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The Florida Vote: Supreme Court Calls Time Out in Recount

Aired December 9, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: One moment they're counting, the next they're not counting. The reason? A recount time out by the U.S. Supreme Court.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: And political turmoil today is not limited to the U.S., as Israel's prime minister indicates he's about to resign.

From the CNN Center in Atlanta, this is a special report on election 2000. I'm Brian Nelson.

KAGAN: And I'm Daryn Kagan. Thanks for joining us.

This has indeed been a day of major developments, both here in the U.S. in the election dispute, and then, as if that was not enough, in the Middle East as well. We will have details on Ehud Barak's decision to resign. That is coming up a bit later.

But first we want to get right to the latest on the Florida presidential vote.

NELSON: Indeed, a very busy Saturday, filled with extreme highs and extreme lows in both the Bush and Gore presidential campaigns.

It began with the Gore campaign very pleased to see manual ballot counting taking place throughout Florida, as ordered yesterday in a 4- 3 decision by Florida's Supreme Court. The hand counting involved more than 40,000 so-called undervotes.

Then another positive development for the Gore campaign just before 2:30 this afternoon Eastern time. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected a bid by the Bush campaign to halt the Florida counting.

But then, only 10 minutes later, it was once again advantage Bush, as the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to grant the Bush campaign's request to stop all the hand recounting.

And in announcing that it had stayed the Florida recount, the nation's highest court scheduled a hearing on the case. Oral arguments for Bush and Gore attorneys are set for 11 a.m. Eastern time Monday morning.

The details from CNN national correspondent Bob Franken, who joins us now live from the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that five-justice majority is very significant. It took the five in order to actually make that stay go into effect. And as Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a concurring opinion, he says, "It suffices to say that the issuance of this stay suggests that while a majority of the court, while not deciding the case, the issues presented, believe that the petitioner has a substantial probability of winning."

Now probability is an important word here. The petitioner is the Bush campaign, and it is widely believed that if in fact the Bush campaign wins, finally, after the hearing on Monday, then the election would be over, that George W. Bush would have won the result in Florida, would gain the 25 electoral votes there. That would be enough to put him over the top.

There was a very strong dissent from four justices in the Supreme Court, the ones who were considered more of the liberal wing. And most people will tell you that you can't necessarily say that this has already been resolved, but experts like Ed Lazarus, who follows the Supreme Court, says this is certainly good news for George W. Bush.


EDWARD LAZARUS, FORMER SUPREME COURT CLERK: I don't think the writing is entirely on the wall, but in order to have granted the stay, as opposed to the decision to hear the case, but to grant the stay stopping the recount, that meant that five of the justices, as Scalia points out, think that there's a substantial probability that George W. Bush will win."


FRANKEN: Now the justices are going to be hearing the case on Monday morning. They have very tight time constraints. The next day is when a deadline -- it could be moved, but a deadline exists for the electors to be decided. It could be a case that the U.S. Supreme Court could assume its role as the court of last resort and could have the role of ending the election -- Brian.

NELSON: Bob, is this going to be a long, drawn-out affair on Monday? How much time have they given the attorneys from both sides to argue their case?

FRANKEN: Forty-five minutes each, it's another 90-minute hearing. And once again, the justices are allowing an audiotape recording of this hearing to be played immediately. That was unprecedented the last time it happened a little over a week ago. It gives some indication that the justices are well aware of just how important this matter is.

NELSON: And do you believe that they'll make that decision on Monday?

FRANKEN: It's probable that it would come after that. They have to have some time to talk, but there's high expectation it might come Tuesday.

NELSON: CNN's Bob Franken at the U.S. Supreme Court, thanks -- Andria -- I'm sorry -- Daryn.

KAGAN: That's OK. Daryn's not usually here on Saturday night but pleased to be here on this very historic day.

No one's going to be looking forward more to that Supreme Court decision than the folks in Florida, especially the folks in the 58 counts, those that were doing the recounting today or getting ready to do that. It was an on-again off-again day for those folks.

More now on that part of the story from our Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A sign outside a Leon County library says "closed today," because inside the library history was being made. Nine thousand disputed votes from Miami-Dade County trucked into the state capitol last week were being counted as the Gore campaign had wanted.

Nine county and civil court judges were acting as counters and separating ballots in piles for Bush, Gore, no vote, or disputed, but then this announcement...

TERRE CASS, LEON COUNTY COURT ADMINISTRATOR: We have stayed the recount at this point until we hear from the U.S. Supreme Court based on that U.S. Supreme Court decision that was handed down today.

TUCHMAN: Nearly half the ballots had been counted in a process that was looking like it would end early in the evening.

DAVE LANG, LEON COUNTY COURT CLERK: I'd say it was as smooth as glass, and there were no hitches, no problems, nothing of that nature.

TUCHMAN: After the announcement the ballots were packed up in the boxes they came in and put in a police van for the ride back to Leon County Circuit Court where they had been in storage with more than 1,000,000 other ballots from Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

The Miami-Dade election supervisor who was one of the three people who decided to stop the manual recount of this county's votes in midstream last month was asked about this count.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it was a very good process, very good people up here, appreciate the judges helping out, except they headed south, so...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly. What do you think of that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't have an opinion.

TUCHMAN: A Republican observer said George W. Bush had netted 42 votes during the partial count. A member of Al Gore's team said that number is not necessarily accurate because of a large number of disputed votes they're convinced would go for the vice president.


TUCHMAN: The ballots that have been counted will remain separated from those that haven't been counted, so the process could resume immediately if the U.S. Supreme Court gives it's OK. But if the U.S. Supreme says no, this library will reopen to the public. And this chapter of our national education on hand counting will come to an end.

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: And, Gary, that's -- you talked about the security taking place with the ballots up there in Leon County, but what about across the state? Do you know what other counties are doing to make sure that those ballots aren't tampered with, just in case there is a recount called for?

TUCHMAN: That's a major issue, and it's something the judge here, Terry Lewis in Leon County, last night brought up, because he's in control of this case right now. And the canvassing boards in each county are taking specific precautions to maintain the dignity and security of those ballots.

KAGAN: Gary Tuchman in Tallahassee, Florida, thank you very much.

NELSON: The Supreme Court decision halting the ballot count in Florida was highly divided. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary committee says today's move is compromising the high court's credibility.

CNN's Washington bureau chief Frank Sesno and senior political analyst William Schneider join us with more on that.

Gentlemen, I'd like to throw something at you right away about the politicization of the court. The Republicans have accused Democratic judges on the Florida Supreme Court of a coup d'etat, a judicial coup d'etat. And then today Patrick Leahy tells Frank that the Supreme Court has severely compromised in its moral posture in stopping the recounts. What is going on here? Are the courts really that politicized, or are politicians making them that way?

FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, everything's politicized right now. I don't think you have to look, if we're talking about the courts, very much farther than what the Supreme Court did today, 5-4. That's split. The way they split, it's political. It's pretty much as you might expect. John Paul Stevens says of the majority opinion that the majority of the court acted "unwisely."

In that conversation with Patrick Leahy, as you mentioned, he's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he says that in his 25 years as a senator he's never criticized the United States Supreme Court. But this time, by advertising their opinion in the way they did, in his opinion anyway, it undermines their credibility. He says this is very bad for the Supreme Court, because their credibility is so diminished, their moral posture is so diminished it could take years, he says, for the Supreme Court to pull back from that.

Bill Schneider, I don't know about you, we've certainly heard a lot of criticism from the courts, not just from Democrats, from Republicans as well, but the United States Supreme Court was supposed to be -- was supposed to be that word, that unifier, the ultimate arbiter.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. The United States Supreme Court is in a unique position because it is the spokesman for the Constitution of the United States. And, you know, this is a situation where one wonders, who is the voice that can bring the country together? I mean, it can't be the president -- he's a partisan in all this -- or former President Bush. His son is a candidate.

There has to be someone who can speak for the entirety of the American people and for the authority of the United States Constitution. Only the Supreme Court can do that.

NELSON: But, Frank and Bill, can I ask you a question? Do we assume from all of this now that all of our courts vote along party lines?

SESNO: No, no, of course not. And, you know, we saw what the Florida state Supreme Court did, you know, prior, in their first decision, which was unanimous and the way they split. Justice Wells wrote a blistering dissent, and he, too, you know, all of them appointed by Democratic governors. But it's the integrity. It's the sense that the courts have an authority, are final arbiters in all of this.

And we should point out that the Republicans have attacked the courts in Florida when they haven't liked what they've gotten and they've stayed silent otherwise. And earlier today, I should tell you, Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leader in the House, prior to my conversation with Pat Leahy, said, look, if -- and he was really, Gephardt was, addressing his comments to Republicans -- just because we don't like what the courts are saying, we should lay off. We shouldn't attack the courts because of the authority that they have.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, you know, you've had a decision first in the beginning of the week by Judge Sauls, who, though a Democrat is a conservative, one man, then you have a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court attacked as political because most of the justices were appointed by Democrats -- all of them were, I think. And then you had a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court of the United States.

There's tremendous pressure now on the Supreme Court when it finally makes a decision and determines the outcome of this case to speak with a stronger and more unified voice, if they can find that voice, which means a majority of at least six or seven or hopefully eight or nine votes so they can speak with some authority and unify the country. Because no other institution can do that right now. KAGAN: And so, Frank and Bill, you have this partisan fight taking place. You also have kind of this constitutional power struggle happening where you have these four governmental bodies trying to trump one another. You have the Florida courts, the Florida legislature, the Supreme Court and Congress. It's kind of like a case of rock, paper, scissors, who goes over whom.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. And you've got three of those institutions that the Republicans believe are working -- that Democrats believe are working for the Republicans: the Florida legislature, which is Republican dominated; the Congress of the United States, where the Republicans control the House, the Senate is split; and now the Supreme Court. They believe that the only institution on their side is the Florida courts.

This is a kind of -- it's a very bad situation just because the courts can't be as divided as everyone else in all this.

SESNO: And this is where, Daryn, this is where you start hearing here around Washington some real expressions of concern, because the more partisan rhetoric, the more rancorous rhetoric starts to undermine or corrode the authority of a variety of these institutions that you mentioned.

And it's why you run into people like Senator Chuck Hagel, for example, a Republican from Nebraska. He's a moderate, and he's urging moderation. He's saying to his fellow Republicans and to others, we're in deep, dark murky waters here. And the rhetoric has to be held to a minimum, and we have to hold our fire. Because in the end, we've got to come out on the other side of this and govern.

But they're worried, Daryn. They're worried that with this turn of events there's a new threshold. And passions have become inflamed here, and the rhetoric and the passions can kind of get away from everybody.

KAGAN: Frank Sesno, Bill Schneider in Washington, D.C., thanks for joining us, gentlemen. Appreciate your insight.

NELSON: Thank you both,

Analysis of the Supreme Court's action comes at the half hour.

Greta Van Susteren debriefs the former Supreme Court clerk and constitutional scholar Bruce Fein.

KAGAN: Also want to here what the respective camps had to say about what took place today, checking with the Bush and the Gore campaigns.

You are watching a CNN special report.


KAGAN: Written brief due before the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, and then oral arguments 11 a.m. Eastern on Monday morning. One thing you can be sure of, attorneys for both Al Gore and George Bush are working very hard tonight.

For the latest from the respective camps, let's first go to Jonathan Karl, who's in Washington, D.C., and we'll hear from Candy Crowley in just a second from Austin, Texas -- Jonathan.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, quite day for the vice president, obviously, as a dream turned to a nightmare. The dream was voting finally started this morning, vote counting of those disputed ballots, but then just a few hours later, of course, the Supreme Court stopping all the voting, sending the Gore campaign scrambling.

One of the first reactions came from Ron Klain, one of Gore's top lawyers, who said in those first few hours of counting of votes there were enough votes that were indeed counted in Gore's favor to potentially begin to turn the election to his favor. According to Klain, 58 votes, a net gain of 58 votes for Vice President Gore, were turned up when just 13 counties had begun partial or complete recounts.

This is what Klain had to say.


RON KLAIN, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: We're obviously disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to grant a stay against the manual recounts here in Florida, and we are disappointed for several reasons. First and foremost, we were actually quite pleased with the progress being made with the counts under way here in the a number of counties.

Our latest information shows that 13 counties had completely or partially completed their recounts. And in those counties, Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman had gained a net of 58 votes. Five of those counties were heavily Republican counties. So we believe that the progress made in the count thus far indicated that we were clearly on a path for Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman to make up the difference and to pull ahead, had the count been fully completed.


KARL: Republicans immediately cried foul after Klain said that. They said that he violated the judge's order, Judge Terry Lewis's order, that there would be no release of partial recount information. Now they had tried to actually hold Klain in contempt of court. The court decided not to hold Klain in contempt but reminded all parties that they are not supposed to release partial recount information.

Meanwhile, the Gore team now very much focused on the Supreme Court as their last chance to get the count started. They were preparing that brief. One Gore lawyer told me that they will be up all night preparing that brief to bring before the Supreme Court tomorrow.

Back to you.

KAGAN: I'm sure they will. They'll be very busy indeed tonight. Jonathan Karl in Washington, D.C. tonight, thank you very much -- Brian.

NELSON: And out in Austin, Texas, the day began with some great concern about the outcome of that recount, or that count, in Florida, and it ended in pretty much a day of relief for the Bush campaign.

And following the Bush campaign in Austin, Texas, is CNN's Candy Crowley -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Brian, the Bush team wanted two things out of the U.S. Supreme Court: first a stop to the recounts, the hand recounts -- they got it. And second, another day before the U.S. Supreme Court -- and they got that.

At transition headquarters in Virginia, one aide described the mood as "subdued exuberance." Here in Austin, the political aide said pretty much our emotions have been squeezed. And down in Tallahassee, James Baker, Bush's point man on the ground there settled for a simple pleased.


JAMES BAKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN OBSERVER: One day you're up, one day you're down. It's taken a lot of twists and turns. But it's very, very gratifying to us, I know to Governor Bush, to all of us, that the United States Supreme Court has now for the second time indicated a willingness and an interest in hearing this very, very important case and this very, very important federal issue.


CROWLEY: George Bush was on the ranch in Crawford when he got the news from Don Evans, his campaign chairman. Bush said it was great news from the Supreme Court. Dick Cheney was watching a movie in Virginia when his cell phone rang. He also pronounced it great.

But what they know here in the Bush camp in Tallahassee, in Virginia and in Austin is that the real business before the U.S. Supreme Court begins Monday with those oral arguments -- Brian.

NELSON: Candy, how has Mr. Bush been spending the day?

CROWLEY: Well, he has some guests up at the ranch. As a matter of fact, he was driving them around showing it off. It's a place he loves and very secluded. And that's when he got his phone call from Don Evans. And he just took it quickly, got the news. But then he went back and got some more details, also talked to James Baker and a couple of other campaign aides that are on the ground in Florida.

NELSON: All right, thank you, CNN's Candy Crowley reporting to us from Austin, Texas -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And in the middle of all this political drama here in the U.S., we receive news of yet another political crisis, this time in Israel, as Prime Minister Ehud Barak announces he plans to resign. It could just be a political maneuver. More on that when we come back.


NELSON: We continue to follow all of the Florida recount. You, too, can get up to speed on the court rulings at our Web site. The address is, and you can also sign up for an e-mail that gives you a heads up when and if a new president is chosen.

Now let's take a moment away from election 2000 for another big political story, this one in the Middle East.

In an astonishing move today, Israel's Ehud Barak announced plans to step down as prime minister.

CNN's Nic Robertson said the decision may actually be a political maneuver for the prime minister.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The shocking move came in a nationally televised broadcast. Prime Minister Ehud Barak delivering the announcement of his resignation at the end of the almost 20-minute address.

EHUD BARAK, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): Tomorrow morning, I will officially announce to the president my decision to resign and to stand in a special election at the head of the Labor Party for the premiership in Israel. Right after that, I'll present my letter of resignation to the government in accordance with the law.


ROBERSTON: His decision clears the way for prime ministerial elections within 60 days. By resigning now, Barak preempts Knesset moves towards both general and prime ministerial elections in May and may prevent what polling shows to be his strongest opposition challenger: former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from running against him.

Mr. Netanyahu is no longer in the Knesset, and, therefore, not eligible to run for prime minister. Senior members of his Likud Party are confident they can meet the challenge.

EHUD OLMERT, LIKUD PARTY MEMBER: We all know that the reason why he submitted his resignation is because he's afraid to face Benjamin Netanyahu. He knows that Benjamin Netanyahu has an absolute majority in all the opinion polls in Israel, and he thinks that he can, by some political maneuvering, avoid the confrontation with Netanyahu.

ROBERSTON: Resignation may strengthen Mr. Barak's chances of being chosen by his Labor Party as its candidate for prime minister. Failure to end the current conflict combined with a breakdown in peace talks with the Palestinians had undermined the prime minister's leadership and popularity.

In his televised address, Mr. Barak spoke of the need for peace, while meeting the Palestinian challenge on the battlefield, and in questioning afterwards with journalists said he was not ruling out a peace deal before the elections.

BARAK: I cannot predict the chances of having an agreement, but if the opportunity will still be there, we will not ignore it.

ROBERSTON: Mr. Barak was challenged by senior Palestinian official Ahmed Qurei to make a bold move towards peace.

AHMED QUREI, SPEAKER, PALESTINIAN COUNCIL: And we hope that the new prime minister, whoever it is, whether Mr. Barak or anybody else, will be able to explain to the Israeli people in a very transparent way about the needs of peace, about the prerequisites of peace, about the rights of the Palestinian people that should be respected and implemented.

ROBERSTON: Even within the context of the ongoing confrontations on the battleground, the notion of a negotiated peace deal with Palestinians has the backing of 60 percent of Israelis.

(on camera): If Mr. Barak follows through on his resignation, the challenge will be on his opponents in the Knesset to pass laws to enable an early general election, or Mr. Netanyahu's entry into the premiership before the elections in 60 days. It is a major political gamble.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Jerusalem.



KAGAN: A lot has certainly happened today. We're going to encourage you to stay with CNN throughout the evening for complete coverage of today's development in the Florida vote.

NELSON: "LARRY KING LIVE" comes your way at the top of the hour, and Daryn and I will be back at 10 p.m. Eastern for a complete wrap-up of all the day's events. I'm Brian Nelson.

KAGAN: And I'm Daryn Kagan.

Greta Van Susteren is picking up our coverage right now beginning right now.



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