PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Good morning. As all of you know, this morning six-year-old Elian Gonzalez was reunited with his father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez. The Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Reno, went to great lengths to negotiate a voluntary transfer. Even yesterday, the Attorney General worked very hard on this late into the night, showing great restraint, patience, and compassion.
When all efforts failed, there was no alternative but to enforce the decision of the INS and a federal court that Juan Miguel Gonzalez should have custody of his son. The law has been upheld, and that was the right thing to do. I am well aware that this has been a difficult time for all the parties involved.
But let’s remember, as I said from the outset, the most important thing was to treat this in a lawful manner according to the established process. This was, in the end, about a little boy who lost his mother and has not seen his father in more than five months. I hope, with time and support, Elian and his father will have the opportunity to be a strong family again. Thank you very much.
REPORTER: Mr. President, what was your role, and did you give the go-ahead for the operation?
BILL CLINTON: Well, I talked to the Attorney General extensively, especially in the last several days, and I supported the decisions that were made. I think — we talked last evening last, and then I talked to Mr. Podesta two or three times through the night, and I believe that it was the right thing to do.
She made the decision, she managed this, but I fully support what she did. And it was clear to me from our long conversations that we were in agreement about this.
She had a special feeling because she was from Miami, she wanted to resolve this in the most patient way possible to minimize the damage to the people and the community that she loves so much.
But she felt strongly, and I felt strongly, that the law had to be upheld and that Elian had to be reunited with his father. And every conceivable alternative was tried for quite a long time. So I think she did the right thing and I’m very pleased with the way she handled it.