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Election 2000: Legal Wrangling Continues in Leon County Courtroom

Aired December 3, 2000 - 3:29 p.m. ET


GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: A recess in the Leon County courtroom of Judge N. Sanders Sauls in Tallahassee. Ken Gross is with me. Ken, what's going on, here?

KENNETH GROSS, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, it sounds like -- we could really hear the judge wanted to call a recess because there's obviously a dispute going on between the counsels, but it appears to me that the counsel for Gore has some information that will impugn the credibility of this witness and they are trying to get it in as this relevant testimony and the judge is questioning that.

RANDALL: Now, Ken, the importance of the last couple of witnesses we have heard to the Bush side, and the Gore side for that matter.

GROSS: Well, the witness that is up now is trying to make a case that these ballots have been, essentially, mutilated. He's said they've not only been handled, but they've been fanned, and in some cases actually pounded, which means that they are not really reliable anymore, chads have come out that shouldn't have come out. So, you know, that's witnesses' view of the thing. But before that, we had...

RANDALL: Thomas Spencer.

GROSS: Yes. Thomas Spencer was in there and he was actually talking about whether the counting -- the whole process of counting and recounting was an appropriate -- was appropriate, because he said that the sampling that was taken for the counting was from heavily Democratic precincts within the county and therefore they shouldn't have even been recounting the votes.

RANDALL: Now, this is a major theme actually of this day for the Bush side, because when the Bush people put on their statistician this morning he said precisely the same thing, that you cannot extrapolate from the sampling of votes in Miami-Dade and take those figures and superimpose that on a full recount.

GROSS: Right. And I think this -- while he was not a statistician, he was an actual observer, he was supporting that same view, he was bolstering that same position.

RANDALL: And, Ken, the importance of this all is that for the Gore camp, Miami-Dade really holds the key, doesn't it? GROSS: Absolutely. We can talk about Palm Beach, we can talk about Nassau County, but Miami-Dade is where the action is, that's where the 9,000-some odd ballots are, and if -- the undercounted ballots -- and if they can be counted, even that county alone, without the other two counties in play, might be enough for Gore.

RANDALL: OK, we have a recess in Leon County, Florida, so we will take a break.


RANDALL: We are waiting for the court session to resume in Tallahassee, Florida, in that Leon County courtroom.

Inside the courtroom is Gary Tuchman on a cell phone.

Gary, what led to that recess?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gene, being in the courtroom gave me the luxury of literally being able to go up to Thomas Spargo, the election law worker who is on the stand, who attorney Kendall Coffey just accused of taking the 5th Amendment during another case. As soon as he said that, the Bush side objected and they took a recess. So I went up to Spargo, I said what's that all about, what 5th Amendment situation, and his quote to me was, "let's see where this leads before I say anything." I'm staring at him right now as he's getting ready to say something about Kendall Coffey, who is back at the podium -- the judge is not back.

But earlier, Thomas Spargo had testified that he was an observer in Miami-Dade County during the recounts of the votes, he said he saw at least 1,000 pieces of chad on the floor after machine recounts, and then during hand counts he saw several pieces of chad on the table. So it's important for the Gore side to try to discredit this man because he believes -- the Gore side believes that Spargo is trying to discredit the process of counting the votes. So we should find out very soon if this is allowed to continue, this line of questioning what kind of case Spargo was testifying in before where he took the 5th Amendment -- Gene.

RANDALL: Very briefly, Gary, do you get a feel for how the judge is handling the length of these proceedings? He wanted 12 hours -- he certainly didn't get that.

TUCHMAN: Well, he wanted 12 hours, Gene, but many of us thought this would take days, and right now, we are up to 15 1/2 hours and it seems to be possibly nearing the end. There may be one more witness for the Bush side, then each of the counties and the secretary of state could call witnesses, but the secretary of state has already said they are not going to call witnesses, so it could be nearing the end, and it's very possible -- and the judge pledges it will be done by this evening...


RANDALL: All right, let's talk to Brian -- thanks, Gary. Let's talk to Brian Cabell outside the courthouse building.

Brian, are we guessing about length here, or is there some kind of educated insight?

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there certainly seems to be an end in sight to this, Gene. The judge was asked a while ago, is this going to last for another day or two -- that was by one of the Gore attorneys -- and the judge very adamantly said, this will not go on for another day or two, clearly indicating that he thought this would end sometime later this afternoon or this evening. We will have one more witness, we think, from the Bush people and, as Gary said, we may have the interveners, the secretary of state, maybe the counties weighing in on this.

And then the big question is, when will the judge rule, will he rule from the bench? He certainly seems -- indicated will be fairly prompt after he finishes hearing everything. Now, if he decides to go ahead and recount, then the question becomes, how will the recount be conducted, who will conduct it? We have a couple hundred Leon County workers here who, we are told, could conduct that recount. But again, we're coming down to very few days, we only have nine days left.

So, once again, we should have some sort of decision from the judge later on today, he certainly indicates that, and what he decides will determine whether or not there will be a recount later on over the next seven or eight days -- Gene.

RANDALL: Brian, a lot of football games on TV today, is there much of a showing outside the courthouse?

CABELL: What you can see, that's about it, that's about 1/10 of what we had here yesterday. Of course, it's a lot colder and, as you indicate, there is football games, so perhaps they are at the football games. We only have a scattering, a smattering of people out here, because it is chilly and it's just mostly us TV people out here.

RANDALL: And they have all found the TV camera.

Thank you, Brian.


RANDALL: We will be back in just a moment.


RANDALL: We are waiting for Judge N. Sanders Sauls to return to the bench in Tallahassee, Florida, so it's a chance for us to check in with the campaigns.

Tony Clark is in Austin, Texas, tracking the Bush camp -- Tony.


The governor is at his ranch in Crawford rather than here, where the campaign headquarters is. He is about 90 minutes away from here, and he doesn't have cable TV, so he can't be monitoring the ins and outs of the court action that's been going on. In fact, aides say he has some family friends that are there today, and so he is spending time with them.

He did talk this morning with Andy Card, his chief of staff, talked with him by telephone, but that was more to talk about Card's appearance on morning talk shows than anything else and to go over a little bit of transition information.

But it is kind of a downday for the governor. In the meantime, the campaign is gearing up its Web site for trying to get applications for a Bush administration should there be one. The Web site, which is already accessible but, aides say, is not officially open for business, although -- though you can access it -- it says that they are looking for men and women of the highest ethical and professional integrity to serve in different positions in a Bush administration, but it warns that public service, government service may not be for everyone and then goes down a list of the kinds of things an applicant would face, whether it is scrutiny by the press, whether it is the long hours, the intense pace, having to disclose their financial history and the like; and then allows them to apply for a job.

There are thousands of jobs that come with a new administration, but all of this available online, so that's one of the things that is coming along. They expect -- the campaign expects to officially announce the Web site in the next few days -- Gene.

RANDALL: Tony, can you stand by for a second? We want to check in with Jonathan Karl, who is tracking the movements of the Gore camp -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Gene, the vice president once again keeping a fairly low profile today. He did leave earlier to go to church out in Arlington, Virginia, and he is, right now, sitting down for a taped interview with "60 Minutes." Other than that, no public appearances for the vice president. His team feels somewhat encouraged by the events down in Leon County, they think they have scored some points down there in the proceedings today.

But they've also made it very clear that this is not the end all and be all, what's happening in Judge N. Sanders Sauls' courthouse is just one of several things that they are watching, and they are saying that first, the vice president will not even entertain discussions of concession until three things are over with: one is what's happening down in Leon County, and even if they lose there, they plan to appeal that to the state Supreme Court; the next is whatever happens by the U.S. Supreme Court; and finally now, the Gore team is talking more than ever about that case in Seminole County involving disputed absentee ballots.

The Gore campaign is not a party to that lawsuit, but they are now out there very aggressively making the point that, that suit should it go in their way, in the way of the people that are sympathetic to Vice President Gore in terms of throwing out those disputed absentee ballots, that would be more than enough votes to sway the election for Al Gore. So, certainly the vice president, they're saying, not going to entertain any discussions of conceding this election until those three developments have run through their full course -- Gene.

RANDALL: Jonathan, stay with us for just a second.

Let's go back to Gary Tuchman in Tallahassee, inside the courtroom -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: Gene, I just talked to Kendall Coffey, the Democratic lawyer who you may recognize from the Elian Gonzalez case, who is now standing at the podium, he has told me he will not be bringing it up, that 5th Amendment issue situation that he just brought up a short time ago. He met in the back with lawyers from the other side and he won't tell me why he came to that conclusion, but he says that won't be brought up again.

What just happened a short time ago is he was cross-examining Thomas Spargo, who had been testifying for the Republicans, and he said, isn't it true that you took the 5th Amendment many times in a previous case? That's when the case stopped. I went up to Spargo, who was standing near the witness -- who is sitting at the witness stand right now, I asked him what that was all about, he says, "let's wait and see what happens."

A source here tells me it was involved in a -- he is from Albany County, New York, and there was a case in New York state involving election law and that's where something like this happened.

In other related news, Dexter Douglass, one of the attorneys for the Gore team just told me that he is now confident that they are going to win this. He believes that the judge will rule that those 9,000 disputed votes -- at the very least, he said that those 9,000 disputed votes in Miami-Dade County will be counted by hand. The Gore team is very happy with the way things are going today, but we should point out that the Bush team says it's also happy with the way things are going today, so -- of course, what we expect to hear, but everyone has their little spin on the way things are going today -- Gene.

RANDALL: Gary, what a surprise -- lawyers for the two sides predicting victory.

Jonathan Karl, do we expect to see the Bush camp -- or the Gore camp, rather, this week produce more pictures that show the vice president involved in transition?

KARL: Well, the position that the Gore team has made on that question is that anything right now -- before we hear something out of either the U.S. Supreme Court, or something definitive out of Judge Sauls' courthouse, anything in terms of transition is merely a side somehow. They looked at what Governor Bush was doing in terms of meeting with his transition team, meeting with the Republican leaders out at his ranch as exactly that, as a sideshow.

So, yes, you know, the vice president has been doing the very same meetings, but up until now and at least until we hear something out of that Leon County courthouse, we don't expect to see them invite the cameras in so that we can all see those meetings going on. But they are very much going on, the vice president doing every bit as much in the way of transition as we are seeing happen down in Austin.

RANDALL: Tony Clark, are you still with us?


RANDALL: Is that ranch in Crawford a media-free zone?

CLARK: Very much so. I mean, there is news media that is on the periphery, but if you drive around the ranch area there are signs that say, no stopping, no standing there, and that's one of the reasons I think the governor wanted to get to the ranch, is he gets away from the cameras that encircle the mansion, gets away from the crowds that are here and allows him the chance to sit down, as he did yesterday, with the Republican leadership, sit down and talk free of any disturbance.

And so, it is -- it's a very small area and, yes, pretty much media free.

RANDALL: Could he get cable there if he wanted it?

CLARK: Well, I don't know if he could get cable, but he could certainly get a satellite dish.

RANDALL: Tony Clark in Austin, thanks very much.

In a moment -- or Kenneth Gross, they tell me to go to you now, the issue of credibility and what's happening in that courtroom at the moment, talk about that.

GROSS: Well, I think what happened were sort of two things: one, the Gore lawyer was -- wanted to impugn the credibility of this witness apparently based on the fact that he pled the 5th Amendment in another case, and now has agreed not to raise it.

RANDALL: In a related case?

GROSS: No. As I understand it, perhaps some case in New York totally unrelated to this, and they have agreed in a recess not to raise it, probably for two reasons: one, this is not a jury trial, those types of things work better in front of juries than judges, number one; and number two, he has already made the point, he's kind of thrown it out there, that there is this 5th Amendment issue, and they had a hub-bub and a recess, and now they can move on and not make anything more of it.

RANDALL: All right, I understand that Kate Snow in Tallahassee has a bit more background on this. Kate, educate us.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Gene, just to tell you what this is all about on -- referring to Thomas Spargo, the gentleman who was just on the stand. What they may have been trying to raise -- what I expect they were trying to raise is in 1986, Spargo, who was at that time, counsel to the Republican State Committee of New York state -- living up in Poughkeepsie, in the Albany area of New York -- he was a target of a special state commission, he was allegedly -- he was accused of funneling campaign funds from a shopping mall developer into the 1985 local elections in Poughkeepsie, New York. This from a New York "Newsday" article from 1996, when he was working for Bob Dole.

Spargo fought those charges for four years, he was never criminally charged and he did plead the 5th when he appeared before that state commission that was looking into these charges that he had funneled campaign funds. Again, he was never criminally charged, but he did plead the 5th in that case. So I suspect that, that is what Kendall Coffey wanted to raise as far as his legitimacy, as far as his credibility.

Let me turn to David Cardwell, if I can. That's what they are trying to do, they are trying to shoot down this witness who has done a lot for the Bush side.

CARDWELL: Yes. It's called impeaching the witness, and that's when someone who has been on the stand for the other side has, you know, really done a good job and you want to try to undermine the effectiveness of their testimony. You can go after not only what they said, whether it was factual or not, but their credibility, has there been some other instance where their veracity has been challenged, or they have been charged with some other offense. So that -- what -- if they were going to go down this road, they were going to be attacking credibility. Also interesting is that this was the first dispute that we really had in this case.

SNOW: First friction.

CARDWELL: First real friction. I mean, there has been some give and take back and forth, but for a case of such importance and with the tension running so high, really this has been a very civil proceeding so far.

SNOW: And we, at this point, should have one more Bush witness, if my count is correct, we should have one more to hear from, perhaps one of the interveners will then step in with one more witness after that.

CARDWELL: That's right.

SNOW: OK, thanks very much, David.

Back to you, Gene.

RANDALL: Kate and David -- and, Kate, thank you -- very good timing. The judge is back on the bench in that courtroom.




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