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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Dr. Laura Calls It Quits; Where Has Gulf Oil Gone?; Firestorm Grows Over Islamic Center Near Ground Zero
Aired August 17, 2010 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you very much for joining us tonight.
We will, of course, be bringing you more on our breaking news this evening: Dr. Laura Schlessinger's decision to end her radio show in a cloud of racially charged controversy.
Also tonight, if you thought the disaster in the Gulf was over when they capped the oil well and the government said that most of the crude was gone, not so fast -- two new reports out today raising some chilling possibilities. Instead of 26 percent of the oil still in the water, try almost 80 percent. And instead of wafting away on the surface, try sinking to the bottom of the ocean and into the food chain. What's going on? Who is right? And how did the government come up with such a comparatively rosy scenario? We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.
Also tonight, the Islamic center near Ground Zero, once upon a time, a firebrand conservative told the woman behind it -- quote -- "I like what you're trying to do." Today, Republicans and Democrats line up to condemn it. How did we get here? The "Raw Politics" and a talk with perhaps the most controversial opponent, who calls it the 9/11 monster mosque.
And everyone expected it to be a bad hair day for Rod Blagojevich and a triumph for the superstar U.S. attorney who was gunning for him. Instead, Illinois's former governor survives a federal corruption trial with barely a dent in his do. We will ask our Jeffrey Toobin how this happened and bring you highlights from the governor's long, strange trip through the spotlight.
We begin tonight, though, with the breaking news. The woman who millions of Americans turn to for advice is ending her radio talk show, one of the most listened-to broadcasts on the air. Laura Schlessinger, Radio's Dr. Laura, made the announcement just moments ago on "LARRY KING LIVE."
She said she will no longer do radio once her contract is up at the year's end. It was her first television interview since going on a racial rant on her radio show last week. During it, she said the N- word repeatedly while counseling -- and we use that term loosely here -- an African-American woman who was having problems with her interracial marriage.
We will play what she said in just a moment.
First, though, in her own words: what she told Larry tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")
DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I'm here to say that my contract is up for my radio show at the end of the year, and I have made the decision not to do radio anymore.
The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what's on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent, and attack affiliates and attack sponsors.
I'm sort of done with that. I'm not retiring. I'm not quitting. I feel energized, actually, stronger and freer, to say the things that I believe need to be said.
I never called anybody a bad word. I was trying to bring -- and, obviously, it has become a national discussion now -- I was trying to make a philosophical point, and I made it wrong.
But I wasn't dissing anybody. I was trying to make a point. And for that to say I should be silenced is the reason that I'm saying to you, I obviously am losing First Amendment rights.
I don't know of too many people who have apologized before they were told, you better apologize. I apologized because I knew what I had done was wrong.
I didn't wait to be threatened. I took responsibility for what I did. And to imagine that there are people who refuse to accept an apology because they have an agenda and would like me silenced is -- I'm done with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Laura Schlessinger tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE."
And in case you missed it last week, here is some of Dr. Laura's rant from her own radio program.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about the N-word? The N-word's been thrown around.
SCHLESSINGER: Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comment, and all you hear is (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
SCHLESSINGER: I didn't spew out the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) word.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
SCHLESSINGER: Right. I said that's what you hear.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody heard it.
SCHLESSINGER: Yes, they did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope everybody heard it.
SCHLESSINGER: They did. And I will say it again. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is what you hear on HB...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what makes it...
SCHLESSINGER: Why don't you let me finish a sentence?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
SCHLESSINGER: Don't take things out of context. Don't NAACP me.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Well, joined me now is John Ridley. He's the founding editor of thatminoritything.com. And civil rights leader and president of the National Action Network, the Reverend Al Sharpton, joins us on the telephone.
John, let's start with you.
Your reaction to Dr. Laura saying that she was ending her radio program at the end of the year.
JOHN RIDLEY, FILM DIRECTOR/ACTOR/WRITER: Well, my -- my -- the big reaction for me is when she talks about her First Amendment rights being trampled.
You know, the First Amendment -- and a lot of people say this all the time -- it pertains to the government impeding freedom of religion, freedom of speech. It has nothing to do with what I feel like, if you want to protest or things like that.
No one is impeding her First Amendment rights. If she wants to retire, that's fine. But to say that for some reason, because someone disagrees with her, that she is being maligned or in some way shoved off the airwaves to me is absurd. That's her idea of apology, to victimize herself.
ROBERTS: Reverend Sharpton, she insists that she wasn't dissing anyone, that she was just trying to make a point. Do you buy that?
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well, I mean, if you listen to the tape that you just played, John, she said 11 times, over and over again.
I mean, it is a way, way bit too much to try and act as though she didn't, at some point, just start (INAUDIBLE) and saying this. And I think that he is absolutely right. She has the right to say what she wants, but we have the right to respond and we have the right to respond to sponsors and her station and other things.
She should not have her right to say something or have her right to free speech impeded, but neither should people that are offended. The other thing, she shouldn't rewrite history. She said she apologized before she was told. You just played where the caller told her she was offended. She chastised the caller, said, I will say it again, and repeated it.
She did not apologize until the next day, after there was already an uproar.
If she wants to retire, that's up to her. If I were her, I would not want to leave with this legacy, but that would be her choice. But she should not try to silence people that say they are offended and don't want to spend money with companies that would subsidize this kind of offense.
ROBERTS: John, you say that you're -- you're troubled by more than her use of the N-word. What else troubles you about what she said?
RIDLEY: Well, when she says things like she talked about black think, being reductive, in terms of all black people think alike. A woman called with a legitimate issue in her marriage, and the doctor was rather dismissive about how she engaged with her husband and friends, when she says things like, don't NAACP me, basically taking one the most venerable civil rights institution and making it into a pejorative.
Those are the kinds of things where -- had she not said the N- word, would we be talking about this right now? And if we go through her transcripts, how often does that kind of soft bigotry creep into the things she says? That's troubling to me.
Reverend Sharpton, Oprah has said that she dislikes the use of the N-word at any time. She says it reminds her of slavery, dark period in America's history. It makes her feel uncomfortable. But if you listen to rap, you listen to hip-hop, you go into any black comedy club across the country, you are going to hear it used repeatedly.
So, how do you reconcile those two things, that it's a reminder of a dark period in America's history, it makes people uncomfortable, and yet in certain circumstances it's freely used?
SHARPTON: Well, I don't reconcile it. In fact, I have led marches against record companies. And I agree with Oprah and others and we have done a special on "Oprah." I don't think anyone ought to use it, black or white. So, I think it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to jump on and even march on with Tamika Mallory of National Action Network some hip-hop artists who are friends of mine that use the N-word, and not call out Dr. Laura.
And, again, I think people have the right to say it. I think they're wrong, but they have the right. But we have the right to respond and we have the right to protest it. I think what they really want to say is, we want to have the right to offend you, but you shut up and take it in silence.
And I think that we cannot do that. I also think, as he said, where you -- John said to go through the transcript. Let's remember, she led into this talking about how many blacks just voted for President Obama because he was black and had no idea what he would do for the country, which is absolutely offensive.
ROBERTS: John, when President Obama was elected, nobody thought that we had suddenly entered a post-racial America, but there was a glimpse that we may be taking a step down that path. What -- what happened to the promise?
RIDLEY: I don't -- you know, people talking about the promise of post-racial America. You know, most of the time when I heard post- racial America, I heard it from a lot of white folks. And they said it in a way -- and I don't mean this to be disparaging, but it was like, oh, we're getting to a point I don't want to talk about race anymore. Let's take it offer the table.
And you even see Attorney General Eric Holder...
ROBERTS: Well, isn't that an opportunity, really, to put it on the table?
RIDLEY: Well, but here's the problem with discussions about race. Eric Holder said we need to have more discussions about race.
The people who could have discussions, people who are going to have high-minded discussions, interesting discussions, I don't know that we you're need to have it, because we will go home to mixed-race groups, we will talk about our kids, we will talk about lawn care, we will talk about the cars we like. We will find out we're just people.
The people, whether they're black, whether they're white, Hispanic or Asian, who really need to have those discussions, they're not going to talk to each other about race. They're not going to engage. And it's going to take something like this, when someone throws around the N-word or these other soft bigotries, to get angry or defensive or something like that.
But we don't have those conversations. So, yes, there was a lot of promise and we thought we were going to move somewhere. But you put these things out in front and, all of a sudden, we realize that we're not really quite as far in terms of the discussion and interpersonal reactions that we would like to be. ROBERTS: We wonder if we're even a -- we wonder if we're even a step down the road, as we thought we were.
John Ridley, Reverend Al Sharpton, good to talk to you tonight. Thanks so much.
SHARPTON: Thank you.
RIDLEY: Thank you.
ROBERTS: And let us know what you think. Join the live chat under way right now at AC360.com.
Coming up next: why new figures on how much oil is in the Gulf differ so sharply from government estimates. Was the government trying to put a happy face on the disaster? We're "Keeping Them Honest" tonight.
Also coming up: One of the leaders of the movement to block that Islamic center near Ground Zero, she has got sharp words for the mosque, the imam, President Obama and a whole lot more. Decide for yourself whether you agree with them -- ahead on 360.
ROBERTS: You know that moment of horror in the horror movie when everybody breathes a sigh of relief because the danger is over, or at least everybody thinks it is?
Well, today, when it comes to the real-life horror in the Gulf of Mexico, that moment ended. The country got a real shock. Not even two weeks after the government said three-quarters of the nearly five million barrels of oil that leaked from BP's now capped oil was gone, that only 26 percent remained, researchers from the University of Georgia crunching exactly the same numbers as the government coming to a far grimmer conclusion: anywhere from 70 percent to 79 percent of the spilled oil still in the water and still a threat to the environment.
And this from a team at the University of South Florida, evidence that dispersants might have sent droplets of oil to the deep ocean floor, where they are killing the plankton that forms the very building block of sea life, but the Florida evidence, and especially the Georgia numbers, a far cry from what the government laid out on the 4th of August.
For starters, the government's 26 percent figure was 26 percent of the approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil that came out of the well, even though 800,000 barrels never even made it into the water, being collected by ships on the surface. The other big difference, Georgia researchers told us that government estimates of how easily the oil evaporates were much more optimistic than the ones they used.
And one other point: When officials unveiled their estimates on the 4th of August, they took pains to point out that they had been extensively checked by academics, in the words of presidential adviser Carol Browner, peer review, peer review, peer review.
Yet, tonight, the Georgia team said the government never reached out to them.
Historian Douglas Brinkley and Democratic strategist James Carville each have deep roots in the Gulf. They have been speaking out passionately about the spill from the very beginning. And they also have been warning, long before tonight, that the end of this disaster is still a long way off. We spoke earlier today.
ROBERTS: James Carville, Doug Brinkley, good to see you tonight. Thanks so much for joining us.
Doug, let's start with you.
If we look at these University of Georgia figures, they say 79 percent of the oil that spilled into the Gulf is still out there. NOAA told us that 75 percent of the oil that came out of the well has been captured, has evaporated or otherwise been dispersed.
How is anybody supposed to put this disaster behind them if they don't know who to believe?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think NOAA shouldn't be putting percentages on the spill like that, saying 75 percent is gone. It depends on what the definition of gone is.
Clearly, a lot of this oil is still in the Gulf. We had chemical dispersants that were carpet-bombed over the waters. And so all that oil has sunk to the bottom. Some of it now is starting to be surfacing a little bit more.
And if you go to any of the wetlands, marshlands in Louisiana, you talk to any of the parish presidents, they will tell you there is still quite a bit of oil there.
ROBERTS: Well, James, what do you think? Was NOAA trying to put a best face on all of this?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know, John. But I can tell you there's not a single person that I have run across in Louisiana that believes that figure.
And I think that, if they're going to put something like that out, they better do it with a lot of research behind it and a lot of facts behind it. Now, I think they're hardworking people at NOAA. And I don't have any reason to think otherwise. But I don't believe that number. No one believes that. And I hope they're prepared to defend that number.
And I hope that -- that this administration is ready to really put some pressure on BP to get the LSU and the Tulane people out in the marshes, measuring this stuff, and the Florida people that are excellent deepwater researchers. We have to get this reconciled. This thing is not going away. We're not going to turn the page. We're going to stay until the last drop of oil is out of the Gulf of Mexico. I promise you that.
ROBERTS: Now, of course, Doug...
CARVILLE: And we're a long way from that.
ROBERTS: Now, of course, Doug, when people hear these figures, and they don't believe them, they don't necessarily blame NOAA. They put the finger right on BP. After all, it was BP's well. But is it fair to blame the company if the government that is coming up with these results?
BRINKLEY: For NOAA to rush out with a figure like this, people don't believe it, because they were lied to or misled on so many other -- how many gallons and barrels were pouring out of that hole.
So, I think NOAA was -- made a mistake by putting that 75 percent figure on it. They're going to hang themselves on that. It's a high figure.
BRINKLEY: It was basically, I think, an attempt for them to say, let's put this disaster behind us.
ROBERTS: NOAA was including the oil that went directly from the wellhead that was captured up into those ships on -- on -- on the surface in its calculations. UGA said, no, let's just calculate what we think actually went into the water.
But when we talked, generally, about the amount of oil that went into the Gulf of Mexico, we would just look at a well that was flowing freely at 53,000 barrels a day for almost 100 days, and we come up with a figure of nearly five million barrels, 200 million gallons. Well, we don't say, hey, a large part of that was captured.
CARVILLE: For all I know -- I'm not a scientist. But let's have some hearings down here, have the head of NOAA defend these figures, have an answer to the scientists from Georgia and Florida. And for God's sakes, let's get the LSU people and the Tulane people in these marshes and really count where this stuff is.
You get the sense that people are scared to look because they might find something. But there's nobody turning the page here, so stop it. It's not going to work. We don't believe it.
CARVILLE: And if you prove it, then that's one thing. But we're a long, long way from that.
ROBERTS: And, Doug, in terms of trying to turn the page, there's been another chapter that has been added to this with new research from the University of South Florida that looked in the De Soto Canyon east of the wellhead, sort of angles from the -- east of the wellhead up toward Panama City, Florida.
They found that there are droplets of this dispersed oil all over the ocean floor. They say that it's very toxic to phytoplankton, which are these organisms that are the very building block of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico and oceans around the world.
What are the potential implications, do you think, of that?
BRINKLEY: Well, it's gigantic.
Look, Corexit, which was used as a dispersant, dumped on the Gulf of Mexico, they don't use it in Europe. And there's a reason they don't use it in Europe. It's toxic. Yes, it stops that oil from being as visual on white sandy beaches of Destin, but the oil is still there in the Gulf.
ROBERTS: And, James, one other big point here that we should probably get at is, the government is reopening the fishing grounds. The shrimp season is back on. Are you comfortable with that? I know a lot of Louisiana fishermen are not. Are you comfortable that the government has all the facts in hand in reopening these areas?
CARVILLE: I think that they're being cautious, and I'm very comfortable eating Louisiana seafood. In fact, I had some for dinner last night, and I will have some again tonight.
This stuff is highly tested. They have looked for things here. And -- and I am very, very -- I mean, I eat it all the time. I feed it to my children.
ROBERTS: So, what are you having tonight, James?
CARVILLE: I'm going to probably have me a little shrimp, and there's some shrimp Creole. I don't know. I'm going to a good restaurant with a friend of mine. And last night, I had the smoked softshell crab with the crab meat on the top. And, man, it was...
CARVILLE: ... it was delicious, I have got to tell you.
ROBERTS: Well, I'm coming down next week. Maybe I will join you.
ROBERTS: James Carville, Doug Brinkley, always great to see you. Thanks so much.
ROBERTS: And just ahead: how the mosque controversy erupted. And who stoked the early flames? You will meet her. And we will take a look at the raw political fallout this election year. Later, it was supposed to be a slam-dunk corruption case, so why did Illinois' Governor Rod Blagojevich barely get his hair mussed? We will ask our Jeffrey Toobin. And we will play you some of Mr. Blagojevich's greatest hits.
Don't go away.
ROBERTS: The developer behind that controversial Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan is speaking out. Today, on local news channel New York 1, Sharif El-Gamal said that the center's location, two blocks from Ground Zero, is, in his words, a great distance in a crowded Manhattan. And he also seemed to share New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's regret that a place of worship has become, in the governor's words, a political football.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARIF EL-GAMAL, ISLAMIC CENTER DEVELOPER: I'm surprised at the way that politics is being played in 2010. There are issues that are affecting our country which are -- which are real issues. And it's -- It's a really sad day for America when our politicians choose to look at a constitutional right and use that as basis for their elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: But they have. Republicans are campaigning on the issue, more so now that President Obama has weighed in.
Democrat Harry Reid took a stand in favor of the First Amendment, but not a mosque in that location. Republican Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, lashed out at the State Department for sending the mosque's imam on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East. We should point out, though, that the imam did similar work during the Bush administration without any complaint.
And we also mention that, not so long ago, the imam's proposed mosque and community center was just as noncontroversial.
So, what changed? And who changed it?
Randi Kaye goes "Up Close" with a timeline tonight.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eight months ago, the mosque and Islamic community center planned for nearby Ground Zero was hardly on the public radar. In fact, whatever publicity it was getting appeared positive, even from conservatives.
December 21, 2009, FOX News talks with Daisy Khan, the wife of the mosque's imam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS CHANNEL)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS: I can't find many people who really have a problem with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: But, around that same time, rumblings of outrage led by right-wing anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller.
In may of this year, Geller titled her blog "Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction." She called it -- quote -- "Islamic domination."
(on camera): A week later, the fires stoked by Geller were igniting mainstream media. On May 13, the "New York Post" columnist Andrea Peyser picked up on Geller's outrage and wrote a column she titled "Mosque Madness at Ground Zero." She described it as a -- quote -- "swift kick in the teeth."
Salon.com says this is the first time a newspaper labeled the project as wrong and suspect.
(voice-over): Other media picked up on that. Suddenly, the project was being referred to as the Ground Zero mosque, even though the site is two blocks away from Ground Zero and is as much a community center as a mosque.
May 16, the conservative "Washington Examiner" ran the headline, "A Mosque to Mock 9/11's Victims and Families." "The New York Post" assigned a team of reporters to cover the daily developments. The story was on everyone's radar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE SITUATION ROOM")
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And the controversy is flaring.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WORLD NEWS")
DIANE SAWYER, HOST, "WORLD NEWS": A controversial decision has been made to allow a mosque to be built in the shadow of Ground Zero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: By July, it had become a hot political issue. Sarah Palin was tweeting about it. July 18: "Peace-seeking Muslims, please understand, Ground Zero mosque is unnecessary provocation. It stabs hearts. Please reject it, in interest of healing."
A month or so later, August 13, President Obama weighed in with support.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.
KAYE: And, late tonight, this e-mail to me from Daisy Khan, the imam's wife, promising they are committed to peace: "We have lived and worked and prayed in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood for almost 30 years. We feel it is our honor and responsibility to help rebuild the community, while we condemn any sort of extremism, terrorism, or intolerance."
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
ROBERTS: We will talk more about the political dimension in a moment with David Gergen, Roland Martin, and Ed Rollins.
First, though, blogger Pamela Geller, who, as you just saw, has been at the forefront of this controversy from early on.
Pam, good to see you tonight. Thanks for coming in.
PAMELA GELLER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Thank you for having me.
ROBERTS: You heard Daisy Khan, Imam Rauf's wife, say right there that they have been in the community for 30 years. And she says -- quote -- "We feel it's our honor and responsibility to help rebuild the community, while we condemn any sort of extremism, terrorism or intolerance."
Isn't that the sort of effort that should be commended, as opposed to opposed?
First, let me say I'm not anti-Muslim. That's a slanderous smear, and it's unfair. Secondly, I'm certainly not leading the charge. The majority of Americans, 70 percent, find this offensive, insulting and deeply -- and deeply provocative.
ROBERTS: But you certainly -- you certainly have been on top of this story on your blog, though.
GELLER: Well, the media woke up to it.
I mean, you are saying that, according to this report, that, slowly, but surely, it built. I'm going to tell you that, as soon as that story was announced in November, there was a visceral response on the Net, but the media really wasn't covering it.
And to call it anti-Muslim, I think, is just a gross misrepresentation, and to say that I'm responsible for all of this emotion, again, a gross misrepresentation, and to also say that it's 600 feet or two blocks is another gross misrepresentation.
That building is a war memorial. That building was part of the attack. That building sold for $4.87 million because it was damaged in -- on -- on 9/11.
ROBERTS: There's also a Burlington Coat Factory there.
GELLER: But it was part of the attack. It's part of 9/11. It's part of Ground Zero. It should be designated a national war memorial.
ROBERTS: But it is -- it is -- it is on Park Place. It is a couple of blocks away. This is the way that you -- you have characterized it. You have said -- quote -- "This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident, just as the Al-Aqsa Mosque was built on top of the temple in Jerusalem.
GELLER: ... the Dome of the Rock, but OK.
ROBERTS: Yes, the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
How is this mosque being built, as you said, on -- on -- as you claim it is, on Ground Zero, on the cemetery?
GELLER: It is a cemetery. And that building was part of the attack. And it is an Islamic pattern to build triumphal mosques on the cherished sites of conquered lands.
ROBERTS: And it -- and how -- and how...
GELLER: And if it was healing, as you say -- as you say it's healing and outreach, let's just say this imam, who has been very dishonest, and he said that the location was iconic. Those were his words. And I found that very eerily evoking Islamic domination.
So let's say it was. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt, shall we, John? And it was all about healing and outreach? Obviously, it's had the opposite effect. People find this very offensive, deeply provocative and troubling. So if it was really about healing, why not ...
ROBERTS: Would you agree that no one has given them a chance? And there is all of this outcry about Cordoba House, which is two blocks away from Cordoba House exists a mosque that's been there since before 9/11 but predates the World Trade Center itself, and there haven't been any complaints about that.
GELLER: Yes, I have no -- we have no problem with mosques. This is not a religious liberties issue.
ROBERTS: What's the difference, two blocks, four blocks?
GELLER: This is -- it's not blocks. That building was part of the attack. Part of the plane crashed through the roof. It's part of American history. It should not be turned into a mega mosque, a 15- story mosque. It's looking down at Ground Zero. We have no problem with a mosque. We have no problem with mosques. There are hundreds of mosques in New York City, thousands nationwide.
The bottom line is that building is a national war memorial. And it is deeply offensive to buy it at a distressed price, $4.87 million, by a guy who was a waiter a couple of years ago. Where is that money coming from?
ROBERTS: You put up a bunch of money for ads to go on...
GELLER: I did not put up a bunch of money. The money was raised on Atlas Shrugged and Jihad Watch, people donating $18, $20, $25.
ROBERTS: You raised a bunch of money.
GELLER: Yes. Well, there's a difference.
ROBERTS: In putting it towards ads to go on MTA buses.
GELLER: It went up today.
ROBERTS: There was a protest. You won that case. You call it a great victory for the First Amendment.
ROBERTS: It also provides, of course, for freedom of religion. Is this -- is this selective application...
ROBERTS: ... of the First Amendment, saying that "I can put my ads up on buses, but you can't put your mosque there"?
GELLER: I never said you can't put your mosque there, and I've never invoked the First Amendment either. It's not a religious liberties issue. It is a human compassion issue. It is common decency, that this is so painful to so many 9/11 families.
And, frankly, we're all 9/11 families, because they just took the hit for us. It's not like those people were targeted. America was targeted. The financial epicenter, political epicenter and military epicenter. To what end? To take over America. And you can't negate the fact that the Muslim terrorists were yelling "Allah Akbar."
And so to build a 15-story mosque in a building that was hit by the plane...
ROBERTS: But do you agree that the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were practicing a perverted form of Islam, and that is not what is going to be practiced at this mosque?
GELLER: I will say that the Muslim terrorists were practicing pure Islam, original Islam. The Turkish prime minister...
ROBERTS: I think you'll probably get a great argument on that.
GELLER: Well, the Turkish prime minister said to Obama there is no extreme Islam. There is no moderate Islam. Islam is Islam. It was pure Islam.
But we don't even have to debate that. Let's just keep it -- let's just keep it on a human dignity point, from a point of view, that -- from a compassionate point of view. It's hurting so many people. And if you really wanted to heal and it was really about healing, why not withdraw the mosque?
ROBERTS: We've got to leave it there. Pam Geller, good to see you tonight.
GELLER: Thank you so much for having me, John.
ROBERTS: Thanks for coming in.
Much more ahead tonight on 360. Emotions raw, obviously, over that proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero. But the politics are just as raw. Up next, our panel weighs in on how the debate could influence the upcoming midterm elections.
And what happened to the government's corruption case against Rod Blagojevich? A verdict was reached today. We're "Keeping Them Honest," and we'll get some answers.
ROBERTS: We're talking tonight about the planned Islamic community center and prayer space down on Park Place in Lower Manhattan, two blocks northeast of the Ground Zero site, another two blocks south of a mosque that's been in that area since 1970, before there even was a Twin Towers.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans surveyed by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation oppose it. In other polling, so does a smaller majority of New Yorkers. A narrow majority of Manhattanites say they support it.
Believe it or not, when the local community board voted on it, the result was 29-1 in favor, with 10 people abstaining.
It seems the farther you get from the location, the closer you get to election day, the hotter the opposition becomes. That's "Raw Politics" for you. And here to talk about all of that, political analyst Roland Martin, political contributor/GOP strategist Ed Rollins, and senior political analyst David Gergen.
Good evening to you all, gentlemen.
Roland, is this the sort of thing that Democrats want to be talking about right now, at a point where many people form their opinions of who they're going to vote for in November?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course not. And you're running for office. You don't want to be talking about what's happening in New York City in Lower Manhattan. You want to talk about what's happening on the ground, economic-wise, in Indiana, in Georgia, in Mississippi, Alabama, Idaho, California, or wherever you are.
So, frankly, if I'm a Democrat and somebody comes to me with that question, and I'm running for the U.S. Senate, I say, "Hey, go talk to Chuck Schumer. And go talk to, you know, the folks representing New York. I'm here talking about my district." ROBERTS: Well, if only Harry Reid had said that instead of what he said. So Harry Reid is another Democrat, David Gergen, who's distancing himself from the president. Do you believe, as time goes on, now that the White House has weighed in on what was a local issue, you'll see more Democrats looking to put some space between them and the president?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so, yes. There are a lot of Democrats that, of course, would like not to talk about this. Roland is right about that. It's a big national controversy, and you're running for a Washington office, you know, it seems to me it's totally legitimate for the press or their opponents to ask them, what do you think about this issue?
I think that, you know, it's like one of the issues you're going to have to deal with when you're in national life.
ROBERTS: And you were one of the notable quotables from the Sunday shows when you said, "This is the dumbest thing that any president has said or candidate has said since Michael Dukakis said it was OK to burn the flag."
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's a similar issue, emotional issue. You can give an intellectual answer.
ROBERTS: Is it a defining moment for this president?
ROLLINS: It may be. It may very well be. There's going to be some seats lost over this issue, I think. It's going to energize our base. Yes, I think there will. I think you're down to where these seats are a couple hundred votes. I think people are distracted by they can't talk about the things they want to be talking about, as Roland said. And I think this is an issue that's not going to go away. It's going to get bigger as time goes on. And, you know, it shouldn't be, but I think it will.
ROBERTS: Do you agree, Roland? It's going to cost the Democrats some seats?
MARTIN: No. No. I think if you're sitting here voting, if you were in any other place in America and your district is broke, you've got people who are increasing number of Food Stamps, you've got school districts laying off hundreds of thousands of teachers. And you're actually going to say, "I'm going to vote for somebody based upon this issue," to me, that's nuts. You vote on what's happening where you are.
And I will also say this here. Democrats should get some spine and say, "You know what? I am sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution."
The president was strong on that on Friday. I think -- I think he blew it on Saturday by walking it back. Stay strong. Say it's about the Constitution. Because every member of Congress, they are supposed to stand up and protect the Constitution.
ROBERTS: David -- David, you've been here -- I'm not sure if you're nodding your head or shaking your head or a little bit of both.
GERGEN: Listen, I've been talking to people about is this a one- week story or is this going to be a lingering story, especially for President Obama? And I increasingly believe it may come back to haunt him over time. I thought at first it would be short.
But there was a quality about this that I think a lot of people concluded wasn't just about the merits of the issue, but there was a sense that this is another example of people thinking, "He doesn't understand me. He's not like me. He sees the world through different glasses than I do."
ROBERTS: Communication problem?
GERGEN: Well, it's -- I thought in Philadelphia during the campaign, that was a masterful speech because he gave voice to alternative perspectives and was respectful of them.
And in this situation, he stated one point of view, but for lots and lots of other people who oppose this, he showed no sympathy for what they're going through and why the public is...
MARTIN: David -- David, the one point of view is the Constitution.
GERGEN: That is not the only issue, Roland.
MARTIN: That's the one point of view.
ROLLINS: I don't think anybody is basically arguing about repealing the First Amendment. I think the critical thing here is, it's a judgment call. It was a bad judgment in the heart of the politics.
And where this president carries this party or sinks this party is on his approval ratings. And you go back to 1947...
ROBERTS: Which are not looking good.
ROLLINS: ... and they're 52 percent -- 42 percent today in the Gallup, back to the Nixon and Reagan levels now. If he drops another two or three points, which he clearly could -- and this is a defining -- could be a defining moment -- he's going to hurt his party. I say people are going to lose seats. The whole thing is about 3 percent or 4 percent out there.
And our base is energized already. And this is going to energize some conservatives, some Tea Party people.
ROBERTS: But the point has been made, though -- but the point has been made, Roland -- let's get you to speak to this -- that the GOP could also lose something over this, because they're trying, obviously, to get as many votes as they can. There's a large section of the Muslim population that presidential and, obviously, local candidates court in Dearborn, Michigan.
How are Muslims in this country going to feel about what the GOP are saying these days?
MARTIN: Well, obviously, frankly, people really haven't cared what they thought since 9/11, whether you're a moderate Muslim and folks have just blown them away and dismissed them and said they're absolutely irrelevant.
And so sure, if I've lobbying and you're Republicans, you're trying to lock up those freshman Democrats who won in conservative districts. And that's really who you're really targeting. But it is amazing to me, though, when you have folks on the right who have attacked this president by saying he's not one of us and doesn't understand our values. And when he does actually reinforce the Constitution, then it's a bad thing.
I get the whole political thing, but maybe -- but it is amazing how he's criticized for saying it is the constitutional right. That's pretty interesting.
GERGEN: It is not simply a constitutional issue. It has to do with the sensitivities and sensibilities of a lot of families who lost loved ones there for whom this is hallowed ground. And a lot of Americans are saying, basically, look, if they've got real problems with it, I would rather they'd move it somewhere else.
ROBERTS: We're not going to solve this tonight.
MARTIN: Hallowed ground? There's a mosque four blocks away. This is two blocks away. Wow!
ROBERTS: Roland Martin, David Gergen, Ed Rollins, thanks for coming up. Appreciate it.
Coming up, a blow to federal prosecutors in the Rod Blagojevich case. The former Illinois governor is found guilty of lying to the FBI, but he escapes convictions on 23 other counts. That's not the outcome the government expected. We're going to take a look at all the angles just ahead.
And the cry for help in Pakistan gets louder, the United Nations issuing an urgent appeal for aid. One fifth of Pakistan is submerged in floodwaters. Stay with us.
ROBERTS: A verdict today in a notorious case that federal prosecutors did not want to hear. Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, who was accused of trying to sell President Obama's old Senate seat, was convicted today on only one count, lying to the FBI. Jurors were unable to decide 23 other counts, including heavyweights like racketeering, attempted distortion and wire fraud.
The charges were brought against Blagojevich back in December 2008. Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, the same man who got a conviction against Vice President Dick Cheney's one-time chief of staff, Scooter Libby, had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK FITZGERALD, PROSECUTOR: Well, the most cynical behavior in all this, the most appalling, is the fact that Governor Blagojevich tried to sell the appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President- elect Obama. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: Outside the court today, Rod Blagojevich said he told the truth from the very beginning. It always seemed like he never took the charges against him all this seriously. Remember this video, where he went jogging in the snow past reporters? Seemed like he didn't have a care in the world, and yet he was facing charges that could have sent him to prison for decades.
But then over the course of the case, Blagojevich appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice" and sometimes displayed behavior that was a bit off the wall. Have a look.
ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS: I've got this thing and it's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) golden, and I'm just not giving it up for (EXPLETIVE DELETED) nothing.
I don't believe there's any cloud that hangs over me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting back to that...
BLAGOJEVICH: I don't believe there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me.
Thank you very much. I'm here to tell you right off the bat that I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, that I intend to stay on the job, and I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath.
Rudyard Kipling wrote, "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you and make allowance for their doubting, too, if you can wait and not be tired by waiting or being lied about, don't deal in lies or being hated, don't give way to hating."
SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I mean, I -- this --
BLAGOJEVICH: You're the senator.
BURRIS: This is for the governor? You want to answer?
BLAGOJEVICH: Let me say a couple of things. I've enjoyed the limelight I've had over the past couple of weeks. I think it's been -- I don't want to hog the limelight. This is Roland Burris' day.
In many cases the things we did for people have literally saved lives. I don't believe those are impeachable offenses.
So I'll leave you with this poem by Tennyson, which goes like this. "Though we are not now the strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and by fate but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
ROBERTS: Tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest." What happened to the government's case? And what happens now? CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is here.
Patrick Fitzgerald, he gets one conviction out of 24? What went wrong?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it was interesting. I was listening to that famous quote from Pat Fitzgerald from his press conference. And there was an interesting word that I didn't notice until I heard it tonight, which was he tried to sell the Senate seat.
TOOBIN: He didn't sell the Senate seat. And the problem with this case, it seems, was that all of the criminality was attempts, incompleted actions. He never actually sold the Senate seat. He never actually sold the right to build the children's hospital. He talked about it.
And the defense in this case was the governor is just a B.S. artist. He talks, he jabbers, but he didn't commit a crime. And at least some jurors believed it on 23 counts.
ROBERTS: When you look at his greatest hits there that we played, this idea of him being a certain type of artist certainly would be the case.
TOOBIN: Absolutely. Now, "The Chicago Tribune" is reporting tonight that on the selling the Senate seat count and some of the others, it was 11-1 for conviction. So, that tells you this was not a frivolous case, but you know, you don't get credit for 11-1.
ROBERTS: What does Fitzgerald do now? Does he have any hope, if he takes this case back into court and retries it, that he's going to get any other outcome than he got right now?
TOOBIN: Yes, he does. And most of the time, when the government retries the case, they win. And if you look...
ROBERTS: Why would it be different the next time?
TOOBIN: Well, because you learn. I mean, I -- when I was a prosecutor, I had one hung jury. And when I tried it again, we took out some evidence that we didn't think was very helpful. We prepared witnesses, you know, for cross examination that you knew what was coming. That is something that he will do again.
And if it is true, as I suspect it is, "The Chicago Tribune" is right, they weren't that far off on some of the big counts. And, look, the government gets convictions in most of its cases. It's especially true on retrials.
ROBERTS: Well, did get a conviction here, just one out of 24.
TOOBIN: Yes, but I mean, there's nobody exchanging high fives in the U.S. attorney's office today.
ROBERTS: One conviction they got, lying to the FBI, Blagojevich has said, "I don't care." It could get him five years in prison.
TOOBIN: It could. It's the same crime that Martha Stewart was convicted of. It's called Title 18, section 1001. It's very commonly charged. If that's the only count, I would be surprised to see him get a prison sentence.
ROBERTS: Was it smart for Blagojevich not to testify?
TOOBIN: Apparently so. I mean, look, if he, walking into this trial had said, if you don't testify, you're going to get a hung jury on 23 counts and convicted on one, he would have taken that deal. So, I think, at least for this go round, all -- all the defense decisions look smart.
ROBERTS: Pretty amazing.
TOOBIN: Well, we could be back.
ROBERTS: All right. And we'll have you back again.
TOOBIN: I will speak in poetry, like -- like the governor, as well.
ROBERTS: If you can quote Tennyson, or Yeats, whoever you like.
TOOBIN: Aerial bombardment of the heavens.
ROBERTS: Thanks, Jeff.
Coming up, an update on the floods in Pakistan and an urgent plea for help.
Then President Obama is back on the campaign trail today. Find out what left residents of Seattle a little shaken after his visit.
ROBERTS: There is much more news that we're covering tonight. Joe Johns is here with the "360 Bulletin."
Hi, Joe. JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John.
Money is only trickling in for people impacted by the widespread flooding in Pakistan. That's why the United Nations is asking countries and donors to send urgent aid.
Shirley Sherrod has made peace with the NAACP. As you'll recall, the organization condemned Sherrod last month after an edited videotape of her was posted on the Internet. In the video she appeared to make racist comments. When it was revealed that the entire video didn't air, the NAACP apologized. Sherrod has written a letter to its members saying, quote, "That's behind us."
In Seattle residents were shaken by what sounded like explosions when President Obama was campaigning today for Washington Senator Patti Murray. It was sonic booms caused by two F-15 fighter jets. They were dispatched after reports a small plane had entered restricted air space while the president was on the campaign trail.
And check this out. Nearly 50,000 bees were on the trail of a sheriff's deputy in Wake County, North Carolina. Brandon Jenkins spent three hours in his patrol car after the bees decided to park on it. He was responding to a call of a person possibly be attacked by these bees.
Jenkins finds the disabled truck on the highway. Behind it is a trailer holding 60,000 -- 60 boxes of bees. Who knew?
You know, that's the kind of thing they just don't teach you to deal with in the police academy.
ROBERTS: Exactly. But I'll tell you, he was smart in keeping the door closed and keeping the windows rolled up.
JOHNS: That's the way to go.
ROBERTS: And it's interesting about Shirley Sherrod, too, because she told us when we sat down to talk with her, that the thing that hurt her the most in all of that was the way that the NAACP abandoned her.
JOHNS: Yes, yes. It was a pretty strange situation there for a few days.
ROBERTS: Joe, great to see you tonight. Thanks so much. We'll see you again tomorrow.
JOHNS: You bet.
ROBERTS: A lot more coming up in our next hour, including those alarming new reports suggesting there could be a whole lot more oil in the Gulf of Mexico than we think.