Lauer to Giuliani: Some Say Mosque Protestors Were Ones That Added 'Vitriol' to the Debate

NBC's Matt Lauer invited on Rudy Giuliani to discuss the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque with the former New York City mayor diplomatically addressing most of the religious freedom concerns while still recommending that the site be moved, but Lauer furthered the notion that the imam fronting the project was not at fault for the "vitriol" in the debate, as he questioned the former mayor: "Some would say he didn't create the vicious, angry battle. That it's the people who decided to weigh in on it who add, added the vitriol to the battle." To which Giuliani responded that "they're wrong...if you are a healer, you do not go forward with this project."

The following is the full interview with Giuliani as it was aired on the August 19 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Now the debate raging over those plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero. The current mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, has been one of the most vocal proponents of that mosque. But former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has a different opinion. Mr. Mayor, good morning. It's nice to see you.

RUDY GIULIANI: Good morning.

LAUER: What's your problem with it? I mean most people say, look, it's, it's legal, it's within the Constitution. We protect religious freedom in this country. Why don't you think it should be built there?

GIULIANI: I agree with all that. And beyond that it's an as of right project, as far as I can tell under New York law. They never even had to go through all those reviews they went through. The question here is a question of sensitivity, people's feelings. And, are you really what you pretend to be? As I understand this, this Cordoba House, the idea of it is to healing. To show that Muslims care about the same things as Christians and Jews do. That we're one people. That we should be one. Well, if you're going to, if you're going to so horribly offend the people that were most directly offended by this, most directly affected by this, the families of the September 11 victims -- who I happen to know and have gotten to know, you know, really well -- then how are you healing? I mean all this is doing is creating more division, more anger, more hatred, and I mean, there are, there are-

LAUER: Are you worried about the imam behind this project? In terms of his politics, his religious beliefs, do you find him to be anything but the moderate that he's described as by the current administration, and by the way, the Bush administration before that?

GIULIANI: I'm confused by the imam. I see all the things that you're saying. But I also see a man who said that America was an accessory to September 11. That, those are the very words that required me to give $10 million back to an Arab chic or prince. He gave us $10 million for the 9/11 fund.

LAUER: Let me just clarify so people understand what you're saying. Shortly after 9/11 on 60 minutes he said, quote, "I wouldn't say the United States deserved what happened, but United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened on 9/11, because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world."

GIULIANI: Well, that, that's exactly what the, what the Arab prince said when he gave me $10 million. That America was an accessory to September 11 because of its foreign policy. America was not an accessory to September 11. All you gotta do is read about jihad. And the second thing, the second thing he said was, he refused to condemn Hamas, with whom he is alleged to have had some ties, as a terrorist group. It's recognized by everyone as a terrorist group. And he said America should apologize. So, okay, that's one part of him. The other part of him is he has had a history of appearing to be a healer, appearing to be someone that wants to talk about a moderate Islam. Appearing-

LAUER: Yeah he's made appearances with Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes.

GIULIANI: -appearing, appearing to recognize there are two ways you can interpret the Koran. The, the better way, which is the peaceful way, or the warrior way, which is the way in which you get into trouble with jihad. But those quotes trouble me. But here's what troubled me more. If he's truly about healing, he will not go forward with this project, because this project is not healing.

LAUER: Let, let me-

GIULIANI: This project is divisive. This project is creating tremendous pain to people who have already paid the ultimate sacrifice.

LAUER: There are a lot of, a lot of issues are divisive, and yet they have to be, tough choices have to be made.

GIULIANI: But Matt-

LAUER: Let me just play you-

GIULIANI: But, but, but Matt, Matt. But Matt, there, there, that's true. A lot of issues are divisive but if you want to claim to be the healer, then you're not on the side of the person who is pushing those divisive issues.

LAUER: Let me just play you something you said on, on our program, Meet the Press back on December 22nd of 2002. So about 14 months after 9/11.

GIULIANI: Right.

LAUER: Take a look.

(Begin clip)

GIULIANI: If you think about the, the attacks on September 11, I think everyone would acknowledge that part of the core of that attack was the fact that we have freedom of religion in America. That, that it's part of why America was founded. It's part of what we're all about. It's one of the most prominent things about us. That you can be a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, a Muslim, or no religion at all, and no one's going to interfere with you.

(End clip)

LAUER: "And no one's going to interfere with you." By, by, by saying that these people shouldn't build their mosque where they plan to build it, isn't that interfering with them?

GIULIANI: Well, of course not. First of all, they have freedom of religion. They can build it. They have every right to build it. The question is, should they build it? In, are they displaying the sensitivity they claim by building it? For example, the Pope asked the nuns to take a convent back from right in front of, I forgot if it was Auschwitz or one of the-

LAUER: Auschwitz, it was Auschwitz.

GIULIANI: -one of the concentration camps. They had a perfect right to be there. They had their freedom of religion there. The nuns were sensitive enough to the concerns of Jews that they pulled it back. Now here's a man who is selling sensitivity. He's got $180,000 in the bank, he wants to raise $100 million. Ask me how he's going to do it, I don't know. You don't do it by creating this kind of vicious, sort of angry battle that's going on. The people who are speaking about it-

LAUER: Well some, some would say he didn't create the vicious, angry battle. That it's the people who decided to weigh in on it who add, added the vitriol to the battle.

GIULIANI: And they're wrong, and they're all wrong. I was the first person on September 11 to step forward in the heat of battle, that afternoon, my third press conference and say, no group blame. Do not blame Arabs. We have to, we have to understand this is a small group, and we have to focus on them. But, the reality is, that right now, if you are a healer, you do not go forward with this project.

LAUER: A couple of real quick things before-

GIULIANI: If you're a warrior, you do, but not a healer.

LAUER: Before I let you go, a couple of quick things. Do you think union workers in this city-

GIULIANI: I don't know.

LAUER: -plumbers, electricians, carpenters, will build on that site?

GIULIANI: I told you, I told you before I returned to New York last night on an airplane, and I was walking and there were a couple of construction workers there and they told me, in their typical New York accent. "We ain't working on that project. Let 'em see if they can go find somebody to work on that project." My answer is, I know New York well enough, you're going to probably find somebody to work on it. I question whether they can raise the money. Every indication from the attorney general's reports of their charities are they have about $180,000. $100 million project. And then where is the money coming from?

LAUER: In your gut do you think if we sit down a year from right now this project will be under construction at this site-

GIULIANI: No.

LAUER: -or a different site?

GIULIANI: No. I think Governor Paterson had the best approach here. Nice compromise, find another place, have a beautiful mosque there. Don't have it there. Don't offend easily 80, 90 percent of the families are seriously offended. I know some people that are crying over this who have lost, who have lost loved ones. You, you or I might not even agree. We, we might say, "Okay, put the mosque there. What's the, you know?" But maybe we haven't lost that, that son, that father, person who if you're watching their child today and you still remember every day that person is gone. It was an attack in the name of Islam. It was a perverted type of Islam. But a kind of prevalent view that goes on in a lot of parts of the world. So we gotta be sensitive to everybody here.

LAUER: Rudy Giuliani, good to have you here.

GIULIANI: Thank you, good to see you Matt.

LAUER: Good to see you.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.