NBC's Guthrie Asks Sharpton if Trayvon Martin Case Wasn't Racially Exploited Enough

On Monday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie suggested to MSNBC host and National Action Network president Al Sharpton that the trial of Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman was not racially charged enough: "Do you think the prosecutors missed an opportunity there, that they didn't explicitly make this case about racial profiling?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

In response, Sharpton pushed his effort to get the Justice Department to charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations: "I think they did, but it also sets up a federal case because you can't say it's been tried, because it wasn't tried. So there is no double jeopardy here because they specifically said this is not about race, which opens the door for the federal government to now investigate..."

Guthrie lobbed a series of softballs about the case to the left-wing host/activist:

> Reverend, I'll start with you. I know you did not like this verdict. Were you surprised by it?

> Are you optimistic that the federal government will pursue charges in connection with this case?

> Do you think the prosecutors mishandled this case? Did they do a good job of putting on this case?

> Reverend, you've been in touch with the family. Do you think they'll file a civil suit against George Zimmerman?

Guthrie never bothered to challenge Sharpton's politicization of the case from the beginning, even as he touted his involvement. Early in the exchange, Sharpton declared: "You have to remember, we had to fight and demonstrate to even get a trial. I think people forget that the Sanford police had said there was no probable cause, there will be no arrest. That's when the family called National Action Network and I."


Here is a full transcript of the July 15 segment, which also included NBC legal analyst Lisa Bloom:

7:05AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE:  Lisa Bloom is Today's legal analyst. Reverend Al Sharpton is the head of the National Action Network and host of Politics Nation on MSNBC. Good morning to both of you.

LISA BLOOM: Good morning.

AL SHARPTON: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The George Zimmerman Verdict; Protests Flare Up As Reaction Pours In]

GUTHRIE: Reverend, I'll start with you. I know you did not like this verdict. Were you surprised by it?

AL SHARPTON: You know, I thought all along it was 50/50. You have to remember, we had to fight and demonstrate to even get a trial. I think people forget that the Sanford police had said there was no probable cause, there will be no arrest. That's when the family called National Action Network and I. So we didn't have a lot of confidence in the area. We were hopeful, particularly when they had the option of going to manslaughter. At that time we also said let's open up a request to the federal government.  So asking the Justice Department to come in is not new. The family and Attorney Crump and I met with the U.S. attorney down there over a year ago and made that request and the investigation was open. It was suspended during this trial.

GUTHRIE: Are you optimistic that the federal government will pursue charges in connection with this case?

SHARPTON: Trayvon Martin had the civil right to go home. And in a hundred cities this Saturday there will be demonstrations in front of federal buildings led by ministers, pressing the federal government to protect our right. At one level you dealt with the murder charges, but now you have to deal with Trayvon Martin's civil rights was violated. He had the right to go home. And you must remember, George Zimmerman is not a policeman, he had no authority to interfere at all with that right.

GUTHRIE: Let bring Lisa into this, because this poses a legal question. One, how likely you think it is the Department of Justice pursues charges along these lines? And isn't it a more difficult prosecution in the sense of the proof you have to have in a federal case?

LISA BLOOM: So I've reviewed the Department of Justice policy. It's somewhat lengthy, but what it boils down to is whether the elements of a federal crime would be substantively different from the elements of the state crime for which George Zimmerman has been acquitted. Of course once he's acquitted, his double jeopardy rights attach, which means he can't be prosecuted again for the same crime. So the question is whether the federal charges would be significantly different.

GUTHRIE: And they would have to, we assume, show that there was racial animus.

BLOOM: And what's fascinating about that, Savannah, is that in the state trial the prosecutors said repeatedly, "This is not about race." So much of the protests have been about race, but in the courtroom, it was not about race.

GUTHRIE: Well, let me bring the Reverend in on that. Do you think the prosecutors missed an opportunity there, that they didn't explicitly make this case about racial profiling?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The George Zimmerman Verdict; Where Was the Case Won and Lost?]

SHARPTON: I think they did, but it also sets up a federal case because you can't say it's been tried, because it wasn't tried. So there is no double jeopardy here because they specifically said this is not about race, which opens the door for the federal government to now investigate what he meant when Zimmerman said, "They always get away with this." Who is they and get away with what? When there was no crime being committed.

GUTHRIE: Let me ask you point blank, though, because Lisa's been rather critical of the prosecution team. Do you think the prosecutors mishandled this case? Did they do a good job of putting on this case?

SHARPTON: I think that they could have done a lot more. Lisa's a lawyer and certainly can say mishandled. I can say they were not aggressive in many areas they should have been, that I think the federal government can come in and do, which is why we're going to be out in front of the federal buildings in a hundred cities this Saturday.

BLOOM: And we've seen it before, in the Rodney King case. Acquitted on the state level and then successfully prosecuted on the federal level.

SHARPTON: That's right.

GUTHRIE: Reverend, you've been in touch with the family. Do you think they'll file a civil suit against George Zimmerman?

SHARPTON: You know, I've talked to Attorney Crump even moments ago. They will keep all their options open. I can tell you this is long from being over and we're going to be with them every step of the way because this puts every child at risk. Any child can be interfered with going home for committing no crime. That's the bottom line here that must be answered.

GUTHRIE: Reverend Al Sharpton, Lisa Bloom, thank you both for being here. Appreciate it.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC