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Special Event

Election 2000: Leon County Circuit Court Hearing Ends With Ruling Expected Soon on Recount Argument

Aired December 3, 2000 - 10:42 p.m. ET

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

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Judge N. Sanders Sauls of the Leon County Circuit Court taking a recess and announcing that he will deliver a ruling in the morning after about 22 -- more than 22 hours of testimony and argument and documents submitted in support of the Gore campaign's allegations that 14,000 disputed ballots in three Florida counties should be hand recounted once again.

I'm going to turn now to Roger Cossack for a sense of what was happening in those final rebuttal arguments, very technical arguments.

But first, Roger, if you can hear me, as we look on the scene here, let's put things in perspective. You know, we've got action on the legislative front with the Florida legislature possibly calling a special session, we've got the Supreme Court of the United States acting, and then all of this in this court, which may be the determining factor for this election.

Is that your sense of it?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's a pretty good description, Stephen, but unfortunately this is not going to be the final lawsuit we see -- this one that's gone on in Dade County today -- because I would suspect that no matter who loses this lawsuit, there will be an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. And what both sides did very carefully and very artfully and very well was to build a record that would go up to the Florida Supreme Court, that's why the testimony was taken -- obviously for this matter, too. But this case is going to get appealed one way or the other.

FRAZIER: Well, let's explain why it is that this is so important here and what's at stake for either campaign.

COSSACK: OK, good.

This is the contest to the election. There's -- under the Florida law, there's two procedures. We've heard them talk about the statutes, 166 and 168. Well, 166 is the protest, and that's what went on last week. That was what the Florida Supreme Court ruled on which got the date moved from November 14 -- remember, the seven days that was after the November 7 election, where Katherine Harris first tried to certify the ballots -- to I believe it was November 20, six days later, the Florida Supreme Court ruled, and that was what's up in the United States Supreme Court now. Now we're under Section 168. And we heard them talking about the difference between the two statutes, 168 is to contest the entire election and to be successful in that, the Gore team has to show and convince this judge of a couple of different things: one that there were either illegal votes excluded, or legal votes that -- illegal votes that were included, or legal votes that were excluded, and they have to show that -- and in if fact you go back and recount this, Judge, there is a significant reason to believe that the difference will -- there will be a different outcome in the election.

So that's really what this has been all about. And we've heard different and various arguments, I heard the word "de novo" (ph) thrown around, and let me just tell the viewers what "de novo" means. The question was whether or not this judge, N. Sanders Sauls, had the power de novo. And de novo is a Latin phrase, it means, Judge, you can make this decision for the first time, you're the one that makes the decision. You don't have to worry about whatever else has been done, you look at these facts and you make the facts as you see them. And that is what the Gore team was arguing. The Bush team is arguing no, Judge, that's not the way it works.

So that's -- but that's all that de novo means, it's a fancy way -- a Latin phrase -- of just saying what kind of authority each side thinks the judge has.

Let's see what else there was -- there was a timing argument. The Bush people feel that this statute requires that this contest be filed within a certain period of days. They believe that the Gore team missed that date, and that has to do with whether or not Katherine Harris is correct, or whether or not the Supreme Court changes.

So there's many different highly technical arguments, really great lawyering on each side. And to tell you the truth, I have no idea how this judge is going to rule tomorrow morning, I'm just as curious about this as everyone else.

FRAZIER: Good, Roger. The smart money is the money you keep in your pocket and don't lay down on the table for this one. Well, thanks for those insides.

We're going to take a little break here before we come back. But we have much more from both the campaigns and from other analysts, including our own Gary Tuchman, who was in the courtroom for all those arguments, so stay with us please.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: And so now it is in the hand of Judge N. Sanders Sauls down there in Tallahassee.

FRAZIER: A patient man and a hard-working man, hearing all of that testimony and having to read all those documents.

CHEN: Let's get you up-to-date on what's been happening down there. All of the evidence has been heard, all of the closing arguments from lawyers been heard and now Judge Sauls is taking it under consideration, saying he's going to give the lawyers a decision about the Gore petition in his Florida Courtroom tomorrow morning.

CNN's Gary Tuchman stood by in the courtroom in Tallahassee throughout this very long day of hearings. Let's hear now from Gary on what things are going on there now at the end of the day -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, I remain in the courtroom right now which is clearing out and I just finished two minutes ago talking with Judge N. Sanders Sauls. As he walked out of the courtroom, I asked him what time in the morning will you make your decision. He said it will be in the morning. That's all he would say. He would not say the time. I then asked him will it be a written statement or will you make your decision on the bench and he said I don't know yet. That's where it stands.

The court spokesman has now told me just a minute ago that it will be clarified in the morning how it will be done and what time it will be done. Twelve hours and 45 minutes today. Nine hours yesterday. A total of 21 hours and 45 minutes of court testimony. The judge had said he didn't want this to go longer than 12 hours. Well, it almost didn't go longer than 12 hours today but combined it was 21 3/4 hours.

I think one important thing to keep in mind here for our viewers, if you're looking for a Gore victory or if you're looking for a Bush victory, we might have a split decision. The Gore side wants five different things. It wants 9,000 undervotes that were manually counted in Dade County to be certified, counted and certified. It wants what it says 388 votes were already they claim were already counted in Dade County to be counted. They want 215 votes they say were counted in Palm Beach County to be counted. They want a relaxed dimple standard in Palm Beach County and they want Nassau County to revert to a November 8th machine count.

That's five things they want. It's possible -- I'm saying that it will happen -- but it's possible the judge will grant one of those things, two, three, four or five. But keep in mind there could be a split decision when you get the judge's decision tomorrow. That's where we stand. Joie and Stephen, back to you.

CHEN: All right, sometime tomorrow and sometime tomorrow morning according to Judge Sauls speaking with CNN's Gary Tuchman. I want to remind our viewers there that all the events have finished in the courtroom for the day. So, at the end there you did see the camera go to black, that's because they reached end of their broadcast day for the courtroom of Judge Sauls and you were looking at video there taken earlier in the day in the hearing as process went on -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Of course, among all the people watching these events very keenly are the campaigns themselves and we have people with the campaigns. Let's turn now to Jonathan Karl with the Gore campaign and Jeanne Meserve with the Bush campaign in Austin.

Jonathan, first to you. JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Stephen, the vice president is keeping very close tabs on this case, talking to his lawyers several times during the course of the day. Talking to them via phone during those breaks, and in fact one legal source tells me that the vice president yesterday spent 58 minutes on the telephone with Kimball Brace. If you remember, Kimball Brace was the lead-off witness and an expert on the operation of voting machines. The vice president spent almost an hour talking to him on the telephone. But publicly, the vice president is keeping his appearances to a minimum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL (voice-over): Vice President Gore ventured into public just long enough to attend church services in Arlington, Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, how do you think history will view you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KARL: After church, the vice president had a closed door meeting with top aides and later sat down for an interview with "60 minutes," telling Lesley Stahl, quote; "Whoever is sworn in as president on January 20th should have the support of all the people, and if that is not me, I will not question the fairness of the legitimacy of the final outcome.

But the vice president has also made it clear he does not believe the end is here or even clearly in sight and Gore confidante Warren Christopher responded to Dick Cheney's call for Gore to concede.

WARREN CHRISTOPHER, OBSERVER FOR GORE CAMPAIGN: I've always tried to open myself to the possibility that the other side might win, and I think it would be very healthy if Secretary Cheney and the Governor Bush team would at least admit of that possibility. It would make for a better long-term relationship, I think.

KARL: The vice president's lawyers say they hope Florida Circuit Court Judge Sanders Sauls will rule in their favor. But if he doesn't, the vice president has made it clear he will appeal to Florida Supreme Court. Gore's aides say the vice president won't think about conceding before that case has run its course and before the U.S. Supreme Court rules. They're also talking about another Florida lawsuit, brought by a third party to throw out several thousand absentee ballots.

CHRISTOPHER: There is a proceeding involving Seminole County and now Martin County which could have a very decisive result. So, I think it's far too early to think about conceding.

KARL: Gore has not joined the Seminole County case. But his aides point out that it involves more than enough votes to change the outcome of the election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: And the vice president does not expect his contest of the Florida election to end in Judge Sauls' courthouse. He says that because not only will he appeal but he fully expects the Bush team to appeal should he win.

Stephen, back to you.

FRAZIER: Jonathan Karl with the Gore campaign. Thank you, Jonathan for a very long day. Also qualifying for ironman status today is Jeanne Meserve, who's with the Bush campaign in Austin.

Jeanne, how's it going?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stephen, a Bush spokesman told me a short time ago they felt things had gone very well in that Leon County Circuit courtroom. Tucker Eskew telling me facts are in our favor, law is in our side. We hope the results will reflect that. They feel that the Gore team, rather, simply did not make its case. It had to prove that illegal votes were included, legal votes were excluded and that there were enough of one or the other of those to make a difference in this election. The Bush spin tonight, the Gore team simply did not do this.

Of course, they would like a win here. Everybody assumes this is going to go to the Florida Supreme Court. They'd rather go in asking that a decision be upheld rather than overturned. They are, of course, mindful that the justices on that court were appointed by Democrats.

One aide said to me tonight, it is a big step towards moving towards the end. It is not the end, and at this point with the twists and turns this matter has taken with the number of fronts in this battle no one is willing to predict exactly when the end game itself will begin. As for Governor Bush, he was out of sight today. But, his vice presidential running mate Dick Cheney was front and center.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): The Republicans yanked the tourniquet a little tighter Sunday. Vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney saying it's time for Al Gore to give up.

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. I think history would regard him in better light if he were to bring this to a close in the very near future.

MESERVE: Democrats say that time has not yet come. But Bush proceeds to plot out his presidency. His Cabinet, Cheney says, will be diverse ethnically and politically. Andrew Card, Bush's pick for White House chief of staff, denies reports that Republican Congressional leaders rebuffed Bush when he suggested putting a Democrat at treasury.

ANDREW CARD, BUSH CHIEF OF STAFF: That is not accurate. I was at the meeting and that conversation did not happen the way it was reported in the press and it was attributed to an adviser. There was no adviser in the meeting other than me.

MESERVE: But Bush is reaching out to Democrats, talking directly to Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. Breuax says no job was offered, but left the door open to accepting if one is in the future.

SEN. JOHN BREAUX (D), LOUISIANA: I'm not looking for anything. I'm perfectly happy in the United States Senate. I doubt that I'd be very good as secretary of a department. I think being in the Senate with a 50/50 tie vote is a unique opportunity and offers some great challenges.

MESERVE: Challenges may be an understatement, with the Senate and House evenly split. But Dick Cheney says he believes George Bush can unite the country and the Congress and suggest the first order of business should be a tax cut.

CHENEY: We may well be on the front edge of a recession here, and I would hope that would change people's calculations with respect to the wisdom of the tax cut that Governor Bush has recommended. We do in fact need to take into account those economic circumstances.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: The Bush campaign may be projecting confidence and certainty publicly, but Cheney said today that Governor Bush is still asking his staff to call him governor, not president-elect. Not yet -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Jeanne Meserve, a long day for you in Austin, Texas. Thank you. And that is all from us, today. Thank you for joining us for this long session in the courthouse.

CHEN: A long session from Tallahassee as well. And be aware that Judge Sauls says that he will offer a decision tomorrow morning. He has not given a time, yet, but you can be sure that CNN will be covering that. Stand by now for "THE SPIN ROOM."

FRAZIER: Right, Bill Press and Tucker Carlson have been wiring up for that. They're already kind of throwing punches at each other before we're off the air.

CHEN: And we'll see you later. Thanks for joining us.

FRAZIER: Good night.

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