Rev. Wright urged to stay silent until after 2012

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Politics,Byron York,Barack Obama,Religion

Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose "God damn America" sermon set off a firestorm during the 2008 campaign, agreed not to publish an account of the episode until after President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, according to an interview Wright conducted with the author of a new book on Obama.  Wright said he made the decision at the urging of a friend and mentor, the prominent University of Chicago emeritus professor Martin Marty.

In the interview, Wright told Ed Klein, author of The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House, that he keeps a cardboard box of documents and notes detailing his experiences beginning in March 2008, when the controversy over his sermons began.  "It's a painful box to look at," Wright said.

"Marty had me over to his home for dinner in January [2010]," Wright told Klein. "He said to me, 'Are you keeping notes on what's happened to you in this Obama campaign?'  I said, 'Yes, sir, I am.'  He said, 'Don't publish it until after the next election.  They'll think it's sour grapes.  Wait until after 2012.'"

It was at that point, Wright told Klein, that he decided to leave the box untouched, at least for now. "I don't look at the box," Wright said.  "I haven't looked at it since I've been to Marty's house."

"[Marty] said, 'Don't write that until after 2012," Wright said.  "I said, 'I'm not.' [He said] 'Don't publish it.'  [I said] 'I'm not.'  I haven't even looked at it.  I've just put all of it in one box and said I would get to it later."

Wright's description of his discussion with Marty is not included in the Klein book.  But Klein, through his public relations representative, made the audio of his entire two-hour-and-forty-five minute interview with Wright available to The Washington Examiner. 

Marty, reached by phone at his Chicago home Saturday, said Wright's recollections were accurate.  Marty, a legend in the field of the history of religion, declined to make any other comment.*

At another point in the interview with Klein, Wright discussed the book he hoped to create. "What I was going to write on the Barack Obama thing was what it was like being the pastor of the one who ended up being the first African-descended president," Wright told Klein.  "Before the media mess, what was it like?  And Martin said if you're keeping notes about what happened, don't publish that until after 2012, regardless of how the election goes.  So I really put it aside.  And every time I look at that box, with all those things in it -- "

When Klein asked more about the box, Wright revealed that in 2008 Eric Whitaker, a close friend of President Obama's, offered him a substantial sum of money to stay quiet about his relationship with Obama until after the '08 election.

"What's in the box?" asked Klein.

"An email offering me money not to preach at all between the explosion of the media the first week in March [2008] and the November election," answered Wright.

"An email from whom?" Klein asked.

"One of his friends."

"Whitaker?" asked Klein.




According to Klein, Whitaker's offer, which was made through an intermediary at Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ, was $150,000.  Wright declined. Wright also said that some time after he received Whitaker's email, he spoke one-on-one with Obama, who did not offer him any money.

"Was [Obama] aware that Eric Whitaker had offered you money?" asked Klein.

"I don't know," said Wright.  "I didn't mention that."

"But he asked you not to appear at the NAACP or the -- "

"National Press Club," added Wright.

"Those two things?"

"No -- and don't do any more public speaking."

"What did you say to him?"

"I said, how am I supposed to support my family?" Wright said.  "I have a daughter and a granddaughter in college whose tuitions I pay.  I've got to earn money.  He said, 'Well, I really wish you wouldn't.  The press is gonna eat you alive.'"

"And that's all he said?  Just that?"

"Yes, that's all he said about my not speaking," Wright answered.  "I really wish you wouldn't.  It's gonna hurt the campaign if you do that."

The Wright issue has resurfaced in the last week with the revelation that a pro-Mitt Romney SuperPAC considered making an ad that featured Wright.  After a media firestorm, Romney and many Republicans condemned the idea. 

But Wright's specific allegation that Whitaker, a close friend of the president's, offered money in exchange for Wright's silence has received little scrutiny in the press. The website BuzzFeed asked Wright, the Obama campaign, and the University of Chicago Hospitals, where Whitaker is a top executive, about the allegation.  All declined to comment.

*Update: On Sunday afternoon, responding to an email request for comment, Professor Marty sent this note about Rev. Wright's description of their talk:

Yes, it was accurate. My wife and I had Jerry (a former student) and his wife (also a pastor) to dinner, and something like this came up in conversation. To answer your question: I was speaking only for myself in the give-and-take of friendly dinner conversation, and not as a representative of anyone or anything. I just thought he should move on; I think he was writing a memoir, and didn't think a "one-note" discussion of that topic would advance the plot.

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner