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Inside Politics

Republicans Vent Anger Over Forcible Seizure of Elian Gonzalez; Will the Administration's Removal of Elian be an Elections Day Issue?

Aired April 24, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET



SEN. BOB SMITH (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: He's now with his father, so everything is fine. We should forget everything else that happened. Well, I'm not going to forget everything else that happened.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: More Republican anger over the government's use of force to return Elian Gonzalez to his father. Will that anger lead to congressional action?


JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The American public should not be surprised that, you know, the first reaction from Capitol Hill is personal attacks on the attorney general, personal attacks on the president.


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Are the American people supportive, or critical, of the president and the attorney general? We'll check the latest snapshots of public opinion.

WOODRUFF: And we'll look ahead to Election Day. Will the administration's removal of Elian be an issue?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

SHAW: Thanks for joining us.

As unpredictable as the Elian Gonzalez case has been, at times, the dramatic events of this past weekend have led to a rather familiar political scenario: some Republicans in Congress are calling today for an investigation of the administration's actions, prompting the White House to defend itself more aggressively.

We begin with CNN's Chris Black on the GOP outcry and whether congressional hearings may be in the works.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Angry words from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

SMITH: To take this child violently -- I can't believe people in the press are standing up for this violent act. It's -- he is now with his father, so everything is fine. We should forget everything else that happened. Well, I'm not going to forget everything else that happened.

BLACK: House Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde told his staff to look into the tactics used by federal agents to take Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives, but Hyde stopped short of scheduling a public hearing. And Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch is demanding copies of all documents related to the search warrant for the operation.

Many Republican members of Congress expressed outrage over the sought of armed federal agents entering a private home. House speaker Dennis Hastert said: "The image of federal agents breaking down doors and brandishing automatic weapons is deeply disturbing."

While members of Congress may be disturbed, they are going slow. Senate majority leader Trent Lott and a small bipartisan group of senators will meet Tuesday with Attorney General Janet Reno and other federal officials to privately hear how she made her decision. Even Representative Dan Burton, one of the Clinton administration's most relentless critic, has no plans to take any action, though he slammed the attorney general for a "reckless operation."

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee says the government did what it had to do.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: The thing we should be looking at as much as anything is a father reunited with his son, something that should have happened months ago. And now, instead of just keeping this thing going, let the father and son reunite, let's stop making a political media football out of this whole thing.

BLACK: Opinion polls show the public firmly supports returning the child to his Cuban father. So members of Congress are reluctant to do more than criticize the Clinton administration and they say there is little Congress can do beyond second guessing the Clinton administration operation.


BLACK: Congress is still in Easter recess, but the Elian Gonzalez case has eluded consensus from the beginning. Despite the dramatic events of the weekend, there is no indication Congress will be doing a lot more than complaining -- Bernie.

SHAW: Chris, is this dispute between Congress and the attorney general different from past ones?

BLACK: Well, it's not different in the sense that they reacted much as they have in the past and criticized the attorney general sharply as soon as this happened. What is different, Bernie, is the reluctance to go much further. The public has a very clear idea of what is at stake here.

And as Senator Connie Mack of Florida acknowledged to me some time ago, the public does not view Cuba and Fidel Castro as a threat anymore. So, to most Americans this has been a matter of getting a little boy back with his father, and these Republicans are a little bit reluctant to be on the wrong side of family values.

SHAW: Thank you, Chris Black on the Hill.

Now, whether or not Congress holds hearings, the Clinton administration was ready and willing this day to defend its handling of the Gonzalez case and to accuse some Republicans of playing politics.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent John King -- John.

JOHN KING, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, senior White House officials actually sensing a bit of a retreat by the Republicans today, noting that over the weekend Republicans were saying there absolutely would be hearings, but today they're promising inquiries, requesting documents, but stopping short of saying there will indeed be a full-blown investigation.

The White House believes in time as the Republicans learn more about this case the fervor for an investigation will die down. But if there are hearings, the White House served notice today, the administration will aggressively defend its tactics.


KING (voice-over): The attorney general would be the lead witness at any congressional hearings. She kissed a baby and signed autographs at the annual White House Easter egg roll, but ignored shouted questions about the Elian Gonzalez case. The president kept silent, too, taking off from Andrews Air Force Base en route to New York, passing up a chance to visit the young Cuban boy and his father. But senior administration officials mounted an aggressive campaign to justify the use of force to seize Elian.

LOCKHART: There was information that there might be guns in the house, out in the crowd.

KING: The White House cited reports that a private investigator providing security for the Miami relatives was known to carry a gun. And Justice Department officials say Elian's cousin, Marisleysis Gonzalez, made a veiled threat just two days before the raid, saying there were, "more than just cameras in the house."

Administration officials acknowledged the pictures are disturbing, but say law enforcement officials have to err on the side of caution and that any blame lies with the relatives who repeatedly refused requests for a peaceful transfer of custody. LOCKHART: All of this could have been avoided. None of this had to happen. This happened because the family did not respect the legal process here that dictated the father should be reunited with the young boy.


KING: The White House view now is that the more and more the American people see young Elian Gonzalez with his father, less and less inclined will be the president's critics to prolong the political controversy --Bernie.

SHAW: John, this White House is critical of Republicans, but what is it saying about Vice President Gore's position, which differed from the president's?

KING: Certainly, the vice president had a very public disagreement with the president over this issue. On the issue of the raid itself, though, however, White House officials drawing a distinction that while the vice president has said he would have preferred that this be settled in the state courts in Florida, he has not come out and criticized the raid itself.

White House officials noting that if there are hearings, they say their posture will be quite aggressive in that they will accuse the Republicans of going after the law enforcement officials on the scene as much as they are going after the president and the attorney general. Still, though, this certainly has provoked disagreement with the vice president. The president will see him tonight, although White House officials say they don't expect the topic will come up.

SHAW: One other quick question: Is the White House planning to go even further in defense of the INS action and also the attorney general?

KING: Well, the White House say they will defend this action to the end, and more and more as they do so they are raising questions about the Miami relatives. Justice Department officials saying although the relatives had said they would cooperate if agents showed up, that some relatives put a sofa in front of the door and forced those agents to come on in.

So as the administration's conduct is called into question, the administration quite aggressively calling the conduct of those Miami relatives into question. And again, they believe in time that the more and more the American people see this young boy with his father, the more and more they will agree that, that was the right course of action.

SHAW: At the White House, John King -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Well, joining us now in our Washington bureau, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thank you for joining us. As you know, the administration says this action was justified because the family was not obeying the law. Your view?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, at the outset, let me make it clear that I think Elian should have been returned to his father at the outset, and it never was the case for asylum because he wouldn't face persecution if he went back to Cuba. He would get adulation instead. But it's not only Republicans who have expressed some concerns, but Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, was very upset yesterday about what happened. And my thought is that there are lessons to be learned from what has happened here.

Congress has pretty much given the INS a free hand, as long as they were going after aliens who are suspected terrorists, or drug dealers, or violent criminals, but there were some alternatives here. I wrote to the attorney general in advance of the raid, suggested a court order. I think that if they had moved the crowd back several blocks, which is not unusual, they would have avoided the problem of the so-called human chain.

WOODRUFF: Well, Senator, let me just interrupt you.

SPECTER: And I -- listen to me please, Judy. I think that Elian could have been obtained without having the great risk. There was really a potential powder keg. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured, but I think we can do better.

WOODRUFF: Senator, on the point of the court order, it's been pointed out, however, that the agents did have a search and seizure warrant issued by a neutral U.S. district court magistrate that was sworn upon facts under oath.

SPECTER: Well, that wasn't disclosed in all the Sunday talk shows, but the family never knew about that. To have a court order which might have brought about a peaceful result, at least according to the uncle's lawyer, you had to present it to the family. That was never done.

And also, if you go to a federal district judge, there is a lot more cache than if you have a magistrate issuing this and nobody ever showing it to anyone.

WOODRUFF: But you also had a situation, did you not, senator, where the uncle, the great-uncle was saying, you're going to have to use force to get this boy? You had the comment by the second cousin, the young woman, saying, we have more than cameras in this house.

Weren't agents compelled to go in, in a way that they protected themselves in the event something might happen?

SPECTER: Well, I think once they went in, absolutely they had to be able to protect themselves. And regrettably in this case, Judy, you had everybody saying just about everything. But the uncle's lawyer had said consistently that they would obey a court order. I think if the crowd had been, as I say, out of the picture, which is not unusual, that it might have been handled differently. Listen, I hope it never happens again, but I think there are lessons to be learned. I think the Justice Department should have acted much earlier. I think that we need to know why they waited for three months.

WOODRUFF: Exactly when should they have acted?

SPECTER: Well, they could have acted 4 1/2 months ago.


SPECTER: They could have gotten a court order very early in the process before the matter had become inflamed. I think that Saturday's gone. But there are lessons to be learned here, in my opinion.

WOODRUFF: Will there be a full-fledged congressional investigation, hearings in your view?

SPECTER: I believe that Congress will conduct hearings. I believe Congress should look into it to see how we can improve the situation, perhaps to take a broader look at what INS does without warrants in almost all of the cases.

WOODRUFF: All right, Senator Arlen Specter, Senate Judiciary Committee. We thank you very much for joining us.

SPECTER: Nice being with you, Judy. Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

And now for the Clinton administration's view, we are joined by White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, who joins us from New York.

Mr. Lockhart, thank you for being with us. I know you've been listening to Senator Specter say among other things that the administration, that the Justice Department should have had a court order and notified the family before they burst into that house.

LOCKHART: Well, I think that ample warning was given to the family. He's -- you know, in some ways, Senator Specter has argued both sides of this here. He said that we should have acted sooner and that we also should have gone and gotten a court order.

The attorney general acted with great patience. She gave this three months. She talked to many party. She traveled to Florida.

Ultimately, the problem was that the Miami relatives refused to say yes to the question of would they respect the law of the United States and turn over custody of the young boy to his father. They said no three months ago. Every time we got to the point where we got to that basic question, the answer was no.

And unfortunately, the rhetoric at times got ugly. You had Lazaro Gonzalez saying things like, "You'll have to come in and get him," and the cousin saying, "There's more than just cameras in here." So I think this was justified to do. It's just unfortunate that it couldn't be done in a voluntary way.

WOODRUFF: Well, let me just quote something that Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida has said. As you're aware, he said the president promised him three weeks ago, gave him a verbal commitment that agents would not go in to get the boy in the middle of the night, in the darkness, and yet that's exactly what happened.

LOCKHART: No, I think what the president said to Senator Graham, who was very much against this and we understand that, was that we did not want to do this. We thought there was a better way, which is why we negotiated with the Miami relatives for three months. We did not want to do this, but they were never getting to yes on the question of would they turn the boy over. This was the only alternative left.

WOODRUFF: What about the point, Joe Lockhart, that negotiations were under way? People in the community who know the attorney general were operating in good faith that those conversations were going on right up to the minute when this house was broken into.

LOCKHART: Judy, I have no doubt that there were people on all sides here operating in good faith. But the attorney general had worked with the Miami relatives for three months. We had seen the goal posts move repeatedly. We'd seen -- they promised that they would respect the rule of the court, and then they changed once the court ruled against them. They promised, with Senator Torricelli's intervention, to turn the boy over, and when it came to do it, they said no.

And once again, that long Friday night, when it came down to crunch time, they just said no, and the attorney general, I think, rightfully felt there was nothing else we could do. They were told that time was running out. They were given a deadline.

They came back with anything but yes to following the law and turning over the boy.

WOODRUFF: And one other point Senator Graham has made, Joe Lockhart, is that the attorney for the father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, Gregory Craig, that the administration was pretty much having to have him sign off on anything the administration went forward with, that he had a veto here that was inappropriate.

LOCKHART: Well, I don't -- I don't think that is an accurate statement. We were negotiating between the two parties here, and we were trying to work something out.

What has to be remembered here is the Miami relatives did not have custody of the boy. The law is clear here. They were holding the boy without custody. We took every, every opportunity we could to get him voluntarily transferred to his father, where he should be and where he is now.

And you know, what was -- we were met with resistance at all levels, with shifting of the positions, moving the goal posts, and finally on Saturday, and regrettably on Saturday, the Operation Reunion had to go forward.

WOODRUFF: All right, Joe Lockhart, spokesman for the White House, thank you very much...

LOCKHART: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: ... for being with us. We appreciate it, Bernie.

SHAW: To get a fuller picture of any political fallout, let's get an update now on public opinion of the Gonzalez case. For that, we turn to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, are Americans outraged over the federal government's actions?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Bernie, there is no evidence of any widespread outrage. I'd say people are relieved that the boy has finally been reunited with his father and exasperated that it took so long and it got so messy.

In our poll on Saturday, 57 percent of Americans said they approved of the action compared to 37 percent who disapproved, nor did the news pictures seem to make any difference. Among those who saw the footage of Elian being removed, support was virtually the same.

Now, some critics are arguing that those who oppose the raid have stronger feelings about this. Well, that may be true among Cuban- Americans, but in the public as a whole, the views of those who support the raid are just as intense as the views of those who oppose it.

SHAW: Was there any partisan reaction?

SCHNEIDER: No, there wasn't. Republicans are almost as likely as Democrats to say they support the action. Even among Republicans, no outrage. In fact, the biggest difference has to do with gender, not politics.

Two-thirds of men support the raid, but just under half of women do. Women were more concerned about the use of force and possible trauma to the child.

Americans have always seen the Elian story as a personal tragedy, not a political issue. Even after the raid, the public still refuses to see this issue in political terms.

SHAW: Were there any political winners out of this?

SCHNEIDER: No. Americans are divided over how Janet Reno and Bill Clinton handled the situation, but the public reserves its harshest judgment for those who tried to politicize it. By two-to-one margins, they condemn the way the relatives in Miami, the news media and Vice President Gore handled it.

The Miami relatives exploited this child for political purposes, and they did so with the support of the Cuban-American community, which found itself isolated and resented. The news media sensationalized the issue and turned it into a circus. Gore is damaged, not just because he took an unpopular position, but also because he looked like he was pandering for votes.

No winners here, Bernie, but lots of losers.

SHAW: Last question: Does the public want a congressional investigation?

SCHNEIDER: Bernie, there is no evidence of that either. A poll just taken yesterday by NBC News and Zogby shows a two-to-one majority opposed to the idea that Congress should hold hearings on the government's conduct in the Elian Gonzalez matter. Most Republicans are opposed as well.

I think the message is clear: Anyone who tries to turn this into a political issue gets burned. That's already happened to the Cuban- American community and to Vice President Gore. Does the Republican Congress want to be next?

SHAW: Thank you, Bill Schneider.

And still ahead here on INSIDE POLITICS, how will this episode in Cuban-American relations affect the presidential hopefuls? A look at the possible fallout with Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook.



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First, I was saddened by what I saw on TV. This is a nation of law, not guns, and I wish this dispute had been settled in a much more peaceful way. Secondly, now that the boy is with his father I would hope that the administration would explain to the father that if he so chooses he can raise his son in freedom, that the father could stay here in the United States of America. It's important for our administration to remember that the mom was fleeing for freedom to bring the son to freedom.


SHAW: Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush today in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, expressing his disapproval of the U.S. government's handling of the Elian Gonzalez case.

Joining us now to talk more about the possible political fallout from this case, Stu Rothenberg of "The Rothenberg Political Report" and Charlie Cook of "The National Journal."

Beginning with you, Charlie, what's the likely political fallout?

CHARLES COOK, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": I don't think there is going to be a whole lot. Five months is a long, long time in politics and we tend to blow these things sort of out of proportion, that's a long time for this thing to settle. But I do believe that Vice President Gore has hurt himself, because I think a lot of people question the sincerity of his position, supporting keeping the boy in the U.S., and it sort of fed into this perception that he says the most politically expedient thing, I think he hurt himself a little bit. I also think the call for hearings is potentially damaging for Republicans.

SHAW: Stu?

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Yes, I agree generally, Bernie. I think it probably takes Florida off of the table. I don't think the Democrats will acknowledge that at the moment. But I suspect that the Cuban community now is going to vote for George W. Bush in lock step.

I also think it may well energize the more conservative elements of the Republican Party, the people who are already disinclined to vote for Bill Clinton or Al Gore, or any Democrat, and yet who may have found George W. Bush somewhat squishy for their preference over the past few months. I think they are likely to be reminded of why they don't like Al Gore and the Democrats.

SHAW: Might not this five-month period before the election be a kind of buffer for Gore on this issue?

COOK: I think it might be. I think I would agree and disagree with what Stu said. I don't think Florida -- I don't think Democrats are ever going to pick up Florida, I mean, I really don't. So I don't think this made a whole lot of difference. But at the same time -- I just forgot the other point that you had made.

ROTHENBERG: Well, let me just...

SHAW: Go ahead, Stu.

ROTHENBERG: Well, I agree with you that I don't think that Florida was likely to go Democratic, but they were willing -- the Democrats wanted it on the table. They wanted to be able to compete.

COOK: Yes. But the intensity thing -- no, I think that is a good point, because as George Bush moves to the middle as fast as he can trying to appear as moderate as he possibly can, this will keep the intensity up among conservatives, I agree 100 percent on that.

ROTHENBERG: I think you're right, Bernie, that there is this buffer period. On the other hand, the more you have these individual events coming, they kind of add up into something and I think they've already added up for something for Al Gore, and I think that's a problem. In addition, you know, George W. Bush -- he's been on the defensive for a number of months, and recently he just seems more comfortable on the campaign trail. I would think that this event, this issue being out there probably continues to give him the opportunity to become more comfortable as a candidate.

SHAW: Looking closely at how each candidate handled this. How has Bush handled it? ROTHENBERG: I think Bush has handled it pretty well. I mean, he's tried to stake out a reasonable position that the issue is the best interests of the child. He hasn't seemed overly partisan to me. I think his big problem is that the Republican Congress appears overly partisan.

COOK: I agree. I think Bush has kept a -- really until today a lower -- a fairly low profile on this story. He's sort of taken the position that you would expect any Republican to take, but as Stu suggested, in a very measured way. You know, I think Vice President Gore stepped in it, you know, a few weeks ago in this and hasn't been able to extricate himself.

And again, I don't think he's hurt by the substance of his position as much as this just -- there is this long, nagging thing that he's too much like President Clinton, will say whatever it takes, and that, that just sort of feeds into that. But the substance of his position I don't think hurts him at all.

SHAW: And tactically, now, would you expect him to spend less time in the state? We know about a month ago he was planning to spend more time and more money in the state of Florida. Go ahead.

COOK: Well, it's harder for him to -- I mean, I don't think it was ever there. But now it's harder for them to even believe that they have a real chance of carrying Florida. I think the whole purpose behind Gore spending the time in Florida was to try to force Bush to spend time and money in a state that George Bush absolutely had to have, but that Al Gore really didn't.

ROTHENBERG: Absolutely correct. I don't think they are going to write it off right away. They're going to want to see what the poll numbers are. But my guess is that as we come to crunch time, when real decisions have to be made about spending money, where and how much -- I'm talking about Labor Day and thereafter -- Florida will see a lot less Democratic money and a lot less time from Al Gore.

COOK: But there are two kinds of voters that are energized by this: Cuban-Americans and conservatives, and last time I checked they were both going to vote very, very heavily for Republicans before Elian was born and long after this story has gone away.

SHAW: I want to be clear before we leave you, you are not saying -- either of you is not saying that Gore is going to be hurt by this issue nationally?

COOK: Well, no, I do think it feeds into this nagging perception of him willing to say whatever it takes. I think that is a national -- no, I think that is a national problem. You sort of -- I sort of -- when he said that I just kind of winced and thought, gosh, he doesn't really believe that.

ROTHENBERG: The specifics of the case won't hurt him nationally, but I think Charlie is right, it adds to the overall impression this guy will do or say anything depending upon political calculations. But is it going to cost him -- are the specifics of Elian Gonzalez going to cost him a state other than Florida? I don't think so.

COOK: But I tell you what, these congressional hearings, though, I -- if -- I bet they were chuckling at Dick Gephardt's office. I mean, if you were going to come up with 10 good ways for Republicans to lose control of Congress, starting yet another investigation of administration handling of anything would be right on that list of top 10.

SHAW: Charlie Cook, "National Journal," Stu Rothenberg of "The Rothenberg Political Report," gentlemen, thank you.

ROTHENBERG: Thank you.

SHAW: Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, and much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Still to come, George W. Bush polishes his international policy resume with the help of his neighbor to the south.

Plus, together again, the first lady and the vice president share the spotlight with the fund raiser in chief.

Also, a jury once again deliberates the fate of a former Louisiana governor.

And later...


LANCE OLSON, CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: It is, if you will, the free-love nominating system where you can go from party to party and no one ever declares any fidelity.


WOODRUFF: Will California's blanket primary continue? The U.S. Supreme Court considers the question.


SHAW: We will have more of the day's political news coming up. But now a look at some other top stories.

Here in Washington, independent counsel Robert Ray is demanding White House e-mail records. Ray is trying to determine if certain e- mails were deliberately withheld during White House probes such as Whitewater. A spokesman says the White House is cooperating but insists a computer glitch prevented some e-mail from being turned over when initially subpoenaed.

WOODRUFF: Today's launch of the space shuttle Atlantis has been postponed. Strong winds grounded the shuttle, which was designed to rendezvous with the International Space Station. NASA will try again tomorrow. SHAW: Wind is also the villain holding up air traffic in and out of Boston's Logan Airport. Forty-five--mile-an-hour winds damaged a radar antenna at the airport on Saturday. FAA officials say back-up equipment can handle only about 28 planes an hour. More than 140 Boston flights were canceled today. However, officials say the damaged radar has been replaced and flight schedules could soon return to normal.

WOODRUFF: Houses were flattened and entire neighborhoods were destroyed by storms last night in northwest Louisiana. Several tornadoes were reported. One touched down in downtown Shreveport. At least five people were injured, one of them critically. That same weather system brought storms to eastern Texas and to Oklahoma. Extensive damage was reported in both states, but no serious injuries.

SHAW: In Peoria, Illinois, three workers are dead today after a construction site accident. Two workers were seriously injured. The five workers were repairing a bridge deck. Witnesses say they plunged at least 50-feet into the Illinois River when scaffolding gave way.

WOODRUFF: Could Microsoft end up like ma Bell? It's possible. CNNfn has learned that the federal government and the states involved in the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft are discussing breaking the company into at least two parts. As word of a possible split spread, Microsoft dropped $13 dollars on the Nasdaq market , shares now at about $66 apiece.

SHAW: Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan is in stable condition following double bypass surgery. The 53-year-old Ryan was rushed to a hospital near Austin, Texas, yesterday after he complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. Doctors found a blocked coronary artery and performed emergency surgery at Austin Heart Hospital. Nolan holds the record for major league strikeouts. He retired from the Texas Rangers in 1993.

WOODRUFF: Scientists at Washington's Howard University plan to offer DNA tests linking black Americans with their African roots. University geneticists say they are preparing the database for comparisons, and the program could be ready in a few months. Researchers say historical records indicate early slaves came from what are now Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Angola.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, George W. Bush and Al Gore confront some of their weak points politically.


WOODRUFF: Many Americans still riveted to the Elian Gonzalez case may not have noticed, but George W. Bush highlighted his international connections today.

As our Candy Crowley reports, it's all part of Bush's attempt to overcome questions about whether he is ready to be a world leader.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the governor of Texas, an international trip is just across the border.

BUSH: As president, I will work to create an entire hemisphere of free trade, a system of shared principles and obligations that offer prosperity and democracy for all.

I will work to extend the benefits of NAFTA from the northernmost Alaska to the tip of the Cape Horn.

CROWLEY: Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and Texas Governor George Bush opened a new commercial bridge between Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas. They've had similar incidents in the past, but timing is all, and this time gave candidate George Bush a photo-op for his campaign.

BUSH: As president, I will look south not as an afterthought but as a fundamental commitment to my presidency.

CROWLEY: Governors don't deal much in international matters, and in the early days of his campaign Bush compounded his lack of experience with mispronunciations and general bobbling of some international questions. But Bush aides dismiss the idea that the governor's lack of international experience is a major problem. They note that Ronald Reagan, governor of California, is credited with overseeing the end of the Cold War and that Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas, defeated President George Bush, a man with impeccable foreign policy credentials. In fact, it's arguable that Clinton won not in spite of his lack of global experience but because of it.


CLINTON: Our president has devoted his time and his energy to foreign concerns and has clearly ignored dire problems here at home.


CROWLEY: Bush is briefed regularly by a team of foreign policy advisers headed by Condoleeza Rice, and he has been quicker on his feet answering international policy questions. Asked recently about an aid package to Colombia, Bush spoke easily about the size, shape and disposition of the legislation.


BUSH: As I understand, it passed in the House and it's now over to the Senate. And, yes, I support aid to Colombia. And the reason I do so is I think it's important for us to help the democratically elected government headed by Mr. Pastrana to fight off the drug lords.

CROWLEY: A source says Bush, in fact, has spoken to Colombian President Pastrana over the phone within the past few months. Aides say when the opportunity arises, Bush has chatted on the phone with other international visitors as well on a variety of subjects. The most important thing, said one Bush source, is that the governor himself be and sound well-informed and confident. The source added that voters want someone with a compass about the U.S. role in world affairs, not necessarily someone with a well-worn passport. We don't, said the source, feel the big crying need to have Bush be seen meeting with foreign leaders.

Still, if it's just as close as the border, it doesn't hurt.

Candy Crowley, CNN.


SHAW: As for Vice President Gore, his vulnerability on the campaign fund-raising issue is back in the spotlight. Now that's because of his participation in a big Democratic Party fund raiser tonight and because recently he faced more federal questioning about his campaign finance practices in the past.

That story from CNN's Jeanne Meserve.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Questions about fund-raising practices continue to nag and drag at Vice President Al Gore, but fund raising continues unabated. The vice president appeared with President Clinton amidst the glitter and glamour of a Hollywood fund raiser little more than a week ago, and Monday afternoon Gore left for New York and a fund-raising blockbuster not even Hollywood could match, starring not only the president and the vice president, but the first lady-cum U.S. Senate candidate as well. The expected take for the Democratic National Committee: $2.2 million.

This megamoney event comes less than a week after Justice Department officials questioned Gore and President Clinton about 1996 fund-raising irregularities. Gore's four-hour interview, his fifth, took place Tuesday in the dining room of the vice presidential mansion. The White House said the vice president is not a target of the investigation, and Gore said little more.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't go into any of the substance of what they're looking at. That -- I'm not going to do that. But I volunteered to cooperate fully, as I have from the beginning of their investigation,

MESERVE: Though neither the president nor Gore has been charged with wrongdoing, 24 people have been indicted in the fund-raising probe. The latest to be sentenced, Maria Hsia, a longtime Gore associate and organizer of his now-infamous Buddhist temple event.

This week, Gore will be talking about other matters. Tomorrow he will launch a five-day, five-issue offensive against his opponent, Texas Governor George W. Bush. Gore will compare and contrast his positions with those of Bush on the economy, health care, education, crime and international policy.

(on camera): Since the primaries, Bush has been repositioning, edging closer to the political center on a wide array of issues. Gore will be trying to push Bush back and push the substance of his own candidacy to the fore.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: And when we return, the trial of former Governor Edwin Edwards. We'll talk with John Maginnis about the charges, the politics and public opinion.


SHAW: In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, today, jurors began considering the federal charges against former Governor Edwin Edwards. Edwards, his son and six others are accused of manipulation and extortion in the state application process for riverboat casino licenses. Prosecutors say the alleged offenses took place before and after Edwards' fourth term as governor ended in January 1996. The charges against the former governor include racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, mail and wire fraud, and interstate travel involving racketeering.

This morning, jurors heard 96 pages of instructions before the start of deliberations. If Edwards is convicted on all 27 counts against him, he could, theoretically, face a sentence of more than 300 years in federal prison.

Joining us now from Baton Rouge, John Maginnis of "The Louisiana Political Review."

First of all, John, tell us, what was Edwards' demeanor on the stand.

JOHN MAGINNIS, LOUISIANA POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he comported himself very well, a practiced lawyer like he is. He had an answer for every charge against him. But his most challenging aspect was he was faced -- confronted with his own words on tape. So it was Edwin live trying to explain Edwin on tape. And there was some pretty, you know, rough language on tape talking about money, and I thought he did as good a job as he could explaining it. Some of his explanations, you know, were plausible, some seemed a bit of a stretch.

But he also was trying to connect with the jury and get some of them on his side, and I don't know how good of a job he did at that. There were time s things he would say would get laughter in the courtroom. But the jurors were all blank.

SHAW: On that point, what's the significance for Edwards' possible fate in the fact that this trial is not in New Orleans but in Baton Rouge?

MAGINNIS: That's right, same state. different world. The Baton Rouge jury seems to be more conservative. They are -- and also at this time there's, I think, six middle-aged white women on the jury. And Edwards' own profile research showed that middle-aged white women are his worst prospects. That may not have been the case 15 or 20 years ago, but it is now with the governor on trial. He's got a 35- year-old wife in the courtroom. I think some of those things could work against him. SHAW: What about the public's feeling at large about Edwards?

MAGINNIS: Well, you know, there's a lot of people in this state who would love to see him go to jail. There's many, many people who didn't vote for him last time but feel that the government has pursue him long enough through 10 or 12 grand juries and two trials, and they never got him before, they ought to let him go into retirement. So there's still some people out there who don't agree with him politically, but they still have some good will toward him.

But for the most part, it's a great curiosity on people's parts to see how this political saga that's dominated Louisiana politics for 30 years is going to end.

SHAW: John Maginnis, how is this case different from the past two?

MAGINNIS: Well, mainly is that there are three principal live witnesses against Edwards. The last two trials it was really one case and it was a paper case, hospital permits. This time, it's much more sensational testimony about gambling and gambling licenses.

You've had these high-profile individuals like Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers, saying that he gave Edwards $400,000 in cash on the day before the casino commission gave him a riverboat license.

And you have these wire taps. Edwards has never been caught on tape before -- at least the tapes haven't been played in court before. So that's been a big difference from the first trial, where there were no wire taps.

And there's been a lot of the cash. The feds have done a pretty impressive job of tracing all of Edwards' cash spending over the past five or six years, and they came up with a figure showing he spent $900,000 more than he reported in cash or in cash withdrawals from banks. Edwards said he had made that -- he had that cash lying around from gambling winnings over the past five or six years.

SHAW: That much money over the past five or six years. Very quickly, before we leave you, how long do you think this jury is going to be deliberating?

MAGINNIS: I figure through the end of this week. You know, the rule of thumb that one day for every week of testimony. There was 12 weeks of testimony. But I get the impression from looking at this jury that they're going to come together and start making some decisions. But they have over 27 counts against Edwards, so they have to arrive at 27 unanimous verdicts on him alone. So I figure -- I wouldn't be surprised if it goes into the weekend.

SHAW: OK, we will be watching it and you. Thank you, John Maginnis of "The Louisiana Political Review," thanks a lot.

And up next, could the United States Supreme Court put an end to California's blanket primary? Charles Bierbauer on the arguments for and against.


WOODRUFF: More than a million California voters crossed party lines in the Golden State's first blanket primary last month. But today, California's political parties argued against that system before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our Charles Bierbauer takes a look at why the parties oppose a system favored by the state and many voters.


CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): When Californians voted last month, anyone could vote for any party's candidate for any office in what's called a blanket primary, but the state's political parties don't like it.

OLSON: It is, if you will, the free-love nominating system where you can go from party to party and no one ever declares any fidelity.

BIERBAUER: In a closed primary, only party members may vote. Open primaries let voters choose a single party's ballot on Election Day. Californians voted for the broader blanket primary by adopting Proposition 198 by a wide margin four years ago, hoping to raise voter interest and participation.

In March, Senator John McCain benefited most. Of McCain's 1,780,570 votes, 791,864 were crossovers from other parties. In all, more Democrats voted Republican, 793,910, than Republicans voted Democrat, 230,851.

BILL JONES (R), CALIFORNIA SECY. OF STATE: Last March 7th, when Bush and McCain were in California, we had a 20-year high in the turnout.

BIERBAUER: State Republican and Democratic Parties say Prop. 198 violates their right of association.

CHARLES BELL, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY: When the state can deny the parties the right to nominate their own candidates, it deprives them of their essential and core political function.

BIERBAUER: Justice O'Connor seemed to agree: "The very essence of a party's First Amendment right is to define its own message and decide its own candidates."

JONES: But it is balanced against the state's right to have the people participate in a process that expands participation, brings more people in and also strikes that balance with the parties.

BIERBAUER: Yet the smaller Libertarian and Peace and Freedom parties also oppose the system.

ART TORRES, CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY: They're parties who have their own ideology and are very threatened by the influx of new voters that may affect who their nominees are on a whim.

BIERBAUER: Justice Scalia supported that view: "What about a party that does not want to be representative, thinks the country's going down the wrong road and wants to send a clarion call?"

(on camera): The justices' ruling, expected by July, will not affect the coming November elections, and the political parties are not asking the court to change the results of last month's primary. They just don't want to go through that process again next time.

Charles Bierbauer, CNN, the Supreme Court.


WOODRUFF: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

We'll see you again tomorrow when our Jeanne Meserve will be in New York with Vice President Gore as he gives what is billed as a major economics speech. And, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's

SHAW: This programming note: Republican Senator Bob Smith and Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan will be discussing the Elian Gonzalez case tonight on "CROSSFIRE." That's at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Bernard Shaw.

WOODRUFF: And I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.



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