- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2000

Senators dissatisfied with Attorney General Janet Reno's explanations yesterday for the armed seizure of Elian Gonzalez said they will hold committee hearings next week on the use of force in the federal raid.
"She could not give a good answer," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said of his pointed question to Miss Reno on why force was needed to take a 6-year-old boy from his Miami home.
Sen. Connie Mack, Florida Republican, emerged from the 90-minute closed meeting with Miss Reno at the Capitol and said, "I just don't believe what I heard in that meeting makes me any less concerned about the use of force by our government."
Some Democrats who attended the meeting were equally unsatisfied with the attorney general's answers.
"I would say some of the sharper questions were asked by the almost equal number of Democrats who were there as Republicans," said Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat.
Meanwhile, U.S. marshals yesterday moved the Cuban boy and his father from their temporary quarters at Andrews Air Force Base to a private estate near a resort on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The boy is in the custody of the U.S. marshals, who will control who sees him and when. Miss Reno has guaranteed he will be kept in this country until a pending asylum hearing next month.
And the State Department said it would grant visas for four of Elian's friends in Cuba and four adults to visit him in the United States at the request of his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez.
As the child's Miami relatives renewed their pleas to see Elian and the U.S. government's legal machinery moved to send father and son back to communist Cuba, outraged Cuban-Americans in South Florida staged a strike, closing businesses throughout their community.
Republicans in Congress eager to hold hearings on the raid before a federal appeals court hearing May 11 on Elian's status said the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its work next Tuesday or Wednesday to answer lingering questions about the raid, including:
Why did federal agents break down doors and brandish automatic weapons to seize the child from the home of his Miami relatives?
Why did the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service issue an arrest warrant for the boy stating that he had been advised of his right to counsel?
Did attorney Gregory Craig, appointed by the administration to represent Elian's father, have "veto power" over custody negotiations with the Miami relatives?
Why did federal authorities suspect there may have been guns in the Miami home when they reportedly searched the house within 48 hours of the raid and had the residence under constant surveillance?
In an effort to further justify the use of force in the Saturday raid, a Justice Department official said there was concern for the safety of agents assigned to seize the boy because of a statement made on Thursday by Marisleysis Gonzalez to members of the INS community relations service in Miami.
The official said the 21-year-old woman told the INS officials: "You think we just have cameras in the house? If people try to come in, they could be hurt." The comment was relayed to law enforcement authorities, who took it as a threat.
"The person who heard it was very alarmed and took that as being a reference as a possibility of guns and as a threatening statement," said Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Florman. "Her remarks certainly added to the concerns that we were sending law enforcement personnel into a possibly volatile situation."
The Justice Department also was concerned about a private investigator frequently seen at the Gonzalez home identified as Mario Blas Miranda, 48, who worked as security chief for the Cuban-American National Foundation. Mr. Miranda, a former Miami police officer who left the department in 1992, had been seen at the house with a weapon strapped to his ankle. Department sources said Mr. Miranda possessed a concealed weapons permit and had been at the house constantly since the Elian saga first erupted.
During the pre-dawn raid on Saturday, Mr. Miranda was outside the house and was knocked down by federal agents. He was forced to lie on the ground although the agents who believed they had him under control did not search him for a weapon because of the planned swiftness of the raid, department sources said.
A Miami Herald reporter earlier reported seeing the butt of a semiautomatic pistol on Mr. Miranda's ankle. Mr. Miranda has called the reports untrue, although efforts to reach him yesterday were unsuccessful.
Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, said the witnesses likely will include Miss Reno and top deputies, INS Commissioner Doris M. Meissner, Gonzalez family members and their attorneys, and the negotiators, including Aaron Podhurst and Miami University President Edward Foote.
Many Senate Democrats said they did not oppose hearings, although most of them yesterday expressed support for the administration's actions. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Miss Reno doesn't need "100 armchair attorneys general" and said Mrs. Meissner and Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. received spontaneous applause yesterday at the Senate Democrats' weekly luncheon.
An exception was Mr. Graham, who said President Clinton promised him not to conduct a raid at night. Mr. Graham said he raised his concern of a pre-dawn raid when he met at the White House with Mr. Clinton and Chief of Staff John Podesta.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Mr. Clinton made no such promise.
"The president said that we didn't want to do this, that we didn't want to be forced to do this, but unfortunately were," Mr. Lockhart said. "He didn't make a commitment that we wouldn't go in and remove him."
Told of Mr. Lockhart's comment, Mr. Graham replied, "Well, Joe Lockhart was not in the room when the statement was made. I'm telling you what transpired."
Miss Reno's meeting with the seven Republican and six Democratic senators was described as mostly calm and businesslike. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said Miss Reno reminded him of the old "Dragnet" television series: "Just the facts, ma'am."
But several Republicans said the attorney general failed to answer adequately questions about the use of force, the legal representation of the boy and steps to reunite the family.
Mr. Lott said when senators asked what Miss Reno was doing to reunite Elian and his father with the Miami relatives, "The attorney general's reaction was sort of, 'That's not my responsibility.' "
Miss Reno told the senators that two unnamed experts will evaluate the boy, whose mother drowned in a November crossing from Cuba to Florida, before the Miami relatives can see him again. She assured senators that the government would not "spirit away" Elian and his father before the federal court hearing.
But Miss Reno told the senators she approved the pre-dawn raid because the situation in Miami was "deteriorating" and negotiations had not produced results.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, ridiculed calls for hearings on the raid, saying Congress should instead pass gun-control measures to prevent shootings such as the incident Monday at the National Zoo in the District of Columbia.
That prompted Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, to scoff, "That was a street fight by gangs in a city that has the most gun-control laws in the nation."
The visas were requested by Juan Miguel Gonzalez and include four of Elian's schoolmates and one adult from each child. The request included Mr. Gonzalez's desire that the visas be expedited. The schoolmates and the adults are expected to stay only for a brief time perhaps two weeks.
The State Department has agreed to expedite the requests, but said no applications have been submitted to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the department did not know the names of those who might be coming, since no formal visa requests have yet been made.
Also yesterday, a conservative Washington public interest law firm filed a brief with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta charging that Mr. Craig has denied Elian the right to pursue his claim for political asylum by not allowing him to confer with lawyers.
"The Justice Department may have transferred physical custody of Elian at gunpoint last Saturday, but they did not and do no have the right to prevent him from consulting with independent legal counsel," said Mark R. Levin, president of the Landmark legal Foundation.
At the White House, Mr. Clinton commended Miss Reno and law enforcement officials and said the reunion of Elian and his father was long overdue.
"Now that they have been safely reunited, I believe it is time for all of us … to give this family the space it needs to heal its wounds and strengthen its bonds," Mr. Clinton said.
Elian, his father, stepmother and half-brother were moved yesterday from Andrews Air Force Base to the Carmichael Farm in a secluded area near the Aspen Institute's Wye Plantation complex on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
The family left Andrews at about 12:45 p.m.
Andrew Cain contributed to this report.

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