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Special Event

Lieberman: 'We're Going to Put Our Faith in the Florida Supreme Court'

Aired December 5, 2000 - 2:21 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: The resolution of two absentee ballot cases could have a profound effect on this much-litigated presidential election. Thousands of disputed ballots could be thrown out, a move that could win the White House for Al Gore, though any such court decision would no doubt be appealed. A state court judge has been hearing motions in one of those cases today with arguments in both lawsuits due to get under way tomorrow.

CNN's Bill Delaney joins us from Tallahassee to tell us more about it -- Bill.

BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, thanks, Natalie. You know, you can cover a lot of ground, describing the importance of what's going on here at the Leon County Courthouse. Some say, still, it is a bit of side show, but others, as you said. say it is more than potent enough a case to throw Florida to Vice President Al Gore.

Now, at the moment, in Courtroom 3-D, just above me here in Tallahassee, Florida. Judge Nicki Clark (ph), circuit court judge. is hearing three motions to dismiss -- dismiss a case brought by a Democratic lawyer.

This Democratic lawyer in Seminole County says that ballot applications where illegally filled out by Republicans operatives. Now what happened was the applications were sent out to Republicans, Republicans sent them back, but failed to feel in ID numbers because of a computer glitch. There was actually no line to fill in those ID numbers.

Republicans operatives down in Seminole County filled in the ID numbers. The Republican voters they got their ballots. They voted for president, sent the ballots back. That's what the argument is about, 15,000 such ballots potentially in Seminole County and in Martin County under similar circumstances, some 10,000.

Now, about an hour or so ago, Natalie, here we had a quite vocal protest from a few dozen Seminole County absentee ballot voters, they arrived here in buses. There was a lot of honking and chanting. And the chant that we heard over and over again was "count my vote." These are voters who sent in their ballots, voted for George W. Bush, and now fear that they could be, as they say, disenfranchised, if the decision here in Leon County Court goes against them. How this is going to work tomorrow is a bit complicated. At 7:00 in the morning, Judge Terry Lewis, here in the Leon County Courthouse, will hear for a couple of hours, about two hours, the opening arguments of the Monroe County case. Then at 9:00, Judge Nicki Clark, who is hearing those motions to dismiss right now, she will take over. They're doing it this way because the Republican lawyers will be the same Republican lawyers all day. The plaintiffs will be different.

Judge Nicki Clark will hear the case to its conclusion, and then Judge Terry Lewis will come back and, if necessary, into the night to finish hearing the Martin County case.

They hope to wrap up -- they plan very much to wrap up even if they have to go into the night, both Seminole and Martin counties tomorrow.

That's it from here, Natalie.

ALLEN: A confusing story has another little confusing element with the justices there sharing duties. Thanks, though, for letting us know, Bill Delaney.

Now to Lou.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We will try to make it less confusing now. We call upon our election law analyst David Cardwell, who joins us from Tallahassee. I really don't really understand what the law is here, why anyone would ask for nearly 15,000 ballots to be tossed out because someone plugged in an ID number that wasn't there because of a misprinted application. Can you clear this up for us, David?

DAVID CARDWELL, CNN ELECTION LAW ANALYST: OK, Lou, there have been some cases decided by the Florida Supreme Court, in fact, were there were election contests that were filed, attacking absentee ballots. Once the absentee ballot is removed from its so-called outer envelope, and then counted, you cannot tell whether that particular voter was eligible to vote or not because you can't trace the outer envelope to the ballot.

What happened in Seminole County, it has happened in some other cases, when you get bad ballots, mingled together with good ballots, to the point where the court cannot figure out which one is which, we have had some decisions where the Supreme Court has said: Well, this so permeated the absentee process that it challenged the integrity of all of the ballots so we are going to throw out all the absentee ballots.

WATERS: David, excuse me. David, hang with us, we have to interrupt. We will be back to you.

We have Joe Lieberman and Senator Daschle at the microphones in Washington. Let's listen what they have to say.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: ... I think it's also accurate to say that there is unanimity about our support for the vice president and for Senator Lieberman as they continue to proceed in their effort for an accurate recount.

There is no erosion of that support. There is extraordinary belief that the vice president and Senator Lieberman have conducted themselves in a way that makes us very proud. So it is with that understanding and with that enthusiasm that we welcomed him back to our caucus today, and I will invite him to make his remarks at this time.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Tom.

I thank Tom Daschle, not only for his kind words today, but for his leadership and for his truly steadfast friendship through this extraordinary year in my life.

I could not have asked for a warmer, more encouraging, more steadfast greeting than I got from the members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. I think they understand what the vice president and I are feeling and trying to do, they're proud that we won the popular vote, that we're within three votes of an electoral victory. And they feel, as we do, that if the votes were accurately counted in Florida, we will win Florida and therefore the election.

We said some time ago that we wanted this contest, in this closest of all presidential elections in American history, to be decided according to the rule of law in Florida's highest court, the Florida Supreme Court. That is why we are appealing, that is where our hopes rest, and I'm very grateful that my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus are with us as we go forward, with hope, to the Florida Supreme Court.

Thank you.

DASCHLE: I'd be happy to stay. I know Senator Lieberman has a tight schedule today, but I'd be happy to entertain a couple of questions.

WATERS: All right, there's Joe Lieberman, for the second time today, in front of reporters up on Capitol Hill, where he was in a meeting with the Democratic caucus. As you heard, the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, expressing once again support for the Gore- Lieberman ticket. They're taking questions. Let's listen to a few of those.

LIEBERMAN: Well, Vice President Gore and I have been saying now for weeks that we would abide by the rule of law, and that we thought that the final arbiter of all the contests and questions around this extremely close election in Florida would be the Florida Supreme Court, applying the law of Florida. And that continues to be our point of view.

I think, with all respect, we feel very strongly that Judge Sauls' decision yesterday was wrong. And we are going to take this case back to the Florida Supreme Court, which issued the initial decision on the merits, to ask that the remaining votes that had not yet been counted, be counted by hand. In some sense, we are asking the Florida Supreme Court simply to implement the decision that it made.

And I don't -- the ultimate decisions, obviously, about where to go from there are up to the vice president.

But I think that we're going to put our faith in the Florida Supreme Court.

QUESTION: Is the consensus, as we've heard from so many senators, that this is the end point? That if Mr. Gore loses in the state Supreme Court this time around, it's over?

DASCHLE: I think the overwhelming consensus expressed to Senator Lieberman during our caucus was that we support you in your decisions as you proceed. You're on the ground. You're there. You're in a better position to make the best judgment about what the next step ought to be, and we're there to support you.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, has Senator Lott informed you what the agenda is for the remaining days of this lame duck session? What bills will or won't come up?

DASCHLE: Well, Senator Lott and I have worked together in trying to develop an agenda that takes into account what remaining work there is. We have the Commerce appropriations bill. We have the Treasury- Post Office-legislative appropriations bill, the Labor-H appropriations bill, the tax and the BBRA bill, and Senator Lott has indicated a desire to, again, attempt to achieve cloture on the bankruptcy bill. To my knowledge, those are the issues that remain and ought to be addressed.

QUESTION: Going to drop any bills from the agenda, to your knowledge?

DASCHLE: No. We had a good meeting at the White House yesterday, and there was no desire to drop any of it. Our hope is that we can successfully complete it all.

QUESTION: What about immigration?

DASCHLE: Immigration is part of the Commerce appropriations bill, and our expectation is we will attempt to find a suitable compromise that will allow both sides to declare some real progress.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Senator Lieberman, are you confident that you're going to be able to get this done in time, even if the Florida Supreme Court goes your way?

LIEBERMAN: Yes, let me just say that members of the caucus were very strong in encouraging us to go forward to the Florida Supreme Court. And this is based on the growing evidence of irregularities in the vote in Florida, and, for instance, on the judgment of the independent expert retained by the Miami Herald who concluded that in fact Al Gore and I carried Florida by 23,000 votes.

We're mindful, also, of the opportunity that people will have next year through Freedom of Information to gain access to those ballots, and it would just not be good for the country for there to be a conclusion that the wrong person was sitting in the big chair in the Oval Office.

So the encouragement was to go forward, get it settled now, so we can put it to rest and go forward united to our future.

On the question of timing, we feel very strongly that the Supreme Court of Florida has put us on an expeditious schedule. As you know, briefs are due tomorrow, oral argument on Thursday. I would expect a decision sometime not too long thereafter.

And the experts seem to tell us now that the votes in question, if, as we hope, we win and the court orders they be counted, could be counted in a couple of days. And that still has a final judgment, as it ought to be reached, with all the votes counted, clearly, by December 12, which is the goal that everyone has had.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Senator, are you glad that you kept your Senate seat?

WATERS: All right, Joe Lieberman saying, once again: We still have a chance. May get the votes counted, the ones they want counted by this weekend, he thinks, if and it's a big if, the Florida Supreme Court should go along with the Gore appeal to the Judge Sauls -- Judge Sauls' ruling, which Joe Lieberman said for the second time today was wrong on the law.

We were talking to David Cardwell just a moment ago.

And David, we will get back to the absentee ballots again. But since Joe Lieberman has referred once again to Judge Sauls' decision as wrong on the law, what is the argument in the Supreme Court, that Joe Lieberman says that he's putting faith in, might turn this around for the Democrats?

CARDWELL: Well, what the Gore lawyers are going to ask the Supreme Court is to reverse Judge Sauls, on a couple of points. One, is that the judge did not actually look at each of the 9,000 ballots from Miami-Dade County that the Gore campaign wants to be hand counted. Those ballots were introduced into evidence, and they are going to argue that, as a result of that, the judge had to look at each one of them and make some sort of determination.

The other legal issue that they're going to raise is the judge's decision that he was reviewing what happened at the canvassing boards to determine if they abused their discretion. If you will recall, from the oral -- from the closing arguments by David Boies, representing the Gore side, he was saying that the court had the ability to do what was called a de novo proceeding, which is basically we start from scratch here, and we introduce the canvassing board's deliberations and results as evidence, but they are not conclusive. It is something that then has to then be looked behind.

So those are probably going to be the two points that are probably going to be really hammered home by the Gore lawyers before the Florida Supreme Court.

WATERS: Republican attorneys are saying, and of course they would say, that Al Gore has almost impossible chance before the Florida Supreme Court. Would you agree with that?

CARDWELL: I don't know if it's, if it's that much of a long shot. It's going to be difficult for them. Appellate courts do not like to overturn trial courts, unless they find that the trial court abused its powers or its discretion, or if the trial court misapplied the law. They won't necessarily second-guess the judge because the judge is the one that is there that sees the witnesses, reads all of the evidence. They are not going to second guess what determinations he made when he had to go either one way or the other, as long as he didn't misapply the law.

And something to keep in mind is that while we have never had a statewide contest as we are having here, in this election, we have had contests involving other races before. Of all of the election contests that the Florida Supreme Court has heard in recent years, they only reversed the trial court once in all of the cases that they heard.

WATERS: There is something to think about.

Now to the Martin and Seminole County lawsuits on absentee ballots applications. You addressed that briefly before I had to interrupt you. Now, those are a couple of other long shot, are they not? But also not part of the Gore contest.

CARDWELL: That is true. The Gore campaign is not a party to either one of those lawsuits. The Republican Party and the Bush campaign is participating. In fact, the Bush campaign lawyers tried to pull in the Seminole County case into the action before Judge Saser (ph), but he did not rule on in their favor on that. And so it's still a stand alone case involving these absentee ballots.

The question in Seminole County and Martin County, I don't believe it is going to turn so much on whether there was something in fact done that was not authorized by the election code. But what is the remedy? If you find that you've got 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 ballots that perhaps are in question because of this adding of the voter ID number, do you then knock out all of the absentee ballots, tens of thousands of votes, in order to correct the error that occurred in those few ballots.

WATERS: What would be your opinion on that?

CARDWELL: Courts are also reluctant to overthrow election results. We have had cases where the Supreme Court or the trial court found that either there was so much fraud or so much wrongdoing or so much irregularity with the absentee ballots that it tainted the entire process and they have thrown them all out. But still, the, the leading case that everyone's going to go rely upon, and you will hear a lot about it over the next couple of days, is that the Florida Supreme Court in Boardman versus Esteveia (ph). Because in that case, which involved a judicial election, where the Florida Supreme Court said that the number-one priority for any trial court, looking at election contests is to determine the intent of the voter, and count as many votes as you possibly can.

WATERS: You heard Tom Daschle being asked the questions -- it is being asked more frequently now on Capitol Hill -- if the Florida Supreme Court denies the Gore contest appeal is it over? what do you think?

CARDWELL: Well, it'll be over, based on the statements we've heard from Joe Lieberman, it'll be over so far as the Gore campaign is concerned. But we've also had some citizens file lawsuits, as Seminole County and Martin County, and also, there were some interveners in the case before Judge Sauls. And so we could have a case that could stay around that is something other than just the election contest filed by Gore and Lieberman.

WATERS: But we can assume, I would imagine, that if this isn't settled by the courts by the weekend, that we can see the Florida Legislature firing up?

CARDWELL: It's possible. There is still concern by the Florida Legislature, that due to some court proceeding that could affect whether Florida's electors are in place and unchallenged as of December 12th that we could lose casting our votes in the Electoral College. And if that's the case, the Florida Legislature has said, at least through the House speaker, that they would be willing to step in and name the electors.

WATERS: All right, thanks again, David Cardwell, election law analyst from Tallahassee.

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