updated 1/5/2006 11:38:55 AM ET 2006-01-05T16:38:55

Guests: Janine Zacharia, Bruce Dial

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  Let‘s go to Tucker Carlson right now to get THE SITUATION.

Tucker, what you got? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  Thanks, Joe.  It‘s its own kind of tragedy, you‘re right.

Thanks to you at home for tuning in.  We always appreciate it.

We‘ll have complete coverage of the three stories dominating the headlines tonight.  We‘ll get to the failing health of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, the Jack Abramoff scandal also that, as we said, has Washington on high alert.  We‘ll talk about both those in just a moment.

But we begin with the crushing story of the West Virginia miners.  The questions on the lips of America tonight: how could the initial reports of their survival have been so completely wrong?  Why did it take so long to tell the families the truth?  Here‘s what the chief executive of the mining company had to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

BEN HATFIELD, CEO, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP:  These people have endured incredible pain over the last two or three days, and just as we did, they‘re clinging to hope.  And so they—they needed good information.  And we were trying to get them good information.  And in the process of being cautious, we allowed the jubilation to go on longer than it should have. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  MSNBC‘s Rita Cosby was on the scene last night.  She joins us live now from West Virginia. 

Rita, I just can‘t imagine casting blame at this early moment.  Everybody involved in this seems to be motivated by the best intentions, but how did this happen, this miscommunication?

RITA COSBY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  You know, there‘s a series of mistakes, Tucker. 

And I can tell you, first of all, being here right in front of the Sago mine tonight, people are so outraged, Tucker.  The family members are so hurt and just so livid at what happened. 

And just to give you just a little short sense of what happened, what we‘re hearing from the company officials is that a little bit before midnight.  In fact, either you or I were on live at the time.  But a little bit before midnight, they got word from the rescue crews that were the ground, they were several thousand feet in.  Remember, they go into the mine shaft.  They were several thousand feet in with breathing apparatus.  They relayed information that was relayed to the command center. 

Some 30 people, local, state, federal authorities were listening on this command center, open mic, sort of a speaker phone.  And what they thought they heard at that moment was the 12 miners are alive.  The 12 are alive.

They were jubilant.  They were excited.  They were happy with the news, passing some of that on to members of the press.  Then the family members got wind of it, as well. 

And then they‘re told about 15 to 20 minutes later, then they got another communication from the rescue crews deep into the ground who said, “No, no, no, no, no.”  They learned that there was this erroneous information getting around and then they cleared it up and said, “No.  We said that one is alive and the rest are bodies.” 

And that sounds like at first it was an innocent, of course, miscommunication.  But what a lot of people are saying—there‘s a couple things.  First off, why did the company not immediately do a check? 

A lot of times they said that that is standard procedure.  A lot of people familiar with the practices say that it‘s standard procedure that when they heard what they thought was 12 are alive, they should have gone back to the guys underground and said, “Let‘s just confirm this, guys.  Are we hearing correctly 12 are alive.”  They did not do that confirmation.  They waited for another 15, 20 minutes until they got confirmation from the folks in the ground.  

Secondly, and of course, probably the absolute biggest error of all, is that suddenly, you know, 12, 15 minutes later when they get this information that the original report was erroneous, then they did not go to family members. 

They heard the church bell ringing.  They heard everybody elated here, passing on this good news.  They continued that for some three hours.  And then three hours later, they went back to the family members and said here‘s the real information.  We were wrong.

What the company is saying to us is the reason that they didn‘t go back to the family members right away is they didn‘t want to go back again and then say, “Look, here‘s this erroneous situation, and we‘re not quite sure how many are alive, how many are dead.”  They didn‘t want to go back with piecemeal information. 

But a lot of people are saying they should have stopped the floodgates, said we‘re not quite sure what we‘re dealing with at this point.  Hold on, let‘s not get your hopes up.  And that‘s where everybody says the big mistake lies tonight. 

CARLSON:  So how long—how long was it?  I know it was a number of hours between the time we learned that the miners were alive and then the time we at home found out that they weren‘t.  But how long was it on the ground between the initial announcement that everything was OK and the time the families learned the sad news?

COSBY:  It was three hours, in fact.  So we‘re told that a little bit before midnight they got what they thought was 12 were alive, passed that information on. 

We‘re told somewhere around 12:15, 12:20 is when they got the information that that was wrong.  Sat on that information.  They‘re claiming they wanted to go in, triple check it before they went back to the family members again. 

But in the meantime everybody was cheering.  They knew everybody in the world was just hearing that this was some miracle in West Virginia.  And then we‘re told that the company, in fact, came out here right about where I‘m standing, right behind me, came out around 3 a.m.  So three hours later and then said, “We‘re sorry.  The sobering truth is that only one survived, 11 are dead.” 

And people are just outraged that they let that time go by.  Family members hearing—you know, thinking they got the best news of their lives, only to be let down so hard. 

CARLSON:  That is—that is just one of the worst things I‘ve ever heard, I think.  Everybody turning on the television or checking the Internet this morning, going to bed thinking they were alive felt the same way. 

Watching your show earlier tonight, I got the impression that the teams of trial lawyers are already moving onto the scene to sign people up for some sort of lawsuits.  Is that true and tell us, what is the scene there?  What are the families doing and what‘s the next step?

COSBY:  Well, tonight, earlier tonight there was a prayer vigil just a few hours ago.  And it was just about less than a mile away from here, at the Baptist church, where the families have been convening nonstop since this whole ordeal happened. 

Lots of family members and friends are there.  You know, the mood is—they are just stunned.  Some of them are just obviously so devastated by the news that their loved ones have perished, family members and friends. 

And then, as you point out, Tucker, a lot of them are just furious.  They are particularly livid that the company sat on this information.  They can say, look, we can forgive that they got the bad news.  They understand there was this miscommunication.  Nobody seems to think that that was intentional. 

But the fact that they sat on this information, you know, 15 minutes later getting the good news, didn‘t pass it on for three hours, that‘s what they cannot forgive. 

And as you suggesting, a lot of them are already saying, “We‘re looking at suing.”  We‘re looking at not just suing for, you know, pain and suffering, and the heartaches that these families went through, but in addition to that, they‘re going after the safety of this mine. 

A lot of these family members said that they knew that there were problems in the mine.  You look at numerous citations, 46 citations at Sago mine when they did the last inspection here, which that period ended December 22, not that long ago.  They‘re going to look at the safety record.  They‘re going to look at a lot of wrongful death lawsuits.  There is going to be a slew of lawsuits and particularly, added onto all of that, just the jubilation and then that enormous letdown.

CARLSON:  Right.

COSBY:  That enormous emotional roller coaster that we experienced with them. 

CARLSON:  Well, I bet every sleazy ambulance chaser from a tri-state area is showing up, unfortunately, to feed off their grief and suffering. 

Is there going to be a federal investigation into this?  And into what, exactly?

COSBY:  Yes, there‘s already word that a federal investigation is going to be launched.  They‘re going to look at, first and foremost, to try to get answers for the families as to what went wrong, what caused this, you know, horrible catastrophe. 

You know, they‘re hearing officials today from the International Coal Group, the owners of this mine.  They believe that it was some sort of carbon monoxide poisoning that overcame these miners, these miners who lost their lives, 12 of the 13 that did not survive.  They‘re not sure of that, but that‘s what sort of the initial readings are. 

That‘s why they were found with breathing apparatuses on, hunched in, sort of making a makeshift barricade.  It looks like, unfortunately, that they were alive for a few moments.  We don‘t know how long, whether it was minutes, whether it was hours.  That all is going to come out. 

The federal investigator is going to look into that, looking at the safety of this mine, too. 

CARLSON:  Yes.

COSBY:  Was there a horrible track record?  What has been the history of that?

And then they‘re going to look at what went wrong with the communications and did this company really mess up big time?  Who‘s responsible and is there going to be some serious violations?

CARLSON:  Right.

COSBY:  Some serial issues.  You know, even the company was asked today, do you think you‘re going to survive?  They know they‘re on the hot seat. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  I doubt they will.  And finally Rita, can you give us a quick update on the condition of the one man who survived?  I believe he was the youngest miner? 

COSBY:  You know, and that‘s the glimpser of hope out of all this, Tucker.  Some great news.  In the midst of just this horrible, horrible tragedy that happened here, one piece of good news. 

Randal McCloy, 27 years old, the youngest miner, survived.  And you know, of course, enduring still critical condition, a very serious condition at a hospital about an hour or so away from here, but he miraculously was pulled out. 

And what a lot of hospital workers and folks are saying because he was in such good shape and maybe he was barricaded a little bit away from some of the other guys, a little further away from where some of the toxic fumes are.  That‘s what they believe may have actually increased his chances of survival. 

But still in pretty serious condition tonight.  Communicating, though, with his family, not talking but actually able to squeeze their hand and make some expressions.  A lot of people believe the prognosis for him is going to be a good one. 

CARLSON:  Excellent.  The one blessing in the middle of all this.  Rita Cosby in West Virginia, thanks a lot. 

Well, seven time zones from West Virginia, there is breaking news in Israel tonight.  Israeli radio is quoting a hospital spokesman as saying Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon has survived surgery.  That surgery lasted more than six hours.  It drained blood from his brain.  He suffered a massive stroke today and a cerebral hemorrhage. 

NBC News‘ Martin Fletcher is in Tel Aviv with the very latest on this—Martin. 

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Tucker, Israel is holding its breath tonight while Ariel Sharon is fighting for his life.  Hospital sources say he may not last a night.  And his close political aides say they‘re hoping for a miracle. 

Sharon was on his farm this evening in the Negev Dessert when he complained of a pain and pressure in his chest.   An ambulance raced him to a Dasa Hospital (ph) in Jerusalem, but his situation got worse during the one-hour drive. 

At the hospital, he was unconscious and then he was taken straight to the operating theater.  Then a hospital spokesman said he had a cerebral stroke with massive bleeding in the brain.

Now all this comes after Sharon suffered a stroke which turned out to be a minor one 2 ½ weeks ago.  Then, doctors said, he recovered with no damage.  Sharon went straight back to work and he joked he needed to lose weight. 

But with elections scheduled for the end of March, Sharon‘s health was no joking matter.  And tonight, Sharon‘s sudden collapse has thrown the Israeli political scene into turmoil. 

His new party is essentially a one-man party, and without Sharon at the helm nobody knows what will happen in the next elections.  Sharon‘s new party had a huge lead in the opinion polls, but that may disappear if he dies or is too sick to leave the company. 

Now there‘s a lot riding on this.  Sharon gave new hope to the large Israeli middle ground, which has had enough of a conflict with the Palestinians and is ready to give up most of the West Bank for peace. 

Sharon even gained new respect among many Palestinians, for what was a late turn around from man of war, to man of peace.  But still, although many world leaders are sending their best wishes and hopes for a good recovery, some Palestinians leaders are rubbing their hands in glee.  Abu Jabril (ph), a Palestinian leader of Damascus, he reportedly thanked God for this gift of Sharon‘s death. 

Meanwhile, Sharon‘s power has been handed to the deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who can remain acting prime minister for 100 days.  By that time, there has to be elections.  But right now, though, there are conflicting reports coming from the operation theater, and none of them are good—Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Thanks, Martin.

Well, among the leaders issuing statements on Sharon‘s health crisis, President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  Here‘s what the president said a short time ago, quote, “Laura and I share the concern of the Israeli people about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon‘s health.  And we are praying for his recovery.  Prime Minister Sharon is a man of courage and peace.  On behalf of all Americans, we send our best wishes and hopes to the prime minister and his family.”

And Senator Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had this to say, quote, “I am distraught tonight to learn about Prime Minister Sharon‘s stroke.  We‘ve known each other for more than 30 years, and he is one of those rare people with the capacity to change and grow throughout his life.  He‘s always been steadfast in fighting for Israel‘s security, but it is his vision for making peace with the Palestinians and achieving a two-state solution that has driven him in recent years.  I pray for his recovery.”

Still ahead, we‘re keeping a close eye on the health of Ariel Sharon.  We‘ll bring you the latest as soon as we know it. 

Plus, a night of joy and jubilation turned into a nightmare for family members of the West Virginia coal miners.  We take an inside look at the ecstasy and at the agony.  THE SITUATION comes back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Still ahead, how miscommunication led to pain and heartbreak for family members of the West Virginia miners.  Plus, Pat Buchanan joins me to discuss the corruption scandal some are calling the next Watergate.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DR. SHLOMO MOR-YOSEF, HABASSAH HOSPITAL:  The prime minister was diagnosed with people neurotic (ph) stroke, with massive bleeding.  He was transferred to the operating theater for an operation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  That was one of Prime Minister Sharon‘s physicians speaking today.  That surgery has ended just moments ago after six hours.  We have been told he is still alive.  He survived that surgery and we‘ll be getting you a further briefing later in the program. 

What does this mean for the United States?  We go to our next guest, former presidential speechwriter and longtime Middle Eastern affairs watcher, David Frum.  He joins us live. 

David, thanks for coming on. 

DAVID FRUM, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHWRITER:  Thank you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  What does this mean?

FRUM:  First, for Israel, it means the passing of a generation.  Ariel Sharon is the last Israeli leader who was there in 1948.  He was part of the founding of the state and he‘s one of the generals who led Israel‘s war of independence.  He‘s been an important leader for half a century. 

For the United States Israel went through in the past five years something very like what the United States went through after 9/11.  There was this war with the Palestinians that started September of 2000.  Yasser Arafat got Clinton‘s offer, didn‘t like it, started a war to see if he could get a better one, and then lost. 

That event destroyed the Israeli left in much the same way that 9/11 destroyed the American left.  And Israeli politics has been a battle between the right and the middle.  And the great irony of history is that Ariel Sharon was always considered the farthest right politician...

CARLSON:  Right.

FRUM:  ... in Israeli politics, hop scotched his old friends and ended up as the leader of the middle against the traditional right. 

CARLSON:  Is that—I mean, it seems to me—of course it‘s far too early to write his obituary.  He is still alive, and he may recover.  But even now you‘re beginning to see the first drafts of obituaries being written, and they‘ve described him as someone who‘s moved almost to the left, who‘s become this force for peace and accommodation with the Palestinians.  Do you think that‘s a fair description?

FRUM:  Well, he is the leader of what is left of the left.  Now, he‘s not a real man of the left in that he doesn‘t—and this is where I think Americans can identify with this in their own post-9/11 reaction.

Before Yasser Arafat started that war, the Al Aqsa War in September of 2000, Israelis imagined a peaceful future with the Palestinians.  You know, the two sides would lay down their weapons and you would build a kind of commonwealth with Israelis on one side and the Palestinians on the other.  It would be France and Germany in the E.U., with a lot of free trading going back and forth. 

Since Arafat‘s war, I think the view among all Israelis is this is never going to be a happy relationship, and the Palestinians are never going to give up their hopes of destroying Israel. 

The question is, how do you manage that relationship?  And Sharon said the way you answer it, you manage it, is by withdrawing, by minimizing the friction, creating clear lines and separating.  The Israeli right says that‘s not going to work.  They‘re just going to shoot rockets at you.  The way you manage the relationship is maintaining a military presence inside the Palestinian areas. 

CARLSON:  Prime Minister Sharon seemed to have a closer relationship with President Bush really than any Israeli prime minister has ever had with an American president.  Does his passing, from the political scene, anyway, affect the relationship between the United States and Israel?

FRUM:  I don‘t think it will.  I mean, I think it‘s the job of any prime minister, Israeli prime minister, to get along with the American president.  The relationship has had a lot of ups and downs. 

CARLSON:  Not all have, though.  I mean, there has been tension.

FRUM:  Clinton hated Netanyahu, for example, who was prime minister in the late 1990s. 

CARLSON:  Right.

FRUM:  And yet the relationship, I think, works because there are very strong common interests.  There are strong common values.  And because any time the relationship gets bad, something happens to remind these two countries of how much they have in common with one another. 

That‘s, in a way what 9/11 did is shattered a lot of American illusions, at the same time as Arafat‘s war broke a lot of Israeli illusions. 

CARLSON:  You‘re already hearing people predict that Ben (ph) Netanyahu will be the next prime minister of Israel.  Do you think that‘s likely to happen?  And if so, what does it mean for the process, the apparent process of withdrawal that Sharon was going to continue in the west bank?

FRUM:  Well, first it shows how unpredictable politics is because three weeks ago Benjamin Netanyahu was regarded as a man without a future.  The idea was that Ariel Sharon had started this new centrist party.  He had recruited people from the right wing, the Likud Party, and the left wing, the Labor Party, to build this new middle of the road movement.  He would lead it, but he would build a new generation of leaders. 

Those new have not had a chance to remerge yet and Sharon‘s departure means that they suddenly look not as fully national as Netanyahu does.  So he does look like the man likely to take over. 

What the consequence is I think Netanyahu‘s instinct is probably going to be to say—he‘s not going to take back any of the concessions to the Palestinians that Sharon made, but he‘s going to be stricter that Sharon was, and insisting that the Palestinians live up to their obligations. 

If they say they‘re going to arrest somebody, they‘re better arrest him.  They say they‘re going to stop rockets, they better stop rockets.  And if they won‘t, he will then hold back on his concessions, which Sharon was more inclined to go ahead, pursue Israel‘s own vision of withdrawal and stop there, without looking for a reciprocal relationship. 

CARLSON:  Well, the irony is that, based on what you said, I mean, Sharon was hated above anybody in the Arab world, as far as I could tell.  His passing, though, might not be good for the Arabs. 

FRUM:  Well, Sharon has this one terrible black mark on his record, which is he was the general in command of Israeli forces in Lebanon in 1982, when Lebanese falangists (ph) attacked the Palestinian refugee camp.  Now, he didn‘t do it, but he had the power to stop it. 

He was a little bit like the French troops in, I guess, Rwanda.  But you know, he was the man.  He could have stopped it.  He didn‘t.  And this massacre occurred.  And then he was blamed by an Israeli court.

So that‘s made him very unpopular in the Arab world.  But I think you are right.  I think they‘re going to find the concessions come slower under Netanyahu, and if Netanyahu does emerge as the leader.  They‘re not good at living up to them. 

CARLSON:  Be careful what you pray for, if you‘re Syria.  Thank you very much. 

Still to come, firsthand accounts of the emotional roller coast the families went through. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We believe they were all alive except for one. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And what did they toll you, only one survived?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Only one. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  An example of the outrage from family members in the predawn hours this morning in West Virginia, when for moments is seemed like deliverance turned into agony for the close-knit community of Tallmansville, West Virginia, when the families of the 12 miners who died are still reeling from their loss. 

Here‘s NBC‘s Ron Hower with more.

RON HOWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice):  When you live in a place that yields little in the way of comfort.  Moments of pure joy seem all the more bitter. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you hear the church bells?

HOWER:  Those bells at the Sago Baptist Church, were sweet music to the miners‘ families. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, sweet lord.

CHRISTINA NEEL, FAMILY MEMBER:  Everybody started shouting and praising God that our families were getting out. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That candles are lit in the front of the church, and that symbolizes their life, and they came out alive, all of them. 

HOWER:  Word spread, but not a lot of information.  And no one was quite sure who first delivered the news.  It took hours to find out news was just wrong, and the hours of celebrating made the agonizing truth hard that much harder to bear. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They told us they were alive. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They were taking them out, making sure they were all right.  They were bringing them back up here so they could have food before they go to the hospital. 

HOWER:  Ann Meredith, her husband Dan and niece Danielle had waited 45 hours to hear about Ann‘s father. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My dad, Jim Bennett, is dead because of them. 

HOWER:  Company officials had just told them there had been that miscommunication and only one of the trapped miners had survived. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And now I just find out that my Granddaddy is dead because people lied on the TV and everywhere else. 

HOWER:  No one thought here the miracle would be as fleeting as a candle‘s frame.  Life couldn‘t be that cruel. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Now we have no survivors.  Family members is gone, not only mine, but 12 other people.  And we want to know why. 

HOWER:  Anna Castro (ph) lost her cousin, Otto Withers. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re Christian people ourself.  We have got some of us is right down to saying that we don‘t even know if there is a Lord anymore.  We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us. 

HOWER:  Some faded inside the sanctuary.  Others made their way past the lights and down the muddy road into a miserable night.

HARLEY ABLES, FAMILY MEMBER:  They straight out lied to millions of people watching.  And all the families here. 

HOWER:  The governor insisted no one intended to deceive the families, but no words could ease their pain. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Pray for us.  We‘re West Virginians.  We might be dumb, but we love our families.  They don‘t care about us. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARLSON:  Ouch. 

Still ahead on THE SITUATION, Jack Abramoff pleads guilty to his fifth federal charge in the last two days.  This could shape up to the biggest political scandal in a generation.  Pat Buchanan tells us just how big it‘s going to get when THE SITUATION continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back. 

Doctors in Israel announced just minutes ago that the prime minister of that country, Ariel Sharon, has survived a six-hour surgery to remove blood from his brain.  He was felled by a stroke earlier today on his farm in the Negev Desert. 

This will have grave implications for many things, certainly for the Mideast peace process.  To find out exactly what it will mean, we bring in Washington bureau chief—former Washington bureau chief for the “Jerusalem Post,” current diplomatic reporter for Bloomberg, Janine Zacharia.  She joins us live from Washington. 

Janine, thanks for coming on.  What‘s the Arab response going to be to this?

JANINE ZACHARIA, BLOOMBERG NEWS DIPLOMATIC REPORTER:  Well, the Arab response—first, let‘s talk about the Israeli response.  Right now Israelis huddled around their radios, hearing that Ariel Sharon was rushed to the hospital and perhaps on his death bed.  No one really knows.

As it becomes clearer what his condition is, you might see some celebrating in the Arab streets, Ariel Sharon, after all, not been a popular figure in the Arab world.  Although some people have given him the benefit of the doubt since the Israeli withdraw from Gaza this past August.  So you‘ll see some pleasure in the Arab capitals and deep shock within Israel. 

CARLSON:  Do you think that Sharon was genuinely committed to the reality of a Palestinian state?

ZACHARIA:  Yes, he was.  He didn‘t come to it immediately, but his vision of it, he really was starting to promote his idea of a two state solution. 

Remember, it was December 2003 when he came out and said I‘m going to unilaterally disengage from the Palestinians and has elaborated very often and created a new party just recently that supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. 

This is, of course, earth shattering, because he was always considered a hard liner and resisted territorial concessions.  Now his definition of a Palestinian state may have been different, however, from former Israeli Labor prime minister Ehud Barak and others, but he was moving in that direction and he had the support of the Israeli people behind him.  And has it.  We‘ll see him, and he‘s not gone yet. 

CARLSON:  No, no, he‘s absolutely not, though I think it‘s probably fair to assume that he‘ll be gone from politics, at least for some time.  It sounds like a pretty profound medical event. 

If Benjamin Netanyahu does replace him as prime minister, a big if, but if he does, how is it going to change the peace process?

ZACHARIA:  Well, this is very interesting.  You remember after Rabin was assassinated, November 1995, Bebe won the election after that.  And that pretty put most of the peace moves into a deep freeze.  Netanyahu has tried to position himself to the right of Sharon, meaning more resistant to territorial concessions.  This has led to his numbers dropping. 

Sharon‘s new centrist party, called Khadima, according to the most recent poll on Monday, was scheduled to win 42 seats out of 120 seats in the upcoming March Israeli election. 

That in contrast to Bebe Netanyahu‘s Likud, which was going to get 16.

Now he‘s got two choices right now.  He can—if Sharon passes either politically or dies, he might need to move back to the center.  Because he‘s looking at these polls and he‘s seeing the Israeli people in the center. 

On the other hand, he‘s positioned himself as a hardliner.  So I don‘t know what he‘s going to do.  You might have a situation where this new party, Khadima, is so identified with Ariel Sharon that it can‘t survive without him.  And then Israeli politics go back to Likud versus Labor the old-fashioned way. 

CARLSON:  Finally, there have been reports, and I have no reason to doubt they‘re not true, of pretty profound unrest in Gaza, the area from which Israel withdraw over the summer.  Is there significance there?  I mean, is Gaza out of control?

ZACHARIA:  Absolutely.  You had American officials, I might add, were scheduled to leave this afternoon to go and deal with that particular issue, especially with another election, the Palestinian election schedule is scheduled for January 25.  And there‘s deep concern here in Washington about whether Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat, can control that unrest and what the implications might be. 

You‘ve had Khassam (ph) rockets coming into Israel.  You‘ve had Israeli reprisals.  So certainly that, combined with Ariel Sharon‘s health situation, is real a mixture for possible crisis in the region, I‘d say. 

CARLSON:  It sure sounds it.  Janine Zacharia from Washington, thanks a lot. 

ZACHARIA:  My pleasure. 

CARLSON:  Moving now to the big news from Washington, earlier today President Bush joined Tom DeLay and House Speaker Denny Hastert in announcing plans to donate campaign question from former power lobbying Jack Abramoff to charity. 

For the second time in two days Abramoff pleaded guilty before a federal judge, this time to conspiracy and wire fraud charges stemming from his 2000 purchase of a gambling boat fleet.  He has already agreed to cooperate in a massive corruption investigation that could involve up to 20 members of Congress. 

Here to discuss what some are calling the new Watergate, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan joining us live from Washington. 

Pat, thanks for coming on.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Delighted, Tucker.

CARLSON:  It seems to me it‘s going to be pretty hard for Tom DeLay to overcome this.  Do you think he can?

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think Tom DeLay can survive as majority leader of the Republicans in the house.  My guess is you‘re going to get a lot of Republicans who are going to demand an election.  And I think DeLay should give it up. 

I think there was last Saturday‘s story about those Russians giving a million dollars to that family network or whatever it was just before the INF bailout.  It just is—he‘s carrying too much weight. 

CARLSON:  This is almost—I mean, put this in context for us.  I think that partly because of the situation in Israel, partly because of the mine tragedy of last night, the magnitude of this story hasn‘t really percolated down to I think ordinary newspaper readers or television viewers, but this is a big deal.  Is it not?  Tell us why. 

BUCHANAN:  This is enormous.  This is enormous, because Jack Abramoff has, he knows—he‘s been delivering money and gifts and perks and things to Congressmen. 

And while he may not be able to deliver the Congressmen in for a quid pro quo solid bribery charge, Tucker, the sleaze here and the smell here and the stench, you‘ve got reporters all over town all over this story.  And if they start dropping these stories out one after another, they‘re going to kill the careers of a lot of these Congressmen. 

Everybody‘s being touched, not only the guys who‘ve got to give back I guess legitimate contributions, but people who got trips to St. Andrew‘s, people who got dinner, people who went out to these ballgames with him and then did favors for him.  I think they‘re going to damage a lot of careers and reputations so that a lot of people go down in the 2006 election.  You could have the kind of wipeout you had after a far less scandal, the Congressional bank scandal. 

CARLSON:  Here‘s what I don‘t understand.  Here‘s what troubles me, maybe more than anything else. 

Everybody involved in this—most people involved in this, certainly the lobbyists, were self-identified conservatives.  You had Jack Abramoff.  You had the Reverend Lee Sheldon from the Traditional Values Coalition.  And Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist.  Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition.

And all of them wound up in the end working for Indian gambling operations, which is about the least conservative thing you could possibly do here is essentially this affirmative action program promoting gambling.  Government monopoly, government sponsored monopoly.

How do conservatives betray their values so blatantly and nobody said anything?

BUCHANAN:  Simple, Tucker.  Eric Hoffer (ph), the longshoreman philosopher, said every great cause evolves into a business, and then it degenerates into a racket.  And that‘s what‘s happened to our movement, the conservative movement. 

It came—with Goldwater it was full of passion and ideas.  It culminated in the Reagan White House.  Now it‘s everybody get it while we can.  We‘re here, we‘re the power now—do you recall Orwell‘s—was it “Animal Farm”?

CARLSON:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  At the end, the pigs on the farm were playing cards with each other, wrestling on the floor.  You couldn‘t tell one from the other.  That‘s exactly what‘s happened to the conservative movement. 

CARLSON:  How much do you think the perception that the Democratic Congress pre 1994 was corrupt helped the Republicans take over?  It seems to me it was not so much an ideological victory for the Republicans, but the public in 1994 was just sick of the idea that Congress was, you know, run by people like Jack Abramoff?   You know, that was corrupt?

CARLSON:  My feeling of ‘74 is different than everybody‘s.  I don‘t think they voted for the contract for America.  Not a single Republican governor, senator or Congressman lost that year and I think the reason was one, Bill Clinton was perceived as completely outside the mainstream of the country, with a gigantic medical care program of Hillary, gays in the military, all these other things. 

The country just voted against the Democratic Party in that one, I think. 

But clearly the fact the Democratic were in there for 40 years, controlling the House all that time, and Republicans frankly had taken over the south and they‘d moved into real positions where they could throw out Democrats, I think everything came to fruition then.  It was a great year for the GOP.  I don‘t know that they‘re going to lose the houses of Congress this year, but they could very well, because nothing‘s going good. 

So what is the—what is the defense?  Let‘s say you‘re White House communications director and you need to figure out a way, or head of one of the congressional campaign committees.  And you need to figure out a way to sell the Republican Party in the face of all of this—not just the war in Iraq, but in the fact of this perception that Jack Abramoff has been in control of the party.  What do you say?

BUCHANAN:  Look, as I say, this is going to pour out because all these reporters are going to have it on the front page day in and day out.  You get the president and vice president away from this.  You condemn sleaze.  You ought to get to the bottom of it. 

If it‘s bipartisan people should pay the price.  And frankly, you‘ve got to move your flag to another hill and let those involved in this, quite frankly, let them save themselves.  I wouldn‘t try to save them. 

But I can tell you what the Republicans are going to do, they‘re going to say Patrick Kennedy got some and Conrad Burns.  And so you think it‘s going to be a big mess, and damage the whole political him system and a lot of careers and innocent folks who just took contributions are going to get hit hard who shouldn‘t be.  It‘s going to be a mess. 

CARLSON:  I hope the Republicans and their cheerleaders in Washington don‘t defend this garbage.  I hope they cheer when Jack Abramoff gets sent off to some—the deepest hole. 

BUCHANAN:  I‘ve talked to a friend of his, and Abramoff is feeling pretty bitter, you know.  He‘s taking all these guys out to the ballgames and the dinners, and they‘re now calling him a sleazeball and “I didn‘t know him” and all of this.  I think he‘s well-motivated.  I think he‘s going to take some of these guys down. 

CARLSON:  I agree—I agree with that.  It‘s going to be a great spectacle.  Pat Buchanan from Washington, thanks a lot. 

BUCHANAN:  Take it easy, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Pat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN HATFIELD, CEO, INTERNATIONAL MINING GROUP:  We made what we believed to be the best decisions, based on the information available, while working under extreme stress and physical exhaustion.  We sincerely regret the manner in which the events unfolded earlier this morning. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  That apology likely won‘t be enough for distraught families falsely led to believe their loved ones were alive in the Sago mine late last night.  Once their outrage subsides, though, will they want to know exactly what happened to the men inside that mine?  They probably will. 

Here to help us figure out what did happen, mining safety expert Bruce Dial.  He joins us live again tonight from Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Bruce Dial, thanks a lot for coming on.

BRUCE DIAL, MINING SAFETY EXPERT:  My pleasure, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  So what do you suppose—probably impossible to tell now.  But what do you think those miners did right after the explosion?  What would their first course of action be?

DIAL:  They just went into the mine.  It was the beginning of their shift, and that‘s when the explosion occurred.  They were—the explosion occurred between them and the entrance that they had just came in.  So they knew they couldn‘t get back out that way. 

The first thing they did, they put on their SCSR, their self-contained self-rescuer.  They knew they would have one hour of air.  So they—knowing they couldn‘t go back the way they came, they went to the left side of the mine, hoping to get out one of the other entrances to the mine. 

Evidently they couldn‘t get out in time or something blocked their way.  And so they fell into their training that has been drilled into them for years.  You build a barricade.  You get in an area that is like a three walled room, and then you get inside and you build a barrier to make the fourth wall. 

My understanding, what I‘ve heard, is they did build this barricade.  It wasn‘t built very well.  It was there, but it could have been constructed better.  That could be caused—that could have been caused by the miners were already suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

CARLSON:  Is it ever possible to built an air tight room, though, out of rocks and debris from the inside of a mine?

DIAL:  Not air tight, but you could block—if the ventilation and stuff is still working in the mine, it would kind of blow the gases away from you.  It would pass right past you, and then you‘re relying that the air that‘s in the room that you‘re in would last until you could be rescued. 

CARLSON:  Now how could one miner, presumably the miners were all in the same—roughly the same area.  I think they were.  How could one miner have survived, while the other 11 with him died?

DIAL:  It‘s possible—and we‘ve had other cases in other disasters, where, since you‘ve built this room, there‘s no air movement inside of that room.  And where this particular miner was, maybe there—maybe there was a little bit more oxygen or a little bit less carbon monoxide in that position of the room. 

The miners are taught to—somebody gets up every 10 minutes and takes a coat or a shirt and waves it around, trying to mix that air up.  But as they start losing consciousness and don‘t understand what‘s going on, that nobody does that. 

And it‘s possible that this particular man that survived was in an area where there was a little bit more oxygen or a little bit less carbon monoxide. 

CARLSON:  Are miners told to stick together, or is it common or accepted practice to split up?

DIAL:  No, it‘s common practice to stick together as much as possible.  That way, whenever the mine safety crew finds them, they don‘t have to run all over the mine.  They can find them all in one place. 

CARLSON:  Now if the average—if the oxygen allotted to each man lasts only an hour, is that enough?  I mean, how often are miners rescued after just an hour?

DIAL:  The one hour is not really to—the only reason they have that is trying to help them escape on their own or help them to get out of the dangerous area, into a safe area.  It‘s not really made to—to last a long period of time.  That‘s why they‘re taught to barricade, and then they‘ll await the mine rescue teams. 

CARLSON:  Very, very grim.  Bruce Dial in Charlotte, thanks. 

DIAL:  Sure thing. 

CARLSON:  Coming up on THE SITUATION, we‘ll update you on the status of Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon.  He reportedly survived a very long surgery following his massive stroke today.  The tale when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  Time for our voice mail segments, our voice mail tonight not surprisingly concerned the three big stories of the day. 

First up...

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m Janet from Mt. Clemens, Michigan, about the coal mine tragedy.  These mines should not be operating, unless they‘re absolutely safe.  People were told that their loved ones were alive, and a few hours later they tell them they were dead.  Are they covering their butts because maybe they brought them up wrong?  I want to know the facts and nothing but the truth. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CARLSON:  If there‘s any story you‘re going to learn the truth about, it‘s this one, because there are so many people who are intent on finding it. 

But I would just say this.  It is a little early, it seems to me, to be blaming people.  It‘s certainly far too early for ambulance chasers to be descending on the area inciting people to sue other people.  I think that is horrible and divisive and motivated by greed.

But it doesn‘t seem to be yet in this story that anybody acted out of malice.  I feel sorry for every single participant in this story.  And I think it‘s just—I think it‘s wrong to cast blame when we don‘t know exactly what happened. 

Next up...

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Page calling from San Diego.  I wanted to call and comment on Ariel Sharon, that the United States might have lost the only man who‘s capable of keeping those completely and totally insane Middle Eastern states in check.  I certainly think that the world is more dangerous without Sharon. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Yes.  You may be right.  Somehow I don‘t think any prime minister of Israel is going to let his guard down.  I do think the United States could have a stranger ally than Ariel Sharon, who time and again showed contempt for the United States and American policy.  It may not be the best time to say that. 

We certainly wish the prime minister the best.  But we just learned moments ago he‘s been returned to the operating room and surgery to continue the procedure he‘s been undergoing for the past several or so hours this afternoon in Israel. 

However, I do think the United States could, in fact, have a stronger ally than Sharon, and perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu will be that man.  We‘ll find out.

Next up...

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mary.  I‘m from Brush, Colorado.  I just came across your articles about the Abramoff scandal.  He has had touch all kind of representatives of our nation‘s government, and you act like that‘s no big deal, because you can twist some words about Lou Sheldon around to make him sound like an idiot. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CARLSON:  I don‘t know what the hell you‘re talking about, Mary.  Of course it‘s a big deal.  And I wish all of them absolutely the worst.  Any person who had physical or even phone contact in an amiable way with Jack Abramoff ought to be ashamed of himself.  This guy was an A-1 sleaze.  You‘ll never catch me defending him or anything he did.  I think he‘s appalling and an appalling symbol of what a lot of Republicans, frankly, in Washington have become and it‘s upsetting. 

Let me know what you‘re thinking: 877-TCARLSON is the number, 877-822-7576. 

Still ahead, we‘ll look back at the night of jubilation that became a morning of horror for the families of the West Virginia coal miners.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Welcome back.  There‘s been a briefing by the doctors treating prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon.  Apparently, after giving the prime minister a CAT scan it has been found that he is still bleeding from the brain.  So he‘s going back into surgery.  He‘s now again on the operating table, doctors trying to stop that bleeding.  We will give you updates as we get them. 

It‘s been 24 hours almost to the minute since the families of those West Virginia miners were told their fathers, their sons and their brothers were alive.  Sadly, that news proved too good to be true. 

We‘ll leave you tonight with images of the harrowing night and early morning outside the Sago mine. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can you hear the church bells?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Alive!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Praise the lord, we got them out.  That‘s all we heard. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They‘re, like, praise the lord.  They‘re alive, they‘re alive. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We were sitting here in the vehicle and someone came down running and screaming they‘re all alive. 

HATFIELD:  That information spread like wildfire, because it had come from the command center, but it was bad information. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They straight-out lied to millions of people watching. 

HATFIELD:  Welcome to the worst day of my life. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Family members is gone.  Not only mine, but others, 12 others.  And we want to know why. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We thought it was our family, and our family ain‘t there.  Our family is dead because they lied to us. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because they took too long. 

GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  About the confusion, I can‘t tell you of anything more heart wrenching that I‘ve ever gone through in my life. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to the loved ones whose hearts are broken. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We don‘t even know if there is a Lord anymore.  We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us.  What happened, people?  Tell me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was able to interact a little bit with us, responded to his wife in an appropriate manner. 

BUSH:  May God bless the good people of West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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