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Breaking News

White House Defends Reno's Actions

Aired April 23, 2000 - 12:53 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

GENE RANDALL, CNN ANCHOR: Recapping the latest in the Elian Gonzalez case, the six-year-old Cuban boy has been reunited with his father. They are now at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. INS agents forcibly removed the boy from the Miami home of his great uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, in a raid early this morning Eastern Time. More than a hundred agents converged on the Little Havana home. Some agents went in with guns drawn.

Once inside, the boy was found in a closet in the arms of one of the fishermen who rescued him in the waters off Florida nearly five months ago. Wrapped in a blanket, Elian was crying as he was carried to a white minivan by a female INS agent. Elian's Miami cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez blasted the government's action while President Clinton voiced his support for Attorney General Janet Reno's call to launch the early morning raid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that it was the right thing to do. I, she made the decision, she managed this, but I fully support what she did and it was clear to me from our long conversations that we were in agreement about this.

MARISLEYSIS GONZALEZ, ELIAN'S COUSIN: I thought this was a country of freedom and a country that seeks for the benefit of a child and that wouldn't psychologically traumatize a child. Now they've really done the harm. They're really psychologically traumatized Elian when they put that gun he saw everything that was going in this house.

This didn't have to happen like this. They could have come and said get his stuff, he's ready, we need to take him to the father and we would have done that. We've always been with the law. We've always been there for the boy. We've always acted in good faith.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RANDALL: Their lawyer says Marisleysis and Lazaro Gonzalez plan to fly to Washington later today to ensure the boy is in good hands -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Well, as you've just heard, President Clinton has been keeping a close eye on all these developments. He made a statement that you just heard part of a little earlier today. And now we want to go to our White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace for the very latest from there -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, it is relatively quiet here at the White House, although just in the past few minutes we did notice about a dozen protesters in Lafayette Park, which is just across from the White House, holding signs, "Keep Elian Free," just about a dozen or so there. They're relatively quiet but they are holding those signs in Lafayette Park.

Now, another development, a short time ago we did receive a statement from Vice President Al Gore. Mr. Gore did break with the administration's policy on the Elian Gonzalez case but yesterday he did express his support for the attorney general, saying that she had the authority under the law to forcibly remove the boy from the Miami home.

In his statement, Mr. Gore said that he believes this issue should have been handled through a family court and with the family coming together. He added, "I commend the people of Miami who in the first hours acted in a calm and lawful way and I ask all Americans, no matter what their position on this issue, to obey the rule of law."

Now, a short time ago, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart held a briefing. He said that the president and the attorney general certainly were hoping that today's enforcement action could have been avoided. But the White House says that the attorney general went to great lengths to bring about a voluntary transfer but when all efforts failed, the only alternative was to uphold the rule of law and to reunite the boy with his father.

This is what the president said about the attorney general's actions earlier this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: She had a special feeling because she was from Miami she wanted to resolve this in the most patient way possible to minimize the damage to the people and the community that she loves so much. But she felt strongly and I felt strongly that the law had to be upheld and that Elian had to be reunited with his father. And every conceivable alternative was tried for quite a long time.

So I think she did the right thing and I'm very pleased with the way she handled it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Now, at that briefing reporters asked White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart about the use of force in today's early morning raid. Mr. Lockhart once again said that every action was taken to try and prevent this from happening, but then he defended the operation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would take some issue with your characterization of a heavy use of force. I think there were, as the attorney general put forward, I think there were eight people who went in and they drove up in white minivans. Every effort was made to do this in a careful and limited way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: But already some criticism is coming in from Republican members of Congress of the attorney general and the administration. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas issued a statement saying, "The thought of a predawn raid with tear gas and assault weapons on American soil to kidnap a six-year-old is more reminiscent of Castro's communist Cuba than the America I thought I knew." We're likely to hear some more criticism coming in from Republican members.

I'm Kelly Wallace reporting live from the White House.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelly, thank you very much. We are going to take a short break now. When we come back, continuing live coverage of this breaking story, the removal of Elian Gonzalez, being reunited with his father.

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