Michael Steele on Rev. Wright's Media Tour

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," April 28, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, CO-HOST: First on FOX tonight: In his first public question-and-answer session, Barack Obama's former pastor comes out swinging. First Q&A since the controversy broke about him in any event. Far from apologizing for his controversial remarks that became the subject of a political firestorm, Reverend Wright demands an apology from the U.S. government, saying it has yet to seek forgiveness for slavery. Reverend Wright is adding additional fuel to the fire while appearing before the Washington media at the National Press Club, Wright lashing out at his critics using scripture from the Bible.

Video: Watch the interview


REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Have you heard the whole sermon? No, the whole sermon that — yes or no - you haven't heard the whole sermon. That nullifies that question.

On November the 5th and on January 21st, I'll still be a pastor. As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. This is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.

Those citizens who say they have never heard my sermons, nor do they know me. And they are unfair accusations taken from sound bytes and that which is looped over and over again on certain channels. I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve? If you think I'm going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition and my daddy and his religious tradition and my grandma, you got another think coming.

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn't make me this color. He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and the 21st century, that's what I think about him.

And I said t o Barack Obama, last year, "If you get elected, November the 5th, I'm coming after you — because you'll be representing a government whose policies grind under people." All right? It's about policy, not the American people. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do. I am not running for office. I am open to being vice president.


KELLY: Well, those who thought there might be an apology or some sort of regret expressed by the controversial pastor were sorely disappointed. So, did he make the case? Has Wright been misunderstood, misrepresented as he claims?

FOX News contributor and former Maryland lieutenant governor: Michael Steele, joins us now. Hello, Michael.


KELLY: I'm well, thanks. We'll tell you, Bill and I were on air this morning when this press conference started and it began with a long recitation of black liberation theology and then came the Q&A session.


KELLY: And those are just a few highlights of a very fiery, fired-up Pastor Wright today, Michael. Did he make the case that he has been unfairly criticized by the media?

STEELE: No, quite the contrary. I think he made the case — I think he made a very clear case about the theology that he espouses and the theology that I believe Barack Obama ascribes to to some degree. And I think, he, at one point, said that he talked about how God and man and government are interrelated and how - you know, you take this idea of creating a God who acts and behaves a certain way, people follow that and they shape their governments around it.

And I say, that's the point. We want to know, does this philosophy trickle down to the government level so that we see it manifests in public policy? That's the essence of this controversy around Reverend Wright and Barack Obama.

So, I think he was very clear and I think he was very demonstrable in that regard, and in terms of, you know, getting this off the front pages or out of the news, this is the gift that's going to keep on giving for some time to come.

KELLY: You know, for Republicans you mean. But let me ask you this.

STEELE: No, no, no. But not just for the Republicans, I think, for the country as a whole. This is not — I mean, this is not just Republicans who are interested in this story.

KELLY: I don't think Barack Obama views it as a gift. That's the point I was making. Here's what I want to ask you: Far from distancing himself from the most controversial statements that he's made, he embraced them, he repeated them and then restated them. One of the most controversial was a statement a week after 9/11 that, and I quote, "The chickens are coming home to roost."

Today, he was asked about that. Take a listen to what he said.


WRIGHT: Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic device of principles.


KELLY: Where does the American public go with that, Michael? I mean, those who - those who are concerned about his connection to Barack Obama, how do they reconcile the relationship given this man's view that apparently America deserved 9/11?

STEELE: Well, I don't know how you reconcile that and, again, Barack is going to have to address that in some form or fashion. I mean, to sit there and say in essence that we, you know, imparted terrorism, therefore it was, you know, brought back to us, was just a profound statement for him to make and not in a good sense.

And I think that, you know, that's what resonates with folks. That you're saying these things and you have this gentleman sitting in the church, in your pews for 20 years listening to it. You cannot help but be affected by it one way or the other. You're either going to ascribe to it and believe it in to some degree, or you're going to walk away from it.

And the fact that Barack did not walk away from it is what has perplexed so many people when it comes to these questions.

KELLY: You know, Barack has made clear many times though that he never heard that particular statement. And even John McCain has said he doesn't question Barack Obama's patriotism or that he loves America. I don't think anybody really believes that Barack Obama thinks America deserved 9/11.

STEELE: Right. No.

KELLY: The problem though is the closeness of their relationship, Michael. And the thing that jumped out today was how divisive this man is, how angry he is, this "us against them" mentality. Is that the thing that could come back to haunt Barack Obama because certainly, he heard bits of that in the pews over the years?

STEELE: Well, absolutely. And while you may not have heard those precise words, look at it this way: If your pastor says something controversial on Sunday, even if you're not there, if it's that controversial, you will either address it directly with that pastor or you will leave that church. It's something that I cannot believe that all of this occurred in a vacuum.

And so I think that's where the credibility argument comes into play for a lot of Americans. It's like, wait a minute, you may not have been in the church for that sermon but for over 20 years I'm sure this philosophy has been espoused in one form or another, and if it's this virulent, if it this nasty, this mean, what does this say about you? What impact does it have on you? And what do you take from it? I think that's the core of what people want to understand. Again, this is your pastor. This is not a friend. This is not a drinking buddy. This is a man who ministers to you and has a philosophy that somehow connects you and him together. And I think that that's what people are trying to get to the core of.

KELLY: Yes, here we are about eight hours after those remarks were made, still nothing from Obama or from the Obama campaign in response to these remarks.

STEELE: And you won't hear anything probably. They're going to keep quiet on this for as long as they can. But this, again, is not going to go away.

KELLY: OK. Michael Steele, thank s so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

STEELE: Thank you.

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