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Election 2000: Former Secretary of State James Baker Delivers Statement on Florida Recount

Aired November 17, 2000 - 10:58 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: If you weren't with us at the top of the last hour, we're going to replay some sound for you that will really wrap up where the story has developed to. Sound coming to you from Terre Cass, she is a spokeswoman for Leon County court, reading the decision by Judge Terry Lewis, deciding on where this lawsuit should go, asking for judgment on how Secretary of State Katherine Harris should act.

Let's go ahead and listen to the sound from Terre Cass, and then we'll take it from there.


TERRE CASS, COURT ADMINISTRATOR: On the limited evidence presented, it appears that the secretary has exercised her reasoned judgment to determine what relevant factors and criteria should be considered, applied them to the facts and circumstances pertinent to the individual counties involved and made her decision. My order requires nothing more. Accordingly, it is ordered and adjudged that the plaintiff's motion is denied.

Thank you.


KAGAN: A very short and simple statement which would mean, if it sticks upon appeal, that Katherine Harris, the secretary of state of Florida, would be allowed to go ahead and certify election results tomorrow, meaning the only results left to be counted -- the only ballots -- any outstanding overseas absentee ballots. And the secretary of state, according to her wishes, would not have to go ahead and include any recounts currently going on in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

With more, now, from Tallahassee, let's bring in Bill Hemmer and Mike Boettcher.

Gentlemen, take it away.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, good morning again. James Baker, we're now being told, five minutes away, he'll come and meet with reporters here. And, clearly, in the short term, anyway, it looks like the Bush camp has a victory right now in this legal battle. MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and a big one. It means that the secretary of state, according to Judge Lewis, used proper discretion in determining that the deadline should be follow and that the hand counts won't be counted after they -- well, they won't be counted, now, unless there's more action in court.

HEMMER: And there's some other issues here, with all these lawsuits swirling around the state. I was just handed another one in Seminole County, which is near Sanford, Florida in the central part of the state. What happens, not only in Leon County, but Broward or Palm Beach -- do we know -- are they consolidated, or what's their status?

BOETTCHER: You mean, the new vote total that will be done?

HEMMER: No, no, with the lawsuits that we're seeing outside.

BOETTCHER: Oh, OK; there is a state statute that says, according to the Republican side, that all of these lawsuits filed against public officials should be sent to the Leon County courthouse. I think that right now, with this ruling, a lot of those are superfluous. But let's make clear, this ruling does not mean that the hand count cannot continue. It says nothing about that.

What it says is that the secretary of state used proper discretion when she said she's going to go ahead and finalize this vote on Saturday.

HEMMER: OK, again, we're waiting for James Baker, we're told just about a minute away. So we will stand by for that; shortly I'll cut you loose and let you go inside.

But what do we know about the Supreme Court here in the state of Florida? Does it act similar to the U.S. Supreme Court when cases are brought to it -- and, again, we expect an appeal, that's what we've been told through democratic surrogates throughout the hour now.

Can they refuse the case, can they let it slide or -- OK, he's inside, all right. If you could tell us, back in Atlanta, is James Baker ready to go or not? OK, thank you, I didn't think so.

Back to the issue of the Supreme Court: They can take it up or let it slide, correct?

BOETTCHER: Yes, they can look at this appeal, if it comes, from the Democrats and say, we're not going to hear it and that's it.

HEMMER: OK; again, James Baker, we expect him any moment now inside the briefing room here in Tallahassee. It's where they have been coming out for quite a long time now. And there's a rather interesting scenario that's developing here in Florida. If, indeed, the canvassing commission certifies the vote tomorrow -- if they're ready to give George Bush a victory here in Florida and the 25 electoral votes -- if the recounting doesn't stop, what happens in a week or 10 days from now if they can show that Al Gore has a lead over George Bush?

BOETTCHER: Well, Bill, unofficially -- let's go to Baker now.

ANNOUNCER: ... over the last 10 days. Today he will only read a very brief statement. Thank you.

JAMES BAKER, OBSERVER FOR BUSH CAMPAIGN: Ladies and gentlemen, I have just spoken with Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney. They are understandably pleased with Judge Lewis' opinion. The rule of law has prevailed.

The court applied the rule of law objectively and fairly, upholding, as the judge's opinion states, the, quote, "reasoned judgment," close quote, of the secretary of state and the state election commission's certification of results on November 15.

We now look forward to the prompt counting and reporting of the limited number of uncounted overseas absentee ballots, so that the process of achieving a final result to the election in Florida is not subject to further delays.

Thank you very much.

KAGAN: A very brief and short statement from former Secretary of State James Baker, who's been acting as an observer for the Bush campaign during this post-election situation, simply saying that he has spoken with Gov. George W. Bush, also with Dick Cheney, and they are both pleased with the decision coming today out of the court of Judge Terry Lewis.

That's the word from the Bush campaign. Maybe we can hear when we might hear from the Gore campaign. And for that, let's bring in our Eileen O'Connor, who's standing by in Washington, D.C. -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you will be hearing from them in about an hour, according to aides in the Gore camp. Obviously this is, the statement by James Baker, a shot across the bow of the Gore campaign. They had said that they are certain to take legal recourse as long as those hand recounts continue. And so you are likely to see an appeal today to the state supreme court of this decision.

The Gore camp believes that public opinion, which is obviously what Secretary of State -- former Secretary of State James Baker is courting here. The Gore campaign believes public opinion will stay behind them as long as those hand recounts continue and as long as they continue to show the vice president gaining votes in those recounts.

And so they believe that, in the court of public opinion at least, they can continue their appeals to the legal courts as long as those recounts are continuing. They believe that they can show and are trying to show that the decision by the secretary of state, Katherine Harris, is a partisan one, that, and as they have said, that she's trying to short-circuit the process, and they're hoping that voters will agree with them and that public opinion will be on their side to let these hand recounts play out -- Daryn. KAGAN: But, Eileen, they have to realize that it will be harder to keep that public opinion and perhaps even those recounts going on if, in fact, this election is certified, and that there, as you have pointed earlier, there is a PR campaign to be waged here in addition to a legal campaign.

O'CONNOR: Absolutely. And that is why they have been complaining this morning about what they say is foot-dragging by the Republicans in Palm Beach County. They were pointing out, aides in the Gore camp, pointing out that, last night, instead of 30 tables at work counting, only 13 Republican observers came back to go in on those recounts. They also say -- and this is their contention, again, the campaign of Al Gore -- that the foot-dragging is going on with the Republican observers, sometimes at first only questioning only one in 10 ballots, putting it aside, but now questioning one in five ballots in Palm Beach County.

So clearly this decision, though, is a blow to them. And obviously their hope is the recounts continue, and obviously that they continue very quickly and that they can get those votes in as quickly as possible. Because they do know, Daryn, that the patience of the public, particularly if a vote is certified, will wear thin very quickly; and, also, by the way, speaking to aides on Capitol Hill, the patience of some Democrats on Capitol Hill, because they, too, are attuned to that public opinion -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And so you say we'll hear from Gore camp, Gore spokespeople within the next hour. Any idea who will be coming out?

O'CONNOR: No. I'm being told that, likely, David Boies, the attorney who actually was the one who argued in the circuit court, and perhaps Warren Christopher, the former secretary of state. Likely it will be Warren Christopher, given that you've just had former Secretary of State James Baker.

But as you heard earlier on CNN, on our own air, the former Secretary of State Warren Christopher did say that they would take any legal recourse that they had available -- Daryn.

KAGAN: That we did. Eileen O'Connor in Washington, D.C., thank you very much -- Stephen.

STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, directly now to Jeanne Meserve, who has been standing by in Austin for us, giving some sense of what the Bush campaign is thinking about all this.

Jeanne, you heard Eileen O'Connor describe the situation as sort of a ball team freezing the action or stalling as the clock ticks down. But clearly the Bush campaign must think time is now on their side.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do. You heard former Secretary of State Jim Baker just moments ago describing the ticket of Bush-Cheney as understandably pleased. That's probably a gross understatement of how they're feeling right now, clearly ecstatic that the court has now ruled that the secretary of state was within her rights to exclude those hand-counted ballots, the concern from the beginning being that if those were tallied, that would erode or possibly eliminate George W. Bush's narrow, 300-vote lead in the state of Florida.

Secretary Baker said what we anticipated we would, that after those overseas ballots are counted -- and they're due in at midnight tonight, and a result is read tomorrow -- that this election is over. This is something the Bush campaign has been saying for days. In the past, we regarded it as somewhat optimistic; this time perhaps realistic, although, of course, there are further court challenges ahead, the next probably in the Florida Supreme Court -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Jeanne, I know you're using Austin as -- the state capital -- as your base of operations there, but can you give us any sense or have you been able to find out what exactly the governor is doing now?

MESERVE: My guess is that he's on the telephone right now and probably watching the television to keep abreast of developments. I don't know that for sure. He's been down in Crawford at his ranch about two hours away from here. We do know in the week or so that he's been down there, he has been monitoring developments, talking constantly with aides here in Austin and with his people on the ground down in Florida; also, we're told, doing a little transition business, and also some state business. But as to what his exact actions are at this point in time, Stephen, I wish we knew. But he stayed away from us -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Can you believe, Jeanne, that he's actually getting any state business done? That must just seem like a chore right now.

MESERVE: Well, I can't believe he is today. I'm sure today being a critical day, this matter of what's happening in Florida and what may ultimately be happening with the election is consuming most of his attention and time -- Stephen.

FRAZIER: Jeanne, thanks for those insights from Austin, Texas. I'm glad to see the weather's dried up just a little bit for you there. You've been a good soldier out in the rain.

Let's go next to Daryn.

KAGAN: This decision coming out the last hour from circuit court in Florida. Meanwhile, a number of other court cases going on, including an appeal by the Republicans taking place in 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. And that's where our Bob Franken is.

Bob, any reaction or any effect of the ruling by Judge Lewis in Leon County in Tallahassee on what's happening in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, as you know, the judges are not making public preannouncements and won't until they make their decisions. We do know that they are considering all the legal arguments and responses from the two sides in this case, and the ruling, in Florida, gives rise to the possibility that there might be another possible ruling here, and that is, no ruling. By which, I mean, the lawyers will tell you that the federal courts are reluctant to get into this piece of elections anyway. That is considered a state matter constitutionally. It is the Republicans who have argued and thus far lost at the district court level that the hand counts should be stopped for constitutional reasons. That's the issue that's being considered now by the appeals court.

But if the state of Florida, in fact, resolves the matter, and would stop the recounts or make them irrelevant, the possibility exists the judges decide not to get in the case and rule that it is moot. The arguments of course have been raised by the Republicans, the constitutional arguments, that Florida, in allowing these recounts, had violated provisions of the constitution. The Democrats say that is not the case. That's what's going back and forth, that it could become irrelevant. The legal term is moot. That is one of the possibilities.

The judges in this court, all 12 of them here in the case, have only read the briefs. We've had no announcement of any open hearing. They're giving the possibility that they are in fact are waiting for definitive action in the state of Florida -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Bob, the question that is before that court of appeals here in Atlanta still seems to be very pertinent, because as we saw in live pictures just a little bit ago here on CNN, the recounts are still going on, in at least Broward and Palm Beach County. So if the Republicans want to stop the recounts, that still would seem a reasonable goal?

FRANKEN: Well, you know, the old question goes, if a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really fall? The question here is, if a recount is conducted, and nobody uses that recount for the final result, did it really matter? And that, of course, is going to be the before the court here.

KAGAN: All right, Bob Franken just a little bit away from us -- all right, Bob Franken I'm getting the word that we can cut you loose, you can do a little bit more reporting and we'll check back with you in just a moment.



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