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'Special Report' Panel on Barack Obama's Pastor Problem

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from March 14, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards!

America's chickens are coming home to roost.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, GUEST HOST: Reverend Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Just to give you some context with that statement — that was said the Sunday after the 9/11 attacks, 2001.

After these stories percolated for a couple of days, started here, and other networks have run these sound bytes from these DVDs from the church itself, the Barack Obama campaign put out a statement today. Here is, in part, what it said:

"I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies.

I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it is on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Reverend Wright that are in issue."

So what about this issue for Barack Obama's campaign now? Some analytical observations from Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer — FOX News contributors all.

Charles, starting with you — these statements have been out there a long time. This story about Reverend Wright has been out there for a long time. And it took Obama a long time to respond.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: And now he is in a panic. He is going to be on the three cable networks tonight.

But this isn't a problem, this is a scandal. This could be a cancer on the Obama candidacy, because, after all, he has presented himself as a man who would unite America. That's his appeal.

He has presented himself, and has in his words and actions, been a post-racial candidate. And here he is with this raving bigot and his pastor, as we now see.

And he's explained it away in the past. He says, well, everybody has a crazy uncle. Well, you don't choose your uncle. You choose your pastor. You don't choose your family. You choose your church.

You have to tolerate a crazy uncle because he wasn't chosen. He has tolerated — he has been in the church of this man who accuses America of being run by, as he says, rich white people, of creating AIDS as a way to create genocide against people of color around the world.

He's associated with him. He sees him as a spiritual advisor. This is a man who married him. This is a man whose church he brings his children to every Sunday. And to say I disagree with the statement here or there is not enough.

But this is a man who represents the pastor, the worst of America, and unless he can explain how he can have this close, personal, spiritual association with a man of this kind, explaining statements away is not going to do.

BAIER: What does this mean for the campaign, Mort?

MORT KONDRACKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, ROLL CALL: Well, I think it's a deep, serious problem.

And because Barack Obama is fresh on the scene — nobody knows him really well. He comes from Chicago; two years in the Senate. Normally people have been vetted through many controversies, and there may be an explanation for this, but he's got a lot of explaining to do about what did he know, when did he know it?

These are things that a parishioner isn't oblivious to. If your pastor, after 9/11, says that the United States is responsible for it, for 9/11, and that this is chickens coming home to roost, this is not something you can miss. You didn't have to be in church that day, no. You got to explain everything about this, or it's really trouble.

BAIER: Fred, this is years. I mean, the Obama campaign knew that these statements were out there. Of course they had no know that reporters were going to get their hands on these tapes. Why did it take so long?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, you made a big assumption that they knew that reporters were going to get these tapes.

BAIER: They're for sale.

BARNES: I know, but he has been a candidate for a year, or something, and they are just getting the tapes. So it wasn't a certainty that they were going to get the tapes.

But the explanation he has to give now is not that he agrees with those statements, and he has denounced the statement, but of Reverend Wright, but what he says that none were said in his presence.

He didn't say any of these things about 9/11 or the U.S. being run by the KKK, or the award of life achievement honor to Louis Farrakhan, the black Muslim leader, and bigoted against Jews and others. These weren't said in his presence, either publicly at the service or privately. But, as Mort said, he had to know about them. He has to explain why he stayed there in that church. I go to a church and have gone there for 25 years or so, but if they started giving lifetime achievement awards to Louis Farrakhan, I would leave, as others would.

BAIER: And, quickly, this is turning into a pretty bad day, it appears, for Senator Obama. He told the Chicago Tribune that indicted businessman Tony Rezko was a more significant fundraiser for his political campaigns in the past, raising $250,000 for his first three campaigns. That's breaking today.

Charles, quickly, the impact of that?

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm not sure it's going to have a lasting impact. People expect corruption of sorts, people who help you along the way, some of them end up in trouble. It's not always your fault or association.

I think the religion issue is huge here.

Look, if Romney had to give a speech on his religion because some Americans have questions about elements of its dogma, Obama has to give a speech on this. He has to explain how he has never walked out of a church in which America is denounced in this way.

BAIER: Ten seconds — the Rezko thing?

KONDRACKE: I think the Rezko thing is important because Obama is saying he has got great judgment. Well, he confesses that he had lousy judgment about this guy who was a friend of his. From a distance he can denounce the Iraq war, but right up close, judgment not too good.

BARNES: Charles is right, though — much worse judgment about Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

BAIER: When we return with our panel, lawmakers approve another terrorist surveillance bill, and, like its predecessors, the president says it is dead on arrival. We'll examine that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BAIER: The House today passed its version of a Bill dealing with electronic monitoring of suspected terrorist communications. This Bill, however, does not provide retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies, and that is a no go as far as the White House, the president, and likely the Senate are concerned, probably dead on arrival over in the Senate.

So what about this and the political implications? We are back with the panel. Mort, the House leaders knew that this is not going anywhere, but it had the votes to pass it.

KONDRACKE: They want to go on recess and say that they gave the president something, that they addressed this problem.

But you know what? This is all about this immunity thing. This is all about Bush hatred on the part of the House Democrats. Nancy Pelosi's said that this retroactive immunity issue has never been about national security or about concern for the companies, the telecom companies. It has always been about protecting the administration.

And what the House Democrats want to do is to sic trial lawyers on the telecom companies and have them get through discovery information about the administration, hopefully that would embarrass the administration, about how they went about getting these wiretaps in the beginning.

It is all about getting Bush. It is not about protecting national security.

BAIER: Fred, the political fall out here?

BARNES: I don't see how this could possibly help Democrats, and particular if any Democratic freshman were forced into voting for this thing.

Jerry Nadler, the Democrat from Manhattan, said there are two narratives here, and one of them is that the telecoms conspired with a lawless administration to deny Americans their constitutional rights.

Well, I mean, that is an idea he may have, but there is no evidence that that has happened at all. And meanwhile, Nadler and many, many other Democrats, are willing to risk the loss of an incredible amount of intelligence information that we are obviously not getting now because the program has expired.

BAIER: And the charge is absurd. Why would the head of a telecom company want to violate constitutional rights? His business is to make money.

He is approached right after 9/11. The country is in shock. It's blind, has no idea who these guys are, needs information. The president essentially says here is what we need. Here is what will help us. And here's why it is legal.

And they comply, and the Democrats want to sue them? That is a scandal. Democrats feel that they were rolled in the few years after 9/11 and they acquiesced to the Bush administration, and now this is revenge.

BAIER: So bottom line, Mort, this standoff continues after the recess.

KONDRACKE: Yes. And the danger is that they will not pass a FISA extension, and we will be blind or deaf, anyway.

BAIER: All right panel, that's it.

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