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The Florida Vote: Bush Team Introduces New Lawyers; Lawmakers Maybe Moving Into the Fray; Judicial Watch to Examine Palm Beach County Ballots

Aired November 28, 2000 - 1:00 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: Hours after Al Gore told the nation he plans to keep fighting, George W. Bush rolled out some reinforcements. Here's where things stand three full weeks after Americans went to the polls.

The Bush team introduced an array of new lawyers, brought in to fight the vice president's challenge to the certified results in Florida. Lest they be overlooked, Florida lawmakers are giving notice they have the final word on the state's 25 presidential electors. A special legislative committee is meeting this hour over such unresolved issues as chad standards and overseas ballots. And the conservative legal group Judicial Watch is taking its own look at some -- maybe all -- of the ballots in Palm Beach County. And we do mean look. By court order, the ballots are being handled by local officials.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: First let's get off to Tallahassee, where Florida's Republican-dominated legislature may be moving off the sidelines and into the fray.

CNN's Mike Boettcher is keeping watch.

Mike, what's happening?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, in 15 days, the state of Florida must send its slate of electors for their particular candidate off to Washington. Now, the Republicans in the legislature here believe that whole process is in jeopardy because of the contest action by Vice President Gore. So they believe they have the right, by the U.S. Constitution and other federal statutes, to step in and name the electors in a special session.

Now, the first step towards this will occur in the Senate office building a block away from me in just about for or 10 minutes, where a special committee of 14 legislative members from the senate and house, most of them Republican, will sit down and talk about the issue of calling the special session, do they have the legal right to do so? -- they say they do -- and then how do they accomplish naming those electors?

Now, there are a couple of options. In the House, the Republicans there really want to move quickly on this. They think they may have to go in session December 1 because it will take 12 days to get the bill through the proper channels and then have it become law. That's because it will take five days for it to be read and passed in various forms through the legislature. And then the Republicans do not want to put Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida in the position of having to sign that law. So, in Florida law, if the bill is not signed by the governor in seven days, it becomes law.

So five days through the legislature to pass the bill, seven days to sit on the governor's desk not signed, then it becomes law. That's 12 days. That's how they figure December 1.

Now, on the senate side, Republicans there think there's another way to do it. A joint resolution could be done in two days, and they think that would have the force of law and that they could assign the electors that way to Gov. Bush.

But it should be a very interesting debate between Democrats and Republicans in this state, and it shall get under way very shortly, Lou.

WATERS: And Mike, not only Jeb Bush, but are there not political risks here for all of the Republicans in the Florida legislature?

BOETTCHER: Well, yes, there is. And it's like in most state legislatures and in Washington as well. The house -- and they -- when the supreme court intervened last week, they wanted to go right then. They were determined to call a special session and the politics of it be damned. The senate, on the other hand, wants to be a little bit more deliberative, take their time at it a bit. Everyone is looking at the political consequences, but, in the end, they believe they will have no choice but to step in, Lou.

WATERS: All right, Mike Boettcher in Tallahassee keeping watch on the Florida legislature -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And now to Washington where briefs are due less than three hours from now in the case to be argued Friday before the highest court in the land.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer joins us now with that -- Charles.

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, indeed, we're outside the U.S. Supreme Court. The briefs, as you indicate, from both the Bush and Gore camps are due here this afternoon. Many justices will tell you that they get far more out of reading the briefs, the legal briefs presented to them, than they actually do out of listening to the arguments, which will take place here on Friday.

So we, too, will be scouring those briefs, in particular to see how both sides answered the question which the court itself posed to them, which was: What would be the consequences if this court here in Washington overturns the Florida Supreme Court's ruling that extended the time frame for recounting those ballots by hand? There is a concern here as to what the consequences would be. And, again, those are due at 4:00. The justices are in session this week, in fact have been hearing other cases while the wait goes on outside the court -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Charles Bierbauer. Thanks, Charles.

WATERS: So here's where we are. We have court challenges filed by Bush in five Florida counties, a court challenge filed by Gore concerning three other counties, a court challenge filed by Democratic activists over absentee ballots in Seminole County, a federal appeal in limbo here in Atlanta, a U.S. Supreme Court case due to be argued Friday, as Charles just mentioned, and a Florida Supreme Court case over Palm Beach County's butterfly ballots. Oh, and it's all supposed to be wrapped up by December 12.

CNN's Greta Van Susteren, our legal analyst, joins us now.

Greta, that supposed drop-dead date of December 12, we have now more and more folks saying nothing's going to happen by then. We had Daschle yesterday being asked about it. He equivocated. He said, let's see where we are on December 12. What is it about that date? And do we have to be really focused on that date?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think we should focus on that date, at least in the short run, Lou, because it's a federal statute that has that the electors must be selected by December 12 so they can vote on December 18. And one good thing about the December 12 date is that it will put pressure on everybody to move very, very, very quickly.

We're going to especially see the pressure in the Tallahassee Circuit Court -- Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee because that's where the contest proceeding is going on. And there's a big effort by the Gore people to try to compress the time so that they can get the Bush people to answer their complaint for the contest and to have what's essentially a trial on the issue, a judge to decide, and so the loser can go to the Florida Supreme Court if the loser decides the loser wants to do so.

So lots of pressure by December 12, but maybe not impossible.

WATERS: So what do we watch for immediately here? We know that the Gore campaign has asked for an expedited hearing on the certification of George W. Bush by the Florida secretary of state. Is that what we focus on? Is there a particular case? Is there something that happens first that we should watch for?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, my eyes are on the contest proceeding because I think that could have the greatest impact, winner or loser. I mean, I think that's where the biggest -- I think that's where you're going to get the most out of your dollar on that.

Now, the Supreme Court case is interesting on Friday. But as best I can figure out, the Supreme court asked, what is the practical effect if they agree that the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its boundary when it changed the certification date from November 14 through the 26th? And the only practical effect I think that could happen -- and, of course, I'm not one of the lawyers arguing -- is that if Gore should win in the United States Supreme Court, what that does for him is preserve 567 votes, give or take, out of Broward County that were added between November 14 and November 26, which are not part of the contest proceeding, because the contest proceeding relates only to Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Nassau County.

I think that's the practical effect for Gore, that he needs to win in order to keep those added Broward County votes. Otherwise, I think the Supreme Court's a fascinating study. I think it's a great education to the American people, but I think that's the practical effect. The real effect, though, will come out of the contest proceedings, whether or not the Gore people can get that judge to move the case or not and what is the result of the contest?

You know, Gore could get the contest proceeding resolved very quickly and it may very well turn out that Bush is the winner of the contest proceeding. But at this point, nobody knows anything.

WATERS: And what about Mike Boettcher's report of the stirring, sleeping bear down in Florida, the legislature? Does the legislature trump the courts in Florida?

VAN SUSTEREN: I think that the legislature could very well trump the courts because the Constitution talks about the legislature, determines the matter by which the electors of chosen or selected. So I think that it's possible, but the problem with the electors -- I mean with the legislature doing that is there may be a human cry from the voters who may feel a little bit disenfranchised because it wasn't the votes that elected the electors, in essence, but rather the legislature. But of course the voters elected the legislature. But the bottom line: the plot thickens.

WATERS: Can you answer me this? Why are there so many lawyers? Yesterday, there were so many lawyers in Judge Sauls' courtroom they didn't have enough chairs. Is that necessary?

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, that's like -- asking me is like saying the fox will have to guard the chicken coop because you know I think being a lawyer is a noble profession. I don't know why they don't build enough courtrooms big enough to support all us lawyers. But given that they do not, look, you know, here's my other defense: The politicians came to us, we didn't go to them. Remember that. They're the ones who came to us to go to court. So I can't explain why there aren't enough seats in the courtroom, but I will say the politicians came to the lawyers asking for help.

WATERS: OK, we'll have to move you up a couple notches on the popularity scale. Greta Van Susteren there in Washington, our legal analyst.

Natalie, there you have it.

ALLEN: You heard from Greta: You can't have enough lawyers in the courtroom. Thanks, Greta. We want to let you know that Al Gore is expecting to make some short statements in just a few minutes. And when he steps up, we will bring that to you from Washington

ALLEN: Well, ballots are being reviewed again today in Palm Beach County after a marathon weekend, as you well remember, of neck craning. Election officials are holding up ballots so a watchdog group can look them over.

Our Bill Delaney joins us from West Palm Beach with more -- Bill.

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, thank you, Natalie. Yes, we've still got a few lawyers down here in West Palm Beach, Florida as well.

Now, what's going on here, Natalie, has no legal standing. This is not going to change any ballot counts. But what's happened is that an organization called Judicial Watch Inc. has gotten permission under Florida's Sunshine laws to reexamine the ballots here, the 462,000 ballots, potentially all of them in Palm Beach County.

Now, Larry Klayman is the organization's chairman and chief counsel. And what Mr. Klayman was able to do this morning was to go into that recount room that we saw so much of on television where the manual recount took place, and, with election supervisor Theresa LePore, begin to reexamine ballots -- not so much count them as look at them. He says he's trying to create a public record of what the ballots amounted to here: which ones were dimpled, which ones weren't, which ones were perfectly punched.

Now, he's particularly concerned, he says, initially with the 5,900 disputed ballots. There were 3,300 of those for the Democrats, 2,600 for the Republicans. They were counted, but they were disputed.

Now, the Democrats, while not challenging Klayman's right to do this, say they're suspicious of his motives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENNIS NEWMAN, DEMOCRATIC ATTORNEY: Our concern is that this is just another delaying tactic by Judicial Watch Inc. to slow this process down and also, you know, that, you know, it ties up the county employees. We're looking for the final version of the tally sheets. Theresa LePore has to be here to supervise this. It's taking time from the county attorneys answering in court. It's just a delaying tactic to slow the whole process down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DELANEY: Now, the Democratic observers and lawyers who are here say they're also concerned about these disputed ballots being manhandled again. These ballots could potentially be needed as evidence in the contest. And they say they're concerned about them being damaged in some way.

That's why, at 9:00 tomorrow morning before Judge Jorge Labarga here in circuit court in Palm Beach, they will ask for a protective order to set those 5,900 disputed ballots aside.

But the Judicial Watch Inc. organization very determined. They say they've already got permission to do this kind of reexamination in Miami-Dade. They're looking for it in Broward County. And potentially, Natalie, they say they'll do it in all 67 counties in Florida, again, to create a public record -- not a new count, but a public record of just what every ballot in Florida looked like, how the judgments were made, allowing citizens to decide how the judgments were made by canvassing boards as to which way each ballot should go.

Bill Delaney, CNN, reporting live from West Palm Beach.

ALLEN: Bill, you also mentioned that those ballots might be needed in Tallahassee. Democratic lawyers want them up there for the official contested inquiries. So these ballots may yet be moved around quite a lot.

DELANEY: Well, you know, we're a little confused how that would work. I would assume -- and I think it's a reasonable thing to assume -- that if the Supreme Court of Florida wanted to look at these ballots, that would trump Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch's right to examine them here. So it's not clear to us what would happen if the Florida Supreme Court demanded these disputed ballots as evidence. One would imagine, though, that, as I say, the Florida Supreme Court could trump this reexamination process, which, by the way, Mr. Klayman says he expects, here in Palm Beach County along, will take several days.

ALLEN: All right, Bill Delaney, thanks so much.

Hard to keep up. We really need Greta just sitting here right here between us for the duration today.

WATERS: Yes. What did he mean by that, Greta?

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