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Blagojevich Trial; Mosque Showdown

Aired August 17, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone.

We begin tonight with breaking news from Chicago; another big setback in a public corruption trial. The former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, was convicted of only one relatively minor charge while the jury in his case failed to reach a verdict on much more serious corruption charges.

That federal jury in Chicago convicted Blagojevich of making a false statement to federal investigators. But there was a hung jury on 23 other counts, that after 14 days of deliberation. The former two-term Democratic governor was removed from office in January of 2009 amid accusations that included an alleged attempt to sell the U.S. Senate seat that had been occupied by President-elect then Barack Obama. Here's what Blagojevich had to say just moments ago.


ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: (INAUDIBLE) the people of Illinois that from the very beginning when this all happened I told them that I did not let them down, I didn't break any laws, I didn't do anything wrong. The government, the federal government and this particular prosecutor did everything he could to target me and prosecute me, persecute me, put pressure on my family, try to take our home, take me away from our kids, arrest me and the early morning hours on December 9th with Patti (ph) and me in our bedroom and our little Annie in bed with us, a sitting governor and that very prosecutor said that he was stopping a crime spree before it happened.

Well, this jury just showed you notwithstanding the fact this government and the power and the resources that they bring to bear, this jury just showed you that notwithstanding the fact that the government threw everything but the kitchen sink at me, that on every count except for one, on every charge except for one they could not prove that I did anything wrong that I did break any laws except for one nebulous charge from five years ago --


KING: The former governor did not take questions after delivering that statement, so what does all of this mean? I'm joined in New York by CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and in Chicago Andy Shaw. He's the executive director of the Better Government Association. He was in the courtroom this afternoon and prior to his current position he was a political reporter in Chicago for many years. Jeff Toobin to you first; this is an obvious setback for the federal government. My question going forward the prosecutor, Pat Fitzgerald (ph) said he plans to have a retrial. When you have a setback like this, do you have to change your strategy and I ask in the context of, as you well know, potential witnesses for this first trial included the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, top presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett. The government decided not to call them. Do they have to rethink that now that they've lost and they need to go to round two?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: In a word yes, you have to do something differently. When the United States government goes after someone with charges of this magnitude, charges like we went after John Gotti, racketeering, racketeering, conspiracy, extortion, those kind of crimes and you fail to get a conviction except on a single charge of making a false statement, which is what Martha Stewart was convicted of, you have to rethink your strategy.

Now, that doesn't mean you will fail a second time. In fact, the government usually does well in retrials. But make no mistake about it; this was a failed prosecution this time. Rod Blagojevich won this trial. He may not win the next one, but let's be fair. Blagojevich won this one.

KING: Andy Shaw, as a political reporter and now as the head of a good government organization, you know Rod Blagojevich. You know how this has just completely captivated Illinois politics and to a degree national conversations, as well. What next for Rod Blagojevich? He left the courtroom as a convicted felon but you heard him. He sounded quite defiant.

ANDY SHAW, EXEC. DIR., BETTER GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION: Well, John, they began the second trial the minute they left the first one. Both Rod Blagojevich and his lead defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. (ph) began playing to the prospective jurors in trial number two by going into a Jeremiah diatribe about how a federal government is harassing and persecuting a family alleging a crime spree that couldn't be proven and more importantly using all of these resources at a time when drugs and gangs run rampant on the streets of Chicago, several police officers have been killed this summer.

They were playing right to the hearts and minds of prospective jurors by saying this is a federal government that has its priorities all wrong. Now, that worked the first time around and it may be persuasive the second time, but a lot of the trial strategy does figure to change on both sides.

KING: And, Andy, let me stick with you for a minute since you were in the courtroom. Pat Fitzgerald (ph) has said he will retry but has he been beyond that? Has he said he will retry on every count and do we know how divided the jury was -- hung jury on 23 counts. Do we know was it 11-1 yes with one vote no or do we have any idea yet?

SHAW: John, that's the mystery. The jury left today without talking to reporters. I think they were very tired at the end of the day. They may relent in the next couple of days and choose a couple spokespeople but we leave today not knowing whether it was 11-1 to convict, 11-1 to acquit, 6-6, 8-4. That is a very important thing because the way the jury came down on the counts has a lot to do with the persuasiveness of each side's case.

And let me point out one thing that I have to add as someone who now runs a better government group even though I spent all those years as a political reporter, this trial defense was paid for with Rod Blagojevich's campaign fund, about $3 million. He is now broke. Their family is $200,000 in debt. Trial number two and any subsequent appeals are going to be paid for by Illinois --


SHAW: -- several million tax dollars for a state that is one of the most broke in the nation and whether or not justice is served with the mistrial and the second trial, I can't imagine a single Illinois resident is going to be happy about three or four or $5 million from their tax coffers going to this defense but what choice do they have? He's entitled to a defense. The court will order it to be paid by taxpayers.

KING: That's a fascinating point, Andy, and Jeff Toobin, back to you. Once more the question that comes up when the government loses a case like this, was it overreach? In going for two dozen counts did the prosecutor perhaps overreach, leave the jury confused? Might it have been and put yourself in the prosecutor's shoes, smarter and we both have been in the courtroom in cases like this, to maybe pick your six or seven best counts and swallow your pride, give some up and focus on what you think is your best case?

TOOBIN: Here's the paradox of this prosecution. The reason Pat Fitzgerald (ph) arrested the governor when he did is that he thought that Blagojevich was in the process of selling Barack Obama's Senate seat and was going to swear someone in to that seat. So he felt he had to move quickly.

He to bring this case down before the crime was completed. The problem with the prosecution is that none of the crimes were completed. Now, in the law books, it is a crime to say you're going to sell a government service to a campaign contributor. It's a crime to talk about selling government contracts, selling a permit for a hospital, some of the cases -- the issues in this case, but jurors like to see a completed crime.

Jurors like to see, you know, an actual act of bribery take place and this case was mostly about talk and the defense was it was only talk. And at least the jurors -- enough jurors bought that defense to stop a conviction on the vast, vast majority of counts.

KING: Fascinating points by both Jeff Toobin and Andy Shaw. Gentlemen thanks so much. If anything --

SHAW: Can I add one more thing?

KING: Sure Andy. Jump in quick. SHAW: I just wanted to say that there was obviously a disconnect between those of us who have paid close attention to these trials and actually thought that the government did a pretty good job of meeting its burden and regular jurors who are average folks who found this extraordinarily complicated even though they were instructed to find him guilty if he intended to do the crimes even without succeeding, they apparently weren't persuaded, but that was made clear, intent was enough and it seemed to be there all along to the prosecution's case, but obviously a number of those jurors disagreed and that's why they're hung on 23 counts.

KING: Great insights on the legal points from Andy Shaw in Chicago and Jeff Toobin in New York. Now let's talk about the politics of this. A great political panel with us tonight, we asked them to come in tonight for another reason and we'll get to that in just a minute, the big mosque controversy in the United States.

But let's talk this over, the Blagojevich verdict tonight. In the green room watching Michael Gerson, a former top adviser to George W. Bush, Mark Penn, a veteran Democratic pollster who advised both Bill and Hillary Clinton, Grover Norquist (ph), the president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform and I believe James Carville is with us, our Democratic contributor from New Orleans.

James, let me start with you. As you watch this play out, your friend Rahm Emanuel was a potential witness in trial one. He was not. As you watched this unfold today what goes through your mind as you think ahead?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, almost like everybody else waiting on a verdict and, look, the guy faces some prison time here. This is -- it's actually a felony as I understand it. I'm like anybody else. I'm curious to see if, you know what the vote of the jury was, if the majority wanted to acquit or convict or anything like that.

Politically Rod Blagojevich has no political future. That I'm certain of as anything else, but, you know, beyond that I guess I'm like anybody else. I'm kind of fascinated, but these juries apparently just work hard and they go for these charges and plow away at it, so you know hats off to them. I think they gave it their best shot.

KING: And gentlemen, James makes an interesting point about this case. Number one: This was a big state governor. Illinois is no small state. Any governor is a big official in the country. And he was charged with an array of reprehensible if true public corruption charges. On the other hand he is also this incredibly colorful character, reality TV star. Went on "The Apprentice" I believe it was after all this happened. Where now with this saga?

GROVER NORQUIST, PRES., AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: This follows on the heels of the Rangel corruption charges, the ethics charges, Maxine Waters, now Blagojevich and that will continue for perhaps two more years. It's a challenge for Democrats going into November which is two and a half months away to be talking about Democrat corruption and then it may show up again when Obama is running for re-election and perhaps they're subpoenaing all of his top aides to talk about this.

KING: Does that have a valid point or do you think that's a political stretch? I see you laughing --

MARK PENN, CEO, BURSON-MARSTELLER: I think that's a stretch. Well I think James is probably most familiar with these kinds of trials in Louisiana because they're pretty -- they've been going on for a long time but I think that the reality is I don't think this has a political impact here in the middle of the season. If anything, I think, again, the public mood here is anti-government and we just don't know if these jurors, whether the count was 1-11, that there was one holdout or there was a series (INAUDIBLE), whether or not this is another sign of the public mood here that they're not just going to go along with what the government says.

MICHAEL GERSON, FORMER POLICY ADVISER, PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well I was just impressed tonight how good a politician the governor is for all his problems, he played to the audience. He was quite good at it and if this reality television show goes for another season, it can't be good for Democrats in Illinois, it's an important state or for the president in his home state, so I think it has some effect.

KING: We're going to ask everybody to stand by. When we come back the reason we brought these great minds in. New York governor says he will meet with the developers to discuss moving that controversial mosque and Islamic culture center near ground zero. This political debate is not just in New York. It is spreading across the country including controversy about the president's involvement. Stay with us.


KING: Also driving our politics tonight is a culture clash turned political showdown. Should there be a mosque just steps from where the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11? What about a mosque near a Baptist Church in a quiet conservative community in southwest California? There 2,400 miles from ground zero, a similar debate is intensifying. Tonight we bring together face-to-face for the first time the Muslim imam who wants to build a new mosque and a Baptist pastor who says Islam is a threat to America.


REV. WILLIAM RENCH, CALVARY BAPTIST CHURCH: There are a number of prominent American Islamic leaders who have said that that is the ultimate objective of Islam to impose Sharia (ph) law in the United States. We who have a different background and a different view are going to resist that and we are not going to wave the white flag as easily as France and some other countries seem to have.


KING: Also tonight New York's governor says he plans to meet with the developers of the proposed Islamic center near ground zero to suggest perhaps it's time to find a new location. These debates are playing out as we approach the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks and they play out 11 weeks now until a midterm election campaign in which the president's position on the ground zero project is a new flash point.

It is emotional and sensitive stuff. Let's get back to our political panel. Michael Gerson, I want to start with you because you worked for George W. Bush in those days after 9/11. It is striking to me that as we approach the ninth anniversary, "A," that the country is still so divided about this to the point New York's governor wants to meet with the developer saying I support you but maybe it's time to go somewhere else, yet the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of this project, had this to say today.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: That is one of the fundamental things that differentiates America from every place else. It is not the government's business to get involved in religion and religious organizations where they are or what they say or how they're funded.


KING: Where do we go?

GERSON: Well, you know, I've been pretty favorable to what the president did at least initially. And the reality here is from the oval office you're not weighing in just because you have opinions on these debates. There are millions of Muslim citizens. There are Muslims in the military. There are Muslim allies fighting with us in Afghanistan and Iraq right now.

You can't tell those people that the -- that their sacred building is somehow -- desecrates a holy American site. It's really not possible. But, you know, a voluntary solution, brokered by the governor might defuse this and would probably be very helpful from the president's perspective because when he weighed in, he mixed his own message and got very little credit for courage while embarrassing or actually enraging much of his opponents.

KING: Well, let's talk about that point and, James, I see you itching to join the conversation. The president said on Friday night at an Iftar (ph) dinner celebrating Ramadan that this project should go forward, seemed pretty emphatic, pretty clear in his language. The next day he seemed to step back saying I'm not commenting on the wisdom of any one specific project, so obviously that has escalated the political debate to the point where from the right here's a governor who might like to have the president's job.

CARVILLE: You know, look --

KING: Hang on one second. I want you to listen to Tim Pawlenty --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: For example, of him playing the role of law professor, as you've noted and others have noted. This isn't about the technical, hyper technical legal issues. This is about basic decency, judgment, respect and appropriate recognition of the tragedy and the crisis that was 9/11.


KING: And, James, not just from the right, perhaps you could say that's expected. Tim Pawlenty would like to maybe be the next president of the United States, but in the late night television from a comic who eight times out of 10 is on the president's side -- this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Usually when Obama says, though, let me be clear, he's about to get into some very unclear (EXPLETIVE DELETED). That's usually when he says -- usually he says but let me be clear, there's no way I would not un-support the kind of project this isn't. But, you know -- it kind of reminds me actually of his campaign slogan, yes, we can, but should we?



KING: This can't help the president, James.

CARVILLE: No, and the political battle is lost because everybody has got everything entirely wrong about this and, look, it's going to cause us damage. Some people want to go to war with Islam. I think that's really dumb and by the way to the good reverend, I just got back from France. They had anything but Sharia (ph) law over there.

They don't have Sharia (ph) law. I can promise you that. And you know there is a strong strain of Christianity that wants Christian domination and not very -- not anything close to a majority but there are people that feel that way. I'm a Christian and I certainly would want be able to -- a Catholic -- open a Catholic church (INAUDIBLE). You know, I like what the president said the first time around more than the second.

And, you know, it's not -- it's across the street from OTB (ph) betting parlor. Then you can take the trifecta at Bay Meadows (ph), but they can't have a culinary school or a prayer room for (INAUDIBLE) that was -- what the FBI (INAUDIBLE) fight terrorism. I think this thing has gotten away from us but yes, the politics of it are awful. There's no doubt about it, but I think it's a tragedy for the country.

KING: James says it's gotten away from us. My question is I guess how do we get it back or how do we have a civil conversation? And to that point, Grover and Mark, before you come in, I spoke earlier today to Pastor Bill Rench (ph). He's pastor of Calvary Baptist Church out in southwest California near San Diego and I also approached the Imam Mahmoud Harmoush (ph). Harmoush (ph) wants to build a mosque right next to Rench's Baptist church. They bought the land sometime ago. They're going through the approval process. We'll play the interview we had of these two gentlemen in just a minute. But after the interview they've been fighting over this for several years.

It's the first time they had met face-to-face because they came together for our interview. Watch what happened -- this exchange after.


RENCH: -- certainly be friends and so forth, but you know we're not going to agree on fundamental issues --



RENCH: I don't believe the Koran (ph) is the word of God. I don't believe Allah is God.

MAHMOUD HARMOUSH, IMAM, ISLAMIC CENTER OF TEMECULA VALLEY: Well those are issues that maybe we disagree, that's fine but --

RENCH: That's pretty fundamental.

HARMOUSH: Who do you think we worship?

RENCH: You worship Allah and I worship the God of the Bible. We worship two different Gods.

HARMOUSH: I believe the God of the Bible who revealed (INAUDIBLE) to Jesus the son of man --

RENCH: I know you believe that.


KING: This conversation went on for nearly an hour. Grover, if they can't agree on the fundamentals that, yes, we have different tenants of our faith. But we are men of God. Why can't we have places of worship side-by-side? How do we get through these debates ever?

NORQUIST: Well part of getting through the debate is to agree that we don't have to agree. There are 300 million people in the country and people have, you know, different faiths. What's important and this is what the president spoke to and President Bush spoke to is that people should have freedom of religion. We passed a law, bipartisan law in the United States in 2000, which basically said local governments couldn't harass, bother, stop -- churches were the ones that were concerned at the time from being not allowed to build where they wanted to be.

It's not just about mosques. "The Forward" (ph), "The Jewish Weekly" just pointed out that when this country started up in Manhattan it was illegal to have a synagogue under the British and the Dutch, they wouldn't allow it. So New York has a history of telling people we don't like certain religions and you're not allowed to build something. We're past that since we have the Constitution and the First Amendment and pastors and imams and rabbis can agree to disagree on how and where they pray. What they can't disagree on is the right of everybody to pray where they want and how they want.

KING: And, Mark, you understand public opinion and the complexity of it as well as anyone. When you look at the polling and the American people say they don't want this project near ground zero, is it suspicion of Muslims, mistrust of Muslim, bigotry toward Muslims, a little bit of each, none of the above?

PENN: You know, I think public opinion is based on the sensitivity of 9/11 and the belief that they have around 9/11 and the victims of 9/11, that I think makes it a special case. I don't think -- I don't think that the public would support, well, we can't put a synagogue next to a Baptist church next to a mosque. I think that's not where the public is. I think there are two things.

One, I think the public's expressed this as a preference. I think, two, this issue got way elevated. Number three, the principles here are of co-existence of many different religions on a nonviolent basis and that's essentially where the public is. And they're looking for this to be resolved in a way that doesn't flare up the tensions. I mean, this was definitely going to be cable TV debate and here we are, you know, taking the bait.

KING: But it's not just cable TV debate. I want to get back to the two men of faith. We saw a snippet a minute ago and play a little bit more of it because what I always say is when you don't trust the politicians, a lot of people don't trust the politicians, so when the politicians are debating you look elsewhere in the community.

Who are the pillars in the community? What do you think about this and maybe you come down to a mayor. But if you are outside of politics completely maybe you would go to your pastor or your minister or your imam, but listen to these two gentlemen. They can't agree on anything.


HARMOUSH: (INAUDIBLE) the international issues and the issues of conflicts, to the issue of where we are and if you disagree with Islamic religion like any, say, person in the world --

RENCH: That's what we're doing, we're debating, and I'm trying to convert you to Jesus Christ. I'm trying to win you to Christ.

HARMOUSH: Well I am really not (INAUDIBLE) interested in changing you anywhere. Keep your faith and I keep my faith.

RENCH: No, I don't want you to keep your faith. I want you to come (INAUDIBLE) Christ and be saved.

HARMOUSH: No, well see this is a form of aggression then. You are detaining aggression to change my principles and my faith --

RENCH: Aggression means physical violence --

HARMOUSH: No, no, no, aggression --


HARMOUSH: Mental --

RENCH: I would try to convince you.

HARMOUSH: Mental and emotional and here you're coming to a faith matters --

RENCH: When people disagree that's --

HARMOUSH: -- for thousands of years.

RENCH: -- you know they're expressing that disagreement, but that's not aggression --


RENCH: I don't consider you aggressive --


HARMOUSH: I'm not telling you to change anything. I'm not telling you to do anything. I am just telling you let's be neighbors. You cannot always agree with your neighbors. What if your neighbors here happen to be Sikh (ph) or Hindus or (INAUDIBLE) Jews --


KING: Temecula, California, where this debate is playing out. Our panel is going to stay with us. When we come back we'll take you closer to show you just what's going on in that community and continue the conversation. President Bush spoke on this issue. President Obama spoke on this issue. We'll remind you what both have said and we'll try to talk it over with our panel.


KING: Back to our panel in just a moment, first though let's take a look at the map and get a sense of the scope of these debates. As you all know there is a big debate near ground zero in New York about an Islamic cultural center and a mosque; two others in the New York area in Brooklyn and Staten Island; one in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; one in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. And we just showed you two men of faith who are involved in the debate out in Temecula, California.

Where is Temecula, California? Well let's zoom in and see. This is the 49th Congressional District of California. It is red because it is a reliably solidly Republican district. Last three presidential elections it has voted convincingly for the Republican. Temecula is right here. What about this community?

Population just shy of 100,000 -- its per capita income slightly above the national average, it's a little younger than the national average. Not that many families -- only half the poverty rate there. Only 43 percent are involved in religious congregations. That's a little below the national average out in Temecula, California.

One other thing we wanted to look at here. What are the faiths in the community? Overwhelmingly the Catholic, about 66 percent of the population; the Mormon Church had to fight its way into the community. There was a big dispute over that many years about, but about five percent, 3.3 percent Southern Baptist. You see here Seventh Day Adventist, Assemblies of God about 20 percent. Twenty-two percent belong to other faiths in that community.

The fight now over whether to locate a mosque side-by-side with a Baptist church -- let's go back and continue our conversation. Mark Penn, you were making a point during the break about how the established religions get involved in these arguments and sometimes it's because --

PENN: Well it's exactly -- it's interesting to see two men of faith have an argument as though they had a monopoly on religion in America. The truth is a new religion is being created virtually every single day in America and the most established religions haven't really gotten new members in many years. There's actually an increase diversity of religion that's driving an increase in religion in this country.

KING: And as this debate about the mosques play out, people, of course, look to their own pastors or their imams and their rabbis. They also look to their presidents. And I want to remind people of something the president Friday night at a dinner at the White House, President Obama, yes, he endorsed this project but he also said other important words about Muslims and how the American people should look at them.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes --


OBAMA: That includes the right to build a place of worship in a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances.


KING: The president there stressing the importance of religious tolerance. Let's flash back in time. Here's George W. Bush just days after 9/11.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's now what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam, we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.


KING: Why, James Carville, to you first, again, nine years after 9/11, there's still appeared to be a great sense of mistrust, apprehension between non-Muslim Americans and those who practice Islam.

CARVILLE: Well, you know, some of it has to do with erroneous information. A lot of it, you know, came out of this and, look, there's a significant strain of people in this country that want to go to war with Islam, and I think that's about the dumbest thing that we could do, and we were not attacked by Islam. We were attacked by al Qaeda and all the difference in the world. So, I find this thing to be -- this whole thing to be very disheartening.

I have many, many Muslim friends and people I deal with professionally, and they're some of the hardest working and best people in this country and bring a lot of credit to our armed forces, to any number of different endeavors. I for one think they ought to be able to worship wherever they want to worship, and I find this whole thing to be -- and I think people just misunderstand or have been fed a lot of erroneous information here, and I think that the people on television have -- you know, we have a responsibility to try the best we can set the record straight.

KING: Well, exactly to that point, James just made, the responsibility we have. I have anchoring this program. You have standing here. There are legitimate questions any time a community wants to build a shopping mall or factory or a school or a place of worship. There are very legitimate questions about does it fit in, environmental question, what else is in the community questions, what's in and what's out, Michael?

GERSON: Well, I think there are two groups in opposition to the New York mosque. You really have those who are concerned about this mosque, its funding, the way that it's imam has talked in the past, other kind of specific issues and, you know, that's a broad variety of people. But then there are people making the argument that Islam itself is somehow fundamentally incompatible with American pluralism. That strikes me as playing with fire, as quite dangerous, basically, because I saw it from the White House side.

This is not just political correctness, this is national security in many ways. We can't win an international war on terror without the support of Muslim allies, and we can't alienate them in the process of debates like this.

KING: And, Grover, you have talked about some of those making this case or some of those who maybe supportive of this argument anyway. It perhaps being counterproductive back to the property rights questions and some hard-fought victories for the religious right and social conservatives who have had these struggles in the past.

NORQUIST: There are a lot of reasons to look with a jaundiced eye toward anti-religious bigotry. But for starters, how about those of us who believe in property rights, people who own property should be able to do what they want with it. Those of us who believe in the constitution. The whole tea party movement is about going back to the constitution. The first amendment was one of the important parts of the constitution.

We'll get through religious intolerance. We've done it before. Roman Catholics 100 years ago were at the wrong end of this fight when a presidential candidate Blaine ran against them. The Mormons live in Utah, not New York because religious bigotry and violence drove them west. The article I quoted from the foreword talks in the 1950s that synagogues built in suburbs were having similar problems with people announcing they didn't want them there.

We've been through this. It's not pleasant. We need to say to all faiths in the country that we treat them with respect, and we treat each other with respect, but mostly, respect the constitution.

KING: I appreciate the respectful conversation in here tonight, Grover, Michael and James, thanks for coming in. We'll bring you back, especially thanks for juggling with the breaking Blagojevich news that's in the top of the program.

When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on this issue. You will hear two competing voices Temecula, California, should there be a mosque there or as a Christian minister believes is Islam a threat to America?


KING: The proposed mosque and Islamic cultural center near ground zero in New York is not the only religion site drawing both criticism and support. Across the country in Temecula, California, an Islamic center is planning to build a mosque to replace the industrial building where Muslims currently gather to worship. The local opponents say the mosque would clash with the royal environment and could even become a safe haven for extremists.

Joining us to discuss, William Rench is the pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church which is near the proposed site of the mosque, and Mahmoud Harmoush is the imam of the Islamic center. He's also an instructor at Cal State San Bernardino's Poor Languages and Literature Department. Welcome to you both.

So, Pastor Rench, why then, what is your single biggest worry about having this mosque literally within the line of sight of your church behind you?

RENCH: Well, the primary concern that we originally had was the inappropriateness of the location right next to a church that's preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ which is in conflict with the message of Islam, but then secondarily, as we studied the issues more thoroughly, I've had the opportunity to read the Koran and read the Hadith and have read the -- after the websites and some of the Islamic websites and so on and I'm concerned that the fundamental beliefs of Islam are not as represented by Mahmoud as being generally peaceful and interfaith.

The fundamental views are that Islam must become the dominant religion in the world and that all other faiths must be subdued and subjected to it.

KING: Imam Harmoush, I want you to jump in on that point. Do you believe that Islam should be the dominant religion and that other faiths including if you get this site behind you built, your new neighbors at Calvary Baptist Church ultimately need to be subjected to Islam?

HARMOUSH: Well, this is really a lack of education on the part of my neighbor here, and I draw his attention to the fact that Islam was sometimes nondominant and yet there were Christians and Jews and other minorities (INAUDIBLE) Islamic states for centuries. And this is not what we are looking for here in our locality in our neighborhood.

We are just expanding, and really, we were happy, and we're still happy to have our neighbors as a church instead of maybe other shops or other businesses and what have you comparing to the reality which is people of the faith, of the Abraham (ph) faith, Christianity and Judaism, and Islam share a lot of grounds on all the principles from God even to raising our children into being good citizens and so forth.

So, I invite my friends here to do a little more research and study, and I would ask him if he ever visited even our Islamic center, so I really want him -- our neighbors to do a little more study on the true religion of Islam and instead of hearsay or stereotypes or all what's going on now in the media.

KING: Pastor, the imam had a lot to say there, but one of the things he said was have you ever visited their site on the other side of town where they have been worshiping in a warehouse for quite some time and whether the answer to that is yes or no, they have been doing that for quite some time in your community. Have you seen or heard any evidence of problems that you can directly tie to Muslims who are trying to pray in their community?

RENCH: No, I have not and that's my primary argument to begin with was just was not that I believe that there should not be any mosque built anywhere ever, but that this location is an inappropriate one for the proposed mosque here in Temecula, and I believe also that the location of the mosque in New York City is extremely inappropriate as a vast majority of Americans, I believe, share my opinion on that. And so, no, we have not seen this local group acting out in a radical fashion and so on, but we have had from our community people that have been radicalized.

KING: Imam, listening to the differences here, there's a question, you hear the strong objections of your neighbor. You disagree with him, but the question is and this is the same question that is being debated in New York City and elsewhere, if the disagreements are so profound and if the bridges cannot be bridged, if the divide cannot be bridged, why would you want to be next to this church where a conflict seems inevitable?

HARMOUSH: It's not really given assumption that the conflicts will be inevitable. We are neighbors and we are people of the same faith and principles. If our goal is to worship God and to serve the people, and I don't mind whether it's through Christian faith, Jewish faith or other faith, Islam is to do the same. If the land here and this location was good for the church to be established, why is not good for the mosque to be established? And give the best example of our pluralism and our religious tolerance.

KING: Imam, to you first, does it help to have the president involved and elevate this into a national conversation or does it hurt your cause locally?

HARMOUSH: Yes. I really don't think it will harm our cause here. It's really a point of education. I will take it here as an event to educate our public at large that Islamic religion is not some cult or strange faith that's coming from the east. It is an impartial part of our society here. We have a Judeo-Christian and Islamic tradition in this country for centuries from that time of discovery until who knows when, and this is just a matter of education to the people around us.

KING: And Pastor Rench, to you, you heard what the president said. Do you agree with the president and does it help or hurt your argument out there in Temecula.

RENCH: I strongly disagree with the president, and I do believe it has galvanized the opposition to the spread of Islam because of some of the things that the president said, and I disagree with what Mr. Harmoush just said concerning the heritage that we have as a nation. He called it Judeo-Christian and Islamic heritage and it is not that. Historically, it is Judeo Christian heritage; although, the freedom of religion has permitted Islam to operate and worship freely in this country for all of these years, and I support that position.

RENCH: But Mr. Harmoush apparently doesn't hold as strict a view of the Koran and the Hadith as the majority of the professing Islamic world holds because the Koran clearly teaches that it is necessary by jihad to bring Islam to dominate the world, and Sharia law is required by the Hadith and by the Koran. Sharia law is required, and there are a number of prominent American Islamic leaders who have said that that is the ultimate objective of Islam to impose Sharia law in United States.

We who have a different background and a different view are going to resist that, and we are not going to wave the white flag as easily as France and some other countries seem to have.

KING: Gentlemen, I'm clearly not going to bridge this result today, but I do want to thank both of you for your time and discussing what is the important issue in your community and certainly now across the country as well. I thank you both

HARMOUSH: Thank you, John.

RENCH: Thank you.

KING: When we return, a look at the top stories that will be making political headlines tomorrow.


KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns for the latest political news you need to know right now. Hey, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. A big legal victory for former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, found guilty on just one count in his corruption trial, lying to the FBI. The jury deadlocked on 23 other more serious charges. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said a retrial date will be set next Thursday.

Attorneys for Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio tell CNN just moments ago they will miss tonight's justice department deadline to hand over documents in a civil rights probe. The feds are investigating claims the self-proclaimed America's toughest sheriff discriminates against Hispanics.

Al Gore is turning up the heat on Congress. Gore is calling for major public protests over inaction on climate change legislation.

And Senator Patty Murray is expected to easily win tonight's primary in Washington to face off against Republican Dino Rossi in November. Polls show that it's a tight race and a big reason President Obama spent the day stumping for Murray.


OBAMA: You remember our slogan during the campaign, yes, we can. Their slogan is, no, we can't. No, we can't. Hmm. It's really inspiring.


JOHNS: So, Patty Murray is definitely not one of those Democrats running away from the president of the United States right now even though it's been a very tough week.

KING: It's been a tough week. The president is visiting five states in three days, most of it is to raise money for Democrats but also to give a boost to candidates like Senator Murray we just saw there. Frustration at the White House, because number one, the president's comments on the mosque controversy generated national headlines out of that.

Now, you have the Blagojevich verdict. But one point to make about this, we talked about this nationally, the president's message being drowned out. When he travels, he tends to get, Joe, and you know this from campaign days, gets good local coverage. JOHNS: Absolutely, and so funny, Seattle, the both of us, I can't count the times we ended up in Seattle, rainy days.

KING: Wouldn't be bad to be there right now. Always a good place to have a great meal, friendly people and good coffee. Joe Johns, thanks.

When we come back, Republicans say they have a plan to take back control of the House. We'll map it out.


KING: Now, let's go (ph) to some stories on my radar tonight. How do Republicans plan to take back control of the House this November? With a $22 million ad blitz. The National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting that cash towards 40 districts across the country including the long-term incumbents like House Budget Committee chairman, John Spratt, of South Carolina.

The NRCC is on the attack, 39 of 40 seats being targeted currently held by Democrats, and remember, Democrats currently have, coincidence here, a 39-seat advantage in the House.

Let's talk this over. Joining me, democratic strategist, Maria Cardona, host of Roll Call TV, Robert Traynham, national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. I'll try to speak English there. They're going after vulnerable incumbents and not just the ones we predicted who came in 2006 and 2008 but also some long-term incumbents.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are. They're targeting 40 races when they need to pick up 39. It's a little bit like applying to college without a safety school, but they're counting on the assumption that outside groups are going to bring in some money. Unlike -- the problem is the Democrats have a lot more money. They're spending double that, but they're defending seats. So, the Republicans are really much more on the offense.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, HOST, ROLL CALL TV: It's a head game. They smell a little bit of blood here, so what they're trying to do is to try to say, you know what, we don't have a lot of money right now. Everyone knows that, but we're still going to try to play on a major playing field. And the reason why again is because its a head game.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And it's clearly not surprising. They said from the very beginning that they're going to go after all of the vulnerable Democrats that got elected in 2006, that got elected in 2008, and now clearly, I think they're trying to focus, I don't know whether it will work on the quote "anti-incumbent mood" and going after some long term Democrats.

KING: And check this every week because the bar, the targets will change when the polling changes. We know that. Here's another one.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Philadelphia to endorse democratic U.S. Senate hopeful and current congressman, Joe Sestak, also sponsoring a fund raiser at his home for Republican Senate candidate, Mike Castle of Delaware, and he traveled here to the District of Columbia to endorse a fellow mayor, Adrian Fenty.

Bloomberg has thrown his support behind a number of candidates outside of New York, and his support for Republicans and Democrats probably should be a surprise, you know this guy. He's been a democrat, he's been a Republican, and now he is independent.

TRAYNHAM: He's also a maverick.


TRAYNHAM: Look, he's pretty much unpredictable and that's what mavericks do is a pretty much zig-zag all over the place. And that's one of the reasons why he is very much loved by New Yorkers is because he pretty much does what he wants to do, and he has the money to back him up, too.

CARDONA: And he's seen as very pragmatic, he's seen as a good politician, but in a way that people really understand because he's solution oriented. So, I think it's very smart for him to really focus on these candidates.

KING: And he says no, no, no, but there are still some people out there who think that he wants to run for president some day as an independent. Thanks for coming in, guys. Sorry we don't have much time tonight.

So, what to those who live and work near ground zero have to say about the proposed Islamic center. Stay with us.


KING: A lot of conversation tonight about whether a mosque should be in your community including the community near ground zero in New York. Our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick, spent some time there today. And Pete, do the people who live and work there, are they as involved in this debate as the national politicians?

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: Absolutely. The guys that are rebuilding, mostly guys rebuilding ground zero, they all got an opinion, the people that work on it. I commute through there. They all got an opinion, but I think, John King, the real important issue that's being lost in this whole controversy is what happened to the Burlington Coat Factory that was once at that building? Where have they gone?

KING: There's a Burlington Coat Factory near where I grew up in Boston, but maybe they're closing down. I don't know. We'll have to investigate that one.

DOMINICK: The building used to be occupied by the Burlington Coat Factory, John, that building number one, it's like three or four blocks away from where the World Trade Center was, but number two, it's a run down, ratty, old building that I guess went for pretty cheap because no one is a round there.

People walk past, but there's not a lot of commerce down there anymore since those buildings that had so many people working in and don't have them right now. That was an interesting thing.

KING: We'll have to watch how this plays out with the governor suggesting perhaps it's time to look for new location. They might be proposing something else for that building. Pete, thanks for your time tonight. We'll see you tomorrow out on the street. And that's all for us tonight. Please come back and see us again tomorrow. "RICK'S LIST" primetime starts right now.