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Hatch: Elian hearing might not happen

April 30, 2000
Web posted at: 9:41 p.m. EDT (0141 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the first time, the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch, has mentioned the possibility that a postponed congressional hearing in the Elian Gonzalez case may be canceled altogether.


In this story:

Republicans: document delay put hearings on hold
Hatch's lingering questions
DeLay: warrant "fraudulently obtained"

The hearing would look into whether federal agents used too much force and took appropriate action in their Miami seizure of Elian Gonzalez on April 22. According to members of Congress, possible witnesses would include Attorney General Janet Reno, who ordered the pre-dawn raid.

"I'm not sure where this inquiry is going to take us, until we get all the documents," Hatch (R-Utah) said on NBC's "Meet the Press", referring to information he has requested about the seizure from the Justice Department. "Once we get them, I think we can make an intelligent appraisal as to whether the hearings should be held or not, whether we should go forth or whether we shouldn't."

Asked if he meant that there may not be hearings at all, Hatch said, "If they're not justified, I guess there won't be."

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"Orrin Hatch is the only man in America who can sit there with a straight face and say they really want to go forward with the hearings," said the ranking Judiciary Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont,) on the same program.

The hearings "were a bad idea in the first place, they're a bad idea today, and they'll be a bad idea tomorrow," Leahy said.

Republicans: Document delay put hearings on hold

A public hearing scheduled for last week was postponed when Republicans said the Justice Department had been unable to provide all the requested documents.

Democrats said it was called off after Republicans saw public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans approved of the raid and did not want congressional hearings about it.

All the documents requested by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) "are here, all the documents are available," Leahy said. He praised law enforcement officials for their "great restraint" during the pre-dawn raid at the home of Elian's Cuban-American great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez.

Leahy speculated about why the proposed hearings have gone from scheduled to postponed to possibly canceled. He held up a photograph of Elian hugging his father and said, "When people look at that, [they] say, 'What are you talking about? This little boy should be back with his father.' That's why there are no hearings."

Elian had been staying with his Miami relatives since November, when he was rescued off the Florida coast, one of three survivors of a shipwrecked voyage from Cuba that left his mother and ten others dead.

The six-year-old was reunited with his Cuban father Juan Miguel Gonzalez just hours after he was seized by federal agents. Elian, his father, his step-mother and infant half-brother have been staying at a private home in Queenstown, Maryland, about 50 miles from Washington on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Hatch's lingering questions

Hatch said he still has questions concerning the operation. "Was the law broken?" he asked. "Did the attorney general and the Immigration and Naturalization Service abide by the law? Or are we going to have a situation in this country where the ends justify the means, and we don't have our top law-enforcement people abiding by the rules of the land?"

If an inquiry is held, he said, "it'll be limited to basically whether or not the laws were broken, whether or not this was an excessive force under the circumstances, whether or not the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures was broken in this particular case."

DeLay: Warrant "fraudulently obtained"

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas,) speaking on CNN's "Late Edition," said the search warrant used to take Elian was "fraudulently obtained."

"It was obtained from a magistrate at seven o'clock at night," DeLay said. "It didn't even go to the federal judge that understands the case, and it was obtained to arrest Elian as an illegal alien ... that's just a lie."

Last Sunday, DeLay announced on national television that the INS operation was executed without a warrant at all. In an apparent rebuttal to DeLay's claim, the Justice Department quickly released to the media what it said was a copy of the Gonzalez warrant.

A week later, DeLay said he still thinks hearings are necessary. "It is our responsibility to look into these kinds of actions," he added.

The highest ranking member of the senate, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi,) echoed DeLay's renewed calls for hearings.

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Lott said: "Congress has to at least look at the institutional questions of what happened here. Was it a legal act? ... Why was that amount of force necessary?"

Lott said he thought Gregory Craig, the U.S. lawyer representing the boy's father, "was calling the shots, in coordination with [White House Chief of Staff John] Podesta at the White House."

"That's the way it appeared to me," Lott added. "And that's one of the things we need to flesh out just a little bit. It bothers me greatly."

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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