's a jet parked by our side, a lot of noise, people running around, the child is confused. He doesn't know where he is. First thing that I wanted was for him to go back into his room. There was more quiet; make sure that he was covered well. He didn't say anything.

He was sitting at the lap of the agent all the time. She was very comforting, very comforting to him, patting him on the back, patting him on his head. He didn't say anything until we had already taken off. Then he started looking at the airplane, then he looked at the windows. We had closed them down, I had dimmed the lights. He opens the window then asks, you know, when could he see his relatives in Miami, his uncle, his cousin? And then we told him, well, it's going to be depending what your father and you want. But right now, we're going to Washington.

He turned around and started to cry, very quietly looking out the window, you know, as Miami -- we were taking off Miami. You could see down -- and crying. Very quiet for about a half hour. Again, looking at me, looking at the agent. Didn't say anything. Then he started to yawn and went to sleep.

Then we had a pit stop in Atlanta. The child woke up. Now he was smiling, now looking like a good 6-year-old, looking around. Offered him the phone so he could talk to his father. They talked for about five minutes. Now smiles. Now he gets off of her lap, sits in the chair by her side.

As we started descending, and I remind him again, you know, we're arriving to Washington, you're going to be seeing your father, we're going to be seeing your brother and your stepmother.

As we taxied through the gate, he followed his father -- as he was turning around the airplane, he followed the father and put his face against the window and kind of looked to see where he was. And then he disappeared and looked back at me to see, well, where's my father? And at that point, he comes in, in the back. He looked at his father, father looks at him. Both jumped, one towards the other, crying, hugging themselves. I mean, nobody moved; just looking at this scene, how much love was between these two. You could see the bond between them two. They hugged again, and then just left. A very touching moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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