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web posted June 11, 2001

Clinton and Gore not speaking

Bill Clinton and his former loyal lieutenant Al Gore have had a major falling out and have not spoken since Gore lost the election and George W Bush took over the White House.

Bill Clinton and Al GoreThe cause of their tiff is the former US president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky which Gore blames for losing him the election, according to a report in Vanity Fair.

Gore had stood by his boss and close friend through thick and thin while he was in power, but his association with Clinton's peccadillos cost him dearly, according to the article.

The two men had a showdown in the days leading up to Gore's defeat, while he was waiting for a Florida Supreme Court ruling on the vote outcome.

Feelings which had been held back for years came flooding out. Gore told Clinton a few home truths about his irritating lack of time-keeping (often referred to as Clinton Standard Time) and his inability to make decisions quickly.

One of Gore's former aides said "Clinton drove Gore nuts. There's nothing more irritating as vice-president than to be waiting around for a Clinton meeting that starts 45 minutes late."

Gore couldn't shake off the Lewinsky affair during his election campaign. It constantly came back to haunt him. When Gore called the affair "inexcusable" it apparently made Clinton furious, widening an already gaping rift between them.

Court: FBI sharpshooter may be charged in Ruby Ridge slaying

A federal appeals court ruled June 5 that an FBI sharpshooter can be tried by Idaho prosecutors for manslaughter in the slaying of white separatist Randy Weaver's wife during the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff.

The ruling from a sharply divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revives a case mentioned in the same breath as Waco and cited by Timothy McVeigh as motivation for the Oklahoma City bombing.

It could also mean that FBI officials will be hauled into court to defend decisions made during the 11-day confrontation in northern Idaho. The agency is already stinging from recent gaffes in the bombing case and the recent indictment of agent Robert Hanssen on espionage charges.

The Ruby Ridge case is seen as a test of whether federal agents are immune from state prosecution. The federal government declined to prosecute agent Lon Horiuchi, but the ruling clears the way for Idaho prosecutors to pursue charges against him in the death of Vicki Weaver, 42.

"When federal officers violate the Constitution, either through malice or excessive zeal, they can be held accountable for violating the state's criminal laws," Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the 6-5 decision.

The court agreed with Idaho's contention that immunity cannot be granted until there is a hearing to determine whether Horiuchi acted unlawfully. If a judge rules Horiuchi broke the law, the case can go before a jury, the court ruled.

The panel rejected arguments that it didn't matter whether Weaver's death was the result of excessive force.

"When federal law enforcement agents carry out their responsibilities, they can cause destruction of property, loss of freedom, and as in this case, loss of life — all which might violate the state's criminal laws," Kozinski said.

Horiuchi's attorney, Adam Hoffinger, declined comment and a Justice Department spokesman wouldn't say whether the decision will be appealed.

Outgoing FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said he was disappointed with the ruling and said the agency stands behind Horiuchi.

"As so often happens in law enforcement, split-second life and death decisions must be made by those sworn to enforce the law," Freeh said. "We continue to believe strongly agent Horiuchi met the legal standard that protects law enforcement officers when they carry out their duties, even when the consequence in hindsight is regrettable."

Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general under President Johnson who argued the case for Boundary County, Idaho, called the ruling "courageous" and said it showed that law enforcement would be held accountable for violence.

Randy Weaver also praised the decision.

"We've said all along that federal agents should be held accountable for their actions just like the rest of us," Weaver said from his home in Jefferson, Iowa. "If the state can't bring charges, who will hold them responsible?

"We're happy with the decision," he said. "The American people should be happy with the decision. It's a good day for America and the justice system."

Stephen Yagman, who also represented Idaho in the case, said the decision was a significant victory for individual and states' rights.

"It puts another nail in the open coffin ... of the FBI," he said.

The standoff prompted a nationwide debate on the use of force by federal agencies.

It began after federal agents tried to arrest Randy Weaver for failing to appear in court to face charges of selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns. His cabin had been under surveillance for several months.

The violence began with the deaths of Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, Weaver's 14-year-old son, Samuel, and the Weaver family dog, Striker.

Horiuchi later shot and killed Weaver's wife and wounded family friend Kevin Harris. Witnesses said the sharpshooter fired as Vicki Weaver held open the cabin door, her 10-month-old baby in her arms, to let her husband, their daughter and Harris inside.

Horiuchi has said he didn't see Vicki Weaver when he fired at Harris, who was armed and was ducking inside the cabin. He also said he fired to protect a government helicopter overhead.

The appeals court appeared troubled with the case. Those in dissent said the majority was using hindsight in "dissecting the mistakes" of Horiuchi.

They called the majority's opinion a "grave disservice" to FBI agents and argued that Horiuchi, who is still an FBI agent, should be immune from prosecution.

"Every day in this country, federal agents place their lives in the line of fire to secure the liberties that we all hold dear," Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote for the minority. "There will be times when those agents make mistakes, sudden judgment calls that turn out to be horribly wrong.

"We seriously delude ourselves if we think we can serve the cause of liberty by throwing shackles on those agents and hauling them to the dock of a state criminal court when they make such mistakes."

The standoff ended after Harris and Weaver surrendered. Both men were acquitted of murder, conspiracy and other federal charges. Weaver was convicted of failing to appear for trial on the firearms charge.

In 1995, the government paid Weaver and his three surviving children $3.1 million for the killings of Weaver's wife and son.

The Justice Department last summer settled the last civil lawsuit stemming from the standoff. The government admitted no wrongdoing, but paid Harris $380,000 to drop his $10 million civil damage suit.

Bush signs tax cut bill

President Bush signed into law on June 7 the bill that was the centerpiece of his campaign for the White House — a $1.35 trillion tax-cut package.

At the ceremonial White House signing, Bush said it was "about time" some of the projected $5.6 trillion budget surplus was returned to taxpayers.

"A year ago, tax relief was said to be a political impossibility. Six months ago, it was supposed to be a liability. Today, it becomes a reality," Bush said to applause.

Most visible to American taxpayers will be an estimated 96 million tax refund checks of between $300 and $600 to be mailed to taxpayers beginning July 20. But much of the tax bill's relief occurs slowly over the next decade, including across-the-board reductions in income tax rates that will mean more take-home pay for all taxpayers.

"You are going to get a check and then you are going to get, in every paycheck, a reduced bite," said Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

The 10-year tax cut was tempered by Democratic and Republican moderates from the $1.6 trillion plan Bush first began pushing in 1999 but still contains its central elements, lending a celebratory air to a White House East Room ceremony not quite large enough to contain the crowd.

Bush was joined by first lady Laura Bush, members of his Cabinet and a bipartisan group from the House and Senate — as well as 15 families he used to illustrate the need for tax relief.

Passage of the legislation May 26 marked the biggest legislative victory in Bush's young presidency and follows years of Republican frustration as former President Clinton blocked or vetoed several previous tax cuts.

Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the fourth-ranking House Republican, told colleagues in a memo that as the refund checks go out to constituents, Republicans should "take every opportunity to remind them who is working to give them more of their own money back to meet their own priorities, not Washington's."

In addition to the refund checks and gradual income tax cuts — which include creation of a new 10 percent bottom rate — the measure eventually abolishes the estate tax, eases the marriage penalty paid by millions of two-income couples, gradually doubles the $500 child credit and contains breaks for increased retirement savings and education.

While the bill got significant Democratic support, most Democrats criticized it as far too large to meet other national priorities, such as increased spending on education and a Medicare prescription drug benefit, and said it would cost at least $4 trillion in the second decade. They contend it remains unfairly tilted toward the wealthy, even though several provisions were added by Senate moderates to benefit lower-income people.

Democrats now control the Senate, due to Vermont Sen. James Jeffords' switch from the GOP to independent. New Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said there would be no immediate effort to undo the tax cut but predicted changes in coming years — particularly since most provisions expire on Dec. 31, 2010, under Senate budget rules.

"We don't have the votes to revisit it today with any success," Daschle said the day before the signing.

House Republican leaders said they will attempt to pass legislation this year to eliminate the "sunset" expiration date and make the tax cuts permanent. The Democratic majority in the Senate, however, could make it difficult for that measure or any other House GOP tax cuts to pass this year.

Yet Republicans promised to press ahead with more tax relief, possibly including cuts in capital-gains taxes, energy tax breaks, a package of cuts for small business to accompany an increase in the minimum wage and extension of several provisions that expire this year.

"This tax bill is the beginning, not the end," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas.

One other looming problem is the alternative minimum tax, which will limit the tax cut's benefits for millions of people in the coming years. Because it was never indexed for inflation, more taxpayers find themselves snared by the tax as their incomes rise. Official estimates say the tax, which affected just 1.4 million taxpayers this year, will hit 35.5 million in 2010.

Elián's family can sue the U.S.

A federal judge ruled Elián González's Miami relatives can pursue their lawsuit against the U.S. government solely on grounds that gun-wielding agents may have used "excessive force" during the April 22, 2000, raid to seize the Cuban boy.

U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith, citing a Chicago Police case, said "the Gonzálezes have alleged sufficient facts to support such a claim" that the government may have violated their constitutional rights.

The government was seeking to have the relatives' suit tossed out.

Highsmith's ruling was an important tactical victory for Elián's great-uncle Lázaro González, his wife, Angela González, and daughter Marisleysis González. It could pave the way for a trial, though no date has been set.

Even though the government obtained a legal warrant for the raid, "that is not a license for the government to exercise excessive force in executing that warrant," the family's Miami attorney, Frank Quintero, said Thursday. "I think it's a very good ruling for us."

In his 29-page ruling, Highsmith also allowed Lázaro González to sue former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former immigration chief Doris Meissner and former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.

Among those dropped from the suit: Betty Mills, the Immigration and Naturalization Service agent who grabbed Elián and carried him to a waiting van, former Miami Police Chief William O'Brien and ex-Assistant Chief John Brooks, who rode along on the raid.

But Highsmith, in an order filed with the court late June 5, found that the government's arrest and search warrants used to enter the González family's Little Havana home were legal.

The reason: The INS revoked the boy's immigration parole more than a week before the raid, and the arrest warrant was for him, not his relatives. The government wanted to reunite the boy with his Cuban father.

The judge also found that Reno, Meissner and Holder did not conspire to violate the constitutional rights of Elián's Miami relatives in ordering the raid, as alleged in the lawsuit filed on Sept. 28, 2000.

The Gonzálezes' attorney has roughly three weeks to file a new lawsuit that incorporates the judge's decision on the government's dismissal motion. The Gonzálezes are seeking unspecified damages.

The U.S. Department of Justice could appeal Highsmith's ruling within two months, holding up any trial. "We're reviewing the judge's decision and determining our options," department spokesman Charles Miller said.

In his decision, Highsmith noted that he was "liberally construing the complaint in favor of the plaintiffs" on the government's dismissal motion. It did not require a full-blown hearing on the facts in dispute.

On the question of alleged excessive force, the judge cited a Chicago appellate case that alleged a city police officer with a search warrant broke down the front door of a suspect's home without prior warning and pointed a gun at his head.

Last year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the allegations "were sufficient to state a claim for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment," Highsmith wrote in his ruling.

In the Gonzálezes' suit, the family claimed the following facts: "At no time did the federal agents knock on the door, nor did they announce their presence. The federal agents merely approached the plaintiffs' residence with a battering ram and broke down the front door, thereby giving passage to the agents into the residence.

"Once inside the residence, the federal agents sprayed more gas; pointed guns at the occupants, which included children, threatening to shoot; shouted obscenities; and broke doors, furniture and religious artifacts. . . .

"As a federal agent held a large weapon of war pointed at one of the occupants and [6-year-old Elián], Betty A. Mills, an armed INS agent, entered the room with a blanket and seized the child. The agents backed their way out of the residence with the child to a waiting van, [with] federal agents still pointing guns at the occupants of the residence."

Those statements will be challenged by the government, including allegations that the Gonzálezes locked the front door and placed a sofa behind it as the INS agents approached the home.

At the time, Reno, federal authorities and others described the Miami raid as a textbook police tactical operation.

Reno said she had received information "there were guns -- perhaps in the crowd, perhaps in the house."

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