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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Sources: Police Believe Snipers Have Been Captured

Aired October 24, 2002 - 10:08   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to try to get an idea now on how the administration is reacting to all this. As you probably know, the president made public over the course of this his commitment to providing all the federal resources that were needed to nab the suspects in this case. He has been getting daily briefings. And now we're told that federal authorities have told him that they are reasonably sure the case has been solved.
Let's go to John King right now, who joins us on the phone to give us an update from the administration's point of view.

Good morning, John.

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE SR. CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

I'm with the president in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is campaigning today in three states. Obviously, the midterm elections approaching. We are told by a senior administration official that the president was told this morning that during his briefing on the case before he left the White House that federal officials are -- quote -- "optimistic they have cracked this." This official went on to say, I asked the official if the two men in custody were the only suspects in the case, and the official would not comment directly, saying quote, "All I want to say for now is they were upbeat about a high probability of success. But there are still some moving parts, so let's be patient."

The official White House reaction is to decline comment, except to confirm that the president was, indeed, briefed this morning on the dramatic overnight developments.

The White House saying, for now, all official comments should come from the law enforcement agencies.

But, again, we are told by a senior administration official that the president was given an upbeat assessment this morning and told that federal officials are optimistic, and obviously they're working in conjunction with the local officials that they have cracked the case. Whether that means that these two men in custody are the only suspects or the lead suspects is something that this official would not say.

But he did say the officials were quite upbeat and that the president was upbeat after that briefing -- Paula.

ZAHN: The stunning news this morning that law enforcement believe they got the two guys responsible for this horrible spree has had a ripple effect.

John, I'm wondering, because I know the president has talked about this before, he has known that so many of the folks that work in his administration live in these areas that were targeted by the sniper killing. If there was any sort of reaction you got from Ari Fleischer, any of the folks there about how relieved they are personally?

KING: They have deliberately declined to get into any characterizations as such. I would expect that as this day progresses, or perhaps we'll have to wait till tomorrow, because of the sensitive nature of this, two men in custody, being questioned, no charges filed, an ongoing law enforcement investigation from the top down at the White House, they have been told not to comment on this at all right now, to let this play out.

Obviously, because of the sensitivity of the case no one wants to say anything that would damage the case. If it turns out that this is not the breakthrough that they hope it is, nobody wants to be on record saying there was such a breakthrough if there are problems as we pursue. So certainly the president has spoken out about this several times in recent days, and for more than the past two weeks now has asked that he get a detailed briefing every morning on progress in the case.

But the White House deliberately having a tight-lipped strategy right now because of the sensitive moment we find ourselves at this morning.

ZAHN: John, I know you've spoken about the kind of distraction this has presented to the administration as they are so keenly focused on the debate in the U.N. Security Council. There was some concern if these guys had not been caught, it could disrupt some of the midterm election polling going on. Just a quick thought on all of that.

KING: Well, the administration has continued with its diplomacy on Iraq, perhaps not receiving as much attention on that issue, or the president's campaigning for that matter, not receiving as much attention as one would anticipate, because of the dominance the sniper story has played in the news media.

Certainly the administration is aware of the comments by the Maryland Governor, Parris Glendening, who said he might have activated the National Guard, and still might if he deems it necessary, to protect voters on Election Day. The white house often complains that we become too obsessed with one story. No complaints in this case, because of the gravity of the situation. But certainly it is a story that has overshadowed much of what the president has been trying to accomplish, whether it be internationally in the case of Iraq or politically in the midterm elections over the past 2 1/2, 3 weeks.

ZAHN: I want to mention that Mayor Bobby Bright was talking about apparently seeing the president a little bit later on today in his news conference, and he was asked if he was going to specifically talk about this interesting linkage that some are drawing between that murder case in Alabama, and he said he didn't think he was going to have much time with the president, and he probably was not going to talk to him about this Alabama case. So we'll keep you all posted.

John King, thanks so much for that live update. Travel well.

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