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Warren Christopher and David Boies Hold News Briefing on Florida Recount

Aired November 15, 2000 - 11:25 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we go right to Tallahassee, to the state capital. Here is Warren Christopher, also attorney David Boies, speaking on behalf of the Gore campaign.

WARREN CHRISTOPHER, GORE CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Secretary Harris has petitioned the Florida supreme court to consolidated in a Tallahassee trial court, pending legal disputes concerning the presidential election here in Florida.

She has also suggested that the hand counting of ballots be suspended during this interim period. We think that the effect of this proposal would be to delay yet again the effort to ascertain the views and the will of the people of this state.

At the same time, we think there is merit to a notion of moving to resolve the legal disputes more quickly to reach a faster and fairer resolution for all concerned. Therefore, we'll be responding today to Ms. Harris' petition with our own proposal to speed up the resolution of the matter.

Instead of sending the cases to a trial court here in Tallahassee county, we'll be asking the supreme court of Florida itself to resolve critical questions. Those questions are, first, whether the hand courts now ongoing are appropriate under Florida law, and if so, what is the deadline for their completion? Second, what are the standards for determining if a vote has in fact been cast, and whether a county- wide hand count is justified and warranted?

All of us share in a desire to have a speedy and accurate resolution of these questions. We hope that Secretary Harris and the Bush campaign will join with us and support this proposal to have the supreme court of Florida take charge of these questions and bring them to a speedy, rapid resolution.

We think it offers the best hope for moving the count here in Florida to a fair and speedy outcome for all.

We disagree with Secretary Harris' call to suspend the manual counting pending the outcome of the litigation. Let the counts continue, we believe, with an understanding that the ultimate status will depend upon the decisions reached by the Florida supreme court we hope in a rapid and timely way. If the supreme court rules against any of these counts or clarifies the law in some respects, then appropriate steps can be taken with respect to the hand counts.

Once again, as I indicated, we remain disappointed by the actions of the secretary of state, because we believe that the effect of them will be only to delay once again the counting of the votes.

We hope that the supreme court of Florida will take this opportunity to speed the process to what we think is the goal of all of us, and that is to have a full, fair and accurate count of the votes.

Now, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Boies and I will be glad to respond to your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have a message for the American people who are becoming increasingly frustrated over the long, long delay, the sense of no resolution to all of this?

CHRISTOPHER: Well, our message is that we're working toward the most rapid resolution that we can. We understand the frustrations of everyone to reach a result of these matters.

On the other hand, I think that the American people want to see us do this in a fair, consistent, rapid way. And the step we're taking this morning, we think is very conducive to reaching a result in the most accurate and fair way possible.


QUESTION: ... the Republicans have said for eight days now that indeed this is a problem with the hand recount, that there are no standards statewide. If you're looking for standards, can you give us a clarification about what standards would be acceptable to you in a recount?

CHRISTOPHER: Well, I think we'll set those out in the papers that we file in the supreme court this afternoon. I don't want to try to foreshadow that. They'll be quite technical matters.

But one of the reasons why we're wanting to have the supreme court take charge of these matters is so that we can reach a single, fair standard to be employed by the counts in the three counties.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, one thing your side has not been willing to say thus far is, if we get what we want, that will be the end of it. If the state supreme court makes a ruling on the hand recounts, is that the end, as far as you're concerned, here in Florida? Will you accept whatever they decide?

CHRISTOPHER: You know, there are too many questions swirling around at this point for us to make any judgments of that kind. Every few hours, it seems to be, there's a new question on the table. And I think making that kind of a commitment at this point, without any knowledge as to what might happen in the next few hours, would be unwise.

We simply must, in order to protect the rights of the vice president in this matter, enable us to take steps that seem warranted.

It's very hard to predict the various things that have happening here in the last few hours and few days.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, doesn't that suggest that Mr. Baker is right, that all your side wants to do is just keep counting until you get the result that you want?

CHRISTOPHER: That certainly is not our intention at all. We're proceeding in a way that is consistent with Florida law, justified under Florida law. And it's quite interesting to repeat -- the Republicans have hand counted in many, many of the counties themselves, and they're heavily Republican in nature. And so I think that the notion that somehow we have picked out a certain few counties and are trying to get the result we want to achieve is belied by what's happening in the various counties.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you're asking the Supreme Court to...

QUESTION: What exactly is the result you want to achieve?

CHRISTOPHER: The result we want to achieve is, at the end of the day, to be able to say to the people of the United States that there has been a full, fair and accurate count of the votes here in Florida.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the people at home are confused by -- on the one hand, you seem to be saying we want the Supreme Court to take charge of this issue, the Supreme Court to give a single standard. But yet you at the same time seem to be saying that you will not necessarily abide by that standard. Can you...

CHRISTOPHER: Well, we will certainly abide by the standard that the supreme court of Florida sets for the way to recount or hand count the votes. That's the reason -- that underlies the move that's being made today.

You've all noticed that there is litigation in each of the counties.

And I think what we want to avoid is having conflicting judgments reached in these counties, and that's only delaying the matter. That's why we'd like to have it before the supreme court.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if there is some confusion about the standards, why go ahead with the recounts now?

CHRISTOPHER: You know, that's an interesting question and one that we pondered ourselves. But I think it would be setting matters back if they stopped all recounts now. We think that that may be the result, and, indeed, might be the purpose of the Republicans in this situation. It's a little like playing a baseball game under protest. The game should go on. If the game has to be replayed in some other way after the supreme court of Florida clarifies matters, we can do it at that time.


STAFF: OK, we'll take two more questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Christopher, using the baseball game analogy, do you see the Republicans as seeing a lead at the top of the ninth and you want to go to the bottom of the ninth?

CHRISTOPHER: I think that our idea here is the whole spirit of the move we're making today is to clarify and expedite the matter.

Let me ask Mr. Boies to comment on that.

DAVID BOIES, GORE CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY: I think that one of the things that we are saying is that, since there have been hand counts requested by the Republicans in counties they selected, the hand counts in the counties the Gore campaign has selected should be permitted to go forward. You should not have a situation in which only one team gets up to bat. So I think in that sense, we are saying that.

That's not all, of course, what we're saying, because one of the things we're also saying is that under Florida law, any candidate has a right to get a manual recount. It's always been that way, that's happened in a lot of campaigns in the past, it's happened in this campaign in other counties.

And what we're saying is: Don't change the rules in the middle of the game, don't shut out the manual recount here when that has been a traditional part of Florida law.

With respect to the standard that's going to be applied, the general standard that is applied is that they are supposed to look at the ballot and see whether they can determine an objective indication of what the voter was doing.

This isn't reading anybody's mind; it is looking at the ballot itself for objective evidence of what the voter intended to do.

And the problem with holding up the recount is that every day this week the secretary of state has imposed a new deadline. And every day this week the secretary of state has threatened, "Well, if you don't get the recounts done by 2 o'clock or 4 o'clock or 5 o'clock, it's going to be too late."

Under those circumstances, we think it would be very unreasonable to ask people to stop those recounts, because the game here may be -- I hope not -- but the game may be, delay those recounts as long as possible and then bring down the curtain.

QUESTION: Well, the game on your side seems to be that you don't want any type of deadline.

BOIES: No, that's not true at all.

QUESTION: Would you agree to a deadline? It seems like the secretary of state wants to get some resolution by a deadline...

BOIES: And we do too.

QUESTION: ... seem to keep pushing it up?

BOIES: And one of the things that's in our petition, that will be in our petition that Mr. Christopher referred to, was a request to the Florida supreme court to set a reasonable deadline. This is not a matter of weeks. This is a matter of days. We don't think it's a matter of hours, but we do think it's a matter of days.

Palm Beach has said they'll get it done in a week. If you hadn't had the various opinions and other actions by the secretary of state to stop the recount, we'd be a lot closer to having it down now.

But it's not a long period of time. It's not going to drag on indefinitely. It'll be done in a matter of days. And all we're saying is, let the process continue. Let the votes get counted.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a lot of your reputation has been staked on being able to sit down and negotiate with the people. The same goes with Mr. Baker. While you have not been able to -- as we have figured out here, you're not willing to say that under certain conditions you'll accept an end-game, why are there two sides? Why haven't you and Mr. Baker now sat down behind closed doors and figured out what's successful to both sides and then come out and say, "That's it. We'll accept these terms."

CHRISTOPHER: I think you may have some ideas as to why we have not gotten together when you look at the proposal that Mr. Baker made yesterday, that we should limit ourselves to the overseas ballots plus the ballots that had come in by 5 o'clock yesterday.

That wasn't, in my judgment, a serious proposal. And I'm not likely to start a negotiation on the basis of that kind of a proposal.


QUESTION: Mr. Boies, are you contemplating any further action in federal court, raising the issue that the Constitution says the most important thing is for the voters to be able to vote and to have his vote counted. Isn't that, in fact, you know, supreme, in a sense, to all of these various state statutes, deadlines, conflicting statutes and so forth and so on? That's what the Constitution says. I believe that's the argument that Mr. Todd made in Miami on Monday morning.

BOIES: Yes, and that's really the argument that we'll be making in the Florida supreme court. This really is a matter at this stage for the Florida supreme court. The Florida supreme court has been very protective over the years in its citizens right to vote and making sure that the vote, as the court said in a recent opinion, is not only made but heard.

And this is a matter for the Florida supreme court. And what we're trying to do by this action is get that made expeditiously, so that we get a final resolution of this issue, and we can get what I think everybody wants, which is a final resolution of this election.

QUESTION: Is Florida law strong enough to withstand this kind of pressure? It's a state law that was used in council races. It was used in races that didn't matter this much to the entire nation. As you look at the law, is there enough room there for all of you to find a conclusion?

BOIES: I think there is, because I think Florida law is not that different from the law of most states.

And what the purpose of the law is, is to make sure that people's votes are counted. And what Florida law has done, like many states, is it set up a series of steps that people have a right to take, particularly in close elections.

And while this is election for the presidency of the United States, there are a lot of elections for congressman and senators and mayors that are very important to the citizens involved. And that law has been set up to make sure that those votes and these votes are counted. And that's what we're going to be arguing in the Florida Supreme Court.

STAFF: Last question.


QUESTION: I understand that neither you nor Mr. Christopher like the Baker proposal. But at least they've made a proposal that says, "Here's how this would end." And I think what a lot of people are scratching their heads about is, why doesn't the Gore team say, "Here's how we would like this to end."

BOIES: And I think that you will see in the papers and maybe have heard from us that this is a step, in the Gore campaign, in that direction, because what we're saying is this is ultimately something to be decided by the Florida supreme court. And we have put to the Florida supreme court the basic questions that have to be answered.

The questions are: What kind of manual recount? When do you terminate it? What are the standards? Can you have a manual recount in some counties and not others? These are the kinds of issues that the Florida Supreme Court has got to decide. And our goal is to get those decided expeditiously.

And we think that with the count going on now in Palm Beach, and as you may have heard, Broward County has now decided that it's going to complete the count, so we think we'll have the ability to have the votes available to resolve this promptly. And all we're asking is that that go forward. It's gone forward in 49 states. You take all the other 49 states in this country and there's no doubt that Vice President Gore is the popular vote winner, will be no matter what happens in Florida. There's no doubt that Vice President Gore and Senator Lieberman have a majority of the electoral votes outside of Florida.

And all we're saying is, let's get Florida done and let's get it done fairly, uniformly and expeditiously.

STAFF: Thank you.


KAGAN: We have been listening to Warren Christopher and David Boies, as they represent the Gore campaign, making a statement, talking about how they would like, very much the secretary of state of Florida, to have the Florida Supreme Court get involved in this. And yet their proposal for how the state supreme court in Florida should get involved is very different from what the secretary of state there had in mind.

What the Gore people would like to see the supreme court rule on: Are, indeed, hand counts, recounts, in this case, appropriate? What are the standards? What kind of votes should be counted and shouldn't be counted? What would be a good time line for completion? And as we just heard David Boies point out, is it OK to have hand recounts in some counties, but then not have them in the other counties?

And then one big difference between what the secretary of state would like and the Gore campaign. They are saying, while this goes on, while we have the state supreme court get involved and make these decisions, they think the hand recount should go on until a decision comes out of the state supreme court.

Once again, haven't heard from the state supreme court and haven't even heard from the state supreme court to see if they will hear what the secretary of state has asked of them as well.



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