Profile: Robert Wexler
Robert Wexler was a participant or observer in the following events:
A portion of the so-called ‘butterfly ballot’ used in the Palm Beach County elections. [Source: L. David Roper]In Palm Beach County, Florida, voters begin complaining of problems with the “butterfly ballot” almost as soon as the polls open. Many believe that the ballot’s confusing design is redirecting voters who want to vote for Democrat Al Gore to vote instead for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan (see September 2000).
Alerting the Gore Campaign of Problems - Lawyer Liz Hyman, volunteering to work the election in Palm Beach for the Gore campaign, later recalls that starting at 7:00 a.m., voters approach her complaining about the ballot, some theorizing that someone or some group of people conspired to redirect Gore’s votes to Buchanan. Around 8:00 a.m., Hyman calls her father, Washington, DC, attorney Lester Hyman. “You’re not going to believe what’s going on down here,” she tells him, and advises him to alert someone at the national Gore campaign headquarters. Soon, Joe Sandler, the general counsel of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), contacts Liz Hyman in Palm Beach. During the same time period, a number of elderly, angry voters drive to election supervisor Theresa LePore’s office and demand an explanation for the ballot confusion, but LePore refuses to take their complaints seriously.
Complaints, Attempts to Clarify Voting Procedures - Poll clerk Ethel Brownstein, after seeing voters having difficulty casting their votes for Gore, begins telling voters at her precinct: “Please be careful. The first hole is [Republican George W.] Bush, the second is Buchanan, and the third is Gore.” The complaints keep coming in, with many voters worried that they have voted for Buchanan instead of their intended vote for Gore. Many voters punch the second hole, then reconsidering, punch the third hole also, inadvertently causing an “overvote” that will be discarded. Some voters even write “Gore” or draw arrows to indicate their selection. By 11:24 a.m., LePore receives a faxed letter from Bobby Brochin, the DNC’s counsel in Florida. Brochin, who is still unsure of the exact nature of the problem with the ballots, writes: “Apparently certain presidential ballots being utilized in several precincts in Palm Beach County are quite confusing. They contain two pages listing all of the presidential candidates, which may cause electors to vote twice in the presidential race. You should immediately instruct all deputy supervisors and other officials at these precincts that they should advise all electors (and post a written advisory) that the ballot for the presidential race is two pages long, and that electors should vote for only one presidential candidate.” LePore does not respond to Brochin’s fax. By noon, WPEC-TV is reporting on the “butterfly ballot” confusion, and, in author Jake Tapper’s words, “doing a hell of a lot better than the Democrats are” in explaining the issue. Gore campaign workers begin visiting precincts to explain to Gore voters how to properly cast their votes on the ballot. By the afternoon, early results show some dismaying returns.
'I Think I Voted for a Nazi' - Precinct 162-G, almost entirely composed of the Jewish retirement community Lakes of Delray, is showing a surprisingly large number of votes for Buchanan, a Holocaust denier who is roundly despised among most Jewish voters. Brochin resends his fax to LePore at 2:57 p.m., noting that he failed to get a response the first time. Gore campaign workers in the county re-record their TeleQuest phone-bank message with instructions on how to cast votes for Gore, and instructing voters who believe they may have miscast their votes to return to their polling places and make a complaint. Talk show host Randi Rhodes, an outspoken liberal who lives in the county, tells listeners on her afternoon radio show: “I got scared I voted for Pat Buchanan. I almost said, ‘I think I voted for a Nazi.’ When you vote for something as important as leader of the free world, I think there should be spaces between the names. We have a lot of people with my problem, who are going to vote today and didn’t bring their little magnifiers from the Walgreens. They’re not going to be able to decide that there’s Al Gore on this side and Pat Buchanan on the other side.… I had to check three times to make sure I didn’t vote for a fascist.”
Late Afternoon Advisory - This afternoon, Harold Blue, a World War II veteran who like his wife is legally blind, realizes after he cast his vote that a poll worker improperly instructed he and his wife to vote for Buchanan and not Gore. When Democratic officials like State Representative Lois Frankel, State Senator Ron Klein, and US Representative Robert Wexler visit the Palm Beach elections offices to find out what is going on, LePore begins to believe that there may be a serious problem with the “butterfly ballots.” She reluctantly agrees to write an advisory for the various precincts, but says she lacks the staff to distribute it; if the Democrats want it posted, they will have to deliver the advisory themselves. LePore’s advisory reads, “ATTENTION ALL POLL WORKERS PLEASE REMIND ALL VOTERS COMING IN THAT THEY ARE TO VOTE FOR ONLY ONE (1) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AND THEY ARE TO PUNCH THE HOLE NEXT TO THE ARROW NEXT TO THE NUMBER NEXT TO THE CANDIDATE THAT THEY WISH TO VOTE FOR.” Judge Charles Burton, a Republican member of the canvassing board, says he cannot understand the confusion, that the ballot clearly indicates by an arrow which hole is designated for Gore. Democratic board member Carol Roberts counters by warning Burton and LePore that some people are beginning to say the ballot may be illegal, and advises LePore to contact her own attorney. Burton says the ballot is clearly legal according to his interpretation of Florida election statutes, and that the law Democrats are citing—101.153(3)(a)—applies only to paper ballots, not punch-card ballots.
'File an Affidavit' - At 5:30 p.m., Democratic vice presidential contender Joseph Lieberman calls Rhodes in a prearranged “get out the vote” interview. The discussion quickly turns to the Palm Beach ballot confusion, and Rhodes urges Lieberman to consider “filing an affidavit,” presumably to contest the Palm Beach results. Florida lawyer Mitchell Berger is preparing to do just that, telling Brochin and other Democratic lawyers to prepare for court battles. [Tapper, 3/2001]
Entity Tags: Mitchell Berger, Randi Rhodes, Ron Klein, Lois Frankel, Robert Wexler, WPEC-TV, Theresa LePore, Lester Hyman, Patrick Buchanan, Liz Hyman, County of Palm Beach (Florida), Carol Roberts, Joseph Lieberman, Democratic National Committee, Ethel Brownstein, George W. Bush, Joseph Sandler, Jake Tapper, Harold Blue, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bobby Brochin
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
Katherine Harris. [Source: AP/Pete Cosgrove]Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, one of eight co-chairs of the Florida Bush election campaign and the state official ultimately in charge of election procedures, is introduced to the politics of the Florida presidential recount by a ringing telephone. She is awakened at 3:30 a.m. by a call from the Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans, who puts Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, on the line. Governor Bush asks coldly, “Who is Ed Kast, and why is he giving an interview on national television?” Harris is unsure who Kast is for a moment. Kast is the assistant director of elections, whose division reports to her office. He is on television talking about the fine points of Florida election law (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), when and how manual recounts can be requested, and, most importantly, the driving concept of “voter intent”—if a ballot shows the intent of the voter to cast a vote for a candidate, then that vote will be counted. The governor does not want the media narrative to focus on recounts and voter intent, and has already tasked his general counsel with the job of getting Kast off the air as quickly as possible. (CNN “loses” Kast’s transmission in mid-sentence minutes later.) Democrats have questioned the propriety of having the Florida official with ultimate authority over elections being a state chairman for a presidential campaign before now, and in the coming days, the question will devolve into outright accusations of partisanship and impropriety. Harris has called herself “thrilled and honored” to be part of the Bush campaign, and served as a Bush delegate during the Republican National Convention. During the campaign, she often traveled around Florida representing the ticket. Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says of Harris: “She is clearly a partisan Republican—and there’s nothing illegal about that. And I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, expecting them to perform their public functions appropriately. But her actions will speak volumes about whether she is qualified. If she does this fairly, fine. But if she acts as an emissary for Bush to steal this election in Florida, she will delegitimize Florida’s vote count.” Harris gives some initial media interviews on November 8, and according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “appear[s] overwhelmed and uninformed.” She does not know what county elections supervisors have been doing, and seems unaware of the chaos surrounding the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” (see November 9, 2000) and other ballot disputes. The Bush campaign senses trouble and assigns Harris a “minder,” Florida Republican lobbyist Mac Stipanovich, a former campaign advisor for Jeb Bush and a close Bush ally. Stipanovich, the Vanity Fair article will observe, “appealed to Harris’s grandiosity. (Her emails replying to Bush supporters later revealed that she had begun identifying with Queen Esther, who, in the Old Testament, saved the Jews from genocide. ‘My sister and I prayed for full armour this morning,’ she wrote. ‘Queen Esther has been a wonderful role model.’) He told her that nothing less than the course of history rested on her shoulders. ‘You have to bring this election in for a landing,’ he repeated again and again.” Under Stipanovich’s tutelage, Harris quickly learns to stay on message and repeat the given talking points. Stipanovich, who remains out of sight of the media, will later describe his daily routine with Harris to documentary filmmaker Fred Silverman, saying: “I would arrive in the morning through the garage and come up on the elevators, and come in through the cabinet-office door, which is downstairs, and then in the evening when I left, you know, sometimes it’d be late, depending on what was going on, I would go the same way. I would go down the elevators and out through the garage and be driven—driven to my car from the garage, just because there were a lot of people out front on the main floor, and, at least in this small pond, knowledge of my presence would have been provocative, because I have a political background.” [Salon, 11/13/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Most importantly to the Bush campaign, Harris is a part of the campaign’s message propagation plan to insist that Bush has indisputably won the Florida election (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, Donald L. Evans, CNN, Ed Kast, George W. Bush, Katherine Harris, Vanity Fair, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Fred Silverman, Mac Stipanovich, Robert Wexler
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Mark Foley (R-FL), both representing districts in the Palm Beach County area of Florida, argue about the confusing “butterfly ballot” that plagued many Palm Beach voters (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After and November 9, 2000) with interviewer Larry King on CNN. Much of the debate centers on the ballot design and its approval by Palm Beach elections supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat. (In his 2001 book Down and Dirty, author Jake Tapper will note that LePore was originally registered as a Republican, then an independent, before registering as a Democrat, and is not particularly partisan with any party.) Foley, a Bush campaign supporter, defends LePore and the ballot, saying that the entire ballot situation is caused by recalcitrant Democrats unwilling to accept defeat, while Wexler, arguing on behalf of the Gore campaign, says the ballot is illegal and cost Al Gore the votes he needed to win Florida and the presidency. Wexler accurately describes many Palm Beach voters as “hysterical” because they feared they had accidentally voted for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan and not for Gore, and says the ballot design does not comply with Florida law. “Illegal is illegal, confusion is confusion, and the presidency shouldn’t hinge on it,” Wexler says. Foley is inaccurate in saying that Buchanan has a large base of support in Palm Beach, though he jokes that some of those putative pro-Buchanan voters “may be deranged.” Foley denies Wexler’s description of “mass confusion” at the Palm Beach polling places, and notes, accurately enough, that “a Democratic supervisor of elections [LePore] approved the layout and approved the ballot.” King says that as a Democrat, Wexler “signed off” on the ballot design, drawing a retort from Wexler: “That’s not exactly so, Larry. Many people did complain to the supervisor of elections when they saw the sample ballot.” LePore, watching the discussion on television, is angered by Wexler’s charge; she later says she mailed out 655,000 sample ballots to voters, gave copies to all 150-odd candidates on the ballot, mailed copies to local Democratic and Republican representatives, and provided copies for publication in the Palm Beach Post and the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, and received no complaints whatsoever. Wexler goes on to note that LePore sent out an unprecedented voter advisory reminding voters how to cast their votes for their desired presidential candidate, “which I’ve never seen done.” LePore is further angered by Wexler’s failure to acknowledge that he was one of the people who requested the advisory. “What a liar!” LePore thinks as she watches Wexler’s comments. Wexler argues that “the presidency of the United States hangs in the balance.… The entire election system of America is on trial right now. We need to make certain it is done in a fair way.” [St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2000; Tapper, 3/2001]
Entity Tags: Larry King, CNN, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Palm Beach (Florida), Jake Tapper, Mark Foley, Patrick Buchanan, Theresa LePore, Robert Wexler, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the co-chair of Florida’s Bush campaign team (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000 and After), announces she is refusing requests to extend the 5:00 p.m. November 14 deadline for certifying election results (see 5:00 p.m. November 9, 2000) in the interest of what she calls “the public’s right to clarity and finality.” This is her prerogative as secretary of state under Florida Election Code 102.112, though she has the option to extend the deadline. Absentee ballots, by law, can be counted through November 17. Neither Palm Beach nor Miami-Dade Counties have even decided to start recounts yet (see November 7, 2000 and November 10, 2000), and Broward County has not finished the recount it began. Volusia County, also attempting to finish manually recounting all of its ballots (see November 11-12, 2000), sues to extend the November 14 deadline. Lawyers for the Gore campaign join Volusia in the suit, while Bush lawyers file briefs opposing the suit. [Salon, 11/13/2000; US News and World Report, 12/13/2000; Vanity Fair, 10/2004; Leip, 2008] In light of Harris’s decision, Broward will choose to abandon its recount (see Evening, November 13, 2000); Palm Beach will decide to delay the recount until it can receive clarification (see 8:20 a.m. November 14, 2000), and resume the recounting shortly thereafter (see 4:30 p.m. November 14, 2000). Miami-Dade, in contrast, will begin recounting (see November 14, 2000). Later in the day, Harris issues what she considers a legal opinion concerning the recounts, but her opinion conflicts with a decision issued by Florida’s attorney general. [US News and World Report, 12/13/2000] Harris says that no manual recounts should take place unless the voting machines are broken. Judge Terry Lewis finds that opinion not backed by any state law and overrules her opinion. [Vanity Fair, 10/2004] Harris has drawn criticism for her apparent partisanship before now. Warren Christopher, a lead advisor for the Gore campaign, calls Harris’s decision “arbitrary and unreasonable.” Representative Peter Deutsch (D-FL) calls her decision “bizarre,” adding, “I honestly think what’s going on is a strategic decision by the Bush campaign to hurt the litigation efforts.” Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says: “The only reason to certify the elections at 5 p.m. tomorrow is a partisan one. If she does what she says she’s going to do—certify the elections at 5 p.m. tomorrow—she will have proven her critics correct; she will have proven that she is an emissary of the Bush campaign who is willing to steal an election.” [Salon, 11/13/2000]
Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., County of Palm Beach (Florida), County of Broward (Florida), Al Gore presidential campaign 2000, County of Miami-Dade (Florida), County of Volusia (Florida), George W. Bush presidential campaign 2000, George W. Bush, Peter R. Deutsch, Robert Wexler, Warren Christopher
Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections
Randy Glass. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]Randy Glass, a former con artist turned government informant, will later claim that he contacts the staff of Senator Bob Graham (D-NY) and Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) at this time, and warns them of a plan to attack the World Trade Center, but his warnings are ignored. [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] Glass also tells the media at the present time that his recently concluded informant work has “far greater ramifications than have so far been revealed,” and, “potentially, thousands of lives [are] at risk.” [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 8/7/2001] Glass was a key informant in a sting operation involving Pakistani ISI agents who were illegally trying to purchase sophisticated US military weaponry in return for cash and heroin. He will claim that in July 1999, one ISI agent named Rajaa Gulum Abbas pointed to the WTC and said, “Those towers are coming down.” [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] Most details will apparently remain sealed. For instance Glass will claim that his sealed sentencing document dated June 15, 2001, lists threats against the WTC and Americans but, according to Glass, “[t]he complaints were ordered sanitized by the highest levels of government.” [WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] Florida State Senator Ron Klein, who has dealings with Glass before 9/11, will say he is surprised it took so many months for the US to listen to Glass. “Shame on us,” he will say. [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] Klein will recall getting a warning from Glass, though he cannot recall if it mentions the WTC specifically. He will say he was told US intelligence agencies would look into it. [WPTV 5 (West Palm Beach), 10/7/2002] Graham will later acknowledge that his office has contact with Glass before 9/11, and is told about a WTC attack, saying, “I was concerned about that and a dozen other pieces of information which emanated from the summer of 2001.” However, Graham will say that he personally is unaware of Glass’s information until after 9/11. [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] In October 2002, Glass will testify under oath before a private session of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, and tell it that he has “specific evidence, and I can document it.” [Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002]
The FBI conducts a very public search of a Miami, Florida, house belonging to Mohammed Almasri and his Saudi family. Having lived in Miami since July 2000, on September 9, 2001, they said they were returning to Saudi Arabia, hurriedly put their luggage in a van, and sped away, according to neighbors. A son named Turki Almasri was enrolled at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, where hijackers Atta and Marwan Alshehhi also studied. [Washington Post, 1/23/2003; Palm Beach Post, 1/23/2003] Neighbors repeatedly called the FBI after 9/11 to report their suspicions, but the FBI only began to search the house in October 2002. The house had remained abandoned, but not sold, since they left just before 9/11. [Palm Beach Post, 1/22/2003; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/22/2003; Washington Post, 1/23/2003; Palm Beach Post, 1/23/2003] The FBI returned for more thorough searches in January 2003, with some agents dressed in white biohazard suits. [Washington Post, 1/23/2003] US Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL), later says, “This scenario is screaming out one question: Where was the FBI for 15 months?” The FBI determines there is no terrorism connection, and apologizes to the family. [United Press International, 1/24/2003] An editorial notes the “ineptitude” of the FBI in not reaching family members over the telephone, as reporters were easily able to do. [Palm Beach Post, 2/1/2003]
In an open letter to President Bush, Florida Congressman Robert Wexler and New York Congressman Gary Ackerman ask the president to give Congress immediate access to all information regarding a May 2003 dialog between Iran and the US in which Iran offered the US concessions (see May 4, 2003). Wexler and Ackerman acknowledge their skepticism of Iran’s intentions with regard to the offer, but ask the president to explain why the administration turned Iran down. Wexler and Ackerman, both of whom are members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, say the information is needed in order to create a more informed policy toward Iran. The two congressmen ask that the information be turned over to Congress by February 23, 2007. [Robert Wexler, 2/9/2007]
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