REGULAR JUSTICE DEPARTMENT BRIEFING
WITH DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON, D.C. THURSDAY, APRIL 6, 2000 9:40 A.M. EDT
Q Good morning.
MR. HOLDER: Good morning.
Good morning. A short time ago, Elian's father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, arrived here in the United States. He came with his wife, and he came with his infant son. Their arrival is a welcome development in a case that has captured everyone's attention ever since young Elian arrived at our shores.
Now at the core of this case is a little boy, so young that he does not have the capacity to make legal decisions for himself.
He has a father, who has clearly enjoyed and continuous relationship with Elian from the moment he was born, and he also has relatives in Miami, who undoubtedly care deeply for this same little boy.
There have been some who have claimed that the government has acted in a heavy-handed manner. I reject this notion. In January the INS decided, and we agreed, that only Juan Miguel has the authority to speak on his son's behalf regarding immigration matters. Mr. Gonzalez has clearly and sincerely stated that he wants to be reunited with his son.
In an effort to be fair and, most importantly, to consider young Elian's well-being, we did not immediately implement our decision, even though we had the authority to do so. Instead, we urged the Miami relatives to work out a cooperative arrangement to reunite Elian in a manner that was least disruptive to everyone involved.
Since then, a federal court has upheld our decision. Then, demonstrating further restraint, we offered the Miami relatives an opportunity to appeal the court's ruling, so long as they did not ensure further open-ended delays.
Today we are as committed as ever to reuniting the two in a manner that is most sensitive to Elian's well-being. This morning we will continue discussing these issues with the lawyers for the relatives in Miami.
We strongly believe that Juan Miguel Gonzalez's presence here will move the process forward and will allow the parties to quickly effectuate a transfer of Elian to his father.
I have a 6-year-old daughter. And as a father, I cannot imagine the anguish of being separated from my daughter due to circumstances beyond my control. That is one reason that I believe reuniting Elian with his father is, not only a matter of federal law, it is not a matter of immigration law, it is simply the right thing to do. The father and his son need to be together, and in the coming days we will do all that we can to ensure that that happens.
Q In retrospect, do you wish that you had moved more quickly and not let this bog down to seemingly endless negotiations with these relatives?
MR. HOLDER: One can always look back in hindsight and see that there are things that you might have done differently.
But I think that we have exercised the authority that we clearly have, in a sensitive manner. And our hope is that we will now be able to, with the father's presence here in the United States, get father and son reunited.
Q Eric, will INS revoke Elian's parole to the Miami relatives now that his father is in this country?
MR. HOLDER: We will be talking to them today to try to work out the way in which the custody and the care of Elian can occur. We expect that this will happen in a relatively short period of time.
Q Do you expect that the revocation of the parole "will happen in a relatively period of time"?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I am not sure I want to get into the details as to exactly how this will occur. You know, there are technical things that will have to be done in order to make that happen. But I think the bottom line is we want to get father and son physically reunited as fast as we can.
Q Has Elian's father made a commitment to stay in this country through the appeals process?
MR. HOLDER: Well, you'll have to talk to Mr. Craig to get that specifically, but all that I have heard from Mr. Craig in his statement last night, from the father today at the airport, would seem to indicate to me that he is planning to stay here as long as is necessary.
Q And is there anything that would specifically keep him here? Couldn't he just -- if he gets the boy tomorrow, couldn't he just leave? Is there anything involved or any kind of deal being worked out in writing where he would stay?
MR. HOLDER: There is, as I said, nothing in writing, but as I indicated also, everything that I've heard from that side indicates that he plans to be here to let the process work itself out and at that point will be reunited with his son and then make that decision.
Q Has the Department told him that they think it would be a good idea if he stay, or stated its wishes to him on that subject in any way?
MR. HOLDER: Well, we have been pretty consistent that we think the presence of the father in the United States will help move this process along, and I expect that we will see the results of his presence here in a relatively short period of time.
Q But in terms of whether you hope he would stay for the pendency of the appeal --
MR. HOLDER: Do we hope he will?
Q Have you talked to him at all about your wishes on what he does in that regard?
MR. HOLDER: There have certainly been discussions between lawyers from the Justice Department, there have been people in the deputy attorney general's office who have taken the lead in talking to Mr. Craig, and we have expressed that desire.
Q Do you plan to meet Juan Miguel Gonzalez?
MR. HOLDER: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
Q Do you plan to meet Juan Miguel Gonzalez --
MR. HOLDER: We expect that Mr. Gonzalez will be meeting with officials here at the Justice Department, with the attorney general, shortly, perhaps as early as today.
Q Do you expect that it's possible or might be helpful if Mr. Gonzalez went to Miami, or do you think it is necessary, in fact, that he go to Florida?
MR. HOLDER: Well, that's one of the things we want to talk with the Miami relatives about, to figure out a way in which we can unite father and son in a way that's least disruptive to Elian. I think that's what we have to keep most in mind. There is a little boy who has been separated from his father for over four months now. We want to bring them together in a way that will do the least harm to him and do it as quickly as we possibly can.
Q What would be the purpose of the father coming to meet with Justice Department officials today?
MR. HOLDER: Well, we certainly want to hear from him, get from him the concerns that he might have. His lawyers, obviously, will be with him, speak to them as well. Our negotiators are continuing to talk with the lawyers from the Miami relatives, and that will help inform us as we continue those conversations.
Q What's the practical or legal significance of the Cubans waiving diplomatic immunity in their facility here?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not certain.
Q Mr. Holder, the man that rescued Elian has been -- has witnessed that Elian has told him that there is no way he wants to go back to Cuba, not that he wouldn't go back, but would that not have some weight in this matter, Elian's own personal preference, or is that something he'll have to take up with his father?
MR. HOLDER: Well, he is six years old. As I indicated, I have a six-year-old daughter. Three days ago, she informed me that she was going to run away from home. She was not happy with a disciplinary decision that I made. I'm not even certain I remember what it is. I suspect that she doesn't remember what it was. What is most important is the reuniting of this father and of this son. He is six years old. He does not a legal capacity to make those kinds of decisions; and beyond that, I don't think that he's old enough to make those kinds of decisions. We all want to work in his best interest, and it seems clear to me that the best interests of this child will be served by reuniting him with his surviving parent.
Q Mr. Holder, do you think that your negotiators have lost any leverage or even credibility by imposing deadlines and pushing them back continually?
MR. HOLDER: No, I don't think it's been a question of who's got leverage, who has the upper hand. What we have tried to do is be sensitive in this case and keep uppermost in our minds that what is most important is the well-being of this child.
There are things we could have done. We could have used the power that we clearly have, and we have decided not to do that.
We have tried to exercise restraint, all with the intention of trying to reunite this father with this son in a way that causes the least harm, the least disruption in Elian's life.
Q Mr. Holder, is this the last day of talks between the INS and the relatives in Miami, or might they continue tomorrow and thereafter?
MR. HOLDER: It's hard to say. There are a great many things I think that, you know, have to be discussed. First and foremost, I think, will probably be how we get the two together. Beyond that, there will be other things that we'll have to discuss, so it's hard to say exactly how long this will take. There are good lawyers who are working for the Miami relatives.
Kendall Coffey (sp) was a U.S. attorney when I was the U.S. attorney here in Washington, D.C. It's my hope that the dialogue that we have established -- and I think it's been going pretty well over the last few days -- will continue.
Q Mr. Holder, the Cuban interest section has told us that Juan Miguel plans to stay in this country with his -- hopefully with his son until these appeals are finished. Don't you need some kind of formal commitment from that side in order for your
talks in Miami to have any validity or to have some credibility?
MR. HOLDER: Well, there are a number of things that we will be discussing, not only with the relatives in Miami, but with Mr. Gonzalez and his lawyers. And that is one of the things that may come up in our discussions today.
Q Will you try to get that commitment from Mr. Gonzalez and his attorneys this afternoon or today?
MR. HOLDER: No, we'll be talking about a variety of things with him today.
Q Mr. Holder, a week ago Mayor Penelas and other local authorities in South Florida said they would not cooperate in any way in any effort to get Elian from that house. In the last week, what efforts, what plans have been made between federal authorities and local authorities to make sure that a transfer is done peacefully? And are there any other safety and security arrangements that you can tell us about?
MR. HOLDER: Well, there's not an awful lot I would want to talk about in that regard. It's our hope that we won't have to use any means other than negotiations to effectuate the transfer, effectuate the reuniting. And I would call on the relatives in Miami to keep uppermost in their minds the well-being of this child. And as I said, I think the well-being of this child is clearly best served by having him with his father.
Q Mr. Holder, how long do you think you can make Mr. Gonzalez, who just arrived here this morning, wait to be reunited with his child?
MR. HOLDER: Well, it's not a question of us making him wait.
We would like to have him physically with his son as soon as is possible. And the conversations that will resume again -- or happened, I guess, at 9:30 in Miami -- are directed in that way.
Q Specifically, what do you fear about -- the relatives in Miami have said that they will prevent U.S. officials from taking the child -- what do you fear about going in and taking the child, specifically?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I hope it doesn't come down to a question of us coming in and "taking the child." And I would hope that there are not going to be -- tactical kinds of games here. It is not as if we are talking about some kind of civil case, where there is nothing at stake other than who holds on to some money or something like that. There is a little boy here -- a little boy -- and people have to keep that in mind. And everybody has to subordinate their egos, the interests that they have, and try to do all that they can to make sure that Elian is best served by all the decisions, by all the pronouncements, that everybody is going to make.
Q Mr. Holder, even though you may not be able to say what it is, do you have a notional plan on how this ought to work?
What should the relatives do with the boy? How does the boy get from there up here, and so forth? And will you be discussing that with the relatives in Miami today? Or is this whole thing sort of evolving?
MR. HOLDER: I am not sure that it's evolving. I think the thing that guides us the desire to have Elian and Juan Miguel Gonzalez together. Now, exactly how that is going to happen I can't say that we have a great plan. There are lawyers on both sides who are extremely creative, and I hope that they will come up with a way to bring that about so that everybody is relatively satisfied with the methods that we use.
Q If they cannot get an agreement, will you inform the family where, when and how to turn over the child? Will you seek a court order telling them they must do so?
MR. HOLDER: Well, there are a variety of things that we can do. I would hope, though, that it wouldn't come down to anything other than voluntarily deciding that they are going to place Elian in the care of his father.
Q I understand that. But if they don't, then is going to court to get an order, though illogical, the thing to do?
MR. HOLDER: That's certainly one of the options that we would have.
Q Eric, can we talk about the legal aspect for just a second? In November, Elian was paroled into the custody of Lazaro Gonzalez and his family. Does that parole have any legal standing, at the moment, now that his father is in the United States?
MR. HOLDER: It is still a valid order, a valid directive by the INS, and would have to be modified.
x x x modified.
Q And that's in existence as we speak. That hasn't been withdrawn.
MR. HOLDER: As we speak, yes.
Q And just to follow that up, the INS has complete control and could modify that at any time?
MR. HOLDER: Again, we have that power. But I think we have exhibited restraint and negotiated in good faith, and we will continue to do that.
Q Would you have security concerns if Mr. Gonzalez wanted to go to Miami? And has he expressed, or has his lawyer expressed to you and your office any desire to go to Miami?
MR. HOLDER: I've not had any direct connections with Mr. Craig, and you probably have to speak to him about any of the concerns that he has.
Q Well, will the federal government assist in providing him security at his request, either for him to travel to Miami or while he's here in D.C.?
MR. HOLDER: Well, if there are security concerns, obviously we want to do what we can do to try to allay those fears.
And we would hope that our state and local partners would assist us in that regard -- if that becomes necessary.
Q The Cubans yesterday were telling us that there is just no way this father or family would go to Miami, because there couldn't be a neutral site in that city. Are you confident that if it comes to that, that you can arrange a neutral site in Miami, away from demonstrators and whatever else you're trying to avoid down there?
MR. HOLDER: There's always a way to do about anything you want to do in this world, and I'm sure that if the decision, the consensus decision was that we wanted to have Juan Miguel Gonzalez go to Miami, there is a way in which that could be worked out. On the other hand, there may be other places where it's best to have this reunion occur.
Q Will you stop Mr. Gonzalez if he is reunited with his child and decides to go back immediately?
MR. HOLDER: Well, there are -- again, we have powers. There are things that we could do to prevent him from leaving with the child. But again, I hope that we will be able to work all of this out, both with the Miami relatives and with Mr. Gonzalez and his family, so that everybody acts in a way that is voluntary. Everyone should not expect to get everything they want out of this negotiation as quickly as they want, and yet I think we need to act as expeditiously as we can, always keeping in mind that Elian is who matters most.
Q Do you have any doubt in your mind that when this thing is resolved, that the father and son will be reunited?
MR. HOLDER: I don't have any doubt about that.
Q What kind of powers were you referring to when you said "we have powers"? What are your options to keep him here if you really want him to stay?
MR. HOLDER: There are things that we can do along our borders. But again, I don't think that those will be powers that we would necessarily have to employ.
Q So, what is there to delay Elian's exit with his father? Is this the appellate process you're talking about?
Does Juan Gonzalez have to stay until the appellate process is finished?
MR. HOLDER: Well, it's been my understanding that that was the indication that they made, that they were willing to stay, that he was willing to stay here until that process ran its course, and I think that would be a positive thing.
Q (Off mike.) Is there any authority or law compelling him to stay? (Off mike) -- agreement on his part?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure that there's anything, any law, that compels that, and yet I think that his stated desire, their stated desire to do that is something that would be just very positive, would be very positive, as our conversations with everybody continue.
Q Eric, the talks have gone on for some days, and throughout this process, at least the public statements of the family have been fairly rigid. Privately, is there any indication that they're making any concession or any movement to get this process from point A to point B, any progress at all towards -- that you can talk about?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I think the conversations that we've had with them have been productive. They've been perhaps a little longer than we might have wanted them to go on, and yet I think we now are dealing with a fundamentally different situation. Elian's father is here. He's in the United States, and I think we'd have to deal with that reality and I would hope that in the conversations that have begun again, at 9:30, that that new reality is a factor.
Q When the father -- if the father comes here today, who would he meet with? Is it you, the attorney general, people from your office? Who would he meet with?
MR. HOLDER: I would expect that if the meeting occurs today and -- that's our hope, but it may not be today, but -- whenever it happens, I would expect the attorney general would be there, I would expect that I would be there, people from the deputy attorney general's office who have been intimately involved in this process, people from the INS as well.
Q The attorney general is where today? She was in Chicago -- is she?
MR. HOLDER: She has returned to Washington, I think just about an hour or so ago. She was -- she took a red-eye in, so --
Q So if there is a meeting today, either you or she or both will brief the press?
MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure about that. We always try to be as communicative as we possibly can, and there's a radio and TV correspondents dinner tonight, so I wouldn't want to go there having not made you all aware of all that we could.
Q You have spoken many, many times about the fact that you want it to be promptly resolved. How long can this go on, in terms -- within the context of talks? I mean, are we talking -- if the family holds off day after day after day, keeps on saying, "We don't feel like negotiating today; we're tired, and you know, let's meet next Wednesday," I mean, how long can you -- at what point will you say, "Enough is enough"?
MR. HOLDER: I really don't think that we're going to get to that point. I don't think negotiation fatigue would be something that we would find an acceptable excuse. As I said, we are dealing with a fundamentally different situation now. Elian's father has come to the United States. He's come to the United States with a relatively small entourage. We are in a position to bring them together in a way that we could not even yesterday, and I think we need to do that as quickly as we can.
Q Would you like to take a question on another subject?
MR. HOLDER: Okay.
Q Richard Clarke, the head of counterterror at the National Security Council, I believe, said that the battle on -- against terrorism over the rollover period of the year 2000 -- in that period, the battle was won, but the war continues. Do you see it that way? Do you see the battle having been won in that flurry of terrorism against the United States?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I think certainly the millennium battle, if you want to call it that, was certainly won. There were people here who gave up their holidays, who worked unbelievably long hours. We moved a great many people from outside of Washington into D.C. to deal with that problem. We worked on an interagency basis. And yeah, because of the hard work and dedication of the people around that time, I think that battle was won.
But I think Mr. Clarke is correct that the war, such as it is, continues. And we have not let our guard down since January 1.
Q Mr. Holder, are the Justice Department and the state attorney generals investigating drug industry pricing practices?
MR. HOLDER: We'll have to get you something else. I'm not in a position to really comment on that right now.
Q Can you address the ever-increasing clamor on Capitol Hill for the release of now, basically, every single document in your campaign financing investigation, but of course, most of all, the infamous LaBella and Freeh memos and the various responses to them? The latest letters coming from the chairmen of both your oversight committees -- how can you ignore that?
MR. HOLDER: We don't want to ignore legitimate oversight requests and we always want to try to work with Congress.
But what I think people ought to keep in mind up on the Hill is that there are effects to the requests that they make to get unfettered access to the materials in our files.
I was a line lawyer in the Justice Department for 12 years, and when we speak about chilling effects and how it will inhibit the conversations that occur within the department, that is not something that's theoretical, it is very real. I've seen it already in the way in which we interact with people in the Campaign Finance Task Force and the way in which people take notes at meetings and the way in which people write memoranda. And I would hope that as they formulate their requests for us and put together their subpoenas, and whatever, that they keep that uppermost in their minds.
I will be deputy attorney general for another few months; this attorney general will only be attorney general for another few months. This Justice Department and the line lawyers here will be here for a lot longer, and I think the interests of the Justice Department, ultimately of the American people, are better served if some restraint is shown and allow that kind of unfettered dialogue between the political appointees and the career people to continue as it has. There has been a long tradition in that regard, and I'm actually a little distressed by the way in which that tradition seems to have been forgotten.
Q There's also a lot of complaints from Senator Specter that the department is stonewalling him, not helping him, obstructing his investigation.
MR. HOLDER: We've tried to work with Senator Specter in every way that we can. We've tried to be responsive to the requests that he has made and that other people in Congress on the other side of the Hill have made as well. If there are specific things where we have not been as responsive, you know, we'll certainly try to address those as best we can and get to him the information that he needs as quickly as we can.
Q He says there was a real breakdown in communication between main Justice and the prosecutors in LA in the Peter Lee case. Can you address that?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I don't want to really get into that. But I think the links, the communication links between main Justice and the folks in the field I think have actually been pretty good.
Q And will you allow line attorneys and case agents to be called up to the Hill to testify about their work?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, if it happens, you know, we'll have to deal with that. But as I said earlier, it would be my hope that some restraint might be shown.
There are substantial effects, negative effects that will go well beyond whether or not a line lawyer goes up and testifies in April of 2000. The effects of that will be felt in 2001, 2002 and in the way in which lawyers in this building, in this organization do their business.
Q Do you have reason to think that Mr. Freeh has decided to leave? We're hearing very different accounts about his future.What's your understanding?
MR. HOLDER: I've not talked to Louie. I have no sense of, you know, what his future plans is. I can -- plans are. I can tell you that he is very engaged in the day-to-day work of the FBI. He's always -- he keeps us on our toes, and he seems to --
(laughter) -- I don't see any indication that he's thinking of leaving.
Q Aren't you supposed to keep him on his toes?
MR. HOLDER: It's a two-way street. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
MR. HOLDER: Okay. Thank you.
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