CNN INSIDE POLITICS
Will Janet Reno Throw in the Towel for Governor After Florida's Confused Primary?; Authorities Hold Three Terrorist Suspects in Florida
Aired September 13, 2002 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.
Will Janet Reno throw in the towel in her race for governor after Florida's confused primary? I'll ask her in her first interview since the voting mess and I'll talk to the Democrat claiming victory, Bill McBride.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.
I'll have the inside story on the political maneuvering within both parties following Florida's votes.
MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Mark Potter in South Florida, where this has been a day of tension and suspicion, prompted by a tip and a terror alert.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in Washington with a political thriller featuring a phantom candidate who managed to pull off the play of the week.
WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us on a Friday the 13th that may have some Floridians feeling jinxed.
Even as embarrassed Florida election officials still are sorting out problems from Tuesday's primary, state authorities responded to concerns about a possible terror threat. For much of the day, three men of middle eastern heritage were held in custody. And bomb squads searched the two cars they were traveling in, shutting down a major stretch of highway known as Alligator Alley. But now we have word that the whole thing may have been a hoax.
Let's check in with CNN's Mark Potter in south Florida -- Mark.
POTTER: That's exactly right, Judy.
This may indeed be a hoax. Federal law enforcement officials are saying they're looking very carefully at the distinct possibility that this may be the result of three men talking out loud in a restaurant in Georgia, playing a joke on another patron and it all backfired on them. That patron called the authorities, who tracked the men down to Florida, shut down this highway. It's been shut all day. There has been a long search of the two vehicles and here's where it stands right now. The first car has been cleared. Authorities have gone through it very carefully. They said they found no evidence of any explosive material. The second car is still being searched. Everything was brought out of that car. It's being X-rayed. Then the technicians will go in the car to search the glove boxes and the seats.
Once they're convinced that there's nothing there, they will clear that car. And then this scene, they finally be cleared, we're told that the authorities may be coming forward with a statement but what we are hearing from our sources at CNN here and in Washington is that investigators think that this may not be the terror threat that it was considered to be early on and that it may as I said before indeed be a hoax.
"The Miami Herald" is also reporting on its Web site these words. "The Herald" reports federal sources involved in the investigation said they believe the three men, all U.S. citizens were playing a stupid joke on another restaurant patron who gave them a suspicion look.
Now the three detainees are still here on the scene. They're being held in a van. They've been there all day long. Officials say that they have been questioned, that they're being treated well. They're held in air conditioning. They're being given food but they are not being allowed to go.
The question now is once this is all settled and if the cars are cleared what happens to them next. The investigation has gone from Georgia to this location near Naples all the way to Miami where supposedly they were going. They said they were heading to a hospital to begin a course there. The hospital has confirmed, reports that the men were headed there and one official told us at CNN categorically that they were headed there.
But whether there are any charges filed against them is still to be determined. It may not happen on the federal level. It might happen on the state level. Stand by. We'll wait and here what officials have to say hopefully soon -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Mark Potter. That's a story that has all of us shaking our heads. Thanks, we appreciate it and we know you'll bring us more as you learn it.
Now, to results of Florida's latest voting embarrassment. Former Attorney General Janet Reno still is refusing to concede defeat in the battle for the Democratic nomination for governor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL MCBRIDE, FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I've been certified as the Democratic candidate for governor in the state of Florida and I'm proud of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Tampa lawyer Bill McBride claimed victory over Reno last night. After Tuesday's balloting problems and delays at the polls, the unofficial, certified tally showed McBride with a lead of more than 8,100 votes.
We'll talk to Janet Reno in just a moment. Right now we are now joined by Bill McBride.
Mr. McBride, with all this confusion in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, some people are asking, did you jump the gun?
MCBRIDE: Well, Judy, thank you. Nice to be on your show.
Well, I waited until -- for two full days as you know, and I was trying to be patient and I wanted to make sure that the results were certified to the secretary of state but we waited and I was very gracious at least tried to be, to everyone involved.
There was a lot of pressure to declare victory, I waited and I'm proud of all the 600,000 voters who went out and voted for me and I'm enormously humbled and pleased with that. I ran I hope the right kind of campaign for Florida. I'm enormously proud of the other two Democratic candidates I ran against, Daryl Jones and Janet Reno.
So what I'm looking forward to now is the really important battle and that's to get a new governor for Florida.
WOODRUFF: But with all due respect, given what happened in Florida in 2000, do you not think it's important to take a close look at what happened in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. I guess what was it in looking at just 5 precincts, they have already found 1,800 uncounted votes. Is that something that you think ought to be looked at very closely?
MCBRIDE: Well, certainly if anyone was not allowed to vote or a person's votes were not counted, that's a terrible thing. We do not need a rerun of the 2000 election. It was the governor's responsibility, I believe, to get all this fixed. He promised he would.
In fact if you'll recall, Jeb Bush came in and suggested he was going to put more money and resources into getting everything straightened out. I think a lot of the difficulties on the ground were the fact that the governor didn't do that, so for all those people who feel that their votes were not counted, we need to get them counted. I particularly want to reach out to all the voters of Florida. This is an important election and it's one that needs to -- we need to get on with it as soon as we possibly can.
WOODRUFF: Are you saying there should be a recount in these counties?
MCBRIDE: Well, one of the issues here is I'm looking beyond today. I'm trying to talk about the general election in November against the governor, because we need a new governor in Florida, one who is going to start investing again. The issues about voting we need to resolve on a statewide basis. I think what we've really got to do is get a different governor who's going to invest in the future, help the election supervisors in all the counties get the training to make sure this doesn't happen. I don't...
WOODRUFF: What about in these two counties specifically? Should there be a recount or at least an examination again of these ballots?
MCBRIDE: Certainly. What we need to do is to make sure that everybody got their votes counted, that people that meant to vote did. Not it may be that isn't only in Miami-Dade County where I think this is going on right now.
What I think I the governor needs to do and what we should have gotten, was we should have been comfortable everywhere and these election supervisors should have had the kind of support that a good governor would have given them.
So to my circumstance, my feeling is we shouldn't be focusing on the local Problems. We should have been focused on the lack of commitment from the governor to get this straightened out.
WOODRUFF: Well, I want to ask you about that because a number of Democrats are pointing fingers, even Democrats at the people who were running the election, the election in those two counties, the electoral officials.
And the head of the Republican party in Florida is saying that the Democratic party head, perhaps you and others were told ahead of time that there could be problems in these two counties and you didn't do anything about it.
MCBRIDE: Well certainly no one talked to me and I don't know who would have made such a silly statement but if you said it was the head of the Republican party is that correct?
WOODRUFF: Mr. Cardenas, Al Cardenas.
MCBRIDE: Well, check your sources. Again, I think the issue is whether or not they were given the kind of support that they were promised by the governor. I think the election supervisors particularly in Miami-Dade and also in where you mention I think you're alluding to Broward County, they needed better support. I think they tried as hard as they could to do the right thing. Certainly if there's any problems we need to make sure they never occur again. I'll make that pledge as the new governor of Florida.
WOODRUFF: All right. We are talking with Bill McBride who has not -- there hasn't been an official certification of the votes but so far you're the winner and we will keep talking to you about it.
MCBRIDE: Well, Judy...
WOODRUFF: Thank you very much.
MCBRIDE: Thank you very much, Judy. Bye. WOODRUFF: And now with us, Janet Reno who has -- although we just talked with Mr. McBride who has declared victory, you have not conceded yet. Why is that?
JANET RENO, FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I want to make sure that the votes get counted, Judy. I think the democratic process is so important and I think we must make sure that the votes are counted the right way.
WOODRUFF: And how do you go about doing that?
RENO: The Dade County supervisor of elections office is in the process of doing that, of determining for example that in four precincts there are some 1,800 votes that were perhaps not counted originally. We've got to see just what happens and I just want that process to take its course.
I think Bill McBride would make a great governor and if he's the nominee I intend to campaign hard for him and be very supportive of him. I think his view of the issues is critical for Florida and I think we share so many of these views.
But really at the heart of this is to make sure that the Democratic process itself works and that means that people ought to make sure, we ought to make sure that people's votes are counted.
WOODRUFF: But who is responsible for this happening? Do you put, you and Mr. McBride have both mentioned the governor but don't the county election officials hold some responsibility here?
RENO: I think that they may well hold some responsibility for it, but in a state, there's nothing, no law, I think, anymore important than the state election law. The governor is the chief executive officer of the state and I think the governor has the responsibility particularly after 2000 to make sure that it's done the right way.
Our governor tends to say it's not his problem. He pushes responsibility off on other people. I think either Bill McBride or myself would make a far better governor in terms of identifying issues and taking steps to prevent problems before they start.
WOODRUFF: Ms. Reno, in terms of specifics the official certification is supposed to take, of the results is supposed to happen by Tuesday. Are you absolutely satisfied that these votes can be looked at and counted properly by Tuesday?
RENO: I want to do everything in my power to see that they are.
WOODRUFF: And how will you do that? I mean...
RENO: I will do it as I have done it so far, which is to call to the attention of the supervisor of elections, voter patterns in some of the precincts that just don't make sense and find out why and learn as much as I can and encourage the process as far as is possible to make sure that the votes are counted. Judy, on Tuesday morning, I stood in the poll place where I've usually voted except while I was in Washington and was told that I could not vote because the polls were not open. It is a very sobering experience and so we had problems going in at least. The least we can do is to make sure that the votes are counted.
WOODRUFF: What about this charge, Ms. Reno, from the head of the Florida Republican party, Al Cardenas that he and the Democratic state party chair were warned ahead of time by the state secretary of state they were concerned about possible problems in Broward and Miami-Dade and yet the Democratic party officials did nothing about that and sure enough problems happened?
RENO: The secretary of state happens to be a new appointee. The governor of Florida appointed him. The governor of the -- the person who is the governor of Florida is responsible I think for the administration of the laws of this state, and I think he had the clear responsibility. Anybody who starts defusing responsibility is not going to be a good governor and I think Bill McBride or myself could do a better job.
WOODRUFF: All right. Janet Reno, we thank you very much for joining us. We are going to be watching this closely along with you.
RENO: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Let me just finally ask you, do you think if these votes are settled by Tuesday that -- and you are not the winner would you be prepared to concede them?
RENO: I'm going to be prepared to concede when I've done everything I can to get the votes counted and I'm going to accept what I'm able to achieve.
WOODRUFF: But you still think there's a possibility you could have won?
RENO: I don't know, because my whole purpose is to get the votes counted and to let the votes speak, not Janet Reno speak, but let the votes speak. That's what the Democratic process is all about.
WOODRUFF: All right. Janet Reno, we thank you very much for talking with us.
RENO: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: We will be in touch.
With me now CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley who has been listening to this along with me. Candy, where do we go from here? We have Janet Reno saying she just wants the vote counted and Bill McBride obviously wants to move on.
CROWLEY: There's sort of an echo in here.
Yes, absolutely. I mean here's the problem for Bill McBride. If he has won, he really wants to be out campaigning. You can't very well go out and campaign if it actually hasn't been declared.
The problem for Janet Reno of course is that the true believers in the campaign believe she may well have pulled this off, that because the problems that they have were in Broward and Miami-Dade which were Reno territory.
Now, interesting answer to the last question when you said are you willing to concede if by Tuesday it's certified differently and she said, I'll be willing to concede when I've done everything I can to ensure the votes were counted which isn't exactly yes.
So there -- I think everybody's dancing on the head of a pin here, trying not to make Janet Reno upset and yet McBride trying to sort of move on so he can get to Jeb Bush.
WOODRUFF: How much a problem is it for Bill McBride if this mess remains any longer than Tuesday?
CROWLEY: Well, it's lost time. It's absolutely lost time. Every day that they're saying well, you know, Bill McBride claims (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but Janet Reno has. That's the lead, that's what's on the news down in Florida.
And he can't go out and campaign against Jeb Bush and as we say today, I talked to one Democrat who said you know and today with this terrorist incident, Jeb Bush is out there being governor. They want to make him a candidate so they can go at him so they're busy trying to figure out who their candidate is. Jeb Bush is out being governor.
WOODRUFF: Having said that, is Governor Bush in any -- is he vulnerable at all because of these questions that both Reno and McBride are raising about it's his responsibility even though the counties have the problems. It was his responsibility as governor to make sure these kinds of things didn't happen?
CROWLEY: Well, Democrats' fondest hope always in Florida was listen if we can remind Floridians about 2000, many of whom were Democratic voters that felt disenfranchised, we can just remind them, they will get out in droves because it's about turnout as mid-terms are, so in so far as this puts that back on the front burner of people's memory, yes.
Now the Bush people say listen here, you know, we passed a bill $30-35 million was spent to upgrade across the country, 65 to 67 counties did just fine and listen to what Janet Reno said. She was told she couldn't go in and vote and the Bush campaign and Republicans are arguing, do you want him to stand outside every voting poll to make sure that the workers vote on time? A lot of this they say was human problem, people who closed the polls even when the governor had ordered they stay open two hours later.
WOODRUFF: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) It keeps our attention.
CROWLEY: It does.
WOODRUFF: All right, Candy, thank you very much. Well, we are watching for a news conference that Candy mentioned, that supposed terrorist incident down in Florida today following these three men who were described as middle eastern. They were overheard making remarks at a restaurant in Georgia. They were picked up in South Florida.
Now their family members are about to hold a news conference we are told at which they will undoubtedly complain about the way these men have been treated and the way this incident has been treated.
This is, could happen any moment now in Chicago. We're waiting for that and we'll carry it live when it gets underway.
In the meantime, a day after President Bush's big speech to the United Nations we'll turn next to the politics of his get tough policy towards Saddam Hussein. I'll ask Republican Senator Chuck Hagel if Mr. Bush's speech eased his concerns about an attack on Iraq.
Also ahead, I'll talk to John Sununu, the Republican who ousted Senator Bob Smith in the New Hampshire primary.
And talking with Dick Cheney after his latest medical check up. Our Bob Novak has the inside buzz in his interview with the vice president, just took place.
This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.
(LIVE EVENT JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SABRI SAMRIAH, FAMILY SPOKESMAN: ... harsh way, putting them on the ground and trying to you know, dealing with them if they are really terrorists or criminals. For to understand the motivations of the government and how they deal suspects and we'll be talking about these things.
But it was really a tragedy, human tragedy for the families to watch their sons on TV being threatened this way, thrown on the floor and their cars searched, et cetera. Thirteen hours and they are still in detention. They are still in an FBI van, detained. They are not in a room that is conditioned or et cetera. They are still in a van and we believe this is inhumane treatment.
They can take them and put them in an appropriate place of a governmental building, not just keep them like this on the street suffering the conditions and the environment.
What we want to see as a Muslim community that this inhumane treatment and this alleged accusations of three Muslim young men who are medical students just trying to live their dream and get their degree in medicine, this treatment is another case for the Muslim community to prove what we are been talking about for years now, especially after September 11 of last year.
We as a Muslim American community we express our mourning and our feeling, the suffering we have toward what have happened a year ago and this year also we were conducting many activities and just today many of you were at the mosque foundation listening to Muslim leaders and other Christian leaders and political leaders talking about the Muslim community and their suffering.
At this tragic time where we are listening and expressing our true feelings as Muslim Americans, we are suffering another story. As Americans we feel the tragedy of September 11 of last year. As Muslims we felt it in double. Why? Because we became the target of all hate crimes, of all bad media coverage, of all policies enacted by our government against our community.
Our government passed several laws targeting the Muslim community. We are being attacked our civil liberties. We are being treated badly. We are being profiled in airports at departure points. We are being discriminated against in governmental and other places in employment, in education and otherwise.
The media also share some responsibility. When a while ago, a similar incident, let's pay attention. What happened today is just you know an allegation that there is something being conspired about but when in Florida, Dr. Goldstein was caught while he had 30 explosives with him and he had a full plan to attack 50 Muslim centers, we did not see big media national coverage. It was like just a simple story.
But now for a Muslim or a Muslim group who are medical students going about their lives, they are being detained and we are seeing all the frenzy in the media and in the government and of course the media will not know without the government leaking the news about these Muslim suspects.
So we believe our government is dealing with us in a very bad way. They should have dealt with it in a very respectful way, dealing with the suspects if we can consider them suspects in a human way and giving them their rights. The detainees up until now they did not have a lawyer to defend them. They were not able to talk to their families and they were under heavy pressure by the government to say things that they cannot say or they did not do based on allegations and lies from this lady.
Just to end with this and then we will listen to the family and we'll take the questions.
What we call for in this press conference as a Muslim community that this policy that targets the Muslim community should end. The unconstitutional laws of using secret evidence and targeting Muslims and detaining them and investigating them in thousands should end and this kind of bad treatment of Muslim-Americans because of their religious background, because of their look, because of their race, it should end.
America is for Americans. We should not start reporting Americans of middle eastern decent or this or that. An American is an American. He's not of this background or that background. We should not bring it to that scene and make it the story, because we love America as Muslims do as Americans. We care about it, and even we are trying our best to reach out to the larger society and we depend on Allah, on God to help us in that, and of course on good people in the government. In the media to achieve that so we call upon our government to release the detainees during this unjust treatment and to make this as a turning point. This anniversary of September 11 to make it a turning point for our government to start being fair and just to all Americans, including the Muslim Americans.
Now we will be listening to...
WOODRUFF: We've been listening to a family member for the -- a family spokesman, I'm sorry for the families of these three young men detained in south Florida. What was originally called suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack.
They were overheard by a waitress at a restaurant in south Georgia to be joking about September 11 and something that might happen on September the 13th. Their car was picked up in South Florida. They've been held since 1:00 this morning.
Now law enforcement sources telling CNN that the whole thing may have been that the men may have been playing a prank on a restaurant patron and the law enforcement source saying investigators considering that theory strongly and that he would be very surprised if it were not true. As you just heard the family spokesman saying that these men suffered inhumane treatment. They're all medical students. This is the sister now of one of the students who was picked up today.
HANA GHEITH: And this time that even in this day and age after what has happened and what our country has gone through, that there's still discrimination and there are still racists out there that just because of the way we look or the way we choose to live our lives, we're still persecuted and I don't think that's fair.
Me and my brother have just come back from the island of Dominica in the Caribbean where we study medicine in a university down there, and our school requires us to go to Miami for a nine week program at the hospital there and he was driving down with some classmates of us ours just it happens that they're Muslim also but they are my classmates from the same school. We're going down to Miami to start our nine week program there.
I am leaving Sunday. I'm supposed to leave Sunday to meet him down there and start our program to finish and unfortunately they stopped in a restaurant in Georgia and I'm very saddened to say that I don't understand why this woman did what she did. I don't believe anything that she said and I would like to hear from my brother.
Until now we haven't heard anything from him. We don't know what's going on. Everything that we've seen and we've heard is from the media, is from television, from people calling us, telling us, we heard this. We saw this. We don't know anything. So if that's possible, we'd like to know exactly what's going on and we'd like to hear from him.
QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) concern you that the bomb sniffing dogs (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
SAMRIAH: What we know now from the law enforcement agencies that they found nothing. The cars are clear. There is nothing in the cars and this proves the point. There is nothing in these cars. It's all allegations. It's all a lady overhearing some people and we have learned when were kids that don't rush to judgments.
And our government should not rush to judgment based on a story from a person who might be a racist or prejudiced or might have a conversation with the students, and she did not like. Our government should not react to such false things.
H. GHEITH: They haven't even proved if she's credible. We don't know if this is a credible woman. We don't know what her motivation is. I don't know what is behind her statements. You know what I'm saying? That's not fair.
I don't expect any person to make a phone call and say, Well, I heard this and I know this, and for the government to jump to conclusions like this, and especially the media.
QUESTION: But should the government -- shouldn't they investigate it?
H. GHEITH: They should investigate, but not jump to conclusions. Three families' lives have been affected right now, three families' lives.
My future has been affected. I have a son. My brother, not only is he a brother. He's a brother, an uncle and a son. We have school starting Monday in Miami.
Now, what is my position going to a university and a hospital, all these allegations against me and my future position as a doctor? Because I choose to live my life different than you or you, because I choose to wear a scarf for my religion? Is that fair? I don't think that's fair.
H. GHEITH: I want to say that my brother -- my father passed away in '99. And not only has been a father figure to my younger brothers and me, but everyone in Dominica will back up what I say here, that he's been a father figure to everyone there. My brother, he works in charity. He helps people out. People take his opinion in matters, I mean not just Muslims, everybody. So these allegations are -- it's ridiculous. It's ridiculous.
QUESTION: Is your brother's personality such that maybe he could have been making a joke?
QUESTION: No, my brother...
SAMRIAH: Ask his younger brother to talk about his brother and his personality. Please come forward.
H. GHEITH: My brother doesn't joke about these matters, because a lot of Muslims also suffered from 9/11. So this is not a joking matter for anybody. This is ridiculous.
ABDALLAH GHEITH: (SPEAKING IN ARABIC)
My name is Abdallah. And it is spelled A-B-D-A-L-L-A-H.
And I just had a couple things to say about my brother. Not only was he a brother to me. He was like a father to me, because, when my father passed away back in '99, he took over the father figure. And it is sad to me that I have to hear about he's in a van right now through the media. And I can't get in touch with him to ask what's going on.
And the fact that they say that he was doing some kind of illegal activity, I know my brother, first of all. And I know for a fact that he wouldn't do anything like that, because he's a good man. He helps everybody out. The day before he left, we were playing 64 together. And I don't think anybody like that would go and do some criminal act like that.
And the fact that he's in a van for 12 hours, what's the justice in that? Just because some woman, she -- maybe she just wanted media time. Maybe she wanted to be on cameras, you know? You never know. People like to be on TV. Maybe that was her reason for being on TV. You can never know.
SAMRIAH: Let's hear the mother. And maybe she can elaborate on this.
ABDALLAH GHEITH: I just wanted to say one more thing.
Ayman (ph), if you're out there, just relax. Take it easy. Have faith in God and have faith in your religion and be cool. And we'll back you up with anything you need, anything.
WOODRUFF: We're listening to family members of the three young men detained in Florida. This is the mother of one of the men.
ALAILA GHEITH: A-L-A-I-L-A. I am the mother of Ayman.
I will start with a verse from Koran. (SPEAKING IN ARABIC) Allah will defend who has strong faith in him. And Ayman, he has strong faith in Allah.
ALAILA GHEITH: After his dad died, he was my son and my brother and my friend and my support. And his dad, when his father died, he was 15 years old. He took over everything. He's a caring person. He loves everybody. He never hurt an ant even on the floor. He never allowed anybody to talk behind anybody else. He's always helping the youngest before the eldest. How could they put his face on the floor and put cuffs on his hands like this? I saw him on TV. Nobody contact me. I saw my son on the floor on TV. He's going to see his future as a doctor.
QUESTION: What are his feelings toward Americans?
ALAILA GHEITH: He's American. He's American. And he loves America. He's working hard to raise...
WOODRUFF: We're listening to the mother of one of the three men detained in South Florida today. She and the man's sister and younger brother there were speaking in Chicago.
And, as you've been able to tell if you've been listening, they insist that this man -- who I think his name is Ayman Gheith, if I am pronouncing it correctly -- they are saying he is a medical student. He was on his way to fly down to Florida to Dominica to continue medical training, medical school, and that he, in their words, is not capable of doing what he was suspected of doing.
Just to quickly recap, a waitress in South Florida heard three young men say something that led her to be suspicious. The authorities were contacted. The men were found. And they have been in custody all today. Their car was stopped, pulled over by the side of the road -- now, though, law enforcement sources telling CNN that they believe that perhaps this was a hoax, a joke of some sort.
We're still gathering information. We don't have much more than that, but, clearly, the family members insisting that their son could have had nothing to do with this.
Our coverage will continue. INSIDE POLITICS will resume in just a moment. We'll be right back after this break.
WOODRUFF: These are law enforcement police officials in South Florida talking to reporters about what they found so far about these three young men they detained on suspicion of terrorist activities.
(LIVE EVENT JOINED IN PROGRESS)
E.J. PICOLO, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT: ... might have caused us some concerns. We now believe that those licenses are fine.
QUESTION: Are you certain these are the guys the woman in Georgia was talking about?
PICOLO: Oh, absolutely. We're quite certain. QUESTION: Sir, can you give us a timeline, please? (OFF-MIKE)
PICOLO: No, I won't say exactly when they are going to be released, because there were a few questions we wanted to ask before. And I want to make certain that those questions have been asked and answered from our partners here.
QUESTION: If this was a hoax, do you have any notion how much money and how many manhours?
PICOLO: Well, I can assure you, we are going to determine how much money, how many manhours.
PICOLO: Pardon me?
QUESTION: How many people took part in this investigation?
PICOLO: Well, I tried to enumerate the agencies. I would say that you can see most of them here. We also had choppers, of course, and air support. We had other agencies that are considered to be nonprofit. The Salvation Army was here. The American Red Cross was here. A lot of people invested a great deal of effort.
QUESTION: The attitude of these men, are they contrite? Are they defiant? Are they sorry?
PICOLO: I wouldn't want to try to characterize their...
QUESTION: To what degree did they cooperate? Did they help explain finally what happened? Did they fill in the blanks?
PICOLO: From the beginning, they were not very cooperative. That was the information coming to all of us. We had one individual making very few statements, but was somewhat cooperative. But I would say -- I would characterize them as uncooperative.
PICOLO: Pardon me?
QUESTION: All the way to the end?
PICOLO: That's my understanding, correct, all the way to the end.
QUESTION: Which is the car that went through the tollbooth without stopping?
PICOLO: Which one?
QUESTION: Was it the Honda or the other car?
PICOLO: I understand it was the light-colored vehicle, if I'm correct. (CROSSTALK)
PICOLO: Yes, we do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to allow one more question. Then we need to get this highway open.
QUESTION: ... nationalities and names.
PICOLO: We will not release the names.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We won't release the nationalities or names. I can tell you that one was a U.S. citizen. One is a naturalized U.S. citizen. And one is here on a legitimate visa, a standard visa.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say to the lady in Georgia for coming forward and...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. We want our citizens to continue to report suspicious activity. And our job is to follow up on it, and, if we can prove that there's an event, charge those individuals. If we establish that there's not an event, we need to send those folks on their way.
QUESTION: You encourage the vigilance of people?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.
WOODRUFF: We have been listening to police officials in South Florida talk to reporters about this terrorist incident. And, in effect, what it was, was a patron at a restaurant in South Georgia, three men, young men, apparently medical students. The woman described them as men of Middle Eastern background.
She said she overheard them talking about -- joking about September 11 and then September 13, enough so that it alarmed her. She got in touch with police. At about 1:00 this morning, they located these men in two cars in South Florida, pulled the men over. They detained them, now, since the early hours of the morning. They have been going through the cars. They've looked through all of their belongings.
The FBI has told CNN that they found nothing suspicious, no hazardous materials in either car. But, as you could tell from listening to the police authorities there in South Florida, they are concerned that the men were at least deliberately trying to pull off a hoax, which has them concerned.
CNN's Mark Potter has been covering the story.
Mark, what can you add to this? I was only able to hear part of that police news conference.
POTTER: Well, the bottom line from the news conference is that this scene is going to be cleared out shortly and the men may be released shortly.
They have determined, the officers on the scene, the technicians, all the people who came here today that this was a nothing scene. The cars were searched, both cars. They were found to have no explosives inside. They even did swabs for residue. They found nothing in that regard either.
So they are going to clear this scene out. They're going to open the highway as soon as they can get this area cleared and as soon as they can get all the news trucks out of here.
As for the three men themselves, the investigators say they still need to look a little bit more into their case. But, most likely, they are going to be released here. The question now is what exactly happened and what happens to these men. They are looking very carefully at the possibility that this was the result of a hoax, that the men were joking around in the restaurant in Georgia.
They were overheard. Whether that was on purpose or not, we don't know. But they were overheard saying things that were of concern to the woman who reported them to the police. And that's how this whole thing got started.
Now the authorities are going to look into whether they can be charged. And there's going to be a conference between the Florida state police, the FDLE, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the state police in Georgia, the GBI, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.
They're going to get together to see if charges can be brought against them. It would likely happen in Georgia, because, of course, that's where the restaurant was where all this started. But the bottom line is, they have gone through both cars with a fine-tooth comb. The authorities want to assure the public that there was no danger and that this situation is wrapping up -- back to you.
WOODRUFF: All right, Mark Potter, it looks like we may have heard just about the end of this story. Thanks very much.
We're going to take a break. When we come back: a look at where the president's campaign against Iraq stands today.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't imagine an elected member of the United States Senate or House of Representatives saying, I think I'm going to wait for the United Nations to make a decision.
It seems like, to me, that if you're representing the United States, you ought to be making a decision on what's best for the United States. If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I would explain to the American people and said, you know, Vote for me, and oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for somebody else to act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: With us now, Senator Chuck Hagel, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, when the president says he can't imagine a member, an elected member of the Senate or the House waiting for the U.N. to act, is that -- does that make sense to you?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, I'm not sure what he meant.
But when you look at the speech the president gave before the United Nations, reminding the United Nations that the Iraqi issue was not a U.S. issue alone -- it was a United Nations issue.
The resolutions that we are talking about Saddam Hussein being in defiance of are not U.S. resolutions. They're United Nations resolutions. The point the president was making, correctly, appropriately, is that all the nations of the world must deal with this. So that's number one.
Number two, in 1990 in 1991, the United Nations acted with a resolution before the Congress acted in 1991. So there is precedent here.
And I think, again, what the president said yesterday makes it very clear that we want the United Nations with us, because it is an issue that involves all nations of the world.
WOODRUFF: It is pretty clear now the president is saying, if the U.N. doesn't come along, the U.S. is prepared to do this on its own. He made that very clear on Wednesday, didn't he? And has he persuaded you now that that's the right course?
HAGEL: No, he's not persuaded me.
This is a dangerous, uncertain world. America must use its relationships with its allies. We must enhance our position in the world. We can't fight every war alone. We certainly can't fight the war on terrorism alone. We need our friends. We need allies. We need relationships. We need institutions. And it may well be that all nations represented in the U.N. are not with us on this.
But surely we want to have allies with us, because, if for no other reason, if we would go in on a unilateral basis and we were to destroy Saddam Hussein's government, then what comes next? Is America prepared to rule Iraq for the next 10 years or five years, have our troops on the ground in Baghdad, all these things that need to be played out? And we need answers from the administration.
WOODRUFF: Let me ask you two questions about timing. The president said today he wants the United Nations to produce a resolution within days and weeks, as soon as possible. You've said this shouldn't be rushed. Is this rushing it?
HAGEL: No. I think there needs to be some framework of a time reference so that this thing doesn't go on and on and on.
But I don't think that it should be done tomorrow or next weekend or next week. This is going to require, just like the first President Bush and Secretary Baker, some time. And that's why Secretary Powell is up there: to work with our allies to get a resolution, the kind of resolution that we need. And if that takes two weeks, three weeks, as far as I'm concerned, that's OK. But what's important is the outcome here in getting those allies with us.
WOODRUFF: And in terms of Congress, your Republican colleagues, Senator McCain, Senator Lott, are saying Congress needs to get this done as soon as possible, too, certainly before Congress goes home for a recess.
HAGEL: Well, I think we surely want to hear the testimony of the administration at the hearings that the House and Senate will conduct. And they will begin next week. We have a lot of questions. We all do.
This shouldn't be a political issue. This should be an issue about a serious matter. And that serious matter is maybe this country going to war, where many people may die. It will have consequences, unintended consequences. It will change the course of history, certainly in the Middle East, maybe in South Asia, maybe in Central Asia. And we need to hear the answers. We need to ask questions. We need to find out.
WOODRUFF: Is the administration in too big a hurry?
HAGEL: Well, I don't know how big a hurry they're in. I understand the president's impatience.
But, again, the outcome is what's important here. The process is important, too, because it needs to work through. The people of this country need to understand the threats, the risks, the costs, what happens. People are going to die in this war. That's what happens in wars. And there are consequences.
And the American public needs to understand, as well as they can, reflected through their members of Congress, as to what they're getting into.
We didn't do that in Vietnam. We've not done that in other areas.
WOODRUFF: Senator Chuck Hagel, thanks very much.
HAGEL: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Good to see you.
And after we -- we've heard now from Senator Hagel. With me: Ron Brownstein of "The Los Angeles Times" and Bob Novak of "The Chicago Sun-Times."
Ron, to you first. Has the president -- we just heard Senator Hagel saying, "Let's not rush into this." But other than Senator Hagel and a few others, is the president now further on the way to getting what he wants out of the U.N. and the Congress?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the U.N. speech has really improved his position in the domestic political debate, because, Judy, it shifted the terms of debate.
So far, for the most part, the opponents or the critics of going to war with Iraq have been most comfortable, as is often the case in wartime, making process arguments, arguing that the president had to come to the Congress before he went to war, arguing that he had to go to the U.N. before he went to war, arguing that he had to give Saddam one last chance through renewed inspections before he went to war.
Now Bush can basically go back to them, saying, "Look, I'm taking the steps that you requested," which leaves them in a position of having to argue the substance, the underlying substance of whether they think it is a good idea, at this point in U.S. interests, to go to war against Iraq. And that is an inherently harder argument to make against a commander in chief in time of war. There will be fewer politicians willing to do that.
WOODRUFF: Bob Novak, you have just come from taping an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney that will air tomorrow on "NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS." What is the vice president, what are other administration officials saying now? Are they feeling more confident?
ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, he seemed very confident, Judy.
And the vice president made it very clear that, although they want a U.N. imprimatur on this, they're going to go ahead with or without it. He also was very contemptuous of the Democrats who are saying that this is all politics to change the subject for the election. He said that this has nothing to do with politics.
One thing I was very interested in is, he said that getting inspectors into Iraq would not satisfy this administration. They want compliance with all of those U.N. resolutions affecting Iraq. And, if I could say so, by the way, this was the 16th interview on the -- formerly "EVANS & NOVAK", now "NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" program that Dick Cheney has done. It was our 20th anniversary program this week. And it will be on tomorrow night at 5:30.
WOODRUFF: All the more reason for us to watch it, which we normally do anyway.
I want to ask both of you to stand by just a moment, because I'm told that Colin Powell just spoke at the United Nations. And we have an excerpt here of what he had to say. So we're all going to listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: I had what I felt were very productive meetings with the permanent members at ministerial level of the Security Council. And I also met with the 10 elected members of the Security Council.
So, in the course of the day, I've met with all 15 members. And I'm pleased at the response I received from the president's speech yesterday. I think all the members of the council are now seized with the issue, recognize the challenge that Iraq does present to international law and to the mandate of the Security Council. And they understand that we cannot continue in this manner.
And I promised them that the United States would be engaged with each one of the 15 members of the Security Council in the days and weeks ahead in order to come up with appropriate resolutions or one resolution to deal with this. That remains an open question.
I'm pleased with the response. I think we're off to a good start with respect to our dialogue and with respect to tabling language in the not-too-distant future on the specific elements that might be in such a resolution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, whatever happens at the United Nations, the president is going to be pushing for support from the Congress for the United States to go it alone if necessary.
BROWNSTEIN: And will be in a stronger position, probably, to do that, because he has gone to the United Nations. He'll be in a much stronger position to rally support.
WOODRUFF: Even if they say no.
BROWNSTEIN: Even if they say no, because what basically has happened is, he has taken the step that many of the critics had asked, was that he go to the United Nations.
And you've seen, even in the last 24 hours, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, two potential 2004 Democratic candidates, have both explicitly said that, if the U.N. says no, they would be willing to support the U.S. acting alone. He's taken the step of giving them what they asked for.
The only risk here is that the process moves in a direction that he can't control and he ends up with some sort of resolution that locks him into an inconclusive round of inspections, precisely what he doesn't want. And what Cheney was saying to Bob Novak, they don't want to be put back in that position of sort of a swampy, open-ended negotiation with Saddam about whether or not he's complying.
WOODRUFF: All right, I'm going to quickly turn you all to another story. I've just been handed an Associated Press item. And that is that Janet Reno has now asked the Florida Election Commission -- that's the state commission -- for a manual recount of the entire state.
WOODRUFF: Bob Novak, where does that leave us? I talked earlier in this hour with Janet Reno and Bill McBride. But this is news.
NOVAK: Well, I made a modest suggestion yesterday that Florida revert to territorial status until they learn how to count their ballots.
The Democrats down there really wanted McBride instead of Janet Reno. And they got him. And then I can imagine the frustration that the whole momentum is stolen by Attorney General Reno, a very frustrating person, deciding she wants a manual recount. That brings joy to the hearts of Jeb Bush and his friends.
WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, is there anything for the Democrats to be happy about in all of this? Or, as Bob says, is all the happiness here on the part of Republicans?
BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely on the Republicans. Maybe they can finish counting the ballots of September in time to count them in November.
But the Democrats' biggest hope here was that McBride would acquire a giant-killer reputation for beating Reno, that it would slingshot him into competition with Bush, who he has been trailing as well.
Now all of the potential bounce has been squashed by this dispute. It looks like it goes on for several more days. And it does only help Bush in what was going to be an uphill fight for the Democrats in any circumstance.
WOODRUFF: All right, Ron Brownstein, Bob Novak, gentlemen thank you. And we just -- there's news all over the place today. Thanks very much. We appreciate it.
And we'll be following that Florida election story over the weekend. We'll bring you the latest on Monday on INSIDE POLITICS.
We'll also bring you that interview we had promised you today with John Sununu, newly chosen as the Republican nominee for the Senate in New Hampshire, and Governor Jeanne Shaheen. She's his Democratic opponent.
That's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us.
"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" is coming up.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com
Florida's Confused Primary?; Authorities Hold Three Terrorist Suspects in Florida>