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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Imam Speaks Out on Proposed Ground Zero Mosque; Koran Burning Firestorm Intensifies
Aired September 7, 2010 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us.
Tonight, breaking news: The imam who wants to build that Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero is breaking his silence for the first time since the controversy erupted, saying definitively whether or not he is willing to move the project somewhere else. We will tell you what he is announce tonight.
Also ahead tonight, "Keeping Them Honest." We confront the Florida pastor who plans to burn Korans this Saturday on 9/11. The U.S. military says it will endanger our troops. Does he care? We will ask him. He also says he's doing this to honor 9/11 victims, but does he even know the names of any of those who lost their lives? Find out in a moment.
And later: what appears to be new evidence in the case of the congresswoman who gave her relatives and staffers' relatives tens of thousands in a charity scholarship money, instead of to needy kids in her district, like she was supposed to. She says she wasn't paying attention to it, but now we have got letters that appear to show just the opposite, evidence, if true, she was steering the money not to the colleges, but directly into her relatives' pockets.
We begin tonight, "Keeping Them Honest," with the Florida pastor who plans to burn Korans.
Now, he claims he's doing it to honor those killed on 9/11 and to send a message to radical Islamists around the world. His message, though, is being heard by all Muslims around the world, and the outrage is growing.
Take a look at a picture in Indonesia, the largest Islamic country in the world, protesters there rallying in Jakarta. In Afghanistan, in the streets of Kabul, flag-burning, people chanting "Death to America" because of this preacher's plan.
General David Petraeus, who has been built the mission in Afghanistan around winning Muslim hearts and minds, issued a statement saying what Pastor Jones plans on doing can endanger our troops on the front lines.
So, we wanted to know if this pastor from this small church of a couple dozen people cares about that, cares about our troops, about the impact burning the Korans might have. I want you to know we debated about whether or not to even put this pastor on TV. He is extremist and he wants to spread his message as far and wide as he can.
But we noticed a number of things that he said in other TV interviews simply didn't jibe with what he actually preaches. And we wanted to confront him about that.
Let me walk you over to the wall here, just show you a little bit more about this church. It's called the -- the Dove World Outreach Center. Here is what you see outside the church. This is on church property. There's a sign right here that says, "No homer mayor -- "No homo mayor city hall."
Apparently, the pastor hates the mayor of Gainesville, Florida, because he's gay. There are also signs here that say, "Islam is of the devil."
Now, on TV, Pastor Jones says he's not against Muslims. He has said that repeatedly in interviews. But, on his Web site, look -- take a look at what he calls Islam. Over here, he calls Islam "a violent and oppressive religion that is trying to masquerade" -- by the way, he spelled masquerade wrong -- "itself as a religion of peace, seeking to deceive our society."
So, apparently, he's not against Muslims unless they happen to practice Islam. Also, in a number of interviews, he has repeatedly said that Muslims are free to practice their religion in America, and he has no problem with that.
But, when he preaches, he certainly does seem to have a problem with it. In fact, he says no new mosques should be built anywhere in the U.S. and no Muslims should be allowed to immigrate to this country.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PASTOR TERRY JONES, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER: Stop Islamic immigration. They are only coming to this country to -- to -- to take over, to try to enforce, through population growth, through -- through political means, through educational means -- they're only coming here to try to enforce and force their laws, their Islamic laws upon us.
We should stop immediately, right now. Stop right now the building of all mosques in America, until they allow us to build churches in Saudi Arabia, until we can build churches in Iran, Iraq, in countries that are dominated by Islam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: And Pastor Terry Jones joins us now.. Pastor Jones, as you know, David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said yesterday of your event -- and I quote -- "It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan. It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses, and could cause significant problems, not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."
You're being warned by the U.S. military that your Koran burning will put the lives of American service men and women in danger. Does that give you pause at all? Do you care about the safety of our troops?
JONES: Yes, it does. We are taking his concerns very seriously.
COOPER: What does that mean, though?
COOPER: Are you going to continue to -- are you going to burn the Korans?
JONES: We -- we right now we have plans to continue. We are thinking about it. We are praying about it. As I said, we are taking his concerns very seriously.
We -- we just have also the concern as to, how -- how far do we go as Americans? When do we back down? Or -- when does, actually, the time come that we speak to radical Islam and we tell them, no more, no longer, we will not be pushed around, and we will not bow to threats?
COOPER: But wait a minute. We're fight -- we fought a war in Iraq against -- after Saddam's forces, against al Qaeda in Iraq. We're fighting a war against radical Islam in Afghanistan and -- and in various places around the world. How can you say that -- that we're not standing up?
JONES: Well, I think there's still an element within -- within America that is not facing the actual truth of Islam.
COOPER: It seems like you're placing your event above the safety of American troops. Is the life of a Marine, is the life of a single soldier not more important than your event?
JONES: We think all lives are very important, and we are taking that very seriously. We -- we just feel -- we feel very serious about this.
COOPER: But what does that mean? You say you're taking it seriously, and yet you -- you say you're taking it seriously, and yet you say you're still going to do it. When do you make a decision whether or not you're going to do it?
JONES: As of right now, we are going to do it. We feel that this message is necessary. We feel that radical Islam needs this message. COOPER: So, it is more important than the life and the possibility of an American soldier or American Marine dying? Your event is more important?
JONES: We have -- we are willing to put our own lives up on the line. If soldiers get killed, it is not -- it is not our fault.
COOPER: Well, you're not putting your -- no, no, sir, sir, you're not -- sir, you're not putting your life on the line. The general is saying...
JONES: It is not our fault.
Yes, I am.
COOPER: ... you're putting the life of a soldier or a Marine, service member on the line. You're saying your event is more important than potential damage, the potential killing of a U.S. soldier, U.S. Marine, yes or no?
JONES: We are putting our life upon the line. We do feel that this event is very, very important. It needs to send a message to radical Islam...
COOPER: More important than the life of a Marine or a soldier?
JONES: ... that that is it. We are burning a book. We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people. We are not dragging people out of the cars who are doctors and killing them.
We are simply burning a book. The general needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them.
COOPER: You have also said that you are doing this on 9/11 to honor the memories of those murdered. Do you know the names of anyone murdered on 9/11?
JONES: I do not know their names, no.
COOPER: OK. Do you know the name Amenia Rasool?
JONES: I do not have to know their names to honor them.
COOPER: Do you know the name Amenia Rasool, or Gary Shamay, or Sarah Khan?
JONES: No, I do not.
COOPER: They are -- all those people are Muslims who died on 9/11, among many Muslims who died on 9/11, killed by radical Islamists. Sarah Khan was a -- a cafeteria worker at the World Trade Center.
JONES: Right. That does not change our message.
COOPER: Gary worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.
JONES: That does not change our message.
COOPER: Amenia was an accountant.
How can -- you say you're honoring those who died on 9/11. How can you honor these Muslims who died by burning the book that they used to worship here in America?
JONES: Our goal is to send a message to radical Islam. It's to say, no more.
COOPER: OK. Now, sir, you're saying you are honoring those who have died.
JONES: We do not want Sharia law.
COOPER: How are you...
JONES: We do not want this type of activity.
COOPER: How are you honoring those Muslims who died? Or do you not care about the Muslims who died?
JONES: We care about everyone that died.
COOPER: So, how are you honoring them by burning their holy book?
JONES: We believe that the Koran's Sharia law is responsible for that. That is what we believe.
Listen to this. We got an e-mail today from a soldier. He was in Vietnam for 11 years. He says that he believes that most of the military soldiers stand with us on this matter. That is what he believes. And he spent 11 years in Vietnam.
COOPER: Well, sir, you're just ridiculous, if you're believing some anonymous e-mail from somebody. You're believing some anonymous e-mail you received...
JONES: No, it was not an anonymous e-mail.
COOPER: ... and you're not paying attention. Well, somebody who says they were in Vietnam, and maybe they were, they're speaking for the entire U.S. military?
When the general who is commanding the troops, who speaks for the troops, and -- and is -- is, you know, charged with the protection of those troops, gives you a direct message, this is endangering troops, you're ignoring that.
You have said that Islam is a religion of hate.
COOPER: Look at the things that are on your Web site. You say you have a blog post that describes the Koran's teachings as a -- quote -- "demonic and ongoing Satanic stronghold, under which Muslims and the world suffer."
COOPER: You say that it's a stronghold of hatred, fear and violence. You have pictures on your Web site of signs that say "No homo mayor" and "Islam is the devil."
JONES: I mean, all we have to do is look at...
JONES: Why do people -- why do people defend Islam, a religion that stones -- look at Muslim-dominated countries. In Saudi Arabia...
COOPER: So, you're saying there are no -- there are no good Muslims in the United States. There's -- the millions of Muslims who practice here peacefully and are American citizens?
JONES: In Saudi Arabia, you cannot even obtain a driver's license if you are a woman.
COOPER: Sir, I'm not defending the government of Saudi Arabia. It's one of the most repressive...
JONES: Why don't we stand up for human rights?
COOPER: Sir, I'm not defending the government of Saudi Arabia. It's one of the most repressive governments around. Believe me, I know well about it.
COOPER: But I -- I -- you're -- you're talking about American Muslims.
JONES: ... Muslim-dominated countries. And all we are saying is that we do not want that.
COOPER: We are going to have more with Pastor Jones right after the break. He talks a lot about what's in the Koran, but has he actually ever read the Koran? We will ask him. We will also ask him if he thinks he's a bigot.
Join the live chat now under way at AC360.com.
There's also breaking news tonight: The imam behind the Islamic center near New York's Ground Zero is breaking his silence, the first time we have heard from him. He hasn't been heard from on the issue for two months. Will he be willing to move that building? Find out in our panel. David Gergen, Bruce Feiler, and Andy Sullivan join us with their reaction.
Later: the Democratic congresswoman and the scholarship scandal. We have been following this story for about a week or so now -- funneling charity money to her relatives. She told us she wasn't really aware of the rules or the ethics.
Well, now there's new reporting that suggests was so hands-on, her signature is on letters telling the charity to send the money, and not just send it to the school where her relatives were going, but to send it directly to her relatives' pockets. We're "Keeping Them Honest."
COOPER: All right, continuing our conversation now with Pastor Terry Jones, who says he still plans to burn Korans on 9/11, despite pleas from fellow pastors, rabbis, and imams not to, and a warning from General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander of troops in Afghanistan, that a Koran burning would put American troops at risk.
We spoke with Pastor Jones earlier tonight. And, as you will see, we had some technical difficulties, some problems with the lighting during the interview. I apologize for that. I hope it's not too distracting. But we spoke a short time ago.
COOPER: Sir, on -- on your Web site -- on television, you say one thing. On your Web site and in your preachings, you say something else.
You say there should be no Muslims allowed to immigrate to the United States and you say there no new mosques should be allowed to be built in the United States.
Do you deny saying that on your Web site and in your preaching?
JONES: No, I do not deny that.
JONES: That is my -- that is -- that is my opinion, but my opinion does not supersede the Constitution.
My opinion, we would be better off if we paid more attention. We would be better off if we really checked the Muslims that immigrated here. We see that problem very clearly in Europe. That is my opinion. That is not the Constitution.
So, I stand to the Constitution, that they have freedom of worship and freedom to build mosques.
COOPER: Pastor Jones, this afternoon, many religious leaders held a press conference to -- to denounce the increase in anti-Islam fervor in this country.
And a prominent evangelical Christian, Reverend Richard Cizik, was there. And I want to -- I want you to listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. RICHARD CIZIK, THE NEW EVANGELICAL PARTNERSHIP FOR THE COMMON GOOD: TO those who would exercise derision, you see, bigotry, open rejection of our fellow Americans for their religious faith, I say, shame on you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Do you consider yourself a bigot?
JONES: No, not at all. And we do not consider our message a message of hate.
It is -- it is a clear message of warning. We have tried to make it very, very clear that, according to the United States Constitution, Muslims are more than welcome in America. They are welcome to worship. They are welcome to build mosques.
We have made that very, very clear. I understand they're not in agreement. And they're mad and angry. They're -- they're -- they're insulted because we are burning the Koran, but they should, indeed, be with us on the fact that radical Islam is bad. It is evil. We do not want it in this country.
COOPER: Well, I -- I -- I think the vast majority of Muslims in the United States would agree that -- that extremism and radical Islam is a bad thing. And many of them have worked to -- to fight it.
But I asked about the bigotry, because the definition of a bigot that I just got off Dictionary.com is a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics or race.
You do appear to be remarkably intolerant on any ideas other than your own regarding religion.
JONES: We are -- as the Bible teaches, as Jesus teaches, we are intolerant, yes.
COOPER: So, if bigot -- so if being a bigot...
JONES: And the Koran does not...
COOPER: So, if being a bigot is being intolerant of anyone else's ideas on religion other than your own, you would -- you would say, yes, you're a bigot?
JONES: We believe there is only one way, and that is Jesus Christ. People have freedom to worship as they please. That is what I said.
COOPER: Well, you -- you're -- you're saying people have freedom...
JONES: ... me what the Bible says. The Bible says, Jesus Christ is the only way.
COOPER: You're saying that people have freedom to worship as they please -- you say people have freedom to worship as they please in this country.
JONES: Jesus Christ is the only way.
COOPER: You're stating a fact there. But that's not your desire. You don't want Muslims to have freedom to worship in this country. You don't want Muslims to be able to build new mosques here. You don't want more Muslims coming to the United States. Correct?
JONES: That is not correct. And it depends on who you are asking.
COOPER: On your Web site, you say: "Stop all Islamic immigration. You're only coming to this land to take over and try to enforce the Islamic laws upon us." And you say, "Stop building all mosques until churches can be built in Saudi Arabia."
So, you don't want Muslims coming here and you don't want new mosques being built. You're -- I know you're not saying that's the law. Under the Constitution, they can. But you're saying, you don't like that.
JONES: It is my opinion, yes. As I said -- as I said, as a Christian, I wish that all Muslims would get saved. I wish that they would all convert to Christianity, because Christianity is the one and only true religion.
The Koran, in our opinion, is an evil book.
COOPER: Have you ever read the Koran, Pastor?
JONES: I have read only -- only parts of the Koran. But I definitely know the Koran...
(CROSSTALK) COOPER: ... excerpts.
JONES: ... denies -- denies the deity of Christ.
COOPER: But you have never read the book? I'm just -- I'm just asking for...
JONES: It denies the fact that Jesus was risen from the dead...
COOPER: Sir, I'm just asking. You have never read the book?
JONES: ... that he is the only savior.
COOPER: You never read the book?
JONES: I know what the Bible says about -- I know what the Bible says about the Koran.
COOPER: Have you read the Bible?
JONES: Yes, I have read the Bible.
COOPER: OK. But you haven't read the Koran?
JONES: Do you want to know what the Bible says about the Koran?
COOPER: I'm asking you -- if you don't want...
JONES: Do you want to know what the Bible says about the Koran?
COOPER: ... to answer the question, I understand. But -- but I'm just asking the question, have you read the Koran?
JONES: I said no. I have read parts of the Koran.
If you add to this book, let him be accursed -- that's what the Bible says about the Koran.
COOPER: Dr. Jones, I hope you -- you think about this, and you pray on it more, and I hope you come to some other conclusion about what you're going to do this weekend.
I appreciate your time tonight, sir. Thank you.
JONES: All right. Thank you.
COOPER: Again, I apologize for the lighting issues.
Let's us know what you think, the live chat up and running at AC360.com.
Up next, breaking news: the imam behind that Islamic center near Ground Zero speaking out and saying he's made up his mind about whether or not to move the controversial building. We will have his decision and reaction from folks on all sides of the controversial issue.
Also, dangerous situation in Detroit tonight -- more than a dozen homes, buildings up in flames. Who or what is responsible? We have details ahead on 360.
COOPER: Breaking news in the battle over the Islamic center and mosque planned here near Ground Zero in New York.
The imam behind the controversial project is finally breaking his silence. He's appearing exclusively on CNN tomorrow night on a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE."
Just before we went on air, "The New York Times" published an op- ed by Feisal Abdul Rauf on his Web site -- on their Web site, I should say.
And in it, the imam wrote -- and I quote -- "We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels, and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons."
Rauf described the planned center as a "shared space for community activities" and said he is -- quote -- "very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11."
No doubt there is going to be strong reaction to his words tonight.
Joining me now, senior political analyst David Gergen, also bestselling author Bruce Feiler, whose books include "America's Prophet" and "Walking the Bible," and Andy Sullivan, a New York City construction worker and creator of the Blue Collar Corner Blog.
Appreciate all of you being with us.
We're having problems with David's mike.
David, as soon as your Mike works, guys in the control room, let me know.
Bruce, what do you make of this? I mean, in the op-ed, he never really explains why he thinks the mosque needs to be built, and built in that location.
BRUCE FEILER, AUTHOR, "WALKING THE BIBLE": And I actually think he leaves himself a little wiggle room, the way I read it, actually.
I mean, I was a little surprised, because I think and I have believed for some time that this was going to end up in some sort of compromise, because, ultimately, I don't think it's really a real estate issue, two blocks, vs. four blocks, vs. 10 blocks.
I ultimately thinks it's a -- And I think he goes on to talk about this quite eloquently -- an issue of American values. And I think, Anderson, it would be easy to kind of sit here and say, oh, at every critical moment in America, American values have prevailed.
What's actually happened is, if you look at moments of tension in American history, there has been kind of rival forces. So, in the 1840s and '50s, we had huge -- an entire political party was built around anti-Catholic bias. In the 1930s, during that stress, we had huge amounts of anti-Semitism.
In the 1850s, they -- you know, they said Lincoln that was Catholic. They said that Roosevelt was Jewish. Now here we are, in another moment of economic anxiety, and we're having sort of an Islamic backlash.
But I think that's what's going on and I think that what's really the opportunity that we have here is, after 9/11, I went and wrote this book on Abraham. Actually, Feisal Abdul Rauf is quoted in the book. And I have probably done 200 interfaith activities in the last decade.
And in every single one, people will stand up, often more than one, and say, where are the moderate Muslims? Well, here is a moderate Muslim. And I think that the question is, is this moderate voice going to be able to prevail, or are we going to meet extremism with extremism, as we heard in the prior segment?
COOPER: Andy, you say you oppose the -- you say they have the right to build it, absolutely, but that they shouldn't build it there.
ANDY SULLIVAN, CREATOR, BLUE COLLAR CORNER: Correct.
SULLIVAN: I believe it's just an aggressive act, almost a penetrative act. I mean, you're digging into old wounds and tearing it up.
I mean, you know how many double funerals I had to go to after 9/11? I mean, it was -- the pain that -- you have got to relive that whole pain again, because, first, you're having a funeral with no body. And then they discover a teaspoon of DNA, and then you have another funeral. And now we have this. I feel like this is 9/11, the second wave.
COOPER: And there are those who say, well, look, this imam has been, you know, practicing his faith in this neighborhood, he has run a mosque there for many, many years, and nobody complained about it. In fact, he is part of the community.
SULLIVAN: And you know what? First of all, I agree with a lot of what Bruce had to say, except the one thing. I don't think he's a moderate.
I think all this stuff that is coming out as of late points to him not being moderate at all.
COOPER: But, wait.
COOPER: The U.S. State Department, though, actually sends him out to represent the United States, and -- and you...
SULLIVAN: And I give no credibility to the State Department whatsoever.
SULLIVAN: First of all, all I see is a guy who is running -- a slumlord out in Jersey City who owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes, and you have got to see the place, with the bedbugs, and the exposed wiring, and piping in the wall, and mold conditions.
This is a man of credibility, of faith, who cares about love and God, and he lets these people live like animals? I'm sorry. I'm not buying it.
COOPER: David Gergen, what do you make of this? I mean, again, you had raised the issue when we discussed this with Fareed Zakaria a while back about, when -- when there was going to be a convent built near Auschwitz, and, though they had the right to do it, the pope said, let's not do it.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, Anderson, I -- I am among those who are torn about this.
I do think that the imam is a very well-respected man, and the fact that the State Department supported him, he was carefully checked out before they sent him abroad to represent the United States.
And, clearly, they have the right to build a mosque and cultural center here. But, at the same time, the fact that two-thirds of New Yorkers, people who live in the city, told "The New York Times" that they oppose it, and we see opposition in the country, the people opposing it are not bigots. Yes, some are, but there are a lot of people who are offended by where it's going.
And it does seem to me that there ought to be some way to work this out that you can get a plus out of this. I personally -- for example, there are many universities that have interfaith religious centers where people pray in the same space, but let Muslims, Jews and Christians all use those centers, and sort of equally, and it belongs to all equally.
I -- it seems to me that we might be able to work out some resolution where the imam would join up with a Christian leader and a Jewish leader and figure out how to make this a true interfaith center...
COOPER: Well, let -- because he writes about...
GERGEN: ... which I think people could support. He...
COOPER: He writes about this in the op-ed. Let me just read to our viewers what he said in tonight's op-ed.
He said that the center will have -- quote -- "separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews, and men and women of other faiths. The center will also include a multi-faith memorial dedicated to victims of the September 11 attacks."
You say that is not enough?
GERGEN: Well, Anderson, if you go to their original Web site posting, this was -- it was described in the original Web site posting as essentially as a Muslim center.
And it's -- and the mosque has been a prominent part of this larger cultural center. But it's also true there is a practical issue here. And I don't know whether this imam, where he is going to get the money. It's a $100 million enterprise.
And Politico has reported, CNN reported, Randi Kaye reported, this -- this -- this nonprofit group or this Muslim group has been unable to raise many funds. In 2008, they raised $18,000. That was the most recent report filed with the New York attorney general.
I think, if they went and created a true interfaith center, which all of us could give money to, and happily do it, because I think, as -- I think Bruce Feiler has been an eloquent spokesperson for this interfaith effort and to try to advance interfaith understanding. I think that all of us could rally to that.
COOPER: Well, let me ask.
Andy, is that something you -- you would buy -- you would buy into?
SULLIVAN: I don't think so.
You know, we haven't spoke about his partner, Sharif El-Gamal, the waiter-turned-real-estate mogul.
COOPER: All right, you have a lot of questions about the funding of this, the background of these people?
SULLIVAN: Absolutely. Yes.
SULLIVAN: I mean, if you're going to be involved with people like this -- I mean, you know, he was convicted in 2005 of beating a man into the hospital, and actually was charged -- he was fined $15,000, he beat the man so badly. COOPER: But, you know, a lot of people say, well, look, if you start looking into the backgrounds of lots of people affiliated with organizations, you're probably going to find a lot of...
SULLIVAN: Listen -- listen, I'm a street kid from Brooklyn. You are not going to find that in my background.
SULLIVAN: I never beat anybody into the hospital, $15,000...
COOPER: Nor have I, just for the record.
SULLIVAN: And God bless you.
FEILER: Look at this, interfaith harmony right -- right on this very set.
COOPER: Well, Bruce, I mean, what -- what about...
FEILER: Let me pick up on what David said, because I actually think that what we're -- we're actually witnessing here, as messy as it is, is actually a laboratory of coexistence.
We're talking about a conversation that is -- that is happening about, where should it be? Let's just pick up on what David said. He seems to be evolving even what this interfaith center is going to look like. This is progress. And I think this is what we're really talking about.
We are now, nine years and three days, or whatever it is, away from -- from the original 9/11, where we had, on this very night nine years ago, people planning this attack. And what are those planes going into those buildings, other than saying, my God is better than your God?
We then just had on CNN for 10 minutes another figure saying, my God is better than your God.
It's the same words. We're talking about burning Korans, of -- of setting fire to mosques in -- in Tennessee.
COOPER: In Murfreesboro.
So, what's happening is, the -- the debate is being dominated by the extremists. What' -- the vast majority of people in the middle are saying what you're kind of hearing here. I understand they should do it. Maybe they shouldn't have it here. Maybe, as David said, the -- the rooms should be different.
That is what interfaith is going to look like, Anderson.
COOPER: Interesting, because the lines -- the lines...
FEILER: It's this -- it's this dialogue, and it's going to come up with some sort of compromise, which is still where I think this is going to end.
COOPER: I think Andy spoke very eloquently about the emotion, though, for not just New Yorkers but so many people who lost loved ones and knew people and just witnessed it themselves. It's such an emotional issue that -- I mean, everybody comes at it from a different way. Some people come at it from pure emotion of like -- and some people come at it from -- from freedom of religion and freedom of speech and say, look, they absolutely have the right.
FEILER: That's OK. He was a great -- one of the great patriots who actually was down there, trying to rebuild and restore American values.
We fought a war in the 1940s against Japan. Japan is now an ally of ours. We fought a war against Germany. Within years, we were rebuilding Germany and Japan. There is a great -- same with Vietnam in the 1960s where 50,000 Americans died. There is a great tradition in this country of fighting conflict and then rebuilding together. And that is the opportunity that we have here.
Are we going to continue to have conflict, or are we going to have some way we can rebuild? I'm betting from just the time I've been with Andy, that we can find a way to get something built, get these people involved and -- who were involved in the -- trying to -- the saving of Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11, and try to find a new model here.
GERGEN: Anderson, let me just echo Bruce. I think he's on the right track.
You know, we have an alternative here. Either we can sort of raise our voices and go after each other, and we're going to unleash the kind of ugliness we saw with the proposition of Koran burning, the intolerance and the hatred that we see there, and the bigotry; or we can seek a more constructive way to see if we can make something good out of this.
And I think -- I think reasonable people can disagree about whether you can put a mosque there, but I think a lot of people in this country would come together and say, "Let's make something constructive out of this in which we can join up together and feel some sense of unity."
Remember -- what's the motto of this country? It's "E Pluribus Unum." From many, one. And I think that we -- that's what we have to remember we're all about.
SULLIVAN: Everything you say, you gentlemen are speaking very well, a lot better than I do. That's for sure.
But when I was at the Landmarks Commission, OK, and it went 9-0 to destroy that building, a building which should have been slated for landmark status just for the fact that the landing gear hit the roof, and that was technically the first strike before the plane hit the building. And it was on the docket for 20 years. So it was -- it was stunning to me how these guys voted 9-0 to destroy the building.
I look to my right. I see this elderly couple next to me clutching each other and a photo of their firefighter son, who obviously perished in the 9/11 attacks. And then I look to my left and I see Sharif al-Gamal, Daisy Khan their lawyer laughing, kissing, hugging, having a grand old time.
Now, is this the group that you want to build this wonderful thing that you're talking about and David was speaking of, this beautiful interfaith gathering? Is this the group you want doing it? Because to me, I wouldn't let these people open up a bowling alley, much less an interfaith center.
COOPER: We're going to leave it there. It was a really good discussion. Appreciate all your perspectives. Thanks for being with us. Andy Sullivan, Bruce Feiler, and David Gergen.
As we said, the imam has granted a CNN exclusive interview, Imam Feisal Rauf. He'll be on a special edition of "LARRY KING" tomorrow, hosted -- co-hosted by Soledad O'Brien. Watch the exclusive interview tomorrow at 9 p.m. Eastern. We'll also be replaying a lot of it on this program and discussing it with a large panel.
Just ahead, the congresswoman, scholarship fund, her relatives. That's right, her relatives. "Keeping Them Honest," we've got new reporting that some of her statements about how hands-off she says she was, seems pretty iffy.
Also, the latest on the inferno in Detroit. Three neighborhoods, homes and buildings going up in smoke. Not sure what is behind it exactly. We'll give you what details we have.
COOPER: A lot of other stories we're following. Isha Sesay is following some of them. She joins us with the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.
ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Anderson.
Fires raging against large sections of Detroit tonight, being blamed on downed electrical wires and high winds. That's according to local news reports. As many as 85 fires were reported over a four- hour period. At least 17 structures have been lost.
Meantime, Colorado's governor has declared a state of emergency as a 7,100-acre wildfire rages near Boulder. That blaze is threatening hundreds of homes and has forced thousands to flee to safety. Hermine has been downgraded to a tropical depression, but it's still is dumping heavy rain over Texas. That's 24 hours after making landfall in Mexico as a tropical storm. Its remnants today caused flooding around San Antonio where strong winds blew the roof off an apartment complex.
And Anderson, listen up. A possible plea deal is in the works for the former JetBlue flight attendant who became a folk hero when he deployed the plane's emergency chute after arguing with a passenger. Stephen Slater appeared in court today with his lawyer. He faces felony charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, as well as criminal trespass.
The judge says he'll consider requiring Slater to attend anger management and alcohol/drug abuse counseling -- yes -- as part of a plea agreement.
SESAY: I love this story.
COOPER: I know, but it's interesting. You know, like sort of he was a hero. Then sort of questions were raised, and people turned against him. And now, I don't know. I don't know where -- I don't know where I stand on him anymore.
SESAY: Well, what I will tell you is that he still has over 200,000 fans on Facebook, and he has legal defense funds. So if you've got any loose cash rolling around in your pockets, Anderson, you know where to send it.
COOPER: Yes. Well, I'm -- I'm sure as soon as the court case is over, he will do the rounds of television.
SESAY: Well, he was also in court with a publicist today. So you can be sure of that.
SESAY: And a made-for-TV movie is being considered.
SESAY: Will you watch, Anderson?
COOPER: If it doesn't involve any of the Salahis from the "Real Housewives of Washington," I will watch it.
SESAY: All right. The viewing party is at yours.
COOPER: All right.
All right. Still ahead, new details about the scandal involving a Texas lawmaker. We thought this story was kind of going away, but new details keep coming out. A House Democrat who steered scholarship money from a charity to her own relatives and a staffer's children. She said she had no idea there was possibly anything unethical about it. But there is new evidence suggests that she played a much more direct role than she's claimed on this very program.
Also ahead, Chicago mayor Richard Daley speaking out after 20 years in office. We'll tell you.
COOPER: So a pretty stunning update to our story on Dallas Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. You'll recall she's admitted to steering scholarship money from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which is a charity, to her grandchildren, two great-nephews, and two children of a top staffer.
And new reporting tonight casts some doubt on her claim that she was hands off about the process. Now before we get to it, I want to play you her exact words. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D), TEXAS (via phone): I was not aware of the rules. The rules have been very ambiguous. There were some rules that come out last year.
But, you know, I have acknowledged I made a mistake. I've tried to make everything whole. I have paid all the money out of my personal funds. And I'm ready to move on. There are too many things that I need to keep working on in my district, which I do every day.
COOPER: But acknowledging mistake is different from actually looking back at how that -- that mistake was made with the idea of trying to correct it so it doesn't happen again. You say...
JOHNSON: Well, I hope it doesn't. It won't happen again with me and, clearly, you know, I've never promised to be perfect. I'd love to be, but I'm not.
COOPER: Well, you say the rules -- you say the rules...
JOHNSON: When I feel that I made a mistake I try to correct it.
COOPER: You say the rules were ambiguous prior to last year and that you didn't know what the rules were.
We found the 2008 scholarship application and, on it, it says, quote, "Employees and/or relatives of CBC members, CBC spouses, the CBC Foundation, the board of directors, are ineligible for the scholarship program."
We also went back and found the 2006 guidelines from four years ago, and it says the exact same thing. Employees and/or relatives of CBC members, CBC spouses, CBC Foundation, the board of directors are ineligible for the scholarship program. That seems not ambiguous. JOHNSON: I didn't even realize they were in print, as I indicated. I have no reason not to tell the truth. I did not know they were in print. When it has been brought to my attention, it has been corrected. I returned the money out of my personal money, and I'm ready to move on.
COOPER: But you say you didn't know it was in print, but clearly members of your staff knew that those were printed in the rules, because when your grandsons and grandnephews and the members -- the family members of your staff who got this money for several years in a row, every time they sent in an application, they had to promise that they weren't a relative of you or anyone connected with the CBC. So, people on your staff...
JOHNSON: Well, I admit -- I admit that I made a mistake. I did not realize that.
COOPER: No, no, no, but the point is that people on your staff knew the rules. So, are you -- have you looked into who on your staff knew the rules?
JOHNSON: Anderson, I've acknowledged that I was negligent. I've acknowledged that I made a mistake. When it was called to my attention, I tried to correct it.
COOPER: She also went to on to say that she didn't dwell, you know, thinking about how to get $1,000 to her grandsons. That was her claim then.
So, that was Congresswoman Johnson on 360 last week, downplaying her knowledge of the rules and her involvement in the application process. Right?
Today, her Republican opponent -- she's running for her 10th term in Congress -- her Republican opponent released a pair of letters. And they appear, if they're legitimate, they appear to be on the congresswoman's letterhead. They're signed by the congresswoman, written to the scholarship people.
"Mrs. Meek," one of the letters writes -- reads, "please accept the enclosed scholarship checks for Preston and Gregory Moore," her great-nephews. The letter goes on to ask, "If possible, I would like their checks to be made out to them instead of the university. Thank you, in advance, for your cooperation, Eddie Bernice Johnson."
So it certainly seems a lot more hands-on than what the congresswoman implied when we spoke, that she didn't dwell on ways to get the money to her grandkids. This letter seems to indicate she did.
There's a letter, as well, written on behalf of her two grandsons. Again, these were released by her Republican challenger. We haven't been able to independently verify that they are real, nor has "The Dallas Morning News," which broke this story. But the congresswoman's office simply has not said one way or the other.
There's a time stamp on it from the fax machine in the congresswoman's office. We got no comment from their office, no reply. I talked about it earlier tonight with Todd Gillman, Washington bureau chief of "The Dallas Morning News," who broke this story and Melanie Sloane, who's executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
COOPER: So Todd, assuming these letters are legitimate and, at this point, you'd think if they weren't legitimate, that their office would quickly have said, "Well, look, these aren't real." They haven't responded either way. Assuming these letters are legitimate, what do they tell us?
TODD GILLMAN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Well, they tell us that the congresswoman was very involved in arranging these scholarships. They tell us that the congresswoman wanted, for some reason, to have the scholarship funds paid directly to her grandsons and her great-nephews rather than to their universities. And, given how many times in the past week or so she has said that she was pretty hands off, it was up to her chief of staff to deal with these scholarships, this says that she was pretty hands on.
COOPER: Yes. If memory serves me, in the first interview she did with you, she said, "Well, I just recognized their names on a list." And then she actually said that she did not directly get involved, right?
GILLMAN: Right. She certainly was trying to leave the impression, or she did leave the impression that it was a sort of passive role that she had, that the applications came in, she didn't encourage these relatives of hers and her aide to apply. They just filtered up through the process. She saw the names on a list and that was it.
If she was directly involved in asking the foundation to disperse the funds in a particular way, that is a much more hands-on role.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, she specifically said to me, "I have not dwelled on trying to figure out a way to give my grandchildren $1,000 a year. I have not done that."
Maybe technically, she didn't dwell on it. But if she wrote a letter, you know -- maybe it was a quick letter, she didn't need to dwell on the letter. That doesn't seem to be accurate, what she has said.
GILLMAN: Members of Congress write or at least sign hundreds, if not thousands of letters every year. It is certainly possible that someone just put this in front of her and asked her to sign it, and it was just, you know, paperwork to shuffle along.
But with relatives involved, I think a lot of our readers, at least, are having a hard time believing that.
COOPER: Melanie, is it OK for -- for her to write a letter and ask that the money from this foundation, from this charity not go to the school, which I think is what it's supposed to, but to go directly to her grandkids?
MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: No, it's clearly not OK. And I don't believe for a second she didn't know. She obviously directed staff to prepare the letter to the foundation to say that the money should go directly to her grandchildren. For her to fain a lack of knowledge at this point is hard to fathom.
COOPER: And Melanie, you say that the House Ethics Committee probably just wants this thing to go away. Why?
SLOAN: Well, the House Ethics Committee has a lot of problems right now. We're going to be seeing trials of two members of the CBC this fall, Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel.
COOPER: So you're saying there's a racial angle, that they don't want to be seen as going after -- you know, raising ethical questions about a third member of the Congressional Black Caucus?
SLOAN: Yes, especially because the CBC has been raising issues about the ethics committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics Committee, suggesting that CBC members are being targeted.
COOPER: Do you think -- do you think it should go away, Melanie?
SLOAN: No, I don't. I think ethics is an issue of right and wrong, not black and white.
COOPER: Todd, the ethics committee, you know, might want it to go away. Do you think it will? Or do you think this -- I mean, it does seem like this story continues. You know, when we started doing this, when you broke it, and we started following up, we didn't expect it would continue on and on.
And I mean, the congresswoman keeps saying, you know, "I'm moving on," but the evidence keeps bubbling up.
GILLMAN: Well, we -- we did not manage to uncover all of the facts at the outset. And so, in a way, that's just an inevitable part of the reporting process, that more facts will come out as people see that we're writing about it and others are talking about it, such as yourself. More people come forward with information. We've certainly asked for that and we hope for that.
COOPER: Is her...
COOPER: She's running for re-election, a tenth term.
GILLMAN: Right. It is an extremely safe Democratic district historically. When she was in the state senate before she ran and won this seat in 1992, she basically crafted this district to her own specifications. It's a very, very safe seat.
But her challenger has been bludgeoning her for now several days about this. There are many, many voters in the district who are very upset about it. So, it could have a backlash.
But on the other hand, she's an entrenched incumbent with a major financial advantage in a district that is heavily Democratic.
COOPER: Melanie, you're a former prosecutor. Is there a potential criminal angle here?
SLOAN: Yes, there are several potential crimes. There are crimes involving fraud and conversion. And there's conspiracy to commit fraud and conversion.
COOPER: Conversion is -- is what?
SLOAN: Conversion is where you take property that was intended to be one thing and use it for another. So if money was supposed to go directly to the scholarships and instead it went into these kids' pockets, that could be conversion.
So it's clearly a potential crime. It seems very unlikely to me that the Department of Justice would take this on. The money, the dollar amount just isn't high enough. But Texas state authorities certainly could look into this.
COOPER: Yes, Todd, do we know total -- do you know total how much in charity money went to her relatives and the relatives of her staff member?
GILLMAN: We have reported $31,000 spread over 23 scholarships to these six students, four who are related to her and two who were related to her top aide in Dallas.
COOPER: None of whom lived in the district, as they were supposed to under the rules, or went to school in the district?
COOPER: It's a fascinating story. We continue to follow it. Melanie Sloan, Todd Gillman, as always, reporting for "The Dallas Morning News," thanks.
COOPER: Still ahead, more "Raw Politics." After more than two decades, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley making a big announcement. We'll tell you what he said today.
And also tonight, the man who killed John Lennon up for parole again. A decision coming up.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: All righty. Isha Sesay joins us again with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.
SESAY: Thanks, Anderson.
A gunman posing as an Iraqi army officer opened fire at a military compound in northern Iraq, killing two U.S. soldiers and wounding nine others. There are the first American deaths in Iraq since the end of the U.S. combat mission last week.
Parole is denied for John Lennon's killer. A board rejected Mark Chapman's application for the sixth time. Chapman shot and killed the former Beatle 30 years ago this December.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley says he's not seeking another term, that Daley says it's time for him to move on. He's been mayor since 1989.
Computer maker Hewlett Packard has filed a lawsuit against its former CEO Mark Hurd, in an attempt to stop him from working as a president at the software company Oracle. H.P. claims Hurd has put its most valuable trade secrets in peril.
And Anderson, a North Carolina restaurant says screaming children are no longer welcome.
SESAY: The Olde Soldier restaurant on Carolina Beach put up signs warning parents. The owner actually is saying it has brought in more customers than kept them away. But some parents, Anderson, are absolutely outraged.
SESAY: Well, we should tell you how this works. Basically, a restaurant employee will go up to said screaming child and said parent, having the meltdown and the embarrassment and they will say, "Take it outside."
SESAY: If they calm down, they will be allowed back in. But how long before a parent punches a restaurant employee?
COOPER: Right. Exactly. Yes. I'm always worried about restaurants that are called "Olde," you know, "O-L-D-E."
SESAY: "Olde" and "Salty."
COOPER: Ye Olde -- yes. Olde Salty. Olde Salty Dog.
SESAY: It's the "Salty" I'm more worried about. The "Olde" I can live with. But "Salty," I'll pass.
COOPER: All right, Isha, have a good night. Thanks very much. A lot more at the top of the hour. We're going to talk to the pastor who plans to burn Korans on 9/11 even though America's top commander in Afghanistan is warning it could jeopardize American -- American soldiers, airmen and Marines. We'll talk to him ahead.