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GOP wary of new Elian Hearings

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican leaders expressed new reservations Tuesday over whether to hold congressional hearings on the Elian Gonzalez raid.

``I don't know the answer to whether or not a hearing will be necessary,'' House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, told reporters.

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, whose Senate Judiciary Committee had originally announced hearings this week, indicated he's still awaiting requested documents from the Justice Department.

In a taunting statement, Hatch suggested the agency may have been too busy preparing Attorney General Janet Reno ``for several appearances on television news and entertainment programs'' to respond to his request for documents.

His statement was issued just after the airing of Reno's appearance on Oprah Winfrey's talk show in Chicago — and brought a quick response from the Justice Department.

``The attorney general's appearance on Oprah had no bearing on the department's ability to gather the documents for the Judiciary Committee,'' spokeswoman Carole Florman responded.

Despite Hatch's jab at Reno, Republican leaders in both chambers seemed to have far less enthusiasm for hearings than they did just a week ago. Then, both House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., announced inquiries.

Lott even suggested that the boy's Cuban father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, might be among those called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Polls have shown that most Americans approved of the administration's tactics in wresting the six-year-old shipwreck survivor from the home of his Miami relatives and returning him to his father.

Lott told reporters on Tuesday that he still believed there should be hearings.

But, he said, they should be ``sharply focused,'' and of one or two days duration at most.

``It never was intended to be an ongoing, protracted hearing,'' Lott said.

He said he agreed with Hatch that ``the responsible way to proceed is to at least have the documents before you go forward.''

Armey said Elian's pre-dawn capture late last month was a ``pretty frightening picture'' and ``there are serious questions that have to be asked about that.''

``We'll sit down and talk about it. I think perhaps we'll do some communications with the agency and see if we can't get answers,'' Armey said.

But, he added, ``I don't know the answer to whether or not a hearing will be necessary.''

At Hastert's behest, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., ordered a preliminary inquiry by committee staff into the tactics used by the Justice Department in the raid.

He has not yet scheduled hearings, however.

``We've had a lot of hearings on a lot of different subjects and we have people that have not been very forthcoming. I think we need to try some inquiries ... and see where it takes us,'' Armey said.
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