November 13, 2000
After excerpts of comments made by Al Gore, Jim Lehrer and Ron Klain, the head of Vice President Gore's legal operation in Florida, discuss the Democrats' position on the recount dispute.
JIM LEHRER: Joining us now from Tallahassee is Ron Klain, Vice President Gore's former chief of staff who is heading up the legal operation in Florida. Mr. Klain, welcome.
RON KLAIN: Thanks, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: So at the end of this day, let's take these things one at a time. The secretary of the state of Florida still intends to certify this vote at 5:00 tomorrow?
|Tuesday's 5 o'clock deadline|
RON KLAIN: That's what she told us this morning when we met with her, Jim. And, of course, we think that's very unreasonable. The vote couldn't be final at the earliest until Saturday anyway when the foreign absentee ballots are counted, so that there's really no purpose served by a Tuesday 5:00 P.M. deadline, other than just cutting off the rights of hundreds or thousands of Floridians to have their ballots counted. That seems unfair and that seems wrong to us.
JIM LEHRER: Now what about the suit, the state court trial? Where does that stand right now?
RON KLAIN: Well, literally right now, our legal team is in state court here in Leon County in Tallahassee, Florida challenging Secretary Harris' arbitrary 5:00 P.M. deadline and seeking a court order saying simply this: The counties in Florida that have decided to count their ballots by hand should be able to conduct a hand count, and then those votes should count to the overall total in the state. It's a pretty simple principle, Jim. People's votes should be able to count.
JIM LEHRER: But there's no resolution of that as we speak, right?
RON KLAIN: No, that proceeding is ongoing even as we speak, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Do you expect it to be resolved tonight?
RON KLAIN: Well, I think we expect the arguments to be completed tonight. The judge hasn't indicated to us whether or not he will rule tonight or take it under consideration tonight and rule in the morning. We're just not sure yet.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the bottom line is for your campaign is that you expect the hand counting to result in Vice President Gore getting more votes than Governor Bush, correct?
RON KLAIN: Well, we certainly hope so, Jim. But what the Vice President has made clear is that he's prepared to accept any full, fair and complete counting of the ballots. We obviously believe our candidate got more votes on election day. We think a full, fair and accurate count would reflect that. But the point is no one really knows until the votes are counted. And Secretary Harris' decision to put an end to the counting seems both unfair and really I think it's unfair to both Governor Bush and Vice President Gore. I think it's unfair to Governor Bush because I think if he becomes President under these circumstances, the question will really be what would a full count of the votes have actually shown?
JIM LEHRER: You mean you think that Governor Bush, if, in fact, he does end up President of the United States as a result of this decision today by the secretary of state of Florida he would not be a legitimate President?
RON KLAIN: Well, that's not my place to say, Jim. What I'm saying is this: The best thing for everyone, both candidates, the best thing for American democracy, the best thing for the voters in Florida is to do what county officials have ordered: Do a careful, complete, but expeditious count of the ballots and let's see who got more votes.
|The Bush lawsuit|
JIM LEHRER: All right. The second issue is the federal case this morning in Miami. And you won that one, right?
RON KLAIN: Yes, we did.
JIM LEHRER: Now, there is some suggestion that this may be appealed by the Bush campaign. Are you all prepared to stay on the appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if that happens?
RON KLAIN: Well, it would be unfortunate if they appealed it. I think the case... I've seen not just our view but the view of many legal commentators -- was a fairly frivolous piece of litigation. The suggestion that the Constitution of the United States forbids the counting of ballots by hand when that's the way ballots have been counted in the country for hundreds of years is a pretty absurd argument. The judge dismissed it right on the spot, declined their request for relief right on the spot in an oral ruling this morning. If the Bush campaign, however, insists on pursuing this delaying tactic, this tactic to drag out this proceeding, then, of course, we will respond and defend on appeal as far as the Bush campaign takes it. That's their lawsuit, Jim. And the question of how far and how long it goes lays at the feet of the Bush campaign, not us.
JIM LEHRER: That's their lawsuit, but the one we were just talking about, those are your lawsuits. Is this what the Founding Fathers had in mind for the Supreme Court of the United States....
RON KLAIN: I certainly don't think so, Jim. But I think there's a big difference between the two lawsuits. The Bush campaign brought a federal lawsuit this morning to try to stop the counting of votes in Florida. The only litigation we've brought is litigation to try to allow the counting of ballots to be completed. I have to tell you, when I went to law school, the idea that someone would go to federal court to disenfranchise voters is contrary to everything I learned about constitutional and civil rights litigation. The role of the federal courts is in trying to get people the right to vote, not in trying to cut off the right to vote. So I think what we did in federal court today I think was right and just. I think our effort to set aside Secretary of State Harris' rule -- that arbitrary cut-off of ballot counting that will take place tomorrow at 5:00 PM -- is also right and just. There's a principle at stake and the principle is that people not only have a right to vote but have a right to have their votes counted.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Klain, less we go too mired in the legalities of this, I mean, this is still a political battle, is it not? In other words, you all want hand counting because you feel that will result in more votes for Vice President Gore. The Bush folks want it to stay the way it is, the recount that has been done thus far to be certified because that will result in more votes for Governor Bush, period, right?
RON KLAIN: Well, Jim, I just disagree. I understand it sounds a little self-serving but the fact of the matter is we want the counting to be complete so we can see who got more votes. We believe Al Gore got more votes. Of course we believe that.
JIM LEHRER: Why do you believe that?
RON KLAIN: Of course, Al gore got more votes in the popular vote nationwide, and certainly when one considers the thousands of people in Palm Beach County who thought they were voting for Al Gore and had their votes counted as votes for Pat Buchanan or not counted at all, there's no question that more people went to the polls on election day in Florida thinking they were voting for Al Gore than voting for George Bush. But the first step in this process, before we even get to Palm Beach County, is figuring out what a full, fair and complete count of the ballots would show. And that may show that Al Gore got more votes or George Bush got more votes. But we really don't know. And the fair thing is to count them and to see.
JIM LEHRER: But you believe it will show more votes for Vice President Gore, just for the record?
RON KLAIN: Well, I do, Jim, and certainly that's our hope and our expectation.
|The all-important absentee ballots|
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, then -- there's the overseas absentee ballots.
RON KLAIN: Yes, sir.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have any idea as to how many of these have yet to come in or have not been counted? Sorry.
RON KLAIN: Sorry about that. We really don't. There's no accurate numbers on that. I think the best guess is there may be a couple thousand of those ballots. In 1996 there were 2300 ballots. This was a higher turnout election. I think everyone expects there to be more of those votes. But no one really knows for sure.
JIM LEHRER: And do you expect those to go in Vice President Gore's favor?
RON KLAIN: Well, that's completely speculative. I don't even want to guess. Obviously, we hope more of all the votes go to Vice President Gore. We think he was the better candidate. We ran the better campaign. We were on the issues. And I certainly hope that as many people voted for him as possible. But anyone who speculates about those foreign overseas ballots is doing just that: Speculating.
JIM LEHRER: In a word, do you see an end game for this anytime soon? Could this thing be over at the end of the week, or do you think it's going to go on and on?
RON KLAIN: Well, I don't think anyone wants it to go on and on -- at least we in the Gore camp don't. We'd like to have an expeditious end with a full, fair and complete count of the ballots and some resolution to the Palm Beach County situation. I think that's what we want; we want this process to move to completion as quickly as possible. As the Vice President said today, moving it along quickly is important but getting the fairest and most accurate outcome is the most important goal.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Klain, thank you very much.
RON KLAIN: Thank you, Jim.