updated 5/5/2006 10:50:58 AM ET 2006-05-05T14:50:58

Guests: Jim VandeHei, Spencer Ackerman, Mary Ann Akers, Ron Kessler, Jessica Sierra, Justin Guarini

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Fear and loathing in Atlanta, as Rummy gets shouted down by protesters saying he lied about Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You lied!  You lied that Iraq‘s oil would pay for the war!  You lied about everything, the CIA...

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SCARBOROUGH:  Did the defense secretary get the message?  Does the White House even care?  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  No passport required; only common sense allowed. 

You know, on this anniversary of the bloody Kent State protests, I guess it goes without saying that antiwar demonstrations have a long history in American political life.  But unlike Kent State, most are standard fare:  some screaming, a little sign-waving, and a lot of self-righteous posing for the cameras. 

And unless you‘re the president of the United States, this president, you‘re going to expect to be shouted down from the podium from time to time.  And few notice when protests are aimed at you and your approval ratings are high, but when you‘re the secretary of defense, and you‘re running a war that almost 70 percent of Americans oppose, and when your heckler is a former CIA analyst, well, some people are going to take note. 

And that‘s exactly what happened to the embattled defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, earlier day in Georgia. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY MCGOVERN, FORMER CIA ANALYST:  And so I would like to ask you to be up front with the American people:  Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties?  Why? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Well, first of all, I haven‘t lied.  I did not lie then...

(APPLAUSE)

It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there. 

MCGOVERN:  You said you knew where they were. 

RUMSFELD:  I did not.  I said I knew where suspect sites were, and we were just...

MCGOVERN:  You said you knew where they were, “near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and northeast, south and west of there.”  Those are your words.  I‘d just like an honest answer. 

RUMSFELD:  I‘m giving it to you.

MCGOVERN:  We‘re talking about lies and your allegation that there was bulletproof evidence of ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq.  Was that a lie or were you misled? 

RUMSFELD:  Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the pre-war period. 

MCGOVERN:  Zarqawi, he was in the north of Iraq, in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule.  That‘s where he was.

RUMSFELD:  He was also in Baghdad. 

MCGOVERN:  Yes, when he needed to go to the hospital.  Come on, these people aren‘t idiots; they know the story. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what, that‘s some rough handling.  Not that Rumsfeld‘s treatment was really all that shocking. 

You know, Henry Kissinger spent the ‘70s being shouted down on college campuses for his role in Vietnam.  “Henry lied, people died,” was a favorite refrain with the peace protesters back then.  And Madeleine Albright faced a blistering reception at Ohio State University during the lead-up to the Kosovo War.

But today‘s protests may be far more potent, because they‘re aimed at a defense secretary who‘s taking a pounding from all sides.  You got peaceniks on the left who think the sec-def set too many troops into Iraq.  You‘ve got retired generals on the right who correctly argue that he didn‘t send enough in to win that war, which leaves Donald Rumsfeld in a political no man‘s land, where his future is left in the hands of a president desperate for a political shakeup that will save his teetering presidency and shakeup that, in the end, may include the once impenetrable Donald Rumsfeld. 

Now, is it time to fire Rumsfeld?  Or is this really all about George Bush, his war, and his presidency? 

With me to talk about it, we‘ve got retired General Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm.  He‘s now an MSNBC analyst, and he just returned from visiting Iraq.  We also have Tucker Carlson.  He‘s the host of “THE SITUATION” on MSNBC.  We‘ve got White House reporter Jim VandeHei from “The Washington Post.”

Now, Jim, let me begin with you.  You saw these clips from earlier today.  Is this a White House—it‘s long been accused of being arrogant by outsiders—is this a White House that even cares that Rumsfeld got shouted down today? 

JIM VANDEHEI, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Oh, well, they care because I think it makes pretty powerful TV, and, you know, you‘re showing it tonight, and I‘m sure a lot of newscasts are, and they don‘t want to have that be sort of their public relations message of the day. 

But by no means are a couple of hecklers going to scare President Bush into getting rid of Don Rumsfeld.  If six retired generals come out and talk in a very serious way about why Rumsfeld should get down, and the president says, “No, I‘m the decider, and I‘m going to stick with him,” there‘s no way three hecklers are going to push Bush to do it.

The reason being is that the president believes that sort of he and Donald Rumsfeld are in this together.  And that if he were to get rid of Donald Rumsfeld, it would be a tacit acknowledgement that his Iraq war plan isn‘t working, and it would lead to even more questions about why we‘re in Iraq and more scrutiny of President Bush; they don‘t want that right now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, basically, Jim, you‘re saying that Rumsfeld is connected to the hip with George Bush for as long as Bush is in this White House and supporting this war? 

VANDEHEI:  At least for now.  I‘ve got no signs from talking to anybody over there that the president is thinking about getting rid of Donald Rumsfeld. 

And, remember, this president is very stubborn and very loyal.  He likes to stick by the people that he‘s closest with, and there‘s no way, when people are digging in, and people are saying, “You‘ve got to get rid of him,” that‘s when the president digs in himself and that‘s when he stands by him. 

Remember, last week, when he went out before the cameras, and he was pressed on this very issue, and he said, you know, “I‘m the decider.  I‘m going to decide who sticks around, and I‘m behind Donald Rumsfeld.”  You don‘t see him giving that powerful of an endorsement to say the treasury secretary, who‘s also had his own calls from people on the outside saying that he should resign. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.

General McCaffrey, you went to Iraq; you saw the situation over there.  Is it such a mess that Donald Rumsfeld should be fired and somebody else should be put in there? 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I think we‘re actually very sensible strategy today in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have good leadership, General John Abizaid.  The ambassador is a brilliant man, Zalmay Khalilzad.  You know, I think there‘s adequate forces there. 

The political situation is very tenuous with the Iraqis, but, no, I think the people we‘ve got over there are doing a pretty good job. 

And the question is—you know, this is a very serious situation, today‘s heckling of the secretary of defense.  We‘ve got 150,000 troops in combat, and our secretary of defense from now on won‘t be able to appear in a public forum.  There‘s enormous hostility in the part of a large part of the population toward the war.  This is not good for our fighting forces.  These people have lost the confidence.

SCARBOROUGH:  And he has lost the confidence.  And, General, I want to remind our viewers what you were saying three years ago, before this war even started.  You‘ve been supportive enough of Secretary Rumsfeld, but three years ago you were saying he was trying to win this war on the cheap. 

There were so many people in the Armed Services Committee that were saying the same thing, conservatives, Republicans.  These weren‘t peaceniks; these were people that were saying:  Rumsfeld‘s got this all wrong. 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Aren‘t these protests today proving that what you were saying and what some of the other generals were saying three years ago may have been right? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, like, here‘s the problem:  This is a brilliant, patriotic man.  He‘s one of the more talented people we‘ve had in public office.  He can take a shot like nobody you‘ve ever saw.  His performance under heckling is unbelievable. 

But, at the end of the day, his judgments are bad.  Now we‘ve got 20,000 killed and wounded.  It‘s $300 billion.  You know, I think he got his president and the U.S. national security policy in a real tricky position. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Tucker Carlson, should Donald Rumsfeld be fired? 

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST:  I think a lot of the hostility here is misplaced.  You know, people are angry about our Iraq policy; I‘m one of them; I‘m angry about our Iraq policy.  But that‘s not Rumsfeld‘s fault, in the end. 

He didn‘t dream up the invasion of Iraq.  He doesn‘t have the power to execute it.  That‘s something the president did.  That‘s also something members of Congress endorsed by their vote in the run-up to war.  Those are the people you ought to be angry at.

I do think General McCaffrey is absolutely right:  He showed bad judgment, really, from day one, when he made these sort of light-hearted statements about the looting in Baghdad, the disorder that broke out, that we‘ve never really gotten under control since then.  He clearly has some judgment problems, but, from a macro point of view, this is not his fault.  He was executing policy that was dreamed up by other people. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Tucker, you know what‘s interesting about this guy, Donald Rumsfeld?  I got to tell you, I was on the Armed Services Committee in 2001 when he first came in.  I thought that his idea of winning wars on the cheap, even pre-9/11, is just absolutely ridiculous, and yet I love this guy! 

It‘s the first time, I mean, I think I‘ve experienced a personality cult in my own political life.  I just love watching him in front of the press; I love watching him in front of protesters.  He‘s bigger than life.  And, unlike so many Washington bureaucrats, he just doesn‘t seem to give a damn.  He says:  This is what I believe.  Follow me. 

CARLSON:  Well, imagine the president—I mean, you know, no offense to the president, but imagine Bush in the situation Rumsfeld found himself in today.  Somebody jumps up, starts screaming. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, he would have collapsed.

CARLSON:  Exactly right.  Can you imagine Bush saying, “No, no, let the man speak,” and then calmly rebut—correctly or not, but still! -- I think, with a great deal of grace, every single point.  It‘s impressive, as a performance, anyway. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, exactly, performance art from the sec-def.

Let‘s bring in Spencer Ackerman.  He‘s from “The New Republic.”  Mr.  Ackerman, I‘ll ask you the same question I asked Tucker Carlson:  Should Secretary Rumsfeld be fired?  Should he resign? 

SPENCER ACKERMAN, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Whatever it takes to get him out. 

You talk about misplaced blame for the war.  I think there is some misplaced blame, that it is Bush‘s war.  And so, as a result, some anger with Rumsfeld is going to be misdirected anger at Bush. 

But regardless of how you feel about the war, I don‘t see how you can argue that Rumsfeld isn‘t responsible for any number of mistakes.  You want to talk about misstatements that Rumsfeld made?  I remember in late 2003, when he started telling people in op-eds and in speeches that we had 150,000 Iraqi troops trained, that wasn‘t even close to the truth. 

So I don‘t see how Rumsfeld could possibly be any better than, you know—anyone else they could get in would just be a million times better.

SCARBOROUGH:  But isn‘t it ironic, though, that he‘s being attacked from the left and he‘s being attacked from the right?  People on the right are saying—and have been saying for three years—he wasn‘t sending enough troops into Iraq; he wasn‘t doing what Colin Powell always talked about, which is using overwhelming force to make sure that you didn‘t have a fair fight with your enemy. 

ACKERMAN:  I think one of the interesting things about the emphasis about Rumsfeld‘s pre-war misstatements is that it obscures precisely the point about his judgment that General McCaffrey made.  There‘s been a tremendous amount of focus on any number of misstatements or untruths that have come out of the secretary‘s office.  I just made some just now.  And yet the emphasis on his judgment is what people should look at when evaluating the worth of a defense secretary. 

CARLSON:  I agree—let me just say, I agree with that completely.  And the line of argument, “Bush lied, people died,” first of all, it‘s irrelevant now, because it doesn‘t suggest what we ought to do from here on out. 

Second, I think, for all of the blame you can lay at Bush‘s feet for this disaster, in my view, going on, I don‘t think that‘s fair.  I mean, there were a lot of people who believed that Iraq had these weapons; not all of them were in the Bush administration; many of them were not even in this country.  There was a kind of consensus.  It turned out to be wrong. 

I don‘t think they need to be liars to be responsible for the debacle, in other words.

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re exactly right, Tucker.  And, of course, we could talk about Ted Kennedy; we could talk about Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, France, Russia, Great Britain, even Saddam Hussein saying Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before this war. 

And, General, that is irrelevant to me.  It‘s irrelevant now because everybody believed it, everybody said it.  You just came back from Iraq.  You‘ve been talking straight from the beginning of this war.  Give us a state of the war, as you saw it in Iraq, when you were over there. 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, a couple of things.  First of all, what is undervalued inside the Beltway is the status of the U.S. Armed Forces.  These are the bravest, most creative, dedicated people we‘ve ever had in uniform; 20,000 killed and wounded, their confidence is unshaken. 

They‘re in charge of Iraq.  They simply have confronted very effectively any opposition, whether it‘s Fallujah or the foreign fighters, terrific job. 

I think the progress of standing up some form of government is probably moving ahead, I hope.  That‘s the key question:  If they can‘t form a government in the next 120 days, there‘s some chance that this 250,000-man Iraqi security force will come apart and form the basis of the civil war that will occur when we withdraw. 

Then finally, I was very concerned, having spent $18 billion in economic reconstruction—some with very badly because of the insecurity situation—we now only have $1.6 billion in the pipeline.  Joe, we simply have to spend $5 to $10 billion a year for three, or four, or five years to jumpstart the economy.  Unemployment‘s a bigger danger than foreign fighters. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, General, as always.  Greatly appreciate your insight.  You‘ve been dead-on from the beginning of this war. 

I want to thank all my guests for being here tonight.  And just a reminder:  Make sure you watch “THE SITUATION” with Tucker Carlson.  It‘s coming up tonight.  And an exclusive guest:  That CIA analyst who challenged Rumsfeld earlier today.  That‘s coming up tonight, straight ahead at 11:00 Eastern.

And straight ahead here, Hillary Clinton may be the odds-on Democratic favorite for 2008, but party activists are talking up Al Gore.  Will he take on his former White House nemesis?  “HARDBALL‘s” Chris Matthew will be here to talk about that.

And then breaking news:  another Washington cover-up?  Well, U.S.  Congressman Patrick Kennedy was involved in an overnight car accident, and some are suggesting that accident was covered up by Capitol Hill police.  We‘ll get the inside story when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  “Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously observed that there are no second acts in American life.  But the expat‘s insights don‘t seem to apply to modern American political life, since eventual presidents like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton all survived crushing political blows in their careers, only to later achieve the pinnacle of power. 

Will Al Gore return from the political grave and once again prove Fitzgerald wrong by making a White House run in 2008?  Not if his old White House nemesis, Hillary Clinton, has her way. 

Now, Hillary supporters just announced the launching of their Draft Hillary movement in Nashville, Tennessee, which just happens to be Al Gore‘s backyard.  Ouch. 

Now, if the Democratic left is lukewarm about Hillary, some party activists believe Al Gore, Jr., may once again be there waiting in the wings. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH (voice-over):  Everybody‘s waiting for Hillary.  But if the junior senator from New York falters, some Democratic leaders and political pundits are openly wondering whether Albert Gore, Jr., should be the next president to prove Fitzgerald wrong. 

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m not going to dance around it, though I am known for my dancing skills. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Mr. Gore weathered the brutal 2000 presidential campaign that turned him into a punch line. 

GORE:  I‘ll put Social Security and Medicare in a lock box. 

GORE IMPERSONATOR:  A lock box. 

GORE:  ... lock box. 

GORE IMPERSONATOR:  The lock box.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  With some kind of metaphorical lock box...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, my God.

SCARBOROUGH:  But that didn‘t stop him from winning the popular vote or giving a spellbinding concession speech in the end. 

GORE:  While I strongly disagree with the court‘s decision, I accept it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Gore re-appeared two years later with a beard and a fiery style. 

GORE:  Donald Rumsfeld ought to resign immediately as the chief architect of this plan.

(APPLAUSE) 

SCARBOROUGH:  He attacked George W. Bush before it was the politically safe thing to do... 

GORE:  The president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently. 

(APPLAUSE)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... making him the darling of the Democratic left. 

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  It‘s great to have Al Gore back in Iowa!

(APPLAUSE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Where the old Gore was stiff and calculating, the new Gore is mad as hell, and he‘s not going to take it anymore.  But is he mad enough to take on the late night comics and the Republican attack machine one more time?

GORE:  Yes!

SCARBOROUGH:  The answer to that may depend on Hillary Clinton‘s next move. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  We will have the next president of the United States be a Democrat!

SCARBOROUGH:  But if his old White House nemesis decides she can‘t win the White House in 2008, expect Al Gore, Jr., to once again to step in from the wings and try to take the prize that his party still believes was stolen from him six years ago. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, he did win the popular vote.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m joined now by “HARDBALL‘s” Chris Matthews. 

Chris, I see that the Draft Hillary movement in starting in Nashville, Tennessee, which, also, of course, happens to be in Al Gore‘s backyard.  Do you think there may be a little bit of back and forth between these two people that were rivals at the beginning of the Clinton administration? 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Well, I think it‘s very active.  I think Al Gore resents Hillary Clinton‘s ascension, if you will, because—let‘s face it—it wasn‘t Al Gore who got in trouble with Monica Lewinsky, it was Bill Clinton.  And he gets stuck with all the responsibility for all of that goo, politically, back in 2000 when he loss that heart-breaker. 

I‘m sure he blames the whole thing on Clinton and the mess he put the country in with regard to the embarrassment in the Oval Office.  And I‘m sure he‘s got a grudge against Hillary Clinton, who just whizzed by it by saying “vast right-wing conspiracy,” blaming it on the political enemies of the president, then getting elected senator from New York. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Isn‘t it fascinating that Al Gore was seen as this boring, technocrat in 2000 that didn‘t have heart or soul, and Hillary Clinton was the hero of the left?  But if you talk to party activists, if you talk to, you know, the Hollywood-types and big money people, it seems like Al Gore is getting in fairly well with the left, while Hillary Clinton is now seen as the sellout centrist. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s only one issue to a lot of people:  Four out of five Democrats think the war in Iraq was wrong, it was a mistake, it was worse than a blunder, because it was carried out for ideological reasons.  They don‘t like this war.  Hillary Clinton supports the war to this day.  Al Gore—it took awhile, but he finally came out against the war, dramatically.  I think that‘s the issue.  That‘s the issue, the war, which defines Democratic passions right now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And Al Gore actually started attacking George W. Bush before most of the Democratic Party establishment did, right? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose, right? 

(LAUGHTER)

You know it‘s true.  I think the problem with Al Gore is, for whatever psychological reason, he took that loss as a personal rejection.  Even though he defeated George Bush in the popular vote, he took it as some real failure.  He went off and grew that beard and got weird. 

And I think that really hurt him in his chance of coming back in 2004.  I think if he had stayed in the action, given speeches, toured the country as the guy that did really well, who got more votes than George W. Bush, and acted like the most popular kid on campus, which he was, instead of acting like a man who‘d been marooned, or cast away, or banished, I think that was a psychological problem he had. 

I wish he had some brothers or friends who would have gone up to him and said, “Al Gore, you just got more votes than anybody else ever got for president.  You got more votes than the next president.  Act like you‘re proud.  Be a good American.  Smile, and you can come back again someday.” 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s talk about George Bush‘s week.  It‘s just been absolutely dismal.  The polls keep getting lower and lower.  Republicans seem clueless on Capitol Hill, a $100 rebate.  They‘re basically getting just pounded at the pump over the past year.  Have you ever seen a political party and a president seem so hapless before? 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got to wonder who‘s writing their material, Marie Antoinette?  I mean, where do they come up with this $100, you know?  “Let them eat cake.” 

What kind of a line is that?  First of all, it will save you maybe on two tankfuls, or three or four, maybe, at the most.  A hundred bucks isn‘t going to go very far, in terms of the amount that you have to pay extra at the pump now.  So it‘s sort of petty to start with. 

But the idea of just:  Where is this money coming from?  We know we have a $400 or $500 billion deficit right now.  Are we going to print more funny money and give it to us like this is Buenos Aires or this is Zimbabwe, they‘re just going to print some money? 

It sounds loony.  It sounds irresponsible, and it‘s condescending to the guy out there or woman trying to get to work and pay for a tank of gas. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It is condescending.  And I was just talking to my former chief of staff today, and he said, “Who came up with that?”  They‘re sitting around in the caucus room.  Somebody comes up with it...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think—what‘s his name? -- DeWine from Ohio was out there with a happy face on it.  He‘s one of the guys that was thinking was a good idea.  He‘s desperate for re-election in Ohio.  He‘s one of the guys out there who thinks this was a brilliant idea.  I think it‘s adding insult to injury.

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s insane.  So what‘s wrong with the Republican Party? 

Are they just disconnected from reality?  Is it arrogance?

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president—you know, there‘s a great line in “African Queen,” where Humphrey Bogart has got to decide which river to go down, when they‘re in that boat, he and Katharine Hepburn.  And he says, “You takes your money, and you takes your chance.”  You know, he bought a ticket. 

Well, the ticket that the president took was Iraq.  It was a decision; it was a choice.  He said, “I‘m going to go to Iraq; that‘s how I‘m going to fight terrorism.” 

Fair enough.  He made that decision.  The trouble with that decision: 

It was a lot more complicating, a lot more murky, and a lot more unpredictable, and a lot more costly than he imagined when he made that decision. 

The American people said, “Sure, we can go to war, but we don‘t accept a war that‘s going to have significant casualties.”  Well, maybe the whole country was being naive, but when he took us into that war, he took us into a long national challenge, which will probably continue through the next president.

And so he made that decision, and that‘s what presidents have to do.  But, politically, I think that leaves him stuck to defend that war right to the end of his administration.  And I think it‘s going to be a very heavy burden for him, and probably a heavier burden than he can handle, because I think the American people don‘t like long wars; they don‘t like wars that don‘t have ends to them; and they don‘t like wars whose purposes become more unclear as we get into them. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And so you answered my final question, which was:  How does George Bush turn it around?  It seems the only way he turns it around is he‘s got to win the war in Iraq, right? 

MATTHEWS:  The only thing that might cut his losses and may cut them enough—and you know the House numbers and how they have to compute.  You know, 15 seats is pretty hard to pick up.  Six seats is very hard to pick up in the Senate. 

He may campaign as kind of a scorched Earth.  He may get Karl Rove out there and pick out, say, 10 states, and say, “We‘re going into those 10 states, and we‘re going to scare the hell out of people about what the Democrats will do if they get in power.  And we‘re going to hold onto the seats we need by simply a real scare tactic of saying, ‘Look, you let the Democrats in there, you got John Conyers, a man on the left, you‘ve got Henry Waxman, a man on the left.  These guys want to use their subpoena power, their committee chairmanships, to go after the president.  And you‘re going to have two years of nothing but hearings, and prosecutions, and attempts to censure the president and maybe impeach him.  Do you want that?‘”  I think he might try that direction. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think you‘re right.  Hey, thanks a lot, Chris Matthews, host of “HARDBALL.”  I really appreciate you being with us tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up, and then there were four.  No more Paris in the springtime, as the singer‘s departure from “American Idol” means we‘re one step closer to picking the next idol.  But does one of the final four have an unfair advantage? 

Plus, new allegations of a possible police cover-up after an overnight car accident involving Congressman Patrick Kennedy. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Charges on Capitol Hill of a cover-up.  A Kennedy accident and the possibility of alcohol being involved.  We‘re going to be talking about the latest possible scandal in Washington, straight ahead. 

But first, here‘s the latest news you and your family need to know. 

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  And tonight, a special edition of “Must See SC: When Comics Attack.” 

You know, from Jack Paar to Steve Allen to Johnny Carson, late night comics have always taken shots at the president, but a new study shows the jokes aimed at George W. Bush have more than doubled in the last year.  So how tough have these guys been on the president of late?  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  When President Bush was in New Orleans, he said, “We pray there is no hurricane this coming year.”  This is what‘s called faith-based disaster management. 

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE SHOW”:  Andrew Card, chief of staff, has resigned.  And, well, finally somebody in the White House has an exit strategy, so that was good. 

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST, “LATE NIGHT”:  Earlier today at a press conference, President Bush said that Spanish-speaking immigrants should learn to sing the national anthem in English.  That‘s what he said, yes.  The president said that‘s only fair since he learned all the words to the “Macarena.”

LENO:  President Bush said today that the national anthem should be sung in English, and then he repeated his statement in Spanish. 

(LAUGHTER)

No, he said it should be in English.  Bush said today, “It‘s bad enough the song starts with the words ‘Jose, can you see,” right there. 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  And the National Weather Service says that it‘s going to be another very, very busy hurricane season.  As a matter of fact, President Bush is already stockpiling excuses.  So he‘s ready. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘BRIEN:  President Bush introduced his new press secretary, Tony Snow.  And the president said—this is a quote—“His job is to help explain my decisions to the American people.”  Yes.  Then Bush turned to Snow, and said, “Good luck, you poor bastard.”

LENO:  And the New Orleans Saints drafted Reggie Bush this past weekend.  People in New Orleans hoping maybe this Bush will actually do something to help the city, so they‘re excited about that. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tough. 

Now, breaking news involving Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of Senator Ted Kennedy and a congressman since 1994.  He was involved in a car accident late last night in Washington.  There are charges of a cover-up by the Capitol Hill police. 

Let‘s go right now to Mary Ann Akers.  She covers Congress for “Roll Call,” which broke the story today.  And Ron Kessler, he‘s the author of “Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty that He Founded.”

Mary Ann, I just—I need to tell everybody up front.  I came in, in 1994, with Patrick Kennedy.  I like him an awful lot. 

MARY ANN AKERS, “ROLL CALL”:  I remember that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But, in this case, it sounds like the Capitol Hill police may have really screwed up.  You‘ve got charges of a cover-up, of a Kennedy, of alcohol involved.  What‘s going on here? 

AKERS:  Well, you know, the letter from the union, the Capitol Hill Police Union, officials say that they were trying to do their job, that, you know, very early this morning, at about 2:45, the congressman had a wreck, that he narrowly missed crashing into a police cruiser.  Instead, he crashed into a police barricade.

And they said he got out of the car, was swerving, was staggering—is the way they put it in the letter they wrote to their superiors.  And they tried to give him a sobriety test.  And, according to the letter written by the Capitol Hill Police Union officials, they say that their superiors arrived on the scene and prevented them from giving the congressman the sobriety test and also offered and did give the congressman a ride home. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, so these officers on the scene actually are saying their superiors would not allow them to conduct a basic field sobriety test and figure out whether he was drunk or not? 

AKERS:  Well, that‘s what they‘re charging right now.  And they say that, not only were they able to give the congressman the sobriety test, which they felt that they should do, because, as I said, they described him as staggering out of his car, you know, there‘s more to this story, I think, according to the congressman.  I can get to that in a few minutes. 

But the superiors on the scene, according to the letter written by the union officials, said that they wouldn‘t let the police on the scene give the congressman his sobriety test and also gave him a ride home.  In other words, they‘re charging that he got preferential treatment. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What‘s the new—and, again, I mean, I know conservatives and a lot of Republicans are going to be jumping all over this story, because it is a Kennedy, but what‘s the new story tonight?  I understand that originally the congressman‘s office said that he wasn‘t intoxicated, but now it‘s possible he‘s going to come out and blame it on something else? 

AKERS:  No, he is going to release another statement.  Tonight, he is going to stand by his assertion that alcohol was not involved.  He says that he was not drinking prior to the accident, and he‘s going to stand by that. 

A little more information in the statement they‘re going to release later tonight, perhaps within the next hour, is that...

SCARBOROUGH:  Actually, you know what?  We just got the statement; it was just released, and NBC is reporting that he‘s blaming it on an anti-nausea medication...

AKERS:  That‘s right.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... that he took, and he claims that it caused him problems with driving. 

Ron Kessler, let me bring you in here.  There is a sad history, is there not, of—if alcohol was, in fact, involved, and tonight the congressman‘s office saying it was not—but there is a history of alcoholism in this family, isn‘t there? 

RON KESSLER, AUTHOR:  Sure.  Both Patrick‘s parents, of course, have big alcohol problems.  Joan, his mother, still does.  There‘s been tremendous risky behavior in the Kennedy family. 

Michael Kennedy, Bobby‘s son, was playing football while skiing and was killed.  We had Ted Kennedy involved in drinking and causing the death of Mary Jo Kopechne in the Chappaquiddick incident. 

But I also did a book called “Inside Congress,” which quoted dozens of Capitol Hill police officers as saying that what we just heard is standard operating procedure when it comes to members of Congress.  If the Capitol police officer comes across a member of Congress who‘s drinking, the person on the scene is dispensed with—higher-ups come in.  They take the person home.  There‘s no sobriety test. 

Of course, if it were you or me, we would be in jail, if, in fact, we were drinking.  So this is standard procedure...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, actually, if it were you or me—actually, when I served in Congress, it never happened to me, because I‘d certainly saw it happening to a good number of people, that, you know, if the police came and got Congressman Kennedy, and took him home, I can say—you know, probably, Mary Ann, that‘s probably not just because he was a Kennedy, but because he was a congressman, right?

AKERS:  I agree.  Yes, I don‘t—I wouldn‘t automatically say this is a Kennedy thing.  I think that very often the police do help members of Congress by covering these things up. 

And, look, I think what‘s interesting tonight is not that it‘s this other Kennedy story.  I think what‘s interesting, you know, when you look at Patrick Kennedy, this is somebody who has battled substance abuse.  OK, we know that.  This is somebody who struggles with depression.  He is a manic depressive, and he‘s fairly open about that, only in recent years.  He‘s bipolar.  He takes medication for that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Mary Ann, he‘s also—I mean, he‘s a likable guy, isn‘t he?  I mean, I, again...

AKERS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... I‘ve known him since 1994.  There are so many congressman who are self-important.  This guy, with his background, you would think would have come in self-important.  He‘s just a good guy.  I like him a lot.  I‘m wishing nothing but the best for him. 

AKERS:  Well, he‘s a really nice guy.  I‘ve known him for years.  And he‘s typically just a really shy person behind the scenes.  He‘s not what you think of when you think of, you know, the dashing, very self-assured Kennedy.  He‘s not like John-John.  He does stay behind the scenes. 

KESSLER:  Can we get back to the—now, this double-standard?  I think that‘s the real scandal here, you know, that members of Congress are arrogant.  They have their own Capitol police force.  Nobody can investigate what they do.  Capitol police cover up for these members. 

In fact, in my book, “Inside Congress,” I quoted a number of these officers as saying that they have a special procedure called un-arresting, which means that, if they have the misfortune to come across a congressman who‘s drunk and has caused an accident, and they didn‘t realize he was a congressman but they arrested him, and then they find out he‘s a congressman, they, quote, “un-arrest” him. 

Now, there‘s nothing like in the law or the Constitution.  I think it really tells you what is going on in Capitol Hill. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Ron, we have a banner up that is screaming “Kennedy Cover-up” with a question mark, but I would guess that you would agree with Mary Ann and myself that this has less to do with the power of the Kennedys than the power of congressmen to be able to get out of these type of incidents.

KESSLER:  Exactly.  You know, Congress makes the laws, you know, and nobody can question this.  There‘s nobody who can now investigate and find out what happened, because the Capitol police are the law, and it‘s the members of Congress who control what the Capitol police do. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thank you so much.  Thank you, Mary Ann. 

Thank you, Ron.  Greatly appreciate it. 

AKERS:  You‘re welcome.

SCARBOROUGH:  And I just want to say the statement tonight says that Kennedy took Ambien and Phenergan.  And anybody that‘s ever taken Ambien knows that, when you take Ambien, do not get behind the wheel of a car.  I have taken it before, and I would not want to be driving a car around after I took it. 

I‘m joined now by Rita Cosby, host of “LIVE & DIRECT.”  And, Rita, I‘ve just got to say the Ambien is prescribed, OK?  I work long, crazy hours.

But, anyway, Rita, what‘s coming up on your show tonight? 

RITA COSBY, HOST:  And I‘m glad you cleared that up, Joe. 

And we‘re going to talk more about those details in the car crash involving Congressman Patrick Kennedy in the wee hours of the morning near Capitol Hill.  And also explore more—you talked about Ambien and these other drugs, Joe.  We‘re going to find out:  Could it have that affect?  And, again, why was he behind the wheel at that time?

Plus, a woman goes to catch a bouquet at a friend‘s wedding and instead catches a bullet.  How did this happen and who pulled the trigger?  She survived, and she also joins me “LIVE & DIRECT” at the top of the hour. 

Again, Joe, we‘re going to have more on the Patrick Kennedy crash and, indeed, what was in his system?  We‘re going to look at that statement and also see what happened.  Was there a cover-up with Capitol Hill police?

Joe, back to you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks so much, Rita.  And make sure you tune in to Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT” coming up next.  And, by the way, the “New York Times” has written articles on people actually on Ambien, going down, eating way too much, and not remembering it the next morning, which, again, that may be my problem. 

Now, still ahead, another contestant is booted from “American Idol.”  But the one still standing may have something that rejects don‘t, and it has nothing to do with raw talent.  We‘ve got former contestant, coming to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, Justin Guarini, he‘s going to talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Only four “American Idol” contestants remain.  And tonight we‘re asking:  Is this really the first time in the limelight for the amateur singers? 

We‘ve done a bit of digging and found that one woman still standing, Katharine McPhee, has acted professionally.  And some former contestants have also had practice on stage before making it into the “Idol” spotlight. 

Take a look at this.  Season four winner Carrie Underwood had a manager as a teenager.  Season three winner Fantasia was a member of a traveling performance group.  And season three runner-up, Diana DeGarmo, was a finalist on an NBC program, “America‘s Most Talented Kid,” all before their “Idol” debuts. 

With me now are Jessica Sierra, former “American Idol” contestant from season four, and Justin Guarini.  He‘s a former contestant from season one. 

Justin, let me begin with you.  This thing worked out extraordinarily well for you, but do you ever look back and see all the people that you competed against and the people that are competing now that have had these former backgrounds as stars.  Did you ever stop to think, hey, you know, maybe this should be like the Olympics where only amateurs are allowed to play? 

JUSTIN GUARINI, FORMER “IDOL” CONTESTANT:  No.  I mean, you know, when I first came into it, you couldn‘t have any sort of management, you couldn‘t have any sort of representation, period.  So everyone was coming in at a level playing field, at least with, you know, on that level. 

But, you know, I mean, it‘s like you study before a test, you get better grades.  And I think that it‘s just an open call for anyone to come.  And at the end of the day, really, there are a people who have had a lot more experience who end up blowing it in front of judges and not making it to the top 10, whereas people who, like the young gentleman who just sang to his turkeys, ended up making it into the 126. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, what‘s your background?  What was your background before you went on “American Idol”?

GUARINI:  Well, before I went on “American Idol,” I was, I guess, a semiprofessional singer.  But I think really my experience came from my parents.  My mother was a CNN anchorwoman, when it first started up.  My father was a police chief for about five years in Atlanta and now has been a politician. 

So, in terms of the media, in terms being in front of people, knowing how to handle myself, and especially in the entertainment industry, you know, I‘ve had a lot of experience with that, so I feel...

(CROSSTALK)  

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, it makes a big difference. 

Jessica, I‘ll ask you the same thing I asked Justin.  Do you think that “American Idol” should be reserved for true amateurs, just like the Olympics? 

JESSICA SIERRA, FORMER “IDOL” CONTESTANT:  You know, I absolutely do think that it should be reserved for amateurs, just because—I mean, people that have been out there, and been able to perform, and have already had that experience, I mean, I think that, you know, it‘s not fair to actually get on the show and have already been able to experience all that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So do you think that somebody like Katharine McPhee has a big advantage over others because of her background in acting? 

SIERRA:  Not really.  I mean, she went to school for it and stuff like that, but she never really made it, you know, professionally. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.

Hey, Justin, according to some Internet sites out there, “American Idol‘s” the single biggest non-sports betting event.  I mean, they‘re betting on this nonstop.  And we asked an oddsmaker, John Avello, to give us some odds. 

Here are his odds.  He says Chris Daughtry is a 9 to 5 favorite;

Katharine McPhee, 5 to 2; Taylor Hicks, 3 to 1; and Elliott Yamin is 6 to 1.

I wanted to ask you, Justin, first of all, are you surprised that so many people bet on this show?  And, secondly, would you agree with those odds?  Does it look like it‘s Chris‘ to lose? 

GUARINI:  You know what?  I would say that I‘m not surprised that so many people bet on this, because—I mean, I‘m not a betting man, but, you know, it‘s a lot more exciting than horses to me, and, you know, it deals with, you know, real people and real emotions. 

To be perfectly honest with you, I really don‘t know what that 6 to 1 and all those odds mean, because I don‘t bet.  But when you said that it seems like Chris is going to lose, I don‘t know.  I think Chris has been probably the most solid performer and consistent, week in and week out, so I don‘t necessarily agree with that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.

And, Jessica, let me ask you about Taylor Hicks.  We get so many e-mails about this guy.  It seems he‘s got this crazy following.  Did you find that when you were in there, that, like, certain people just had almost manic support? 

SIERRA:  You know what?  Absolutely, absolutely.  And Taylor Hicks, there‘s like a wave going over about him.  I just think that he‘s like—he‘s amazing onstage, great performance, great stage performances, although my favorite is Chris.  He‘s hot, and he can absolutely—oh, he‘s hot, and he can sing, so...

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Well, I have to leave it there.  All right, thank you, Jessica.  Thank you, Justin.  We‘ll be watching him, and we‘ll be right back in a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, I‘m Joe, and I‘ve got an issue. 

I‘ve got issues with Paris Hilton‘s love life.  Now, earlier this week, the socialite actually issued a press release stating that her romance with a Greek shipping heir was over.  It appears that the young man didn‘t take the news so well. 

According to photographers camped outside of Paris‘ house, he showed up at 1:00 a.m. and spent an hour crying and ringing her doorbell.  Maybe that works in Greece, but, good lord, man, get a life.  He was begging to be let in.  And at one point, he was spotted sprawled out in her driveway. 

Meanwhile, it‘s rumored that Paris has taken up with Matt Leinart, a soon-to-be pro football player who signed in the first round with the Arizona Cardinals who will be making lots of cash.  So, of course, Paris is interested, but it‘s so hard to keep up with her love life. 

We‘ll be right back.  And don‘t forget:  Rita Cosby is straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I can tell you, Pensacola, Florida, on Cinco de Mayo, people aren‘t talking about much.  They‘re drinking.

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Thanks for being with us. 

Stick around, because Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT” starts right now.

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

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