TODAY | April 09, 2014
>>> the reverend al sharpton is addressing something he thought had been buried in his past. turns out the civil rights activist and msnbc host was an informant for the fbi 30 years ago. now he's saying it was the right thing to do. nbc's justice correspondent pete williams is here with more. he talked to reverend sharpton . pete, good morning to you.
>> good morning. the reverend sharpton says that longtime opponents have dredged all this up again, just as he's about to host president obama at a civil rights convention here in new york that starts today. al sharpton says he agreed to help federal agents go after mob figures who had muscled in on the music business , an industry he knew something about through his connection with singer james brown . you did say that the godfather of soul was like a father to you.
>> oh, absolutely. like a father to me, not a godfather in an organized crime sense.
>> 30 years ago, sharpton agreed to act as an fbi confidential informant, referred to in court filings at the time as ci-7.
>> we are not going to let this go!
>> thsharpton says he went to the fbi after organized crime figures threatened him for seeking a greater role by blacks in promoting musical acts. but law enforcement officials say sharpton agreed to cooperate after meeting with an undercover fbi agent, trying to gauge his interest in a drug deal. court documents uncovered by the smoking gun website helped fill in details about a role sharpton played that's long forgotten, agreeing to let the feds tap his phone to gather evidence and carrying a briefcase with a concealed recorder into meetings with such figures as crime boss vincent "the chin" gigante.
>> this is not "the sopranos" on television. this is real deal guys who controlled the music industry in the '80s. of course i'm going to try to get law enforcement to protect them.
>> he was never charged with anything, and on his nightly program on msnbc, he said he has nothing to be embarrassed about.
>> i did the right thing working with authorities. i didn't consider myself, quote, an informant. wasn't told i was that. i was an american citizen with every right to call law enforcement .
>> sharpton says he's trying to tell young people that there's nothing wrong with cooperating with the police when the community needs help. matt, savannah?
>> all right, pete williams , thank