updated 5/5/2008 10:33:56 AM ET 2008-05-05T14:33:56

Guests: Lee Cowan, Christina Brown, Andrea Mitchell, Meredith Vieira

DAN ABRAMS, HOST (voice-over):  It‘s an incendiary mix of politics and religion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST:  We nuke far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Words from a pastor that have rocked a presidential campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  Not God bless America - damn America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Words that forced Senator Barack Obama to respond with a major speech on race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The comments that have been made and issues that surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we‘ve never really worked through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  He distanced himself but defended his pastor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  In return, the pastor said, “Obama was just playing the game.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  If Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  A hurt and angry Obama, severed ties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But questions remain: Did Obama act soon enough and how deeply will this affect his race for the White House?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  If I‘d wanted to be politically expedient, I would have distanced myself and denounced him right away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This is an MSNBC Special Report: Senator Barack Obama and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

(on camera):  Hi, everyone, I‘m Dan Abrams.  And thanks for joining us.  As Barack Obama put it, it has been a rough couple of weeks.  After more than a year of campaigning, the Illinois senator faced his most challenging task.  And it came from his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

For the next hour, we take you through how it unfolded.  A week when Obama was put on the defensive and expressed anger at the words of a man he‘s known for 20 years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The person I saw yesterday, you know, was not the person that I met 20 years ago.  His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate.  And I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.  They certainly don‘t portray accurately my values and beliefs.  When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Obama‘s comments came after Reverend Wright went public.  Wright‘s words no longer just excerpted from Youtube, now, Reverend Wright had to know his words would have a direct impact on the Obama campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it to never come back on you.  Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles.

When Louis Farrakhan speaks, it‘s like E.F. Hutton speaks, all black America listens.  Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.  He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. 

That‘s what I think about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Those words left Obama with little choice.  Here‘s Lee Cowan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEE COWAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was a voter who first brought up Reverend Wright today at a town hall meeting in North Carolina and Barack Obama was ready to pounce.

OBAMA:  I‘m going to be having a big press conference afterwards to talk about this.

COWAN:  And when he finally appeared before the mikes, he unloaded on Reverend Wright like never before—describing his former pastor‘s remarks as rants not grounded in truth.  He called them destructive, outrageous and flat out appalling.

OBAMA:  At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that‘s enough.

COWAN:  It had gotten personal, and suddenly the pastor who only six weeks ago to the day Obama said he could no more disown than he could the black community, was now out the door.

OBAMA:  I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear, that obviously, whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this.  I don‘t think that he showed much concern for me.  I don‘t—more importantly, I don‘t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign.

COWAN:  His somber almost angry response was different though than yesterday when senator casually dismissed Wright‘s comments and blamed the media for making too much out of it.  But he explained today that he hadn‘t seen all of Wright‘s most controversial remarks.  But when he did, he said, it became clear Wright wasn‘t just defending himself.

OBAMA:  The insensitivity and the outrageousness of his statements and his performance in the question and answer period yesterday, I think shocked me and surprised me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  As the storm over Wright‘s comments grew, Obama and Michelle agreed to sit down for an exclusive interview with THE TODAY SHOW‘s Meredith Vieira.  She asked them whether he should have spoken out sooner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, THE TODAY SHOW)

OBAMA:  I think that the sequence of events was the right one because this is somebody who had married Michelle and I, who had baptized our children.  When those first snippets came out, I thought, it was important to give him the benefit of the doubt because if I had wanted to be politically expedient I would have distanced myself and denounced him right away, right?  That would have been the easy thing to do.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, “THE TODAY SHOW” CO-HOST:  But he was also truly damaging your campaign and there‘s an election coming up in a few days.

OBAMA:  Well, I think that damage had been done a while back.

MICHELLE OBAMA, SEN. OBAMA‘S WIFE:  We hear time and time again that voters are tired of this.  They don‘t want to hear about this division.  They want to know what are we going to do to move beyond these issues and what make me so proud of Barack in this situation is that he is trying to move us as a nation beyond these conversations that divide us so deeply.

VIEIRA:  Do you—Michelle, do you feel that the Reverend Wright betrayed your husband?

M. OBAMA:  You know, I think that Barack has spoken so clearly and eloquently about this.

VIEIRA:  But do you personally feel that the Reverend Wright betrayed your husband?

M. OBAMA:  I believe—you know what I think, Meredith.  We got to move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  As they tried to move forward, Senator Clinton remains silent about this round until she was asked about it in an interview Wednesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m going to leave it up to voters to decide, you know.

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX HOST:  No, but what do you think as an American? 

You‘re an American.

CLINTON:  Well, what I said when I was asked directly is that I would not have sit in that church.  I think it‘s offensive and outrageous and, you know, I‘m going to express my opinion, others can express theirs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  When we come back: The politician and the pastor.  How did the Democratic front-runner get tripped up by a man he‘s known and admired almost half his life?  We look back at how it all started and how Obama responded with one of the most important speeches of his career.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The anger is real.  It is powerful.  And to simply wish it away to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Barack Obama this week denounced his longtime pastor, Reverend Wright, but the tension between them had been building for more than a year.  Our special report, we‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  We bombed Hiroshima.  We bombed Nagasaki and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye.  We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant because of stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back to our special report.  That was Reverend Wright just five days after September 11th.  And it‘s clear the Obama long recognized that Wright could be a liability.

Early last year, Reverend Wright had been invited to deliver the invocation at the kickoff for Obama‘s campaign but some of these previous controversial remarks began to surface and Wright was removed from the event.  Then in March, fallout from Wright‘s controversial sermons circulating on the Internet costs Reverend Wright his place on Obama‘s campaign‘s religious advisory committee.  Here again, NBC‘s Lee Cowan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COWAN (voice-over):  At Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago‘s south side, Jeremiah Wright was power in the pulpit.

WRIGHT:  Oh, how I love Jesus.

COWAN:  The now retired pastor, married Barack and Michelle Obama

and baptized the Senator‘s two young daughters.  But Jeremiah Wright has

also been a potential source of embarrassment

WRIGHT:  No, no, no.  Not God bless America, (AUDIO BREAK) damn America.

COWAN:  Spouting inflammatory and at times appalling remarks, like this one.

WRIGHT:  Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and culture that is controlled by rich white people.  Hillary can never know that.  Hillary isn‘t never been called the (BEEP).

COWAN:  While the words may be old, the video has touched off a fresh firestorm that the senator had to address.

OBAMA:  The comments that have been played are ones that are contrary to what I believe, what I think of this country, the love that I have for this country, and, you know, are ones that anger and distress me.

COWAN:  Making the rounds on the cable talk shows Friday, the senator says he was not in church at the time many of the most incendiary remarks were made, but said, given the legitimate questions voters had about his relationship with Wright, he thought it best Wright leave the campaign as a religious adviser.

OBAMA:  That was important for him to step out of the spotlight in this situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Senator Obama knew he had to say something about Wright, something serious and thoughtful.  He used the opportunity to speak about race in America and his own personal experience.  The speech was applauded by most commentators, but the question remained, “Was it enough?”  Once more: NBC‘s Lee Cowan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COWAN (voice-over):  The symbolism was lost on no one in the “City of Brotherly Love,” Barack Obama gave the most expansive and most intensely personal speech on race he‘s ever given.

OBAMA:  I‘m a son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.  I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners.  I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents.  These people are part of me and they are part of America, this country that I love.

COWAN:  But also, a part of this country he said is a stubborn divide, a “racial stalemate,” he called it—that he says both whites and blacks have contributed to.

OBAMA:  The anger is real.  It is powerful.  And to simply wish it away to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

COWAN:  The speech was a political necessity for the Illinois senator.  It sprang from an outcry over inflammatory and some say, hateful words that his longtime pastor, Jeremiah Wright, had spoken from the pulpit.

OBAMA:  Did I know him to be an occasional fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy?  Of course.  Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church?  Yes.  Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? 

Absolutely.

COWAN:  That said though, he refused to drive a wedge between himself and his pastor.

OBAMA:  I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother—a woman who helped raised me, a woman who sacrificed again and again more me, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed her by on the street.  And who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

COWAN:  Honesty that struck his rival, Hillary Clinton.

CLINTON:  I‘m very glad that he gave it.  It‘s an important topic.  You know, issues of race and gender in America have been complicated throughout our history.  And they are complicated in this primary campaign.

COWAN:  Even her young supporters agree.

STEVE LUCAS, CLINTON SUPPORTER:  I give Senator Obama a lot of credit and respect for actually taking a leap of faith in the American people and saying some things that are difficult to talk about.

OBAMA:  And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care or education or the need to find good jobs for every American.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  That was NBC‘s Lee Cowan reporting.

Coming up: When this MSNBC Special Report: Barack Obama and Reverend Wright continues—more of that speech on race.  Obama‘s first major attempt to refrain the problems his longtime pastor has caused for his campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Reverend Wright‘s comments were not only wrong but divisive.  Divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at the time when we need to come together to solve the set of monumental problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back to this MSNBC Special Report: Senator Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright.

In mid-March Obama made a speech in Philadelphia on the broader topic of race in America.  But there is no question, he also knew he needed to further explain his relationship with Reverend Wright.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I chose to run for president at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together—unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories but we hold common hopes.  We may not look the same and may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction—towards the better future for our children and our grandchildren.  This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people.

But it also comes from my own story.  It‘s a story that hasn‘t made me the most conventional of candidates.  But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts—that out of many, we are truly one.

We‘ve heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide but views that denigrate both the greatness and goodness of our nation, that rightly offend white and black alike.  I have already condemned in unequivocal terms the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy and in some cases pain.

For some, nagging questions remain.  Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy?  Of course.  Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church?  Yes.  Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views?  Absolutely—just as I‘m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagree.

Given my background, my politics and my professed values and ideas, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough.  Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask?  Why not join another church?  And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television sets and YouTube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

But the truth is, that isn‘t all that I know of the man.  The man I met more than 20 years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another, to care for the sick and lift up the poor.  He‘s a man who served his country as a United States Marine, and who had studied and lectured at some of the finest universities seminaries in the country, and who, over 30 years, has led a church that serves the community by doing God‘s work here on earth.

And this helps explain perhaps my relationship with Reverend Wright.  As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me.  He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children.  Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything about courtesy and respect.  He contains within him the contradictions—the good and bad—of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

Now, some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable.  I can assure you it is not.  I suppose the politically safe thing to do would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork.

But race is an issue this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.  We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America, to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we‘ve never really worked through—a part of our union that we have not yet made perfect.  And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care or education or the need to find good jobs for every American.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, WASHINGTON POST:  Whether he wins this nomination or not, I think this will go down as really one of the most important speeches given in modern political history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  When this MSNBC Special Report returns, the pastor goes from the pulpit to the public.  We‘ll look at how Reverend Wright tried to defend himself and in the process caused more problems for Obama.  Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  This not an attack on Jeremiah Wright, it has nothing to do with Senator Obama, this is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINA BROWN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m Christina Brown.  Here‘s what‘s happening.  Meteorologist say more than two dozen tornadoes battered parts of six states in the nation‘s midsection.  At least seven people were killed in Arkansas.  There‘s heavy damage in the Kansas City area.  Tornadoes are also reported in Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi.

And President Bush formally asked Congress for another $70 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan into next spring.  Now back to our special report.

ABRAMS:  Welcome back to our MSNBC Special Report: Barack Obama and Reverend Wright.  I‘m Dan Abrams.

Many Americans only knew Reverend Wright from pieces of past sermons, but those are old sermons.  And so the question was: Would he distance himself from those comments?  Would he try to tamp (ph) it to help Obama?  In a word, no.

But his first interview with Bill Moyers on PBS was far milder than some of the comments he would make later. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MOYERS, HOST, “BILL MOYERS JOURNAL”:  Did you ever imagine that you would come to personify the black anger that so many whites fear?

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, BARACK OBAMA‘S FORMER PASTOR:  No.  I did not.  I have been preaching as I‘ve been preaching since I was ordained 41 years ago.  I pointed out to some of the persons in Chicago who find all of this, new to them that the stance I took in standing against apartheid along with our denomination back in the ‘70s and putting a “Free South Africa” sign in front of the church put me at odds with the government. 

The blow up and the blowing up of sermons preached ten, fifteen, seven, six years ago and now becoming a media event, again, not the full sermon, but just snippets from the sermon and sound bites having made me the target of hatred.  Yes, that is something very new and something very, very unsettling. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But if Rev. Wright was at his most academic with Bill Moyers, it was a different story when he spoke in front of the NAACP in Detroit. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

WRIGHT:  John Kennedy could stand at the inauguration in January and say, “Ask not what your country can do for you, it‘s rather what you can do for your country.”  How do you spell is?  Nobody ever said to John Kennedy that‘s not English “is.”  Only to a black child would they say you speak bad English. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But it did not end there.  The next day at the National Press Club causing more political problems for Obama.  Here‘s NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  With supporters packing the audience, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright went to the National Press Club, what he considers the “belly of the beast,” to accuse his critics of trying to undermine the black church.

WRIGHT:  This most recent attack on the black church, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright.  It is an attack on the black church.

MITCHELL:  In North Carolina today, Barack Obama immediately distanced himself again from his former pastor.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He does not speak for me.  He does not speak for the campaign.  And so, you know, he may make statements in the future that don‘t reflect my values or concerns.

MITCHELL:  But Wright was defiant and hard to avoid, appearing on PBS and in three cities over the last four days, insisting that when he said after 9/11 that America‘s chickens were coming home to roost, he was quoting a former American ambassador.

WRIGHT:  You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you.  Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.

MITCHELL:  Wright‘s reemergence comes just as Obama is trying to connect with white working class voters - Sunday in Indiana, today in North Carolina.

OBAMA:  And they‘ve been trying to say, well, you know, we don‘t know him that well.  We don‘t know what he believes, we don‘t know about his values, despite the fact I wrote two books.

MITCHELL:  Now competing with his message, his former pastor who also said he is working on a book.

WRIGHT:  When Louis Farrakhan speaks, it‘s like E.F.  Hutton speaks.  All black America listens.  Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.

MITCHELL:  Hillary Clinton wouldn‘t comment on Wright today, but after saying he wouldn‘t dwell on the subject, John McCain talked about it again.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  But I also understand why millions of Americans may, as Sen. Obama said yesterday, view this as a political issue.  That‘s what Sen. Obama said.  I take Sen. Obama at his word that he doesn‘t share those views.

MITCHELL:  Obama supporters described the whole thing as a media circus.

FMR. SEN. BILL BRADLEY (D-NJ):  Obviously, Barack Obama has no control whatsoever over Rev. Wright.  So the legitimate question should be asking is, why did Rev. Wright do this at this time?

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think he‘s just decided that he‘s got to do what he‘s got to do, just as Sen. Obama has to do what he has to do.  And, unfortunately, the victim in all of this is going to be Sen. Obama‘s campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS: Many observers noted not just the content of Wright‘s comments at the National Press Club but also his tone and even his gestures.  It was a show. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WRIGHT:  As I said to Barack Obama, my member - I‘m a pastor; he‘s a member.  I‘m not a “spiritual mentor” - hoodoo.  I‘m his pastor.  And I said to Barack Obama last year, “If you get elected, November the 5th I‘m coming after you, because you‘ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.”

We have troops stationed all over the world like Rome had troops stationed all over the world because we run the world.  That notion of imperialism is not the message of the Gospel of the Prince of Peace nor of God who loves the world.  This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright, once again.  Let me say it again.  This is an attack on the black church. 

And I cannot, as a minister of the Gospel, allow the significant part of our history, most African-Americans and most European-Americans, most Hispanic-Americans have the names I called in my presentation I‘ve never heard of because they don‘t know anything at all about our tradition.  

DONNA LEINWAND, REPORTER, “USA TODAY”:  Some critics have said that your sermons are unpatriotic.  How do you feel about America and about being an American?

(LAUGHTER)

WRIGHT:  I feel that those citizens who say that have never heard my sermons, nor do they know me.  They are unfair accusations taken from sound bites, and that which is looped over and over again on certain channels.  I served six years in the military.  Does that make me patriotic?  How many years did Cheney serve?

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  He is the thorn in the side of the Obama campaign and Rev.  Jeremiah Wright has no intention - you saw it there - from removing himself from the debate.  

REV. EUGENE RIVERS, AZUSA CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CHURCH:  Unfortunately, Rev.

Wright was overtaken by his own need for attention.  The sad spectacle and

that‘s what it was, right - was simply, you know, an extended ego trip that had no practical, political, policy or programmatic utility.  That was pointless rhetoric which was ultimately narcissistic and based on him tripping.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Whatever Wright‘s motivation, Obama would have to respond quickly and forcefully.  That‘s coming up on our MSNBC Special Report: Barack Obama and Rev. Wright. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up Barack Obama‘s former pastor goes public, and Obama denounces Rev. Wright, when our MSNBC special report continues.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  After Rev. Wright went public, restating some of his outrageous and incendiary remarks, the Obama camp was placed on the defensive.  It became clear the Illinois senator would have to take strong steps to put this controversy behind him.  Here‘s NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OBAMA:  I‘m going to win.  

MITCHELL:  Only hours after denouncing his former pastor, Obama again suggested the controversy was part of an orchestrated attack against him by his political opponents.

OBAMA:  They‘re talking about - who is he and do we know his values and he‘s not wearing a flag pin right now and you know, his former pastor said some crazy stuff.  

MITCHELL:  Earlier, he took a very different tone, saying he was outraged by what he called the spectacle and the rants of Jeremiah Wright.  

OBAMA:  They offended me.  They rightly offend all Americans, and they should be denounced. 

MITCHELL:  On Monday, he was far less critical.  

OBAMA:  Certainly, what the last three days indicate is that we‘re not coordinating with him. 

MITCHELL:  What changed?  Obama said he finally read Rev. Wright‘s Press Club speech and was appalled.  

OBAMA:  What, I think, particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing.  If Rev. Wright thinks that that‘s political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn‘t know me very well.  

MITCHELL:  Critics say he should have known better.  Fifteen months ago, Obama dis-invited Wright from the public announcement of his candidacy.  But now, the issue may be resonating with the voters, so after saying, six weeks ago, he could not more disown Wright than he could the black community, Tuesday he did.  

OBAMA:  Whatever relationship I had with Rev. Wright has changed as a consequence of this. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Obama‘s press conference clearly a significant moment as you saw it, to end the questions about his relationship with Wright.  Here now, more from that event.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Before I start taking questions I want to open it up with a couple of comments about what we saw and heard yesterday.  I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people.  That‘s in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding to insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings.  That‘s who I am.  That‘s what I believe.  That‘s what this campaign has been about.

Yesterday we saw a very different vision of America.  I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.  You know, I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992.  I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years.  The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. 

His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.  They certainly don‘t portray accurately my values and beliefs.  And if Reverend Wright thinks that that‘s political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn‘t know me very well.  And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.

Now, I‘ve already denounced the comments that had appeared in these previous sermons.  As I said I had not heard them before.  And I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia, explaining that he has done enormous good in the church, he‘s built a wonderful congregation, the people of Trinity are wonderful people, and what attracted me has always been their ministry‘s reach beyond the church walls. 

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S.  government somehow being involved in AIDS; when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century; when he equates the United States‘ wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses.  They offend me, they rightly offend all Americans, and they should be denounced.  And that‘s what I‘m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER:  Why did you change your tone from yesterday?  When you spoke to us on the tarmac yesterday, you didn‘t have this sense of anger and outrage.  

OBAMA:  I‘ll be honest with you, because I hadn‘t seen it yet. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER:  And that was the difference you -

OBAMA:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTERS:  You heard the reports about the AIDS comment? 

OBAMA:  I had not.  I had not seen the transcripts.  What I had heard was that he had given a performance and I thought at the time that it would be sufficient simply to reiterate what I said in Philadelphia.  Upon watching it, what became clear to me was that it was more than just a - it was more than just him defending himself.  What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER:  What effect do you think this is going to have on your campaign?

OBAMA:  You know, that‘s something that you guys will have to figure out and obviously we got elections in four or five days.  So we‘ll find out.  You know what effect it has.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s going to happen if these distractions continue? 

OBAMA:  Well, the - I want him to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Rev.  Wright has changed as a consequence of this.  I don‘t think that he showed much concern for me.  I don‘t - more importantly, I don‘t think he showed much concern for what we‘re trying to do in this campaign and what we‘re trying to do for the American people , and with the American people.  

MITCHELL:  An extraordinary moment in his campaign.  Barack Obama saying he was appalled.  He was outraged.  He was angry. 

CHRIS MATHEWS, HOST, “HARD BALL”:  Yes, two choices - try to change the subject and that wasn‘t working and change friends.  I mean clearly, he broke with this fellow personally now, in a way that he did not in that Philadelphia speech on race.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  After denouncing Wright‘s comments and his actions, Obama hit the campaign trail with two big primaries approaching.  He wanted to put the focus back on the issues.  But it seemed some of his own supporters still had questions.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wonder if you could tell us how much of a toll this

takes on you to be forced by attacks, sometimes unfair attacks on people to

have to turn your back on people who have been good to you in the past or -

OBAMA:  Look, the situation with Rev. Wright was difficult.  I won‘t lie to you.  He‘s somebody who married us.  He baptized our children.  He‘s done good things in terms of building the church but frankly, what he said over the last few days and, you know, in some of the sermons that had been exerted, were unacceptable and weren‘t things that you know, we believed in or cared about, or care to believe in. 

And so I you know, I‘ve made a statement yesterday that was hard to make but it was what I believed.  And you know, what we want to do now though is make sure that this doesn‘t continue to be a perpetual distraction.  It is true that part of the job when you‘re running for president is that anybody who is tangentially, even remotely associated with you is somehow fair game, and that‘s unfortunate. 

Because most of us in our lives, we meet people, we know people.  Some people we work with or we sit on a board with.  We don‘t really go get them and find out all of the terrible things they might have done because, you know, we don‘t know - or you know, what they said to see if it‘s politically correct. 

But when you - look, the truth is when you‘re running for president, that‘s part of the deal.  And I accept that because I think it‘s important for the American people to know who I am and what my values are and I stand for.  And I don‘t stand for some of the things Rev. Wright said.  What Michelle and I do stand for, though, is the values that helped raise us and that we‘re now passing on to our kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Coming up on this MSNBC Special Report: Sen. Barack Obama and Rev.  Jeremiah Wright.  Obama opens up with his wife Michelle by his side in an interview.  

OBAMA:  Judge me for who I am and what I have done in my life and what values Michelle and I have taught in our homes and what we stood for.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  The State Department

announced today the most dangerous place, no longer the mid-East.  It is

now between Jeremiah Wright and a microphone.  That is the most dangerous -

ABRAMS:  To Jay Leno and other late night comics, the Wright affair was good fodder for comedy.  But inside the Obama campaign, it was serious business.  Still facing questions about his judgment and the timing of his comments about Rev. Wright, Obama and his wife Michelle spoke with the “Today” show‘s Meredith Vieira.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  When those first snippets came out, I thought it was important to

give him the benefit of the doubt and to say that those comments were

completely unacceptable but this is somebody who I had known and that I

didn‘t want to caricature him.  And so I delivered that speech in

Philadelphia which tried to constructive conversation about raised and how

their cultural divides have to be bridged in order for us to solve

problems.  The most recent events where he came out and reinforced those

same messages and in a way that I think clearly detracted from the message

of our campaign and suggesting that somehow I wasn‘t sincere in -

MEREDITH VIEIRA, THE “TODAY” SHOW:  But that wasn‘t really the only difference because what he said was essentially what he had been saying - what we had heard from weeks, but this time got personal.  He said that you‘re a politician and you distance yourself from him because you‘re a politician.  And you‘re going to do and say what you need to say.  So why shouldn‘t people think that what you did was politically expedient?

OBAMA:  Well, because if I wanted to be politically expedient, I would have distanced myself and denounced him right away, right?  That would have been the easier thing to do.  That would be the standard stock political advice.  I don‘t think anybody who watched me yesterday thought I was being calculating, because, obviously, it wasn‘t an easy thing to do. 

But it was important for me to be very clear about who I am and what my life is about.  There‘s nothing in my life and in my upbringing, how I worked, what I‘ve written that would correspond to the statements that he made and he defended.  And so it was important for me not to only suggest how outrageous I thought those comments were but also to say, judge me for who I am and what I have done in my life and what values Michelle and I have taught in our homes and what we have stood for.  

VIEIRA:  Michelle, do you feel that the reverend, Rev. Wright, betrayed your husband? 

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA:  You know, I think that Barack has spoken so clearly and eloquently about this.  

VIEIRA:  But do you personally feel that the reverend betrayed your husband?

M. OBAMA:  I believe that we‘ve got - you know what I think Meredith?  We‘ve got to move forward.  You know, this conversation doesn‘t help my kids, you know.  It doesn‘t help kids out there who are looking for us to make decisions and choices about how we are going to better fund education.  

VIEIRA:  But to move forward, I think you have to speak straight about it. 

OBAMA:  You don‘t feel like we‘re speaking straight?

(CROSS TALK) 

VIEIRA:  No, I don‘t mean that and that you‘re being deceitful about it.  I mean have the open conversation about it.  

OBAMA:  I guess my point is, though, I gave a pre-conference speech in Philadelphia about this issue.  I then had an open press conference yesterday which was pretty exhaustive in terms of my feelings about the issue.  And so at a certain point I‘m going to run out of things to say about it. 

I want to make sure that the presidential campaign focuses on the things that the American people are struggling with, how we are going to make their lives better.

M. OBAMA:  We are moving ahead, Meredith. 

VIEIRA:  But is there ...

M. OBAMA:  We‘re moving ahead.

VIEIRA:  I understand that and I get that.

M. OBAMA:  And here we go.  We‘re moving.

VIEIRA:  But is there a sadness in I mean ...

OBAMA:  Yes, in which ...

VIEIRA:  ... this man who was a part of your life.  

OBAMA:  And that was expressed yesterday.  

ABRAMS:  So how much impact will Rev. Wright have on the Obama campaign?  Tuesday‘s primaries in Indiana and North Carolina may begin to answer that question.  Tune in right here into MSNBC, the place for politics.  I‘m Dan Abrams.  Thanks for watching.  

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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