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Lott Announces News Conference

Aired December 13, 2002 - 11:31   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: This is tape of Senator Trent Lott speaking in Florida.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: Obviously, it's been very difficult to really enjoy it, but it's a beautiful area, and I know that the people here enjoy it thoroughly.

QUESTION: Are you making a decision here, sir?

LOTT: Well, I want to just announce that my wife and I will be flying back to my home state this afternoon, Mississippi, and I will have a press statement at that time and will take questions from the media, both local media and national affiliates. And my staff office in Washington will be contacting all of the networks and the media outlets so that we'll have a full compliment there.

QUESTION: Have you decided whether...

LOTT: I think that that's the best place to answer...

QUESTION: Can you tell us whether you've made a decision?

LOTT: ... answer questions. I'm just going to...

QUESTION: First of all, this is a diverse community.

LOTT: I understand. Right.


LOTT: Oh absolutely. This is a fantastic area and I (inaudible)

QUESTION: Have you spoken with the president in the last day or two? LOTT: Yes, I did speak to the president and...

QUESTION: Yesterday or today?

LOTT: Yesterday. And then the president said, as he should, that I've apologized for what I had to say, and which was the appropriate thing to do. And I'm going to expand on that even more this afternoon at the press conference.

Thank you all very much. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: We wanted to bring you that tape as soon as we got it here in the building. That tape was of Senator Trent Lott, who is actually on vacation right now in Florida, but his vacation has been interrupted, if you will, by this firestorm that's been brewing by the words that he uttered last week at a celebration for Senator Strom Thurmond, and he just -- you heard the words there, he is going to be coming out and expanding upon his apology for those words in which he said that Strom Thurmond had been elected president back in 1948, when he ran as a segregationist, that this country "wouldn't have gone through all of those troubles through all of those years" as he said.

Now, we will have more on that, live coverage of that press conference which will come from Mississippi at 4:30 Central time, 5:30 Eastern right here on the network.

Let's go to our Jonathan Karl, who is standing by on Capitol Hill to get some more on all this. Jon, were you surprised to hear this, or see Trent Lott come out to the cameras during his vacation?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very unusual event. Those who know Trent Lott well up here know that he hates to interrupt his vacations. This, of course, is a moment, though, unlike any in his career. He's been under such enormous pressure from his own colleagues here in the Republican Party, in the Senate, to come out and do something that it doesn't all together surprise me that he felt the need to do it immediately.

The more important question would be what happens when he comes to Pascagoula, Mississippi and faces all of the questions. What's interesting here, a little bit of background. If we remind ourselves how this controversy has unfolded. Senator Lott has gone through now three statements. This will be his fourth on this question.

The first came last weekend when the story first came out about what he said at Strom Thurmond's birthday party. His office put out a statement that was not an apology, but was quite defensive, saying that anybody who would misinterpret his remarks was simply wrong.

Then, he was forced to put out a very terse three-sentence apology where he said that he was apologized if anybody was offended by his remarks. Then, that wasn't enough, so he went and he did two interviews, one on the Sean Hannity radio program and the other on "LARRY KING LIVE."

Both of those interviews were over the telephone. So that's the first time we've seen, actually, Trent Lott in person talking about this, and this controversy is now more than a week old.

That's been very frustrating to the Republicans up here on Capitol Hill who feel that Trent Lott needed to do more, and to do it quickly in terms of getting out there and addressing these concerns.

So this will be the fourth time, again, the fourth time he has addressed this. You can call it his third apology, because the first one was not an apology, and he's certainly hoping the fourth time is the charm, but many up here are wondering if it really will be.

HARRIS: And that is the question of the day now. Thanks, Jon. Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill.

KARL: Sure.

HARRIS: We'll wait for that moment of truth at 4:30 Central time today.


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