WASHINGTON (AP) -- At the request of Juan Miguel Gonzalez, four playmates of his son, Elian, will be allowed to come from Cuba to visit him here for about two weeks, the State Department said today.
Spokesman James P. Rubin said visa requests from the four will be dealt with on an expedited basis once they are received. One adult will be permitted to accompany each child.
Rubin noted that the department issued visas almost three weeks ago to Elian's former kindergarten teacher, a pediatrician and a male cousin. They have not used the visas but may do so at anytime, Rubin said.
President Clinton urged that Elian's family be given "the space it needs to heal its wounds and strengthen its bonds." He also commended federal agents for their armed seizure of the boy from relatives in Miami. "They had a very, very difficult job to do with no easy choices," the president said. "I am grateful that they were able to safely reunite the young boy with his father."
He spoke at a White House ceremony about anti-hate crime legislation, and warmly commended Attorney General Janet Reno for her leadership.
Elian, his father, stepmother and half brother departed Andrews Air Force Base today, the Marshals Service announced. Rubin said they were being moved to the Aspen Institute's secluded Wye River facility on Maryland's Eastern Shore to await court action over whether Elian should be allowed to return to Cuba.
The Marshals Service remained with the family for protection, said Marshals spokesman Drew Wade.
Meanwhile, Reno, who has voiced "no regrets whatsoever" for the raid that returned Elian to his father, defended her tactics in a 11/2-hour closed-door session with lawmakers. She declined to speak to reporters as she left the Capitol.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the first senator to leave the meeting and a defender of the administration's handling of Saturday's seizure of the 6-year-old boy, said Reno "wa sobjective."
"The law was followed," Leahy told reporters. However, he said the atmosphere was "still very partisan."
Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., a critic of the military-style raid, said after the session his mind had not been changed by Reno's presentation.
"I am going to recommend ... that the Senate engage in a hearing with respect to the use of force," Mack said. "I am deeply troubled, horrified as a matter of fact, that our government would use armed force in a family home to remove a 6-year-oldchild."
The session came as preliminary inquiries into Saturday's pre-dawn raid have started in both the House and the Senate.
Republicans, and a handful of Democrats aligned with those seeking to block Elian's return to Cuba, stepped up their criticism for what they see as the Justice Department's strong-arm tactics.
The administration in turn accused Republicans of playing politics, with White House spokesman Joe Lockhart denouncing "wild statements" by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and others.
"The top Republican leadership with one voice and very loudly condemned the operation and now they are saying, 'Let's find out about it,"' Lockhart said today on ABC's "Good Morning America." "That's backwards. I think most average Americans outside the Beltway will understand normal people get information first and then make a judgment."
DeLay, speaking in Montana on Monday, referred to the agents who raided the house as "jackbooted thugs."
Lockhart said DeLay'sremark was "gratuitous."
"Calling members of law enforcement 'jackbooted thugs' and 'storm troopers' is out of bounds," Lockhart said. "Those who sit by silently and allow that to go forward in the name of the leadership of their party either have to repudiate that or come forward and say they agree with that."
Interviewed on NBC's "Today," Lockhart said that despite an assertion by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., President Clinton had not promised that the boy would not be seized from the Miami relatives.
Reno on Monday defended her actions anew in several television interviews.
"It was time he was returned to his daddy," Reno said of the 6-year-old shipwreck survivor. Interviewed on PBS's "News Hour with Jim Lehrer," Reno said she struggled with different options before giving the go-ahead for the seizure -- including "going up there myself" to claim the boy.
But she said it was clear that the crowds outside the house "were going to intervene in any attempt to extract Elian from the house."
In the end, she said, she believed she had no realistic choice but to proceed with the armed seizure. "What you saw was a law enforcement operation that went the right way," she said.
If necessary, Reno said, she would enforce the federal order that the boy not be removed from the United States until a federal court rules on the issue of whether he can be granted political asylum over the objections of his father.
Elian was removed Saturday from his great-uncle's home in Miami, where he has been staying since his rescue from the Atlantic last November. The boy's second cousin and two great-uncles have been rebuffed in efforts to meet with Elian and his father at the Air Force Base.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., announced his panel's staff would begin "a preliminary inquiry" into the tactics used to seize the boy.
"The inquiry will focus on whether the use of such force was necessary or appropriate under all of the circumstances," Hyde said.
Hyde said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asked for the investigation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, meanwhile, asked Reno in a letter to provide his panel with "all documents" related to the raid. "There is a lot of emotion on both sides of the issue" and he wants his committee and the American people to "have all the facts," Hatch wrote.