- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

The Clinton administration coordinated strategy with "the Cubans" presumably the Castro government to return Elian Gonzalez to Cuba, newly obtained documents revealed yesterday.

Government memoranda and e-mails obtained by a court order from Clinton administration agencies reveal that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the State Department were involved in negotiations with the Cuban government to arrange a January visit by Elian's grandmothers to the United States.

The documents, obtained by the public interest group Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request and subsequent court order, reveal:

• The State Department sought to work with "the Cubans" presumably the Castro government in how to manage the way the incident would be reported in U.S. newspapers and on television.

• INS Commissioner Doris M. Meissner ordered that discussions with Cuba on the grandmothers' visit continue "with the understanding that INS would not be involved."

• That the INS, to avoid official involvement, sought through contacts in Miami and Cuba to have representatives of the Catholic Church take on a public role as an intermediary.

Three months after the grandmothers' visit in late January, the Justice Department seized the boy from his relatives' Miami home in an April 22 predawn raid.

"These smoking-gun documents prove what we've suspected all along, that the Clinton-Gore administration was doing the bidding of Fidel Castro when it raided the Gonzalez home using 151 armed federal agents," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.

A Justice Department spokesman scoffed at suggestions that it had coordinated events with the Cuban government. Department spokeswoman Carole Florman said: "Oh, please. These are internal documents between U.S. government agencies about how we are going to deal with a foreign government."

"They clearly state that Doris [Meissner] didn't want to be involved."

There was some outrage on Capitol Hill nevertheless. "The Clinton administration said they followed the law," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican. "These documents prove that these were lies, lies, lies to the American people. What they have done is to follow a plan that originated with Castro and a terrorist state."

He said that he would ask the House Government Reform Committee, headed by Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, to investigate. Earlier Republican threats to investigate the seizure subsided quickly.

The government memoranda, clearly not intended for public scrutiny, set out the government's aims in stark language. A Jan. 15 memo regarding the "grandmothers" says "DM [Doris Meissner] thinks it would be helpful to continue to discuss this here in Washington and in Cuba because the grandmother's presence in the US … could well facilitate Elian's return to Cuba."

The memo continues: "DM was FIRM about not having any INS involvement in this initiative. If our conversations in Cuba can proceed with the understanding that INS would not be involved, then DM would be most interested in hearing more about this idea."

Another document, an e-mail message titled, "Re: Daily conference calls re: Elian," says "[Department of State] wants to have a daily conference call to coordinate press guidance and communications with the Cubans."

A State Department official insisted yesterday, despite the e-mail setting out the department's wishes for coordination with "the Cubans," that its strategy for dealing with reporters did not involve the Cuban government.

"We had press guidance coordination everyday, including with the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba, but never with the Cuban government," said a State Department official on the condition of anonymity. "Absolutely not. Never. Never."

The document, apparently written by an INS official, was dated Jan. 19, two days before the grandmothers arrived in the United States.

The grandmothers remained in the country for about a week, with a brief reunion with Elian in Miami and several days of meetings with U.S. officials and members of Congress in Washington.

Six-year-old Elian Gonzalez was plucked from the Atlantic Ocean last Thanksgiving Day to become the center of an international custody dispute between the Cuban government and the child's anti-Castro Miami relatives, who had been granted temporary custody.

Last week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta agreed with the Justice Department that Attorney General Janet Reno was within her rights to determine the child's custody. Miss Reno had ruled in January that the boy belongs with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, and not with the Miami relatives.

Elian, his father, stepmother and several children from his home in Cardenas, Cuba, are staying in the Youth For Understanding compound in the Cleveland Park neighborhood or Washington, D.C., pending the exhaustion of the court appeals.

Elian and his playmates spent much of the afternoon yesterday at the National Zoo, stopping by the reptile house, making playful animal noises as they went.

The Justice Department yesterday asked U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. in Washington to dismiss a second lawsuit brought by Elian's great-uncle, Lazaro Gonzalez, to prevent Elian from leaving the country. Elian lived with his great-uncle in Miami until the April raid.

The second lawsuit, filed in April, had been put on hold in case the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifts an earlier injunction keeping Elian in this country.

The government asked Judge Kennedy to dismiss the case because the 11th Circuit had settled the issue when it upheld the Immigration and Naturalization Service's decision to let Elian's father, Juan Miguel, have custody and decide the boy's future.

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