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Election 2000: Bush, Gore Eye Developments in Florida Cases, Await U.S. Supreme Court Decision On Ballot Recounts

Aired December 1, 2000 - 1:33 p.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: We've been peering inside the very heart and soul of America's legal system today as we've been listening to an hour and a half of oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court. But also, in Florida a number of other cases moving forward, all of which, in some combination or another, will untangle the web and the mystery as to who's going to be the next president of the United States.

And following this along with us are Eileen O'Connor and Jeanne Meserve, following the campaigns respectively.

Eileen, first to you, following the Gore campaign, having heard these arguments -- and I know you've been talking to people inside the campaign throughout -- what response are you getting?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're basically letting Laurence Tribe, the lawyer who argued for them before the Supreme Court, give the response, which is, we don't know how this is going to go. And he has said that, you know, it seemed to be encouraging, those initial questions of why are we here? because that does go along with the Gore argument that, look, the state supreme court is the supreme authority over state law, and that what they were doing was interpreting state law, and that the state supreme court is well within its rights to do that.

But, as you know, they did get tough questions on other aspects of that, i.e., were the rules changed after the election? Did the supreme court overstep it's authority? So the Gore campaign can't really say. You know, they're going to have to just wait this one out, although they do believe that their arguments were well presented, and they do believe that they have a very good argument, Frank.

SESNO: Eileen, while we've been focused very, very closely and rightly on what's happening inside the United States Supreme Court, as I mentioned, there's a tremendous amount of very important legal activity taking place down in Florida to include some late moves by the Bush team with respect to these ballots that the Gore campaign wants to have recounted. What's the latest on that and the response?

O'CONNOR: Well, the Gore campaign says, look, these are all just delaying tactics, that what the Bush campaign is doing -- there is going to be, by the way, a procedural hearing later today. They might be able to sort some of these out. And they are hoping, they say, that the court will see through what they call these delaying tactics. They point out that they have on their witness list for that circuit court hearing tomorrow two witnesses for the Gore campaign. The Bush campaign has 95 witnesses, including former Sen. Bob Dole and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who they say they're bringing forward on counting the ballots. They say, they're not experts on counting. They were there observing, but they shouldn't be included in the witness list.

The Gore campaign and the Bush campaign know that December 12 is a very important date. The Florida state Supreme Court set that forth as a very important date. And after that date, Frank, it does become somewhat harder legally for the Gore team. So they want to get -- plus public relations-wise, they need to get those votes counted. And they say that's where the focus is: get the votes counted -- Frank.

SESNO: Thanks, Eileen.

Let's go to Austin now. And Jeanne Meserve is there tracking the response, reaction of the Bush campaign.

Jeanne, hi.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Frank. We do know that the governor is at his ranch a couple of hours away. And he was monitoring developments in the court, although we're told he does not have cable television at the ranch so he was not watching or listening word by word. He has been receiving briefings from some of his staffers and some of his lawyers on the ground, however.

As to reaction, one aide just told me, we are grateful that the court took the case; the justices seemed well prepared, but we will never get into the business of predicting just what the court will do.

We heard in that courtroom a reiteration of the arguments that the Bush team has been making virtually since the moment that the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the hand counts could continue and the deadline for certification could be delayed. They said that the Florida Supreme had rewritten the laws of Florida, that they changed the rules governing the election after the election had taken place, that they had exceeded their authority and usurped the authority of the Florida legislature.

What's quite amazing to me is that in the middle of this momentous day, to some degree, life goes on as usual. As I said, Gov. Bush is at his ranch. He's having meetings today with Dick Cheney, the head of his transition; and with Andy Card, who will be his White House chief of staff if there is a Bush administration. They're talking about transition matter, they're talking about White House staffing.

And mid-afternoon, we expect the governor to come back here to the mansion in Austin. Tonight, he and his wife are hosting a Christmas party for friends of the family, also for the Cheneys, one of a series of holiday parties they'll be holding throughout this holiday season. So there's an indication here that this campaign projecting an image of calm and control. Life goes forward even on this day where the stakes are so very high -- Frank.

SESNO: And, Jeanne, meanwhile let me ask you what I asked Eileen a moment ago from your perspective and from the Bush campaign's perspective about the most recent legal developments and challenges in Florida.

MESERVE: Frank, I think that everybody's watching intently on every front, particularly what's going to happen in Seminole County, that case on Monday, whether those absentee ballots are going to be thrown out, because those could cost George W. Bush 4,000 votes; clearly keeping a close eye as well on what's going to happen Saturday in circuit court.

Back to you, Frank.

SESNO: A lot to watch. Thanks, Jeanne. Appreciate it.



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