Menu

'Special Report' Panel on Obama's Link to the Yet Again Controversial Trinity Church and Whether He Should Go to Iraq

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from May 29, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. MICHAEL PFLEGER, SAINT SABINA CHURCH PASTOR: I'm Bill's wife. I'm white, and this is mine! I just got to get up and step into the plate. And then out of nowhere came, hey, I'm Barack Obama. She said, oh, damn! Where did you come from? I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show!

She wasn't the only one crying. There was a whole lot of white people crying!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: That was Sunday's sermon at Barack Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. The minister, Michael Pfleger, a long time Catholic priest and community activist in Chicago, a member until just a few weeks ago of a group called "Catholics for Obama," an advisory board to the Obama campaign, and a man identified in a Chicago Sun-Times report four years ago as one of Barack Obama's spiritual counselors.

He has now apologized saying — excuse me — Obama has now reacted to this by saying he was, quote, "deeply disappointed in father Pfleger's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric."

And Pfleger himself has a statement out today saying "I regret the words I chose on Sunday. These words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Senator Clinton or anyone else who saw them."

So we appear to have a new reverend controversy swirling around the Obama campaign. Some thoughts on it now from Jeff Birnbaum, columnist for The Washington Post, Nina Easton, Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune Magazine, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, FOX News contributors all.

Well, Jeff, what do you make of this?

JEFF BIRNBAUM, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think if Senator Clinton or anyone else was offended — I think most people would be offended by this, anybody would be offended.

And at least this time the pastor involved said he was sorry. He said he was sorry right away.

This is just horrific. I mean, there were parts that weren't shown here, including his making reference to white "entitlement" the word he used, but white entitlement and "supremacy." He actually used that term as well.

This is not good news for Barack Obama. He does not need another pastor controversy, and this will be playing for a day or two, right at a time when he doesn't need it. When he is about to clinch the Democratic nomination, he has this huge negative to get off his back.

HUME: Now, is it fair to link this man to Obama? Now, this was preached from the pulpit of Obama's church, but we don't know that Obama had anything to do with getting him to there. We do know he was identified in that "Sun-Times" story four years ago as an Obama advisor. The Obama camp hasn't yet weighed in on that.

Of course, he was on this Obama advisory board called "Catholics for Obama until just a few weeks ago." What about it, Nina, is it fair?

NINA EASTON, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: It's not the level of association that Reverend Jeremiah Wright was, his spiritual advisor for many years.

But I think the problem is actually deeper and one that will keep on coming back to haunt him, in that it is this church, Trinity Church, which a lot of it practices black liberation theology, which is what this reverend practices.

Therefore, this is a church whose magazine awarded Louis Farrakhan, who produced Reverend Wright, and who — we saw just now a congregation hailing these comments and thinking this was funny and nothing offensive about it. That's what's troubling.

This is the church that Obama has joined, two decades ago. It was central to the building of his political career, and I think that's sort of the deeper problem.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The Obama campaign and the Democrats will say that McCain has his Reverend Hagee, and Obama has his reverend, and they disavowed them, and they are sort of morally equivalent.

The obvious counterargument, which the Democrats refuse to accept, is that presidential candidates are endorsed by hundreds of people, half of whom they don't know, some of whom are scoundrels and rogues whom they then disassociate themselves from.

The difference is it is not a question of endorsement it is a question of character. What kind of man spends 20 years in a church in which such things as we hear here and we heard from Wright are said, and preached, and cheered?

Obama is a man who came out of nowhere, who doesn't have a track record, so we're trying to understand his character. And the Democrats say that Republicans, the attack machine, FOX, is trying to link Obama with Wright and the church.

It's Obama who linked him in his own book, in which he gave his life history, and made it clear that Wright and the church were probably the central influences on him and his adult life. He's the one who made that link, it hasn't been attached by Hannity, or FOX, or me, or others. He did it explicitly.

And then gets up in the speech in Philadelphia and says I can no more disavow him than I can my own grandmother. So he has that link, he makes it and he retains it in a speech which the supine media hail as the biggest thing since Lincoln at Cooper Union, and then we are accused of linking him with Wright and the kind of thing that we heard.

This is important because it is an issue of character.

BIRNBAUM: I wouldn't quite go that far. I agree with Nina that this is not as strong of a link between Obama and Pfleger as it is with Obama and Jeremiah Wright.

But there is a link, nonetheless, and it was a recent one. There was a testimonial on Obama's Web site from father Pfleger, and there was a report, at least, that Pfleger was transported by the Obama campaign, or for the Obama campaign, to politic for Obama in Iowa.

And so he is an active participant in the Obama campaign, and someone who has known Obama for about as long as he has known Jeremiah Wright.

HUME: The story in '04 said that Pfleger had known him for 20 years. And Pfleger is quoted at some length in there about his commenting on Obama's faith and what he believes to be the honesty of it and the strength of it. So he must have known something about Obama to have known that.

BIRNBAUM: So this is not a false link. It is not as strong of a link, but it is a pattern that will dog Obama through the general election.

HUME: And it does raise the question, doesn't it, of how many times Obama will have to issue statements expressing disappointment in the stuff that is going on in the very church from which he has not disassociated himself.

EASTON: And wait until Reverend Wright resurfaces and starts talking again. Who knows what that will bring.

HUME: Oh, boy.

KRAUTHAMMER: The reverend himself apologized and said that this contradicts Obama's life and message. Why do you stay in a church that so often and consistently contradicts your life and message? That is the question.

HUME: Next with the panel, the back and forth over whether Obama should go to Iraq. It's become a campaign issue that John McCain is using. We'll discuss it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I don't think we'll be taking that trip with John McCain, because as Senator Obama said yesterday, the work that the men and women are doing in our military over there is just far too important for them to be props in some sort of political stunt or photo-op.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To say that my urging a person who wants to be president of the United States to go to Iraq for the first time in 871 days and see the situation for himself, and to call that a publicity stunt, it's a fundamental misunderstanding of the gravity of this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: That, of course, was a senior Obama aide Robert Gibbs, followed by John McCain quibbling over the question — or arguing, I should say, over the question of whether Barack Obama should have been to Iraq by now since he was the last time before the surge, and whether he should go now.

And McCain, of course, has suggested that they go together, which the Obama camp has, perhaps understandably, rejected.

What about this controversy. Who is it working for, and does it matter — Jeff?

BIRNBAUM: I think it does matter. I think it's McCain's way to make the negative of the Iraq war, which is a serious problem for him because of its unpopularity among voters, turn it into a positive somehow by changing the subject into one of leadership, experience, and willingness to learn.

That was more or less what he said, that Obama is not even getting information, is not even trying to reverse his inexperience in foreign policy by going overseas to get the facts himself.

And if he's able to turn the Iraq argument to one of experience and learning, especially in national security matters, he might be able to reduce the negatives, I think, that he will be carrying with him on the Iraq war issue.

EASTON: And make it a visual. I think for McCain to say that this isn't political on his part is ridiculous. This is an opportunity for him. They're betting that in this kind of setting that Barack Obama will look weak.

HUME: Let's agree that it is political. Is it helping McCain, hurting McCain, or doesn't matter?

EASTON: Here is what I think. I think they're betting on the fact that in his hearings, in Obama's hearings, the Senate hearings with Petraeus and Crocker, he didn't perform very well. Last September, he kind of dismissed the surge. In April, he looked kind of tentative. He just didn't come off really leaderly.

But I think there is the potential that this could backfire on McCain, and that he could go over there, Barack Obama could actually go over there, and actually look good, and act presidential. And then there will be a visual.

HUME: What would you expect him to go over there and look around and see the difference that has been made, and then say?

EASTON: What I would expect him to say — he has parsed this line between "I trust the commanders on the ground when it comes to tactics, not strategy." I can see him saying the strategy is still we're leaving Iraq, but I'm going to listen to them on tactics, and he could talk about slowing down —

HUME: And senator Obama, do you recognize the progress that has been made, and do you still think the surge has failed?

EASTON: It puts him in a difficult situation on that question.

KRAUTHAMMER: It does with a lot of questions. It starts with a little bit of a trick saying he's willing to sit down and chat with the butcher of Tehran but not with the American commander.

And then it gets serious. It says to the country that Obama looks as if he's unwilling to go to Iraq two years after the Democrats had declared the war lost because there might be evidence that the Democrats' conclusion about the war and their prescription of withdrawal because it's lost is wrong.

And what's important about this is not how Obama looks if he's over there. I think this will force him into a trip, and he will be elegant and smart and nimble, as he always is.

But what's important is the press will have to cover what's happened in the war. One of our commanders has said that in the last three months everything has gone our way. That hasn't been covered. The coverage has declined as the new has improved.

Having the press with Obama there will highlight the changes on the ground, and it makes McCain's case that we don't want to liquidate a war that we're actually winning now.

HUME: Thank you panel.

Content and Programming Copyright 2008 FOX News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2008 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.