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Special Event

Attorney General Janet Reno Addresses USS Cole Investigation at Press Briefing

Aired October 19, 2000 - 9:43 a.m. ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to shift our focus now, Janet Reno at the Justice Department now talking about the latest in the investigation with the USS Cole and Louis Freeh in Yemen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ... terrorist attack.

JANET RENO, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is an issue paramount in Director Freeh's mind and in my mind since the beginning. And we want to make sure that we take all possible steps to ensure their security, while at the same time leaving absolutely no stone unturned until the people responsible for this tragedy are brought to justice.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, there seems to be some confusion as to why the director is in Yemen. Is he there to oversee the investigation or is he just getting an assessment?

RENO: I don't know how you all generated that confusion. Director Freeh is there to assess the situation, as he has oftentimes been in previous situations. He wants to see for himself. He wants to talk to the people at the scene. We want to do everything we can to make sure that we're taking steps to bring these people to justice.

QUESTION: And was he on a previously scheduled trip to that area, when he went to Yemen? I understand that he's going to other capitals in the region.

RENO: No, I don't know what his schedule was before, but I do know that he is making this trip with this specific objective in mind.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, are you confident at this point that U.S. investigators are getting the cooperation that they needed and you expected from the Yemenis?

RENO: I think that you should listen to Director Freeh's -- if you have not heard it -- listen to him directly so that you hear it from him directly. He had the opportunity to meet with the police, and I think he expressed support for what they were doing. He indicated that we were working with them in supporting them in the work that they had been doing.

But I want to make sure that we do everything we can to support the Yemeni police, that we have the people on the scene that are necessary to ensure a thorough support of all investigative efforts.

Yesterday I was in Norfolk, and I had an opportunity to meet with families who had lost loved ones and to meet with injured sailors. The American people should be so proud of the United States Navy. These are fine young people and they were brave in what those that were injured and wanted to do was to get back and support their shipmates. We must do everything now to see that the people responsible for this crime are brought to justice.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, the Yemeni police have been releasing results of their investigation, talking about finding a van, finding a trailer, finding a so-called bomb factory; whether it's in the apartment is not clear. Is the FBI working along with the Yemeni police in those pursuits or are they functioning separately?

RENO: I think as you would have heard, if you'd heard Director Freeh this morning, that we're working to support the Yemeni police. They have taken some important steps, and we want to work with them in every way possible.

QUESTION: Are U.S. law enforcement agents being allowed to interview potential suspects, witnesses, or are they leaving that to the Yemenis and then relying on the information second-hand? What exactly are they doing on the ground, in terms of investigative work and talking with people?

RENO: I, as you know, not going to talk about what we're doing. But I think we have a good working relationship that will permit us to pursue all appropriate investigative leads in support of the Yemeni police.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: It's been just a week since this attack and yet there seems to be no limit of leads to follow. Are you surprised at far along this investigation seems to be so soon after the event?

RENO: No.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, based on the cooperation in Yemen so far, do you have an opinion as to whether prosecution can and should take place there? Or do you anticipate seeking an extradition if suspects are arrested?

RENO: I think all those comments -- all those issues are premature. I think what we must do now is to pursue the investigation as thoroughly as possible.

QUESTION: But there is no extradition treaty. The U.S. has no extradition treaty with Yemen, does it?

RENO: I won't comment on the processes. I think it's the -- the first thing we must do is find out who did it and be able to prove it.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: ... how sophisticated, organized a network you might be dealing with? Others have obviously indicated that they think this is fairly high-level, perhaps a global operation versus some sort of renegade bunch.

RENO: I think it's premature -- until we identify just who is responsible, I think it's premature to speculate on the nature of it.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, have you any comment at all on the beginning of the testimony of Wen Ho Lee this week to investigators? Can you say anything at all about it?

RENO: No, it would not -- the debriefing should proceed and I should not be commenting on it.

QUESTION: While we're on the subject of Wen Ho Lee, as long as we have Mr. Lee...

HEMMER: Janet Reno talking about the very latest in the investigation, the USS Cole. In Janet Reno's word, she says she's promising now to leave no stone unturned. Asked also why the FBI director, Louis Freeh, is in Yemen -- he spoke with reporters about two hours ago -- she said he's there to assess the situation and talk to people on the ground.

In addition to that, Freeh has met with the president of Yemen. And shortly afterwards, Freeh complimented the cooperation from the police on the Yemeni side there in Aden, that is giving help to the U.S. folks who have arrived on the scene. Reports also say that that investigation has expanded now into Saudi Arabia. And also, Louis Freeh did visit the crime scene on board the USS Cole earlier, describing it as, quote, "a tangled mess of metal and wire."

Louis Freeh continues his work in Yemen, we'll continue to watch the latest out of Washington.

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