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Elian Gonzalez Case: Senators Patrick Leahy and Connie Mack Discuss Federal Seizure of Elian

Aired April 22, 2000 - 5:18 p.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Showing a live picture right now from Capitol Hill, far away, but as we understand it, the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez have headed to Capitol Hill perhaps to make a statement. If they do speak, certainly we'll show you those comments live here on CNN.

We were under the impression after they landed at Reagan National Airport that they were actually headed to Andrews Air Force Base to try to have a meeting with Elian Gonzalez and then we have word that Juan Miguel Gonzalez has said such a meeting will not take place today. If the relatives do have some something to say, we certainly will bring you those comments live.

Now here is Brian.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: And we will stick with Capitol Hill. Republican presidential Candidate George W. Bush expressed some disappointment with the -- and sadness at the way the boy was taken today. But we also have joining us Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He is in our Washington bureau and he joins us with some reaction.

Mr. Senator, what -- how do you feel about the withdrawal as it were of young Elian Gonzalez from the home in Miami and the way it was carried out?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Well, first off, I am glad that the little boy is back with his father. That's where he should be. You look at the photographs of him with the father, his arm around his father, we have heard of their meetings, it's obvious he loves his father and like any father, he -- the father loves his 6-year-old boy. And you look at that little boy, one -- everybody would have to love him. He seems like such a sweet kid. I am sorry that they had to go in after him this way, but I don't know what choice the attorney general had.

You know, this -- the father actually had custody, legal custody of this child for the last nine days. The relatives in Miami would not give him up. The -- every time they thought they had an agreement to give him up, they would move the goal post and, Brian, they had go in.

Now, I spent eight years in law enforcement, I know there is no easy way in a case like that. I have been in circumstances where forces have had to go in somewhere where they are not wanted. You worry very much about anybody getting hurt. You try to do it as quickly as you can. They did that. The most important thing, though, is the boy is safely with his father.

NELSON: Trent Lott has criticized the excessive use of force in getting that boy out this morning. Is he on base with this, and could not this have been conducted in a much more genteel fashion without armed INS agents -- heavily armed INS agents going into that house and perhaps frightening that boy?

LEAHY: Well, it could have been handled very gently if the relatives who held him had kept their word, if they had done what the law required, had they turned him over to INS. They could have done that at any time. They take him around Miami, they drive him here and there, they could have done that and should have done that. When they refused -- at some point you have to uphold the law. You know, we are a nation of laws that affects all quarter of a billion of us. There is not an exception for Cuban-Americans, or Irish-Americans, or anybody else.

The law is the law. The attorney general at some point had to enforce it. I think she went not the extra mile, she went the extra 100 miles to try to accommodate the relatives down there. But ultimately, the goal had to be to give the custody to the father as the orders were, as the legal orders were. The father is not going to run anywhere with him, he just wants to be with his little boy.

I have three children. I know how I would feel when they were that age especially if somebody was keeping me from my child, I just want to be with my child, and I think that's the way this father was.

NELSON: Senator Leahy, thanks for your views.

LEAHY: You're welcome.

NELSON: Now we get the other side, here's Daryn.

KAGAN: Yes, I would imagine much different views.

We have with us on the phone Senator Connie Mack, Republican from Florida.

Senator, thanks for joining us today.

SEN. CONNIE MACK (R), FLORIDA: Thank you.

KAGAN: What are your views about what you saw happen in your home state today?

MACK: Well, I must tell you, I was repulsed and outraged at the thought of our government using force to seize a little boy out of a family home at the point of a gun. I ask the question, is this really America? I thought that was the kind of thing that happened in Cuba, not in the United States.

And as far as what I just heard from Senator Leahy, I can't imagine anyone who would feel that there is any justification to put a gun at the head of a little boy. There is no justification for that. The attorney general and this administration -- I think their actions are outrageous and, frankly, I find them horrifying.

KAGAN: Well, Senator, to bring up the point of Senator Leahy, he said that the attorney general had to enforce the law, that we all have to obey the law and the law said that custody belongs to the father and that the Miami relatives simply were not cooperating.

MACK: That is just fundamentally untrue. This family has tried every way they could find possible to try to find a way to bring this to a conclusion. In fact, they are the first ones who raised, let's have a family meeting. There was an effort made by them to have that brought about.

Last night, or this morning I should say, people ought to understand that this administration cut off negotiations at exactly the moment that the door was broken down. The family thought, in fact, they were about to have an agreement. I just find that what the administration has done is, again, just horrifying to me. I can't believe that they would use force, that they would point a gun at a little boy and take him out of that house.

KAGAN: The attorney general said earlier today that no matter what kind of demand the family made and then the government would meet that they always were moving the goal post one step further and that this was going to go on and on.

MACK: That is the attorney general's position and, frankly, that's exactly the point that the family keeps making, they thought they had an agreement, then they got a call back saying, no. No, we can't meet -- we can't set this compound up in Miami, we are going to have to do it in Washington, D.C. They called and they said, get the family -- wake the family, get them up.

It was at 4:30 -- wake them up, get them together, we need a decision right now whether they'd be willing to come to Washington D.C. The attorney put the -- on hold and got the family. At exactly that moment, they broke into the house with guns, tear gas, and -- I -- again, I would -- I just would ask people to remember what Sister Jeanne said several months ago when she held that meeting with the family and the grandparent. She said the worst possible thing that could happen for this little boy were for him to be after he lost his mother at sea to be torn away from this family in Miami.

KAGAN: Senator, real quick...

MACK: Never -- now, wait a minute. Never in her mildest -- wildest imagination did she ever think that this government would use a gun to take him out of that house.

KAGAN: Real quickly, where do would go from here? Does this belong in the court of appeals, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Atlanta?

MACK: Well, that is another point. The family has been trying and -- going to court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the family's legal position. And then to have -- a couple of days later to have the attorney general use force to bring a conclusion that she wants, not what's in the boy's best interests, but what she wants. I don't understand her hard heartedness.

KAGAN: Senator Connie Mack from Florida, we appreciate you joining us today, thank you.

NELSON: And we'll continue our coverage of the Elian Gonzalez saga in just a moment after this short break.

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