Senator Explains Elian Involvement to NH Press

By Jerry Miller | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Senator Bob Smith's (R-NH) involvement in the case of Elian Gonzalez has some back home wondering why. So, in an effort to help clear the air, Smith conducted a conference call with reporters on the home front to explain his situation.

The senator visited the child, in Miami, in January, several weeks after his rescue from sea and arrival in the United States.

Elian's Miami relatives held a Sunday press conference in Smith's Capital Hill office, and the senator accompanied the family to Andrews Air Force Base that day, hoping to gain entry in an unsuccessful effort to visit the youngster, his biological father, step-mother and their young son.

Smith, who also shared Easter Sunday dinner with the Miami relatives, insisted he and his wife were "treated rudely" when they tried to deliver an Easter basket to the child, at the air base.

Smith also had the opportunity to question Attorney General Janet Reno on Tuesday during her visit to Capital Hill. The meeting was arranged by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

After the session, Smith faulted several of Reno's responses while praising the Attorney General for her willingness to attend the meeting and her frankness.

During the conference call, Smith said he was pleased the six-year old boat refugee had been reunited with his father, but he added that the use of armed personnel was unnecessary. "The ends do not justify the means."

"I don't believe anybody had a gun in there. They wanted to turn the child over peacefully. The final issue for the family was, where are they going to do it," he added.

Asked by a local reporter during the conference call why he was so actively involved, Smith said he simply feels it's the right thing to do. Speaking of the child's Miami relatives, Smith responded, "They had no place to turn."

The senator characterized the Saturday raid by federal agents as "a violent act against innocent people. They weren't terrorists," but merely a family trying to do the right thing for a refugee child.

"I've been with them ever since they got here on Saturday," said Smith. "I was called at 10 a.m. Saturday. They were in hysterics...they said the house was destroyed...the agents knocked down pictures, religious ornaments...they broke Elian's bed."

Referring to his unsuccessful effort to gain access to Andrews Air Force Base, Smith said the action was illegal, and he has spoken to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner about the situation.

"There are a number of laws that have been violated here," Smith added. "The base commander did not deny me personally, but he denied my guests. A United States Senator should be allowed to go onto an Air Force Base in this country. They work for me."

Referring to a Time Magazine cover shot that showed a smiling Elian Gonzalez, Smith also had harsh words for some members of the press who, he insisted, supported the use of force. "You guys are unbelievable, you know that."

Asked about some national polls that showed 67 percent of Americans supported removing the child from the Miami family and returning him to his father, Smith responded, "I don't care about polls. If Lincoln had polls on slavery, we might still have slavery."