Text: Bush Advisers Baker, Richard
Saturday, November 4, 2000
Following is the transcript of a press conference with Bush campaign advisers
James A. Baker III, Barry Richard and Mike Carvin, reacting to the Florida Supreme
Court's order authorizing counties to conduct hand recounts of ballots.
JAMES A. BAKER III: Ladies and gentlemen, as one who has practiced
law for many years, I'd like to suggest to you that you have just witnessed
a superb example of the art of legal spin. A one-paragraph interim order of
the Florida Supreme Court has just been portrayed to you by my good friend Secretary
Daley as the biggest thing since night baseball.
Let's be real clear about the real meaning of this order. It was not a decision
on the merits. It was an interim order. It did not address the decision of the
state Elections Canvassing Commission to certify the results of the presidential
election in Florida. It did not speak to whether the secretary of state or the
attorney general's opinion controls as to the question of expanding test manual
recounts to the whole county.
What the court said was simply that there is no legal impediment to the recounts
continuing, and therefore the counties in question can proceed with the manual
recounts. This decision does nothing more than preserve the status quo, and
that status quo is that state officials act pursuant to the law, honoring its
BAKER: I'm going to let our lawyers here respond to those specific
BARRY RICHARD: I don't think the court it had jurisdiction. I don't
think it addressed jurisdiction. The only thing the court said is, We had a
request to determine whether the opinion of the attorney general or the opinion
of the secretary of state was correct. That's now moot because circuit courts
have addressed the same issues. Once the circuit court rules, the opinions of
both of those parties don't mean anything anymore.
Once the circuit court rules, everybody follows the order of that court until
it's appealed. And if it's reversed, then that changes things. But in the absence,
we follow the order of a court of competent jurisdiction, period.
They didn't say anything about the jurisdiction, they didn't say anything
about the merits. That's all that this order did.
QUESTION: Secretary Harris has now been reversed twice in two days
by the Supreme Court. Is that because she's doing the work of Republicans, or
because this is a Democratic court that's out to get her?
RICHARD: You're asking me that question?
QUESTION: I am.
RICHARD: Well, first of all, it's not my role to address questions
regarding the intent of the parties or the court. I haven't seen the court reverse
anything. This court didn't reverse Secretary Harris. The only thing this court
said was, "The question you asked us, there's no reason for us to respond to."
This is elementary law school law.
I think what the court said is right. Sometimes the lawyers are so intent
on addressing the questions they would like the court to talk about, that they
fail to notice a much simpler issue, which is what this court told us was the
real issue. They said the real issue is, "The court has spoken, everybody follows
that court until something happens. Nobody's appealed it. It's not before this
court, so just do what you're supposed to. That's the end of it."
Anybody who tries to make more out of that opinion than that is ignoring the
QUESTION: But, Mr. Secretary, if you don't count the votes or recount
them again, you can't include them in the final tally.
So by that logic, isn't this a setback for the Bush campaign.
BAKER: Well, I wouldn't characterize it as a setback. It does mean
that the counties can go forward with the count. We've made very clear our problems
with that manual count, with the lack of standards, with the lack of uniformity,
with the problems for human error and indeed even mischief.
Now we will have some counting; that's true. But I don't think you could characterize
that as a setback. What would have been a setback would have been if we had
lost something on the merits before the Florida Supreme Court.
Those issues are still there and that court has not considered those issues.
QUESTION: What would be the reaction of the Bush campaign, should the
recounts be completed, regardless of what happens with the secretary of state,
and it finds more than 300 votes for the vice president?
BAKER: Those what-if questions I'm not going to spend a lot of time
answering. I learned, after spending as much time as I spent up there in Washington,
D.C., that answering hypotheticals is probably a mistake. So I'm not going to
take those questions.
QUESTION: Let me ask you to respond to something that Mr. Boies said
just a few moments ago. Although this ruling clearly does not in any way say
that these votes will be included in the final tally, the recount continues.
And what he said to me was that he believes, if counted, it would be difficult,
legal and politically, for those votes to be disregarded.
Do you believe that?
BAKER: I don't believe that because the predicate has been laid very
firmly, we think, with respect to what is the problem--what are the problems
that are generated by letting this process go forward. So I don't think that
it's going to difficult.
But the legal question is one that will be debated and considered probably
and decided by judicial authorities here in the state of Florida. And it's really
for them to determine.
But with respect to the legal question--as far as the political question is
concerned, no, I don't think it will be a problem. As far as the legal question
is concerned, let me ask Mike Carvin here to answer that.
MIKE CARVIN: The secretary can certify the votes on Saturday at 12:00
just like she could before.
Unless the court takes affirmative action to prevent her, the status quo hasn't
changed at all. We'll get that decision tomorrow morning.
But the relevant point is, today she made a very convincing case that she'd
considered all the relevant, equitable and legal factors that were vested in
her discretion by the Florida legislature, and indeed, that she's following
exactly the policy that was mandated by the Florida legislature.
So, we're quite confident that this certification will go on, and the legal
vote tally will be arrived.
QUESTION: If I may follow up on that please, do you believe then, that
essentially this election could be decided by what the judge says tomorrow morning
CARVIN: I'm not going to speculate on that sort of thing. But obviously
there's going to be a winner declared on Saturday. And we have every confidence
that it will be done pursuant to the normal processes that have existed in Florida
for a long time, because the secretary is following precisely those processes.
QUESTION: How do you think this case today, from the Florida Supreme
Court, that came down today, is going to affect what happens in Atlanta, in
the case there?
RICHARD: The two cases are entirely separate issues, and I don't think
they'll affect each other at all. The case in Atlanta deals with the questions
involving the United States Constitution. The case in Florida deals with questions
involving Florida law. If the Supreme Court in Atlanta should hold that the
manual recount is unconstitutional, as a denial of due process or equal protection,
that ends it, unless the United States Supreme Court chooses to grant certiorari
and review that.
If the 11th Circuit, on the other hand, should rule that it is not unconstitutional,
then we come back to Florida again, where we have to determine whether or not
Florida law has been complied with.
QUESTION: Sounds--it sounds like, from what--it sounds like, from what
you're saying, according to the attorney, he said that unless the courts take
affirmative action effectively to change her mind, that there is no way that
the secretary of state will change how she has interpreted her discretion amending
the vote totals.
BAKER: If you're asking us what the secretary of state might or might
not do, that's a proper question to address to the secretary of state, I think.
Thank you all very much.