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Florida 2000
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Text: Bush Advisers Baker, Richard and Carvin
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 deadlines.


BAKER: I'm going to let our lawyers here respond to those specific questions.

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?


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 reality.

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 at 10:00?

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.

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