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Election 2000: Campaign Witnesses Testify in Leon County Circuit Court Hearing; When Will Court Rule on Disputed Ballots?

Aired December 3, 2000 - 5:25 p.m. ET

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

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: You've been listening to Bush campaign witness Shirley King, about to retire after 20 years on the job as supervisor of election in Nassau County, Florida. Her final year clearly is not one she will soon forget. A constant of this post- election has been the cascading number of legal actions filed. Well, there is new one tonight -- a motion filed by the Gore campaign in Leon County, Florida.

Jonathan Karl can tell us about that and also about the vice president's latest appearance before the TV cameras, an interview for "60 Minutes" on CBS -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Gene. Let's start with the "60 Minutes" interview. It was a taped interview done at the vice president's residence. It was just completed. I've got a quote from that interview and I'll read that now.

The vice president said in his interview with Leslie Stahl quote: "If at the end of the day when all the processes have taken place, if George W. Bush is sworn in as president, he will be my president. He will be America's president."

Those the words of the vice president in his taped interview on "60 Minutes," but of course as we see the processes have not all been done and the vice president certainly not ready to call George W. Bush his president or America's president.

The most recent action by the Gore campaign is a motion filed there in Leon County in response to a complaint that was filed yesterday by the Bush campaign. Yesterday, if you remember, Gene, the Bush campaign filed a complaint against three Florida counties. Against Volusia County, against Broward County and against Seminole County. What the Bush campaign did in that complaint yesterday, is they basically contested the election results, the certification of the votes in Broward and Volusia County saying that the hand counts that were done in those two counties were improper and they should hence be thrown out.

So, this is a third party complaint. In the legalese, this is what it's called and that was the argument of the Bush campaign yesterday. As far as Seminole County. Seminole County, of course, is what has been called the sleeper lawsuit in all of this. The Seminole County case involves those absentee ballots where there's a lawsuit to get those thrown out because the applications for the absentee ballots were improperly done by Republican officials as alleged in the lawsuit. The Bush campaign is asking Judge Sauls here to rule on that case saying essentially, that the absentee ballots are proper and they should be counted.

Now, the Gore campaign in this most recent filing just done a couple of hours ago is saying that this complaint by the Bush campaign should be thrown out by Judge Sauls for a couple of reasons. First, on the Broward and Volusia County hand counts, they're saying that these counts were down properly and besides it is not a part of this case.

This is a case, obviously, about the Gore campaign contesting the election results. They don't mention those counties. They say that this does not belong in this court and they say further that this whole action is an action by the Bush campaign to delay the process, to delay these proceedings by bringing in, introducing new elements into this court proceeding that don't belong there.

On the Seminole County case, in this motion the Bush campaign -- I mean the Gore campaign is saying simply that what the Bush campaign is trying to do is preempt a separate lawsuit -- a lawsuit that belongs not in this courthouse but in the courthouse where it's being waged.

Also, Gene, I want to bring you up-to-date on one other development not directly related to the Gore campaign, but coming up from the office of attorney general -- Florida Attorney General Butterworth who, of course, was the chairman of the Gore effort in Florida.

Butterworth's office has sent a letter to Justice Souter of the Supreme Court saying that the Bush campaign's arguments before the Supreme Court saying that the deadline extension granted by the Florida Supreme Court was improper would also seem to invalidate all those overseas absentee ballots because they also had a deadline extension -- a deadline extension that was not granted under Florida law but by executive decree by the office of the secretary of state in Florida. A decree that was signed in the 1980s.

So, basically, that's a very important point, Gene, because if throw out all those overseas absentee ballots you're throwing out a net gain of over 600 votes for George W. Bush. Well, if you throw out 600 plus votes, obviously you overcome the lead and Gore once again is in the lead by just a handful of votes.

So, those are the various legal battles, but again, the headline there I think is the quote from the "60 Minutes" interview that was just completed up at the vice president's residence where the vice president reiterating that if when -- at the end of the day, all these processes are done, that George W. Bush is sworn in as president, the Vice President saying, "He will be my President. He will be America's President"- - Gene. RANDALL: Jonathan, thank you. I know you've been standing by for a long time in the cold Washington air. Go inside, get warm, thanks.

Let's go to Austin, Texas. It's a bit warmer there. Jeanne Meserve is standing by for us. Jeanne, what have you got?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gene, no reaction from the Bush campaign yet to this quote from Al Gore's "60 Minutes" interview. No reaction from Governor Bush either. He remains at his ranch about an hour and a half away from here. Of course, the Bush campaign has said since election night that it too would abide by the results of this election, but they have been steadfast in maintaining that they have won.

You have the mantra over and over again. We've won the election. We've won the recount. We have won selected hand recounts and today Secretary Cheney, Bush's running mate, went so far as to suggest that Al Gore should go throw in the towel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do think that it's time for him to concede. So far, he's chosen not to do that, to pursue other avenues and clearly that's his prerogative. But, I think long-term, I think history would regard him in a better light if he were to bring this to a close in the very near future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: The Bush campaign's confidence being shown in several ways. For one thing, they continue to talk about transition. Cheney saying today they were casting a wide net, looking for people of not only not diverse ethnic backgrounds, but political backgrounds as well.

Senator John Breaux of Louisiana, a Democrat, one of those Bush has talked to. Breaux said today no job has been offered, but he did leave the door open to accepting a job should one come down the pipe later on. Cheney also talking a bit about the need for bipartisan cooperation in the Congress, given the fact that the -- that the Congress will be so evenly divided in both the Senate and the House.

He suggested today that perhaps one of the first things that the Congress should take a look at is a tax cut because he says there are indications that we may be on the brink of a recession. But there may be limits to just how confident this campaign is or maybe it's just superstition, but Secretary Cheney did say today that Governor Bush is still asking his staff to call him Governor, not President-elect.

Gene, back to you.

RANDALL: Jeanne Meserve in Austin, Texas, thanks very much. Let's call in Ken Gross, our election specialist. Ken, let's take a look at this Gore filing -- this motion to strike the third party complaint. There is some tough language in here, words like the pernicious practice of judge shopping.

KENNETH GROSS, CNN ELECTION ANALYST: Yes, that's exactly what the Gore campaign is complaining about. There is -- this response is about Broward and Volusia Counties, true, but it's really about Seminole County. That's the case, as Jonathan Karl was telling us, is the sleeper case in the proceedings and what they are concerned about here is -- or what the Bush campaign is concerned about is that Judge Carter, another judge in Leon County -- it's a Seminole County case, but she's a judge in Leon County, is perhaps favored -- will favor the Gore campaign and they want to get this case out from under Judge Carter.

So, one way to do that is to introduce this into Judge Sauls' court. The other thing that may be going on here is that Vice President Gore is not a party to the Seminole Case. It's not a popular case politically because they're trying to throw out ballots, which is contrary to the arguments they're making in the other case. If they could bring it into Judge Sauls' case where Vice President Gore is a party, that ensnares him in that case as well.

RANDALL: Ken, could we print some score cards so we can follow along as we go through this cases?

GROSS: We need them.

RANDALL: Now, this court session is in recess until 5:45 p.m. Eastern time. Will it wrap up tonight?

GROSS: Yes, I think so. There was a little hint of that earlier in the proceedings when one of the Gore attorneys, Dexter Douglas said are we going to be here on Monday and Tuesday and Judge Sauls says, we're not going to be here on Monday or Tuesday. So, I think they're going to wrap this up today.

RANDALL: All right, Ken, thanks very much. I'm Gene Randall in Washington, our live coverage of the events in Tallahassee will continue in a moment with Stephen Frazier and Joie Chen in the anchor seats in Atlanta. Good night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. From CNN Center, I'm Joie Chen here with Stephen Frazier. CNN continues our coverage of the Florida recount here now underway in Leon County, Florida in circuit court there of Judge Sanders Sauls. Court is now in a break, and we will continue our coverage there as soon as they get back in session.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: We'll have a little bit more analysis of what we've just heard, but before we do that, let's turn to other news that is developing outside the hearing -- believe it or not.

First, the U.S. Justice Department is sending representatives to Florida to look into complaints that African-Americans and other minorities were prevented from voting in several Florida locations. The NAACP says it has nearly 500 complaints of that. Meantime, President Clinton has invited Congressional leaders from both parties to meet with him at the White House Monday. They are to discuss the agenda for this week session of the lame duck Congress.

In the Middle East, Israel now says it will cooperate with the U.S.-led inquiry into nine weeks of fighting there that has killed more than 300 people, most of them Palestinians. And two space- walking astronauts have installed the world's largest, most powerful set of solar wings to the International Space Station. The solar panels will supply much needed power to the space station Alpha.

North Carolina getting a blast of wintry weather. The State Highway Patrol there says snow and ice is now covering I-95. Several accidents reported in the area.

CHEN: The story you've been seeing on CNN throughout this day, the hearing underway in Leon County, Florida in Tallahassee, Florida in the courtroom of Judge Sanders Sauls. This is a circuit court courtroom. They're hearing the consideration of whether the ballots from South Florida should be counted.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has been in the courtroom, which is in recess now. He's on the telephone along with us now. Gary, bring us up to date on what's happening there.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, sitting in the courtroom right now, Joie, I can tell you that Democratic lawyers here chuckle at Dick Cheney's request for Al Gore to throw in the towel. They haven't been predicting the result, but for the first time tonight I have a heard a prediction, Dexter Douglas, one of Al Gore's attorney says he believes this judge will ultimately decide to hand count 9,000 of the votes they want hand counted from Miami-Dade County. Now, lawyers are generally optimistic about their cases, but it's been true that the Democrats haven't said very much about predicting at this point.

Republicans predict, though, they will win this case, too. We should also mention the most recent testimony, that was Shirley King the Supervisor of Elections in Nassau County. We haven't heard as much about Nassau County as we've heard about Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County. But, in that county, on November 7th, they had their vote. They did a recount on November 8th. In that recount, according to Republicans, 218 votes went missing -- 135 of them were for George W. Bush; 83 were for Al Gore.

Well, the supervisor of elections and the canvassing board decided to certify the original vote because of that. They never recounted another time. The supervisor testified that it was sealed in a box. They didn't take it out and that's what the Democrats are complaining about.

Well, what's interesting about her testimony and what the Republicans were not too happy about necessarily, was that Shirley King, the supervisor of elections, a Republican witness, suggested a remedy to the judge. She said I would love to recount these votes. I would love to do that. It would be the right thing to do, she said, and that is something the judge could consider. He has the power to do that.

So, that was quite interesting, that she firmly believes that those 218 missing votes, that the mistake that was made by her and her people and that George Bush deserves those extra votes that he lost. Back to you, Joie.

CHEN: Gary, before you go here quickly. We believe we have now heard from all the witnesses from both sides. What happens after this break?

TUCHMAN: What's happening now, a court spokesman is telling me this judge is prepared to go late into the evening. He doesn't know that necessarily he'll finish tonight, but he's prepared to go awhile longer. It appears we'll finish tonight. What happens is that there are attorneys from the various counties involved here. They can have closing arguments. They can also have witnesses if they wish.

The Secretary of State's office also has an attorney here. He has already said he's not going to call any witnesses. So, it appears we're nearing the end. As far as the decision goes, that's a whole another story. The judge won't necessarily make a decision on whether to start a count right after this case is heard. He may wait a day. He may do it in writing. He may speak it. We just don't know when that will happen.

CHEN: CNN's Gary Tuchman for us in the courtroom in Tallahassee -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Joie, this of course is day two of a hearing that was suppose to take only one day and events are being followed very closely by an awful lot of people including some who have assembled just outside the courthouse to keep a vigil there, and Brian Cabell is with them and can tell us how things are going there. Brian, good evening.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'll tell you, Stephen, there is not all that many people out here today. There were plenty yesterday -- perhaps 100 or 200 and very loud, vociferous group. Today, they've been fairly quiet because, frankly, it's been awfully cold and it was suggested earlier perhaps they're at football games. They're all watching football games today. But there was just about 10 minutes ago an air of anticipation here because everybody came rushing downstairs saying closing arguments were going to begin within a matter of minutes.

We saw people huddling down here. We saw people on cell phones. So, clearly there's a sense that this is coming to an end and the judge has certainly made it clear he wants it to come to an end today after some 11 witnesses and 18 hours. It looks as though, as Gary Tuchman said, it may come to an end sometime later this evening. The question is will the judge rule from the bench today? Will he rule at all this evening or will it take another day or two?

The Democrats, of course, would love to have a ruling sometime later tonight and of course, a recount, if at all possible, to start almost immediately -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Brian, for your sake, we hope it is quick. Thanks very much for keeping watch out in the cold -- Joie.

CHEN: Another developing story from Tallahassee is consideration of state lawmakers whether they should get involved in the picking of electors to represent the state of Florida in the Electoral College.

CNN's Kate Snow has been following that story. She joins us now from Tallahassee as well -- Kate.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, hi. You'll remember that yesterday there was a lot of buzz around the capital here in Tallahassee about when and if the legislature would call for a special session. The buzz was created by folks who were familiar with Representative Tom Feeney. He is the Speaker of the House here. He's a Republican and he has all along been pushing for this special session, and the news yesterday was that he was planning for a signing ceremony to happen on Monday, midday, and that then they would start a special session on Wednesday.

Well, late last night at about 8:00, we got a statement from the Senate president. That's the other side of the aisle -- the other side of -- the other chamber, but not the other side of the aisle. He's also a Republican. This is Senator John McKay and he said that he did not think he was going to go ahead on Monday and sign a declaration, which would create a special session. But he didn't rule it out for some other time.

Joining me now is Representative Lois Frankel, you're the House Minority Leader -- the Democratic leader in the House, so you have a very different point of view on all of this.

Let me ask you first, a lot of back and forth yesterday about whether this was going to happen, when this was going to happen. You've been saying to me you think that people are playing politics.

LOIS FRANKEL (D), FLORIDA STATE HOUSE: Well, I think this is a little dog and pony show. First of all, I think it would be naive for anyone to believe that John McKay and Tom Feeney are calling the shots. After all, this is a presidential election. There is so much as stake and I believe they're getting their cues from the Bush Campaign, and I think what we've seen at the capital is the wheels are rolling and everything is getting set up for a special session.

We have metal detectors there. Bills are being developed. So, I think what we're -- what we're waiting to see is probably Monday or Tuesday there'll be a proclamation.

SNOW: What do you think -- they say -- Senator McKay said very clearly in his written statement last night that he's withholding judgment, that he won't be rushed to judgment and that he's waiting, in his words, for uncertainties that are beyond their control. In other words, maybe court decisions, what if, you know, the Supreme Court tomorrow -- the U.S. Supreme Court could make an announcement. Don't you think he's being wise in waiting things out? FRANKEL: I think the wisest thing to do would be not to call this special session. It is an unprecedented action and never in the history of the United States has a state legislature sought to be the final arbiter in a presidential election. We have our electors and we have a legal process that's in place and really what this Republican legislature is looking for is an insurance policy for George Bush.

I think it's pretty clear to all of us around the capital that if it starts to look like Al Gore's going to get his recount and may win and that the court may certify him, you're going to see this Republican legislature move very fast to give George Bush that insurance policy.

SNOW: Jeb Bush, the governor of this state, has indicated that he would sign a bill if it meant -- if it was appropriately worded he said.

FRANKEL: Yes.

SNOW: He would sign a bill. A lot of people have said that that is very dangerous for him. You have been very vocal in criticizing the governor. He's tried to keep low key about all of this, though. Don't you buy that he's tried to keep out of this?

FRANKEL: Well, I think he did the right thing in taking himself off the canvassing board. But, after all, you know, he does love his brother -- right and I -- look, I love my brother too and I think, again, it would be naive not to believe that he's doing everything he can behind the scene to get this win for his brother. But, it's one step over the line. It's way over line to use the Florida legislature as a political arm of the Bush campaign. I think that's where you've got to pull back, and I hope that he will do that.

SNOW: You're by far the in the minority, though, in both the House and the Senate here. Democrats are outnumbered.

FRANKEL: Right.

SNOW: So, what happens if they call a special session? What happens?

FRANKEL: Well, we're in the minority in number, but I tell you what, we're going to be there with strong, reasoned voices and hope that we can appeal to our colleagues across the aisle that this is not the right thing to do.

SNOW: OK, Lois Frankel, the Democratic minority leader in the House in Florida. Thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate that. She is saying that perhaps we will see some action by the legislature. Senate President John McKay has said he's not going to make that decision on Monday. He's waiting for a report that's due out from the joint committee that met earlier last week about the election. Once that report comes out, he says, he will make his decision, and we could see some action later this week -- Joie .

CHEN: CNN's Kate Snow for us in Tallahassee, following up on that element of this still-developing story - Stephen.

FRAZIER: Joie, when this hearing went into recess, we were under the impression that we had just seen the last of the witnesses to be called by either campaign. But let's turn now to Brian Cabell, who has some news that there may be a change there, that we may have some added starters, Brian.

CABELL: Looks like -- it looks like a couple of rebuttal witnesses. We just talked to one of the Republican operatives here, who came downstairs and told us that the Democrats have apparently informed the judge they have two rebuttal witnesses -- one of them David Leahy, the supervisor of elections in Miami-Dade and also a statistician. We're not sure if it's the same fellow who testified earlier.

But apparently, there will be a couple of rebuttal witnesses before the closing arguments. So, this may take just a little bit longer than the judge would like. But, we should find that out within a matter of minutes -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Are you getting any sense from the people you're talking to there, Brian, how the judge is holding up through all of this? Is he impatient? He seems to be awfully quiet behind the bench.

CABELL: He seems to be putting up with it pretty well. You can tell by his responses that he's sitting back and questioning. But he's telling them to speed up whenever possible, but he doesn't seem overly impatient. He looks as though he's willing to just put with this as long as it takes and he's hoping that he'll get a hold of the case by sometime later this evening, and again, when he'll make a decision, that we don't know.

FRAZIER: And let's put this in perspective for the viewers who might just be dialing in. It seems that this is really the biggest action of all of the election protests and contests at this stage. Is that your sense of it?

CABELL: It certainly does seem to be that. It seems the last best chance for the Gore campaign. If they can count those Miami-Dade votes and get anything like five or 600 votes out of a recount, then clearly that's their best chance. If they lose this case, even though they don't want to say it, it's going to be a devastating blow, it appears to me -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Brian, thank you for those insights from outside the courthouse. Let's go back now inside where it looks like we're taking a final few formal portraits -- photographs before the judge resumes hearing testimony from those rebuttal witnesses.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF LIVE EVENT)

FRAZIER: As we step away for a moment from Deeno Kitchen, a Gore campaign attorney there offering documents into evidence. We're going to take a break. We think we can step away for just a moment without any super-significant developments and rejoin in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FRAZIER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the hearing under way now in Leon County Circuit Court, the courtroom of Judge N. Sanders Sauls, as you see there, who's asking some questions of lawyers who we thought were about to wrap up testimony from witnesses in this hearing and who were about to then offer into evidence a number of documents -- a lit of documents -- which they're now debating over. And to bring us some sense of perspective of these last few developments, let's talk now to David Cardwell who's been standing by for us all these long 26 days as an adviser to our coverage of the campaign.

David, what do you make of this argument that's under way right now?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: Well, where we are now is that the two primary sides have finished with their witnesses. There's still the possibility that other parties, the various counties, or the intervener -- Mr. Butler -- may call witnesses.

But right now what's going on is that the Bush and Gore legal teams are working to get their documents into evidence. They were put in for purposes of being used with witnesses and for demonstration or for explanatory purposes during the course of the hearing, but now they're trying to get them introduced into evidence.

The fight right now is over the 9,000 ballots, the so-called undervote ballots, in Miami-Dade County. The Gore campaign is trying to get them introduced into evidence. The Bush lawyers are complaining that they haven't followed the strict rules of evidence to get them properly offered into evidence. So, you're going to see some real lawyering start to go on right now. They've also indicated...

FRAZIER: And David...

CARDWELL: Yes?

FRAZIER: Well, David, give our viewers some sense of what that will mean then to the timeline, here. We all had the sense that perhaps the judge was going to return with a ruling right away, but it looks like -- now like we're into hours and hours of reading on his part if he's going to get through all these documents.

CARDWELL: Well, a lot of these documents have been discussed during the course of the hearing, but, of course, he hasn't had an opportunity to read all of them. I mean, there are hundreds of documents -- transcripts of the canvassing board meetings -- a lot of these documents are really being put in the record to preserve them for the appeal.

What also is happening is the lawyers are indicating that there are enough issues that have to be resolved on introduction of evidence and working out some of these evidentiary matters between them, they're talking about having meetings of the two side's lawyers tonight, work that out, and come back to court in the morning. The lawyers do not expect this to end tonight.

It looks like they think it's going to go late into tonight with them meeting after court recesses and they'll pick it up again tomorrow morning probably for cleaning up the last administrative details and then going right into closing arguments.

FRAZIER: And prior to those closing arguments, David, give us some sense of what's going to happen to those 9,000 ballots, should they be permitted -- should they be introduced as evidence then, is that so that the judge himself can look at them and determine whether there was a voter's intent to cast a vote for one candidate or the other?

CARDWELL: Well, the Gore team wants them introduced into evidence so they're part of the record of the hearing. As far as where they'll be physically located, they will stay secured. The debate that's going on now is have all of those ballots been properly identified and segregated from the other Miami-Dade ballots.

If you'll recall there was a witness earlier today, Michael Lampkin, who testified there was discrepancy between reports that had been released by the elections department in Miami-Dade about the number of undervotes and the number of ballots that were in the envelopes that were shipped up here on November 29th. So, they're trying also to sort through that because everyone of those votes means a lot and they want to make sure they got the right once.

FRAZIER: David Cardwell, thank you. You mentioned an awful lot of lawyering about to go underway and now we see they're several lawyers on their feet.

So, let's listen in to what they're about to say.

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF LIVE EVENT)

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