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Sens. Mack, Graham Comment on Meeting with Attorney General Reno

Aired April 25, 2000 - 12:45 p.m. ET


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go to the United States Senate gallery, where we are going to hear Senators Connie Mack and Bob Graham, both senators from the state of Florida. They have met privately this morning with the attorney general of the United States to ask her questions about procedures Saturday.

Let's listen.

SEN. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: I usually come prepared with a particular statement to make. We just finished roughly an hour and 45 minutes with the attorney general.

I want to express one issue that developed in my mind this morning, as preparing for the meeting and then also the discussion that we had, that I find again very troubling. As most of you all know who have been following this, my -- I think I've been pretty constant in saying I -- what has kept me focused is the question: What is in Elian's best interest?

And so I started playing around with a question this morning that had to do with some comments made with respect to justifying the use of force, that there were statements that there could be -- that there could be weapons in the house.

One of the things that was developed today was a recognition that there apparently either on Thursday or Friday, maybe on both days, there were different teams, either Miami -- and we'll have to get you the specifics -- but the Miami Police Department or the FBI or in conjunction with have been in the house and confirmed as of some time on Friday that there were no weapons.

But again...


MACK: No, no, no, no, no, I didn't say that, didn't say that. I -- they were -- they asked to come in, the family let them come in, as far as I understand.

But in any event, the department made the decision that force was necessary because of their concern about what the family might do. And what that raised in my mind was that they must have concluded that there was a possibility that there would be armed conflict in the house.

So the question that I have asked: Was the father informed of the possibility of there being gunfire in the house, and was he prepared to put his son at risk a second time? And the answer I got back was, yes, that he was.

Now I must tell you, I am stunned by that. We've all questioned why the father wasn't here during the first four months, but I cannot honestly believe that during a time in which there were serious negotiations taking place -- and I say serious, based on what President Tad Foote had to say, and what attorney Aaron Podhurst had to say -- that there were serious negotiations going on that the father would in essence agree to sending armed men into a home in Miami to take his son at gun point.

Now after this discussion this morning, the various questions that were raised, I am going to recommend to the majority leader that the Senate engage in a hearing, and/or hearings, with respect to the use of force.

As I have said over the last couple of days, I am deeply troubled, horrified, as a matter of fact, that our government would use armed force in a family home to remove a 6-year-old child at gun point.

I think that is a question -- the question about the justification for that, the questions related to the negotiations and why those did not lead to a peaceful resolution is something that ought to be in the interest of every citizen of the United States. And so I'm going to ask the majority leader to hold -- to ask for hearings to be held on the issue of the use of force.


SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: The meeting had three topics: First, what were the situations on Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning of negotiations prior to the taking of the child; second, why the level of use of force; and third, where do we go from here? I have spoken extensively on points one and two. I'd like to focus on the question of, Where do we go from here?

There was one agreement which was common between the family in Miami and, as expressed in a document which was signed on Friday evening by the three principals of the Miami family, and then a counter-document which was submitted by the Department of Justice back to the family at 2:59 a.m. on Saturday morning, and that was that family reunification was a critical step in Elian's best interest and in beginning to bring together those persons who care deeply about Elian.

It has now been almost three days that Elian has been with his father. There had been an earlier indication that two days of bonding with the father would then be followed by steps toward family reunification. What we heard today was yes, there is still a belief that family reunification is in Elian's best interest, that what is being questioned now are the conditions of that reunification, and that the Department of Justice is going to be primarily relying on two unnamed experts -- I assume persons who had expertise in child psychology and psychiatry -- to make recommendations as to what should be the conditions of that family reunification.

I personally think that it is urgent that that occur immediately, and that the process of healing commence for Elian as well as for the other family members. I believe that the conditions which were outlined in the principles that are generally associated with President Tad Foote, University of Miami, represent a starting point, and I hope that they would be close to a concluding point in terms of what the standards of that family reunification should be.

I would like to comment on a couple of other issues that I think are where do we go from here.

One anticipates the sad possibility that Elian may be returned to Cuba. We've had extensive negotiations between the U.S. government and the family in Miami. Several weeks ago, I became concerned about whether there were any parallel negotiations going on between the United States government and the government of Cuba as to how this child would be treated should he be returned to Cuba.

The rationale that the United States government has for returning this child to Cuba is that his interests are best served by being with his natural father in the community in which he has been raised. If that is the rationale for the United States taking the action of returning a 6-year-old to a totalitarian government, then we ought to have some assurances that that will be respected and that the boy will not be used as a trophy-child for communism.

VAN SUSTEREN: We've been listening to two senators from the state of Florida. They met earlier this morning with the attorney general of the United States to discuss the seizure on Saturday morning of young Elian Gonzalez. One of the senators, Senator Connie Mack, a Republican, has said that he will ask the majority leader to start hearings on the issue of whether or not force should have been used on Saturday.



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