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PoliticsNation, Friday, February 10, 2012

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Guests: E.J. Dionne, Bob Shrum, Richard Wolffe, Erin McPike, Janet Howell, Luke Russert, Maria Velazquez

REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to "Politics Nation. I`m
Al Sharpton.

Tonight`s lead. The president strikes a balance and Republicans
strike a pose. Today, President Obama announced a plan for birth control
coverage that should end the controversy that`s dominated the news these
last few days.


be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not
discriminate against women. And we live in a pluralistic society where
we`re not going to agree on every single issue or share every belief. That
doesn`t mean that we have to choose between individual liberty and basic
fairness for all Americans.


SHARPTON: Basic fairness. Religion and rights. Not either/or.
That`s what this plan insures. Under it, women are guaranteed birth
control at no out-of-pocket cost. Yet religious groups will not be forced
to offer contraceptives. Instead, insurance companies will step in to
offer the coverage.

Groups like Planned Parenthood are applauding the decision. And so
are key catholic groups who were opposed to the old policy. So to Carol
Key Han, head of the catholic health association says, quote, "she`s
pleased and grateful with the new outcome." Catholic charities welcome the
move. Even the conference of catholic bishops, one of the fiercest
critics, says this is at least a step in the right direction. Because at
the end of the day women`s health shouldn`t be used for political gain.


OBAMA: I understand some folks in Washington may want to treat this
as another political wedge issue. But it shouldn`t be. I certainly never
saw it that way.


SHARPTON: Tell that to the Republicans. Today, they`ve called it a
disingenuous gimmick. Quote, "not a compromise." And Senator Marco Rubio
went so far as to say, "This shows why we must fully repeal Obama care."
They`ve made this a wedge issue all right. In fact, Rubio sponsored a bill
that would allow any employer to deny women birth control anywhere in the
country as long as they claim it`s for religious reasons. How is that for

Joining me now is E.J. Dionne, columnist for "the Washington Post" and
MSNBC contributor. Thanks for coming on the show tonight, E.J.


SHARPTON: E.J., you were critical of the president`s initial decision
but you write today, Obama`s move is a welcome step away from a religious
battle that neither he nor the country needed. It`s an important first
step. E.J., is this plan what most Catholics in the country wanted to

DIONNE: I think I never claimed to speak for most Catholics given how
complicated the church is, but I think an awful lot of the people who were
critical of the president at the beginning are satisfied and happy that he
acknowledged that there was a religious liberty issue here.

I think what liberal Catholics like me were concerned about is if you
looked at the original rule, the only people who were defined as religious
organizations were essentially churches and synagogues and mosques. Yet
when you look at organizations like catholic charities, like the catholic
hospitals, like the inner city schools, people are doing this work because
they see it as a religious mission. This was inherently part of their

Now, there are a lot of people who were critical of the president,
were not opposed to expanding contraception coverage, but they thought
there was a legitimate religious liberty right here that the catholic
church, which has a position opposed to -- you know, its own moral position
opposed to contraception, shouldn`t have to pay for it.

SHARPTON: But at the same time, don`t we have to be concerned about
non-Catholics or nonreligious people employed that also should have rights
and would this -- what the president laid out protects the rights of
Catholics or religious people and protects the workers because there`s not
just one side of this that has to have rights protected. Everyone`s rights
should be protected.

DIONNE: Rev, in fact in that column, you kindly quoted this is the
compromise that I was for from the beginning. This idea was first floated
by my friend Melissa Rogers whom I`ve done a lot of work with over the
years on church/state issues. And she called it a win-win way back in

And the question I am curious if we find an answer to is why the
administration didn`t go here right from the start. Because I think if
they had started here, we wouldn`t have had these two weeks of controversy.
But having said that, I`m really glad this is where the president ended up
because I think it`s the right place to be.

SHARPTON: Well, there is some political risk in dealing with this.
In 2008, the president won the majority of the catholic vote, and I think
it was 54 percent of the total catholic vote.

DIONNE: Right.

SHARPTON: So you said that you are glad he ended up here, but let me
tell you, some have not ended u p here. Rush Limbaugh says that this isn`t
a concession by the Obama administration. Rather, it`s trampling on the
constitution. Listen.

Well, let me make sure they catch up with me in New York, but I want
you to hear Limbaugh say. While we`re waiting on the sound, how is this
trampling on the constitution to protect everybody`s rights on both sides,

DIONNE: Well, I guess this won`t be the first time in my life I
disagree with Rush Limbaugh, whatever he actually said on this. I mean,
there are -- first of all, there are conservatives who would oppose Obama
no matter what he did. We know that. There are some conservatives who are
against providing contraception on a broad basis. That`s not where most
Americans are. And there are conservatives who will say -- make any
argument they can to try to get the health care law repealed.

I`m not one of those people. So I`m not surprised. What did -- I
think what was really significant is archbishop Dolan who was initially
very angry about the first decision, and I think he was angry for some good
reasons because I think the president had given him some reassurance and
then it didn`t work out the way the president had said it would. The fact
he said this was an important first step, I thought that was a very
positive statement on his part. And I think it reflects the fact that
within the catholic community, there are a number of views, including,
among the bishops, some still want a harder line. They want an exemption.
I`m sorry?

SHARPTON: Let me pick up on that with me, E.J. Let me press you a
little bit on that. Let me show you Dolan`s statement. This is archbishop
cardinal designate Dolan or he`s cardinal Dolan. He says "this is a first
step in the right direction. We hope to work with the administration to
guarantee that Americans` consciences and our religious freedom are not
harmed by these regulations."

But then let me show you what one of the presidential candidates. I
didn`t have Rush ready, but let me show you what Newton Leroy Gingrich


deal he tries to cut. This is a man who is deeply committed if he wins re-
election, he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he`s
re-elected. We cannot trust him. We know who he really is. And we should
make sure the country knows who he really is.


SHARPTON: So, what I`m showing here is even when you have the leaders
of the church saying it`s a step in the right direction. Let`s wait and
see what the details are, they are still politicizing this and saying
things as if they are speaking for the church. The fact, church is not
even saying that. Doesn`t matter to these people in the Republican race.

DIONNE: It`s really hard to keep track because the president has gone
from being a Muslim to being a secular atheist so I don`t know -- we don`t
know what they are going to say next. And, obviously, they wanted to turn
this into a big political issue to say the president is hostile to

And one of the reasons I was disappointed the first time around is
President Obama, before he was president in a great speech he gave to -- at
Jim Wallace`s conference in 2006, his speech at Notre dame. He has shown
great sensitivity to Catholics in particular who as he pointed out today,
paid his salary as a community organizer but to religious sensibilities

So, I think this is a very hard case to make. He walked into this
criticism by, I think, making the mistake the first time around. I think
what he did today is far truer to who he`s been ever since we`ve seen him
in public life. And I think it`s a more natural place for him to be, and I
think they are going to have a really hard time sustaining this argument
that President Obama is anti-religious.

SHARPTON: Well, we`re going to talk about that in our next segment,
and I`m with it as long as they sustain people`s rights, not just one side
of it. The constitution is for everybody. Not just those of us that are
religious or political leaders.

E.J. Dionne, thanks, as always, for your time. Have a great weekend.

DIONNE: You, too.

SHARPTON: Coming up, with the economy getting better, Republicans are
going back to the old culture wars play book pinning all their hopes on
issues that divide us, not unite us.

And Mitt Romney`s main problem isn`t with conservatives. It`s with


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know conservatism because
I have lived conservatism.

I`m someone who is moderate and my views are progressive.


SHARPTON: A new poll shows he`s starting to fall behind. Way behind
the president.

Plus, a ten-year investigation into a man imprisoned for a murder he
may not have committed. Powerful original reporting from NBC`s Luke

You`re watching "Politics Nation" on MSNBC.


SHARPTON: They`ve got nothing to run on, so it`s back to the culture
wars. And it`s ugly. They are talking about the president waging war on
the church and executing religious people by decapitation. I`ve got
something to say on this, next.


SHARPTON: Welcome back. We`re live in Los Angeles tonight. Folks,
there`s something behind this huge debate over contraception. The right
wing is getting desperate. So it`s back to the tired old play book most
Americans rejected years ago. The culture wars are front and center today.


ROMNEY: I will fight for an amendment to our constitution that
defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.


ROMNEY: My presidency will be a pro-life presidency.

SANTORUM: He`s now telling the Catholic Church that they are forced
to pay for things that are against their basic tenets and teachings.

ROMNEY: I`ll ensure that organizations like Planned Parenthood get no
more federal support.


SHARPTON: Abortion, gay marriage, Planned Parenthood. There`s no
mystery about what`s going on here. The economy is picking up, 23 straight
months of job creation, 3.7 million jobs. The president`s poll numbers
climbing steadily, up seven points since the fall.

The GOP is in a corner, and they are getting desperate. Resorting to
an ugly form of politics that`s outdated and outrageous.

Bob Shrum is a democratic strategist and professor at NYU. Bob, 28
states already have laws on the book requiring that health insurance covers
contraception. How in the world do we get to this point where Republicans
are trying to use the issue to demonize the president?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, they`ll use any issue to
demonize the president. You are certainly right that the economy if it
continues to improve in the way it has is going to leave someone like Mitt
Romney nothing say. I mean, his candidacy is a one trick pony. He wants
to say, look. I was a CEO. I know how to fix the economy. Well if the
economy is being fixed, and I think it is, and there are a lot of strong
signs out there then what is he going to do?

Secondly, in pursuit of the Republican nomination, this party is much
more conservative, much more radical than it was a few years ago. And
there`s tremendous pressure to talk about these social issues and to cater
to the far right on these social issues. You know --

SHARPTON: Let me show where you`re right. Look at this. In 2011,
just 2011, 92 measures enacted in 24 states on abortion restrictions. It
shatters the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005. Previous years weren`t
even close. Then you have 24 states that adopted abortion restrictions in
2011. Now, you have also eight states that tried to defund Planned
Parenthood in 2011.

So it`s clear that last year, as you say, into this year, they are
really ramping up this whole culture wars, let`s deal with these divisive
issues rather than to really deal with the issues of the economy and other
things that clearly has not worked for them.

SHRUM: Look. This nominating process has pushed them to the right.
These folks all got elected in 2010. They said they were going to focus on
jobs. They got elected as a protest vote, really. And the first thing
they did was try to pass all these restrictions on abortion. Try to attack
gay people. And now try to attack birth control.

You know, this whole controversy that you and E.J. were talking about,
I think is going to in the end help the president because you have all
these 60-year-old Republican guys running around, sounding like they are
campaigning against birth control. And you know what that`s going to do?
Suburban women, outside places like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, all these
places, Detroit, Chicago, those women, and they need to appeal to them to
have any chance to win this election, are going to flee the Republican
party in droves. It`s an anti-woman party right now. It`s an anti-gay
rights party. I would argue that it`s an anti-individual rights party.

SHARPTON: Well, I think, let me show you something that may appeal to
them. Rick Santorum said that such extreme stuff today. If you think they
were thinking about leaving before, let them see this. He`s talking about
the guillotine. Watch this sound bite. This is Rick Santorum, the new
person with momentum in the Republican primary. This is what he said
earlier this week.


SANTORUM: When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the
pillar of God-given rights, then what`s left is the French revolution.
What`s left in France became the guillotine.


SHARPTON: So, we`re talking about women having the right to
contraception and you have a leading candidate talking about the
guillotine? And if that`s not enough, Willard Mitt Romney pouncing on the
contraception issue, even though the law in Massachusetts where he was
governor was basically the same. I mean, it seems to me to be no limit to
what they`d do. Let me let you hear Willard for himself so they won`t say
I misquoted him.


ROMNEY: This president is attacking religion and is putting in place
a secular agenda that our fore-founders would not recognize.

There`s no question this is a continuation of the Barack Obama
administration`s attack on religion.

This kind of assault on religion will end if I`m president of the
United States.


SHARPTON: Now, Bob. Won`t this, as you said about contraception,
won`t this potentially backfire on them when you have 74 percent of women
saying abortion should be available, 70 percent saying illegal immigrants
already in the U.S. should be able to stay, 51 percent saying same-sex
marriage should be legal. I mean, aren`t they really reading the public

SHRUM: Yes, I think they are. And, look. This week, Mitt Romney
couldn`t beat Rick Santorum so he`s obviously decided to channel him. If
you listen to those clips, you listen to him at CPAC today, here`s a guy
who said he was a moderate, who said he was pro-choice who said he was pro-
gay rights, who was a governor of Massachusetts approved a policy on
contraception that is actually much tougher than what the president offered

This guy stands up and says he`s severely conservative. Doesn`t he
think he have any tape? Doesn`t he think people are going to see that he`s
two-faced, that he continually changes his most -- his views on the most
fundamental issues in front of this society? He`s got a business plan. He
wants to be the Republican nominee. He`ll give the market whatever they
ask for. And in the process, he`s demonstrating that he doesn`t really
have the character to lead this country.

SHARPTON: Bob Shrum, thank you for your time tonight.

SHRUM: Thank you.

SHARPTON: And drum roll, please. The award for the best performance
as a conservative goes to Willard Romney at CPAC today.


SHARPTON: You know you`re in trouble when your political views become
a punch line. And Mitt Romney saw that today. He was at the CPAC
conference trying to win over conservatives. But before his big speech,
millionaire Foster Friess who`s bank rulings Rick Santorum uncorked this


FOSTER FRIESS, DONOR, PRO-SANTORUM PAC: There`s a little bar a couple
of doors down. Recently a conservative, a liberal and a moderate walked
into the bar. The bartender says, hi, Mitt.



SHARPTON: That joke got some boos, but it got a lot of laughs, too.
More on Romney`s struggle with the base, next.


SHARPTON: Welcome back to "Politics Nation." Mitt Romney wants
Republicans to know something. He`s a conservative. Really? He just
couldn`t stop telling people he`s a conservative at the CPAC conference


ROMNEY: I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism. I was
a severely conservative Republican governor.

We conservatives believe in freedom.

As conservatives, we`re united by a set of core convictions.

This must be our greatest hour as conservatives.

I understand that the battles we as conservatives must fight.


SHARPTON: All told, Romney said the word conservative 24 times in his
speech at CPAC today. He`s desperate to seize those right wing
credentials. But I seem to remember Willard singing a different tune once
upon a time.


ROMNEY: I think people recognize that I`m not a partisan Republican.
That I`m someone who is moderate and my views are progressive.


SHARPTON: I`m a moderate? My views are progressive? It`s the kind
of record that has Romney in trouble. It`s why there`s so much doubt among
conservatives like Tony Perkins, head of the far right family research


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He thought he was going to be coming here and, you
know, getting them to sign on the dotted line for joining his campaign.
Instead, he`s back here having to make his case as to why he should be the

DAVID GREGORY, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": Governor Romney gets the
support of conservatives in the party if he does what specifically?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, actually, I don`t know that he`s going to be
able to do that at this point.


SHARPTON: Joining me now, MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe. He`s the
author of "Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White
House." And Erin McPike from Real Clear Politics. Thanks to both of you
for being here tonight.



SHARPTON: Richard, Romney has flip-flopped on some basic conservative
issues like abortion, immigration, health care, gun control. Is there any
way he can become a credible candidate for conservatives?

WOLFFE: Well, what he`s got to start doing is outlining a
conservative vision. Not just tearing down the conservative credentials of
other people by saying they are Washington insiders, which is what he did
against Newt Gingrich. What he`s trying now to do with Rick Santorum. He
can`t just talk about his record. He`s got to present something that will
convince people this is going to be his agenda. A conservative agenda
clearly if that`s what he`s going for. In terms of what he would do as
president. And the problem here is that he`s trying to outflank Rick
Santorum as a conservative. That`s extremely difficult. And he`s got all
this baggage with him. The more he says the word conservative, the more
you hear that tape, you just played about him saying he`s a moderate and a

SHARPTON: Now, Erin, you were at the CPAC conference. You heard
Santorum, you heard Willard Romney today as they are both trying to battle
on who is going to face President Obama. And I have some interesting polls
on that. But the problem, Erin, before you tell me how they were received
today, the problem is you heard Willard Romney 2012. The problem is, the
old Willard Romney that everyone is going to hear as this race keeps going.
Let me show you the difference between Willard today and Willard talking
about the same issues in the past. Willard`s debate is with Willard.


ROMNEY: My presidency will be a pro-life presidency.

I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I
believe that since Roe V. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should
sustain and support it.

I will eliminate Obama-care.

I like mandates. The mandates work.

Conservative constants have shaped my life.

Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan Bush. I`m not
trying to return to Reagan Bush.


SHARPTON: So, who won the debate between Willard and Willard, Erin?

MCPIKE: Well, you know, I want to go back to one of the clips you
played at the very beginning, which is when he said I was a severely
conservative republican governor. Severely is not really a positive term,
but that strikes the image of both John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Scott in
Florida. Two, I guess, severely conservative republican governors whose
numbers are really in the tank at this moment. And if he`s trying to
identify with governors like that and calling himself severely
conservative, the Democrats are ready to pounce. And in fact, democratic
officials today were jumping all over that comment and they plan to use
that in ads in the general election if Romney is the nominee. Along with
some of those comments that you just played that showed that Mitt Romney is
all over the map. That he doesn`t have a core. That he doesn`t have
conviction. And we`re going to hear that a lot.

SHARPTON: Well, he`s severely desperate. Let me show you, Richard,
some polls. FOX News. No liberal station. And their last poll has
President Obama up and Romney down, 41/28 on who they`d rather see elected.
Then you have the Rasmussen poll has the president up ten points. He`s
gone from up to down to where he`s up ten points. So even the polls that
are considered right leaning has President Obama decisively ahead of
Willard Mitt Romney.

WOLFFE: Yes, and remember it was only a few days ago that the Romney
campaign was questioning "The Washington Post" poll that suggested that the
President had a head-to-head advantage over Romney. They said that the
questions were asked in a strange way. Maybe they made strange noises when
they asked them. But whatever it was, those numbers could not be real.
Well, here you have Rasmussen which is traditionally skewed more republican
because of the makeup of the voters that they sample. And here there`s a
real impact that we`ve seen just over the last few days as Rick Santorum
has reignited the insurgent field within the Republican Party and raised
those doubts about whether Romney is viable or not. Once you take away
inevitability from someone who keeps saying, I`m the inevitable candidate,
then you haven`t got a lot to go for. And that`s why the vision thing is
so lacking. Today, Romney just came out with a bunch of patriotic
platitudes. They are very nice sounding. They`re great. He goes sing
"America the Beautiful" but it doesn`t replace an agenda and it doesn`t
convince conservatives either.

SHARPTON: Now, Erin, you take away inevitability in terms of you can
-- you are the one that can win. You take away the economy. What did he
do today, and how was he received? I mean, it seems like the two legs of
his campaign are gone.

MCPIKE: Well, he was actually received very well. And the reason for
that is the Romney campaign has done a very good job of putting their
supporters in rooms where they want to have a big crowd reaction. So
that`s not really a true measure of how the conservatives here really
received him. But, you know, what he did today in his speech was go
through his life, you know, a little bit about his religion, his family and
his record as governor and being a conservative businessman to say that
he`s lived his life as a conservative. But really that`s trying to make
the sale again to conservatives about him, rather than trying to drum up
the conservative movement which is what Rick Santorum was doing today. But
let me say something else, Al. Today we had this big fight from the
administration and Republicans over whether this contraception issue was a
women`s health issue or religious liberty. Mitt Romney had an opportunity
to run with that and make a more sweeping statement about religious
liberty, and he really avoided that topic entirely.

SHARPTON: Now Richard, Erin referred to Rick Santorum who was also, I
understand, received very well. Let me show you how he went after Willard
today in front of that same audience, that same conference.



the stepchild of Obamacare, the person in Massachusetts who built the
largest government-run health care system in the United States. He`s
someone that bought into man-made global warming and imposed the first
carbon cap in a state of Massachusetts. The first state to do so in the
country. We`re not going to win with money. We`re going to win with


SHARPTON: That`s pretty strong stuff, Richard.

WOLFFE: Yep. Well, look. Romney`s argument on health care is that
it was right for Massachusetts but not right for the whole country. If you
go at him on the conservative principle that there are -- that there was no
justification for his approach to health care, you`re going to please this
crowd a lot more and that`s why Santorum is coming across much stronger.
Also reveals the weakness of the Romney strategy which is, assume you`ve
won the nomination and just go straight after the President. That may
unite Republicans. It papers over all the differences they have. But
you`ve got to win the nomination before you get to that stage. And Rick
Santorum is going to be a tough contestant moving forward for him.

SHARPTON: So, will of the Willard. Richard Wolffe and Erin McPike,
thanks for your time tonight.

WOLFFE: Thanks, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Up next, how Willard`s new buddy, Virginia`s Bob McDonald,
is using one party rule to advance a radical republican agenda in a
critical swing state.

Plus, a story you have to see. A mother`s fight to correct what could
be a gross miscarriage of justice.


MARIA VELAZQUEZ, JON-ADRIAN`S MOTHER: This whole thing has been a
very painful experience for me. My son is not a murderer. He is not.




SHARPTON: Still ahead, a democratic lawmaker who found a unique way
to call out Republicans for their assault on women`s rights. We`ll talk to
her next.


SHARPTON: Welcome back to the show. It was a busy day for Willard.
We told you how he made a big speech at CPAC. But he started his day
across the river stumping in Virginia and he was sharing the stage with his
good friend and supporter, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.


ROMNEY: Thank you to the governor for bringing me up to date as
what`s going on in Virginia. If I knew how tough it was to compete against
Virginia, I would probably have given up long ago.


SHARPTON: But these guys have a history. Just last month, McDonnell
endorsed him, and Romney said McDonnell would be on any candidate`s short
list for vice president. But Willard may want to pay a little attention to
what`s going on in Bob McDonnell`s Virginia because it`s gone wild. This
year, for only the second time since the civil war, Republicans have
control of everything. The statehouse, state Senate and governor. All
read, all kinds of extreme bills are hitting or close to hitting
McDonnell`s desk. One that allows adoption agencies to discriminate
against gay couples. One requiring doctors to perform ultra sounds on
women seeking abortions. Another to repeal a law saying you can`t buy more
than one gun per month. And a voter ID bill has passed and waiting for
McDonnell`s signature. Romney may want to think twice before hitching his
wagon to such an extreme agenda.

Joining me now is a lawmaker right in the thick of this extreme
agenda, Janet Howell, democratic state senator from Fairfax, Virginia.
State Senator Howell, thank you for joining me tonight.

STATE SEN. JANET HOWELL (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you so much for having

SHARPTON: Now, one of the reasons I`m very interested in Virginia is
when we hear a lot about Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana, but Virginia has
an even more extreme thing that`s going on there with the total right wing
control, and it`s a key swing state for President Obama and the elections
this year. Why do you think Republicans are pushing such extreme laws in
your state given the importance nationally of this state?

HOWELL: You know, Virginia has always been a moderate pro-business
state. And for the last several years, the Democrats in the Senate have
been able to stop the right wing agenda. But unfortunately less than a
month ago, they did a power grab and took over the state Senate, even
though the voters had put 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. But they used a
questionable tactic and took control of all the committees and the whole
agenda. So now everything that had been stopped in the past several years
is going forward and it is a steamroller, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Now, the thing that also enhances the possibility of this
steamroll and how it also plays out in national politics is they just
passed this voter ID law that`s sitting on McDonnell`s desk. And according
to information that I have, it will have a huge impact in Virginia.
Estimates that more than 600,000 Virginia voters may not have photo ID.
That is more than twice the amount of people that President Obama won the
state by last time. He only won in 2008 by 235,000 votes. Six hundred
thousand, people may not be able to vote if McDonnell signs that bill. You
know we`re having a national March on this next month. This can even tip
the scales even more toward your concerns.

HOWELL: We`re very worried. There`s so much voter suppression
legislation that`s -- it`s passing. All of it is passing both the House
and the Senate. What`s really ironic with what`s happening is it`s going
to be harder to vote in Virginia than it is now to buy a gun with what they
are doing on gun control issues.

SHARPTON: Why is that?

HOWELL: Twenty years ago, we had the first African-American governor,
Doug Wilder. And he discovered that Virginia was the gun-running state.
People were buying guns in Virginia and taking them to New York City and
Boston. So what Governor Wilder did, he said, well, you can only buy one
gun, one handgun a month. That seems sufficient to me. And so for almost
20 years, that`s been the rule. But last week, it`s getting overturned,
and Governor McDonnell is going to sign it. So you can come to Virginia
and buy as many guns as you want.

SHARPTON: Wow. And we also see that 55 percent of Virginians agree
gay couples should be able to legally adopt. They have a bill to stop
that. And McDonnell will probably sign that.

HOWELL: That passed yesterday. It will be legal to discriminate in
Virginia even though you are getting state money.

SHARPTON: State Senator Howell, thank you for your time tonight. And
we`ll be out there fighting with you. Have a great weekend.

HOWELL: Thank you, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Up next, was an innocent man convicted of a murder he
didn`t commit? It`s a powerful story brought to national attention by
NBC`s Luke Russert. We`ll talk with Luke and the man`s mother, next.


SHARPTON: We talk a lot about justice on this show. And it`s an
issue NBC`s "Dateline" is tackling this Sunday. For ten years, "Dateline"
producer Dan Slepian has been investigating the case of a man who is in
jail, maybe for a crime he did not commit. The documentary which is called
"Conviction" tells the story of Jon-Adrian Velazquez who has been behind
bars for 15 years. He was convicted of murder in the death of a retired
police officer during a botched robbery in New York City. But he has
always maintained his innocence.


nothing to do with the crime. You were nowhere close to the scene. Why is
it that you were picked out?

the best question in the world because I don`t know the answer.


SHARPTON: We don`t know exactly what happened the night of the
murder, but "Dateline" raises important questions about the case.

Joining me now is Luke Russert, NBC`s "Dateline" correspondent and NBC
Congressional correspondent. Luke, great to have you with us.

RUSSERT: Thanks for having me, Reverend Al. I appreciate it.

SHARPTON: What was it about this case and this story that drew you

RUSSERT: You know, I was first approached about this story when I was
a rookie reporting just starting out at NBC. And Dan Slepian the producer
said, hey, look, I have some letters from this guy who is in prison.
Everyone in prison says they`re innocent but you should take a look at
these guy`s letters. And he literally wrote with such fervor. The type of
fervor you would see and the emotion that you would see in a pulpit on
Sunday. And when I had my first meeting with him, he just came across as
somebody who was not only trying to dispel a wrong he felt was against him,
but instead of just talking about it, he really took action.

SHARPTON: Yes. That`s what I`m interested in Luke, because you know,
I have been -- I`ve gone to jail for civil rights stuff over night and
everybody there says they`re innocent. What did he say? What happened
that was so compelling to you rather than an ordinary guy sitting on this?

RUSSERT: There`s two -- there`s two things. Number one is, the
reason he`s been in jail for the last 14 years is because of eyewitness
identification. He is -- his blood, his fingerprints, his DNA, his hair
has never been found at the crime scene. There is no physical evidence
that links him to this crime. He is solely there because the eyewitness
testimony of four individuals who were either using drugs or dealing drugs.
A few of whom if you watch our piece on Sunday night have a different
opinion of what exactly occurred that evening in Harlem back in 1998. The
other thing about Jon-Adrian Velazquez Reverend, is that he challenged us
at "Dateline" to prove him guilty. And that was something that we had a
great -- a real difficulty being able to accomplish.

SHARPTON: Now let me ask you, how difficult is it to overturn a
conviction that is based purely on eyewitness testimony? No forensic
evidence, no -- nothing else. How difficult is it to overturn that?

RUSSERT: It`s extremely difficult because eyewitness testimony is
still used in this country as something that is a viable option for
convicting somebody. In the state of New York, as of right now, a lot of
the appeals Mr. Velazquez has put forward have been denied. His hopes
really -- something called a conviction integrity unit that was started by
the Manhattan`s district attorney`s office recently. And they now have his
case in their possession. But he is someone, just to go back to him as a
person because I think that`s very important here. He`s someone who said
all along that he would not ever take a plea or cop a deal here like many
other folks do to avoid time. If there is some tape, I`d love to play what
he said about that.

SHARPTON: All right. Go ahead.


VELAZQUEZ: Actions speak louder than words. And what I would say to
anybody who doesn`t believe me right now, go out there and prove that I did

RUSSERT (voice-over): From the beginning, Velazquez knew we weren`t
making any promises.

(on-camera) You aren`t lying to us in anyway, right?

VELAZQUEZ: Not at all.

RUSSERT: You know, we`re going to go back through this and pour over
this stuff. There`s no lies in there? There`s nothing that will --

VELAZQUEZ: It`s a waste of my time and your time.


RUSSERT: And I actually asked him. I said, look, if I came to you
right now and said if you sign this piece of paper that said you did it and
you are out within five years, you can see your two boys, would you do it?
And he looked at me right in the face and said, no, I will die here in
prison before I`ll ever admit that I`m a murderer. And that`s the sort of
powerful guy that he is, Reverend.

SHARPTON: Luke Russert, thanks so much. And we`ll be watching Sunday
at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on NBC.

Joining me now is Maria Velazquez, Jon-Adrian`s mother. Thank you for
being here tonight, Maria.

MARIA VELAZQUEZ: Thank you for having me, Reverend Al Sharpton.

SHARPTON: Now you are more than just his mother. You are actually
your son`s alibi in this case. How do you know he didn`t commit the crime?

MARIA VELAZQUEZ: OK. At the time that they say that he was
committing this crime, shortly before the crime was to be committed, he was
on the telephone with me and we were discussing his father`s death. His
father had just died the April before, and the next day would have been his
birthday. And we were discussing, you know, how he was feeling about, you
know, the fact that his father had died. We were talking about going to
the cemetery. He was in school at the time and he didn`t go to school that
day because he was upset about, you know, the anniversary, the birthday.
So -- and I was home and, you know, I was kind of feeling, you know, sad
for him as well. He`s my only child. So I was very concerned about, you
know, how he was feeling. You know, that his father had died.

SHARPTON: Now, he willingly turned himself in? You talk about his
father dying and you were talking to him around this time and then when
this allegation came up, he turned himself in himself. Why was that?

MARIA VELAZQUEZ: OK. When I found out that they were looking for
him, I called him and he was home sleeping. And I said to him, this is
what`s going on. You know, do you know what happened or anything? And he
said, I don`t know what you`re talking about. So I said, listen. I think
that I should come and, you know, we should get together and go over, you
know, what`s going on here and see what we can do about what`s happening
because his stepmother Carmen had called me and she said, you know, the
police came here, you know, banging away at the door looking for him. And
I think they`re going to come to your house. So, I headed out to The Bronx
and I picked him up. When I got there, he wasn`t even dressed. He was
still in his --

SHARPTON: So, he wasn`t running from this. He was ready to deal with

MARIA VELAZQUEZ: No, not at all. When I got to his home, I said, did
you realize the police are looking for you? He was in his underwear. And
I said we need to leave here and go home to my home and let`s talk about,
you know, what you possibly -- where were you? Did anything happen where
you were? You know, that could have, you know.

SHARPTON: Let me ask you this because I`m going to run out of time,


SHARPTON: Do you want the D.A. to reopen the case?

MARIA VELAZQUEZ: Yes, I do. My son is innocent.

SHARPTON: Do you think that he will be free? Do you think you will
get what you desire in this case?

MARIA VELAZQUEZ: Yes, I feel it very strongly because he is innocent.
They never had any evidence. And justice has to prevail.

SHARPTON: All right. Maria Velazquez, I thank you for your time
tonight. We`ll be watching on Sunday night. And you all can watch the
"Dateline" special "Conviction" this Sunday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m.
Central on NBC. Well, I think everyone deserves a hearing, especially when
there`s doubt.

Thank you for watching. Have a great weekend. I`m Al Sharpton.
"HARDBALL" starts right now.


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