Karl Rove on Rev. Wright's Latest Comments

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," April 25, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: First on FOX tonight: Barack Obama and his former pastor, speaking about each other at the same time. It's brand new; hear now Senator Obama stating his position on Reverend Wright in the interview the pastor did with PBS.

Video: Watch the interview


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's, obviously, free to express his opinions on these issues. I've expressed mine very clearly. I think that what he said in several instances were objectionable, and I understand why the American people took offense.


HEMMER: Well, Wright is now addressing his own controversy for the first time on TV, telling the world what he thought about the speech Obama delivered a month ago in Philadelphia about Reverend Wright. Listen.


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. But they're two different worlds.

I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.


HEMMER: Well, reaction tonight with the architect of President Bush's White House campaigns: Karl Rove, a FOX News contributor from Washington.

Good evening, Karl. Welcome back here. It's always great to have you on.

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Bill. Great to see you.

HEMMER: I want to hang on that last comment he said there, making the distinction between a pastor and a politician. It seems to stick out in the analysis over the past 24 hours. What is the suggestion in that statement, Karl?

ROVE: Well, I'm not certain I understand it. It makes it sound like the only things that Reverend Wright talked about were things of the spirit, and that he didn't comment on political things.

But, you know, saying, "God damn America" and saying the government created AIDS as a genocidal tool against blacks," saying that "chickens came home to roost, we got what we deserved on 9/11." All of these are political statements. I don't see anything in the Bible about them.

And what I think he was trying to say was: Look, I understand Barack needs to, you know, distance himself from me, and I get that, and I accept that. But Reverend Wright has done real damage to Senator Obama, and Senator Obama's 20-year association with Reverend Wright is going to continue to dog him over the course of the campaign.

HEMMER: You know, we just played that clip there from Barack Obama a bit earlier today, Karl, saying that he was offended. Is he going far enough, or can he go further?

ROVE: Well, look, his problem is that we've had four different stories from him. On the 13th of March, he came out and said, "There's nothing particularly controversial in Reverend Wright's statements." Then he said he wasn't in the pews when those controversial things were said. Two days later, he came out and said in a speech in Philadelphia that what he said what Reverend Wright said was reprehensible but he could no more disavow him than he could disavow his own grandmother. Then, 10 days after that, he said, "Well, if Reverend Wright had not been retiring," then maybe, he, Obama would have left the church.

The problem is that this is a man whom he characterized as a close friend, a spiritual mentor, and who is his pastor for 20 years. This was - and he said these things over the course of years. What is troubling, I think, to ordinary people is why did Senator Obama stay associated with this man when he had such bigoted and outrageous and vicious comments about our country?

HEMMER: I want to roll another clip here. It runs about 1 minute and 15 seconds. What we did with this interview with Bill Moyers on PBS is we chose a few sound bytes, a few selected answers from him. We ended (ph) on together. Part of the question is involved in here as well. We'll talk about it as well after this.


WRIGHT: Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from The New York Times called me a "wackadoodle."

It's to paint me as something: "Something's wrong with me. There's nothing wrong in this country - for its policies. We're perfect. Our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them."

That's not a failure to communicate. The message that's being communicated by the sound bytes is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.

I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I'm un-American, that I am filled with hate speech. I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ. "And, by the way, guess who goes to his church, hint, hint, hint? That's what they wanted to communicate.

BILL MOYERS, PBS HOST: In the 20 years since you've been his pastor, have you ever heard him repeat any of your controversial statements as his opinion?

WRIGHT: No. No. No. Absolutely not.

I don't talk to him about politics. And so he had a political event, he goes out as a politician and he says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor who speaks with people of God about the things of God.


HEMMER: Right before the end of that statement, Karl, I think begs the fundamental question: Will people separate the politics of Barack Obama from the pastor of Reverend Wright, and will they believe him when Reverend Wright says, "We never talked about politics," all this stuff is off the table? Your thought on that?

ROVE: Judge (ph) him about it, I think what people are troubled about is that these comments were made over the course of years. Obama had a 20-year relationship with this pastor, called him a friend, a spiritual mentor and referred to him almost like his uncle, he said.

And the question is: If he knew that he, over the years, did things like go to Libya with Louis Farrakhan to visit Muammar Qaddafi, that he equated Zionism with racism, that he said these ugly things about the country, I think what people want to understand is why would you continue to attend a church who had a pastor who had such outrageous views?

There's also something else in here that troubled me.

HEMMER: What's that?

ROVE: That's the comment from Reverend Wright that the message that's being communicated by those sound bytes is exactly what those pushing those sound bytes want him to communicate. This suggests that there's some meaning other than the meaning that we get when we listen to him say that AIDS is a genocidal tool of the government, created by the government to kill black people. I mean, did he mean something other than that when he said blacks should not sing "God bless America" but "God damn America" was there some other message he wanted to convey other than what the words themselves mean?

When he equates Zionism with racism, is there something else that he believes we ought to hear besides what those words convey? I thought it was very misleading by Reverend Wright for him to come forward and say these things that are explicit, direct, and understandable are not what you think they are.

HEMMER: You read a piece in the "Wall Street Journal" yesterday that suggested Barack Obama needs to say something new, that his messages, it's lost its freshness or is getting stale. Why is that?

ROVE: Well, because he has said the same thing and it's been inspiring and inspirational but he's said the same thing for a while. And after a while, you know, you got to say something new in politics, particularly because the press is following you around and if they hear the same thing for a long, long time without anything new, they go out and create problems. So, if he - this is practical advice to him.

HEMMER: So, you got to keep moving the ball down the field.

ROVE: You got to keep describing and the next in your narrative, and I thought it was a big mistake. He's generally used the primary election nights, win or lose, as good moments to communicate with the American people. On Tuesday night when he lost Pennsylvania, at that speech in Indiana, he gave his stump speech again. So, he missed the opportunity to convey something new to establish a frame for the next two weeks before the Indiana-North Carolina primaries (INAUDIBLE).

HEMMER: He'll get a chance on Sunday to say something new with our own Chris Wallace on FOX on Sunday.

ROVE: Yes, he will.

HEMMER: Karl, good to see you.

ROVE: Thanks, Bill.

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