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CNN "American Morning" - Transcript

Interview

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HOLMES: I want to turn now to the tensions that are building over a high-profile and a highly controversial hearing set for Washington, D.C., tomorrow. It's called "the radicalization in the American- Muslim community and that community's response." This was organized by New York Republican Congressman Peter King. Critics are saying this is essentially a witch hunt. Some even comparing the congressman to Joe McCarthy's anti-communist hearings back in the 1950s. Congressman King is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Sir, good morning. Thank you for being with us. You're a pretty popular or unpopular guy depending on how you want to look at it these days. So you tell us and for the American people who have been following this. What do you want Americans to get out of your hearings and learn that you think they don't already know?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I want them to realize the extent to which Al Qaeda is attempting to radicalize within the Muslim-American community. I want to determine the extent to which the radicalization is taking place, the extent to which Muslim leaders are cooperating and trying to stop that radicalization. And I also want to encourage people in the Muslim community, I think to be more aggressive in choosing their leaders. I don't think the leadership right now, the groups such as CAIR are doing an adequate job. I think in some ways doing a very poor job of representing the Muslim-American community.

What I'm saying, by the way, as far as the radicalization of this community, this is what the administration has said, the Democratic administration. The other night, Denis McDonough gave a speech where he said that Al Qaeda, and I agree with this, has now changed its tactics and it's attempting to radicalize within the Muslim-American community. And we've seen the evidence of that. A number of attempted attacks which could have killed hundreds, thousands of people have been carried out in the last several years by people who were radicalized in this country, living here legally, but radicalized by Al Qaeda. The New York City subway bomber, Times Square bomber and others.

HOLMES: I think no doubt people -- many -- Congressman, many people agree with that, that it is happening. We have seen plenty of cases of it. I guess people disagree with how you're going about it and how it's going to come across.

So tell them bluntly right now. Is there something you're saying about the Muslim community itself and their lack of response to this radicalization? Or are you saying there is something about Islam and the religion itself? Something about its teachings and its tenets that are leading to this radicalization?

KING: No, I would never question anyone's religious beliefs. You'll not hear a word from me about the Koran or any of those issues. Muslims are a proud people. They have a very proud religion. I'm not questioning that at all. But what I am saying is that there are people in the community who are not fully cooperating and I'm saying that the victims of that are not just the American community at large, but also Muslim-Americans in particular. And my witnesses tomorrow, two of them will be Muslim-Americans, one will be an African-American, whose son was radicalized and converted to Islam. And they will describe the situation in their community, how the radicalization is going on and how when they went to officials, when they went to imams, they were threatened. They were told not to be made --

HOLMES: But, Congressman --

KING: Yes.

HOLMES: On that point, the people you are bringing in, those witnesses. You're bringing a couple of people who, I guess, they support your argument that it didn't happen. And their cases, someone in their family was radicalized. But you're not bringing in people from the other side where cooperation did take place. Those cases -- so can you really give Americans an accurate picture of what's going on if you have people representing the side that you believe is actually taking place?

KING: Well, I'm bringing -- I believe people who are on the ground, people reflect what's happening. And I'll tell you in my conversations, I've been dealing with this issue now for 9 1/2 years. Law enforcement people and (INAUDIBLE) will tell me they do not receive the cooperation that they need. I've seen it on Long Island in my own district. I know what is happening in some of these mosques. And you will hear, these are people on the ground. These people living in the -- living there. They're the ones who endure this day in and day out. And to me, it's going to set a very good picture for the American people. The Democrats want to bring on their witness. That's fine. I'm having -- I'm also inviting Congressman Keith Ellison who disagrees with me completely on this issue. I've invited him to testify.

HOLMES: Well, sir, do you believe, and you said in an answer to a question, I believe it was CBS, that you don't think that a patriotic Muslim is going to refuse to cooperate with authorities based on your hearings. Do you think generally speaking that Muslims in this country are not patriotic enough?

KING: No, I would say the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding patriots. Obviously, there's a very small percentage who have allied themselves with Al Qaeda. And there's others, for instance, there was a Pew poll several years ago saying that 15 percent of young Muslim men could support suicide bombing.

This is a fertile ground for Al Qaeda to recruit in. But no, there's no doubt that overwhelmingly the Muslim-American community is a tremendous asset to our country. They are a part of the American mosaic. I have -- I am proud to work with Muslims. I meet with Muslims on a regular basis, but the reality is there's a threat now coming from certain elements within that community. And that's what the purpose of this investigation is.

HOLMES: But as you believe, as you know, sir, people question maybe you might not be the right one to raise the questions because you've said in the past that you believe that possibly 80 percent of the mosques in this country are headed by a radical imam? Do you still believe that? And what do you base that on?

KING: I made that statement back in 2004 during an interview. I was basing it on testimony by (INAUDIBLE), a national Muslim leader who had been testifying at a Clinton State Department hearing back in 1999. And at that time he said that he thought that over 80 percent of the mosques in this country were controlled by radical imams.

HOLMES: Do you believe it?

KING: I don't know what the number is today. That quote was back in 2004. I have no reason to doubt Sheik (INAUDIBLE) at that time that he was, again a very respected Muslim leader. But also he was making the point that these imam do not reflect the Muslim community, the ones he was talking about. And the point is the overwhelming majority of Muslim-Americans themselves are very good outstanding people.

HOLMES: Well, sir, we're going to have to leave it there, unfortunately. But there's a lot of interest. And it's important, I believe, to hear you say that. People here, you think that most Muslims are patriots here. But again, a lot of people are going to be watching closely tomorrow. Representative King, we appreciate your time this morning. We'll follow up with you.

KING: Thank you.

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