updated 12/20/2006 3:12:15 PM ET 2006-12-20T20:12:15

Guests: Judd Legum, Ari Berman, Heidi Bressler, Tom O‘Neil, Katrina Szish, David Caplan, Matthew Felling

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight: The U.S. military ready to move massive new firepower into the Gulf.  Is it to prepare for an invasion of Iran?  That developing story just ahead.

But first, a stunning smackdown from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to George W. Bush, “The Washington Post” reporting today that the battle lines have been drawn between the men who run the United States military and their commander-in-chief, the showdown coming over a call to ramp up even more troop levels to Iraq, this public embarrassment coming on the heels of the president‘s former secretary of state, Colin Powell, rejecting the call for more troops in Iraq, as well as the man running the war in Iraq, General Abizaid.

Here to talk about these remarkable rejections of the commander-in-chief by military brass, here‘s Judd Legum from the Center for American Progress, Ari Berman from “The Nation” and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Pat Buchanan, let me begin with you.  The White House has made no secret of the fact they want a surge of troops in Iraq.  Today, the military came out and said, No thanks.  What‘s going on here?  And have you ever seen the Joint Chiefs standing up to the president in the way that these Joint Chiefs have today?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Never have, not even during Vietnam, Joe.  And this is clearly—the generals over the—the Joint Chiefs, what they‘re saying is, If the president surges with troops, puts more in, it is not our idea.  We warned him they would become targets, they would increase the number of jihadis in the country, they would draw forces in from outside.  So I think this is really a—really, a defiant step by the Joint Chiefs, and they are supported by Abizaid and Casey and General Powell.

So I think the president‘s really in a box.  It‘s very hard to see how he can go the country and say, We‘re going to put in 30,000 more troops, when all his military men say, Don‘t do it, it will increase the danger.

SCARBOROUGH:  They‘ve got their commander-in-chief cornered, don‘t they.

BUCHANAN:  Well, they really do.  They‘ve got him really in a box.  And that‘s why I think, as you mentioned earlier, the president may be dealing himself another card by moving aircraft carriers into the Gulf.  He may be saying, Look, you know, I‘ve got another card to play and I‘ve more chips to put on the table, and they don‘t necessarily have to be ground troops.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Judd, these military leaders are obviously the most powerful in America.  They‘re staring down the president with this rejection of his call for more troops.  What‘s going on?  Why are they doing it?

JUDD LEGUM, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Well, I think that both the military commanders and pretty much everyone you talk to is going to say what we need to do is shift the responsibility away from the American troops, get them...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you say everybody‘s doing that, but the commander-in-chief‘s not doing that.

LEGUM:  Well...

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean, isn‘t it—isn‘t it stunning that you‘ve got only 12 percent of Americans agreeing with this commander-in-chief that we need to send more troops to Iraq, you‘ve got the man who‘s running the military campaign, General Abizaid, in Iraq, saying, Don‘t send us more troops, and you‘ve got now the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military brass in America, telling the president that, and yet the president‘s still talking about sending more troops.  So he‘s the commander-in-chief in the end.  You know, it seems like he‘s standing alone here.

LEGUM:  Well, I think that, you know, this isn‘t a surprise, if you‘ve been listening to him for the past couple of years.  His position is, If you leave, you lose.  And things are so bad in Iraq right now, it‘s clear you have to do something.  And it‘s intensely personal for him.  He‘s really dead set against leaving, so the only other option is, Well, let‘s double down and increase the troops.  And I think he‘s leaning in that direction, even though all of the advice says this isn‘t going be a good idea.

In fact, we just tried this, if you remember, over the summer in Baghdad, moved 7,000 more troops into Baghdad, and what happened?  The violence went up because, as Pat was saying, the U.S. military actually becomes targets, actually motivates a lot of the insurgents over there.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Ari, that‘s exactly what our military leaders seem to be saying right now, We‘re not going to give you more troops—we don‘t want more troops in Iraq to basically to become targets.  Is this our military leaders telling America, telling the commander-in-chief, telling the world that it‘s over, we cannot win this war in Iraq, it‘s time to bring the troops home?

ARI BERMAN, “THE NATION”:  Well, it‘s certainly them saying that we can‘t escalate it.  And what it‘s also saying is that Donald Rumsfeld is gone, a new day has begun.  I mean, We can speak our minds now.  We weren‘t listened to before the war, when we said you need 400,000 to 500,000 troops get the job done, and we‘re not being listened to now by the president or by John McCain when we say that more troops will not help—even if we had the troops, which we don‘t.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Pat, Ari brings up two interesting points.  He talks about John McCain.  We‘ll get to him in a second.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  This is also bad news for the presumptive GOP nominee in 2008.  But you know, going to—going to his other point, I mean, we don‘t have the troops other there that we needed from the very beginning.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  And this president, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, this administration basically scoffed at military leaders three-and-a-half years ago, when they said we need 400,000, 500,000 troops in Iraq to win this war.  They didn‘t give it to them then, when they needed it.  Why is the president trying to give it to them to them now, when they‘re saying, We don‘t want it?

BUCHANAN:  Well, they‘re not only saying, We don‘t want it, they‘re saying, It‘s a terrible idea, Mr. President.  Schoomaker is saying the army is breaking.  I think General Powell said it may already be in danger of being broken, we are losing the war.  Joe, the generals are taking the president‘s options off the table.  They‘re saying, You can‘t ramp up the number of troops in country...

SCARBOROUGH:  And Pat...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You say when you worked with Richard Nixon, even at the height of the Vietnam war, you didn‘t have generals and admirals standing up to Nixon the way these generals and admirals are standing up to George W. Bush.  They never crossed him this way publicly, with leaks to “The Washington Post.”

BUCHANAN:  Well, no.  The only general—one of the few generals I can recall doing that, General Walker in Germany, and also General Singlaub in Korea, said to Jimmy Carter, It‘s a terrible idea to take troops out.

But these generals are taking the president‘s options off the table.  They‘re saying, in effect, Joe, Look, our Army is being broken, and our Army is more important to us than Iraq.  And yes, if we start pulling out, if defeat is possible, then defeat is an option.  That is the message they‘re sending to the president of the United States because McCain is telling him to pull out, according to the Baker commission, is a recipe for defeat.

SCARBOROUGH:  But these generals, as you say, Pat, appear to be saying, You know what, defeat is an option here.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  It may be better to get the troops out, lose this war now, than keep them in and add more in to be shot at and killed in the coming months and years.

Hey, Pat, listen to Tony Snow from earlier today.  He was denying a split with military leaders.  I want to get your response as a former White House communications director.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I can tell you that the notion that somehow there is—there‘s some sort of feud between the president and the Joint Chiefs would be wrong.  I‘d also caution people that tonally, it is incorrect to say that the president is in any sort of contretemps with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s basically saying nothing there, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  He‘s saying nothing.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... all he can do.

BUCHANAN:  Well, what he‘s saying is the generals and the president had a polite and vigorous discussion, and they weren‘t fighting with one another.  He‘s not denying that the Joint Chiefs are giving the president the advice that putting in more troops will make it a greater disaster.  But Joe, let me ask you—common sense—ask you—if we‘re losing the war, can anyone think that this Iraqi army can do a job that the American Army could not do, if we start pulling out our combat brigades?  That is simply not plausible.  It is not credible.  It is not believable.

SCARBOROUGH:  No, it‘s absolutely not.  And Ari, bottom line is, the White House, regardless of what Tony Snow is saying, can‘t hide the fact that George Bush just got called out in a very public way by the Joint Chiefs, right?

BERMAN:  Absolutely, and by the American people.  I mean, when American people voted on ‘06, they didn‘t vote to escalate the war in Iraq, they voted to end it, if anything.  So he‘s the 12 percent president right now.  Only 12 percent, as you say, agree with him.  I mean, Bush‘s poll numbers are low right now, but does he really want them to go even lower?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, apparently, he does.  And Judd, I want—you know, in 2003, Ari was talking about when General Shinseki testified that several hundred thousand more men would be needed to stabilize post-war Iraq.  Donald Rumsfeld testified and said he was wildly off the mark.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. ERIC SHINSEKI, ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF:  Something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers are probably, you know, a figure that would be required.  We‘re talking about post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that‘s fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems.  And so it takes a significant ground force presence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Judd, I mean, apparently, again, you have a White House, you have Donald Rumsfeld, you have an administration that was ignoring the military several years ago when they were giving him warnings.  It appears that it was amateur hour over there.  We‘re still paying for the mistakes they made.  Is the military finally getting their revenge at a White House that no longer has Donald Rumsfeld to kick them around anymore?

LEGUM:  I think so.  I think that they see an opportunity here, especially when the people behind this plan—and it‘s being presented out of the very conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington—these are the same people who said we were going to be greeted with sweets and flowers in Iraq.  And so they‘re ready to give it another go.

And we brought up McCain, who‘s a big advocate for this plan.  He just brought on Henry Kissinger on his campaign, so we‘re going even further back, back to the future, sort of reliving Vietnam, trying to settle that score because Henry Kissinger has said the mistake that we made in Vietnam was not pulling out.

I think that, actually, contrary to what Pat was saying, if you do start to withdraw troops, you do go—you do start down the road of getting a better situation in Iraq, because one, you put the political pressures on the Iraqis to make the tough decisions to solve their political problems, but also, you make the Iraqi military need to stand up.  When we went into Baghdad, there were supposed to be six Iraqi brigades who were following us in there.  Only two showed up.

BUCHANAN:  Joe, let me...

LEGUM:  We need to show them that we don‘t have—you know, that they got to take responsibility for their own problems.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat?

BUCHANAN:  OK, you can tell them to take responsibility, but let me tell you this.  These—the jihadis, the insurgents, the Ba‘athists, the Mahdi brigade, they are on the verge of inflicting a defeat on the great superpower and running the United States out of Iraq.  Why should they slow down at all to help us out or to help that regime out, which they see as a puppet regime?  Why shouldn‘t they go for victory?  I mean, everybody in the United States—General Powell says we‘re losing!  Other say we‘re not winning!  Why shouldn‘t they go for victory, for heaven‘s sakes!

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey—and Pat, let me—let‘s talk about the developments late this afternoon.  And I think it had to be a response in part to what the Joint Chiefs said this morning, or what got out in “The Washington Post” this morning.  Now, Pat, George Bush is calling for more American troops not in Iraq but in the United States military.  I mean, we‘re talking about possibly ramping up another 100,000, 200,000 fighting troops that can be used in Iraq, that can be used in Iran, that can be used in North Korea.  What‘s going on there?

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, the military can‘t ramp up that rapidly each year.  We‘ve have been going up—I mean, this year, we‘re expected to go up by 7,000 troops.  That‘s what Schoomaker says he wants, 7,000 a year.  Joe, we‘re still talking a pittance, if you‘re talking about a ground war against Iran.  We can‘t fight a ground war against Iran.  Any war against Iran is going be air strikes, naval strikes, destroying their navy, destroying their missile system, destroying their nuclear installations.  And there ain‘t going to be any invasion of Iran, and the Iranians and the whole world knows it, and so do those generals at the Pentagon.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, we‘re going be talking about that next.  I want to thank my panel.

But coming up straight ahead, we‘re going be talking about the Pentagon making moves in the Persian Gulf.  Are they playing chicken with Iran, or is there a bigger plan?  And will this battleship diplomacy work?

And later: Was the Miss USA scandal just a big publicity stunt?  We‘re going to be talking to one of Donald‘s famous employees to find out why Trump spared the beauty queen after making such a big deal about her hard-partying problems.  And later: “The View” compares Donald Rumsfeld to Adolf Hitler, but this time, it ain‘t Rosie O‘Donnell getting ABC in hot water.  We‘ll show you the controversial comments and why “The View” is blaming the media for the latest firestorm.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Is the U.S. military gearing up for an attack against Iran?  NBC—that‘s right—I mean, NBC News has learned that the United States Navy is drawing up plans to send a second aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf, in part to respond to a series of aggressive actions by Iran.  Military sources are saying the plan hasn‘t been approved, but if it is, the surge of military might into the Gulf could come as early as next month.  So is the U.S. planning a final face-off with Iran‘s president over nukes?  And is the president—our president—writing checks our strained military can‘t cash?

Still with us, MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan and Judd Legum from the Center for American Progress.  Pat Buchanan, what‘s going on here?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think, clearly, the president has dealt himself another card here.  He‘s sending a signal to Teheran that, Look, if you‘re not going to negotiate over these uranium enrichment program you got and you‘re going to keep aiding the insurgents and building these IEDs that are more sophisticated and killing Americans, we have some other options.  And that‘s that message they‘re sending in there.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Pat, do we have the—but we don‘t have those options, though.  I mean, we don‘t even have enough troops to take care of Iraq.  How do we go in and invade Iran?

BUCHANAN:  We‘re not going to—the United States is not going to invade Iran.  I think that is really off the table.  I think if the United States is going strike Iran, you would strike out missiles, their air force, their navy in no time at all, and then you would use constant air strikes for a week to try to destroy their nuclear installations.  That‘s what they‘d do.

I don‘t think the president‘s made that decision.  I think a lot of folks in the administration and the Pentagon don‘t want to go there because they‘re concerned about what the Iranian retaliation would be against our guys in Iran (SIC), against the Persian Gulf states, maybe here in the United States, maybe with Hezbollah, all over the Middle East.  The whole Middle East could go up if the president does this.  And I think he‘s going to think before he does it.  But what this is, Joe, is a signal that we still have this option.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, Judd, there are a lot of Americans that believe that we cannot allow the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon.  Do you think that—there are also a lot of people in the White House that are thinking the same thing and are willing to if not launch an invasion of Iran, willing to fire missiles into Iran and try to destroy their nuclear facilities.

LEGUM:  Well, I think there are, unfortunately, and I think, you know, like Pat, they‘re living in a fantasy land here.  The idea that we could go in and, through air strikes, delay their nuclear program is quite the opposite.  That would be the way to accelerate it because then what they would do is cast aside any notion of working with the international community, any notion of listening to anyone, and they would be certain to develop these programs.  It would also encourage them to quash...

(CROSSTALK)

LEGUM:  ... internal dissent.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... sit back—we just sit back and let them develop nukes?

LEGUM:  No, I don‘t think we do that at all.  You know, if you look at the Iraq Study Group...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, how do we stop it?

LEGUM:  Well, what the Iraq Study Group has said is, Look, we‘ve been sitting on the sidelines for years.  We‘ve outsourced all of our diplomacy to Europe, to other countries.  And we need to start aggressively engaging Iran.  And what happened is, before...

SCARBOROUGH:  You mean diplomatically?

LEGUM:  Diplomatically.  Before the...

SCARBOROUGH:  Can you...

LEGUM:  ... ink was even dry...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... talk to these people?

BUCHANAN:  Joe?  Joe let me...

LEGUM:  Before the ink was even dry on that document, the Bush administration dismissed it and cast it aside.  And I think what you have to...

BUCHANAN:  Joe...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But can you talk to these people?  Judd, look at these people!  Can you talk to them?  They have been the epicenter of terror since 1979!

LEGUM:  Yes, and you‘re not going to—they‘re not going do anything that‘s altruistic.  They‘re not in it to help the United States.  But every country responds to their own self-interest...

BUCHANAN:  Joe...

LEGUM:  ... and they have self-interest here.  They actually have self-interest in having a relatively stable Iraq.

STEWART:  Joe...

LEGUM:  I mean, they...

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan?

BUCHANAN:  Well, let me get—look, let me say this.  Look, I did not recommend myself attacking Iran.  I think it would be a terrible idea right now.  But I do believe this.  I believe The president of the United States and Vice President Cheney, and certainly the Israelis, believe that Iran has to be struck.  These installations got to be taken down and destroyed, that we cannot take the risk of Iran with a nuclear weapon.  Now, I have not recommended that action myself.  I think it could be disastrous for the United States...

SCARBOROUGH:  But President Bush, if you had intelligence and you were the CIA director and you went to the president of the United States and said, Mr. President, the Iranians are going have a nuclear weapon in the next six months, and they may—they‘ve have threatened to use it on Israel, they‘ve threatened to use it on allies in Europe, they‘ve threatened to sell it to somebody else, what do you do if you‘re the president of the United States?

BUCHANAN:  Well, first, Iran has not threatened to use a nuclear weapon on Israel.  I don‘t believe they would because it would be the end of Iran.  I don‘t...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, they...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... the end of Israel.

BUCHANAN:  Well, but they‘re talking—yes, but they‘re talking about getting—moving people off maps.  This is all—these people haven‘t fought a war or started a war in 27 years.  They‘re a lot of talk, Joe.  But if they‘re very close to a nuclear weapon, I would ask the questions—

Look, we can delay this program, but if a country of Iran‘s size and resources and abilities and going as far as they have desperately want a nuclear weapon and they‘re willing to go the distance to get one, like Pakistan and India, they‘re going to get it, and we may have to deal with a nuclear Iraq.  I would go...

SCARBOROUGH:  All right...

BUCHANAN:  ... for negotiations.

SCARBOROUGH:  We got to leave it there.  You and Judd agree with each other.  Pat Buchanan, Judd Legum, thank you so much for being with us.  It is a frightening subject, and there aren‘t a lot of good options left out there.

Well, coming up next, it‘s “Must See S.C.” as Jon Stewart takes aim at the United Nations.  We‘re going to show you his take on Kofi Annan‘s successor ahead.  And later: Donald Trump gives Miss USA a slap on her little old wrist after her headline-grabbing partying.  The beauty queen‘s tearful and surreal news conference—was it just Trump hoping to revive his struggling pageant?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, throw some cold water on the drunk beauty queen in the corner, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See S.C.,” video you just got to see.  First up: Only Jon Stewart can make the United Nations funny.  He shows us why getting the nomination for secretary general is all in the name.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, whom the U.N. just swore in as its new secretary general replacing Kofi Annan.  While he may not bring any more teeth to the United Nations, I do believe his name will bring the same comical joy to Americans as his predecessors, from all-time champ Boutros Boutros-Ghali all the way down to Kurt Waldheim.  And of course, he‘d beat out the perennial U.N. runner-up, Doodle Von Taintstain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally, the hits just keep on coming.  David Letterman gives us another memorable moment in the legacy of George W.  Bush.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!

JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Ask not what

your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!~

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:

Thanks for coming.  Be seated.  Thanks for coming, and welcome to the White House.  Thanks for coming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And still ahead—oh!  What was that about?  Miss USA gets a second chance, God love her, and a trip to rehab, as Donald Rumsfeld gets—Donald Trump gets free publicity in the process.  We‘re going to ask a former “Apprentice” star the real reason why Trump spared the beauty queen.

And later: Joy Behar competes with Rosie O‘Donnell to be the most outrageous “View” host, comparing Donald Rumsfeld with Adolf Hitler.  But with ratings up, will ABC do anything to stop “The View” from falling off the left side of the extreme?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up, Rosie O‘Donnell is not the only “View” host bashing the GOP these days.  Now Joy Behar is comparing Donald Rumsfeld to Adolf Hitler, and today it got even stranger.  Is “The View” moving far left to get higher ratings or is just a runaway beer truck, as we say in the redneck Riviera?  Those stories in minutes.

But first, the Miss USA scandal making headlines around the world.  Everybody predicted Donald Trump was going to say “You‘re fired” to Tara Conner, the party girl beauty queen.  But today, in front of a live TV audience, the Donald showed his softer side, saying Conner is going to keep her tarnished crown.  Take a look at this very moving press conference. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, HOST, “THE APPRENTICE”:  I have always been a believer in second chances.  I believe, after speaking with Tara, I believe that she can do a tremendous service to young people.  She‘s agreed to go into rehab.  She knows that, if she makes even the slightest mistake from here on, she will be immediately replaced. 

TARA CONNER, MISS USA:  And though I did not think that it would be possible for a second chance to be given to me, I‘ve had a very big blessing bestowed upon me.  And you‘ll never know how much I appreciate Mr.  Trump for saving me on this one. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t know if I can go on.  Should the Donald have fired Miss USA or is it all a big publicity stunt for the ratings-challenged pageant?

Here now, former “Apprentice” candidate Heidi Bressler, she is now director of advertising for “Trump” magazine.  We have “US Weekly‘s” contributing editor Katrina Szish and “InTouch Weekly‘s” senior editor Tom O‘Neil. 

You know, Tom, only in America.  I was so moved by that press conference today.  I know you were, too.  Were you surprised though?  I mean, I think we were all shocked that he decided to keep Tara Conner as Miss USA.

TOM O‘NEIL, “INTOUCH WEEKLY”:  Yes, I think we are all flabbergasted.  And even he admitted it, when the press conference began, that he began the day not believing he was going to do this, but then was won over by her during the private pow-wow they had between 10:00 and 11:00. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why do you think he was won over?  What characteristics does she have that you think won over the Donald today?

O‘NEIL:  Wasn‘t she so endearing right there when we saw her tearful thank you for the second chance right there?  But what‘s really alarming about this press conference is what she did after that, where she said, “Well, thank you so much for this chance to make it right,” and then she went through denial, denial, denial. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, deny, deny, deny.  Now, Tara thinks her troubles will make her a better Miss USA.  Listen to what she said at the press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONNER:  I guess one of the good things about having some kind of little troubles here and there is you‘re able to reach out to far more people.  And I‘m willing to do whatever it takes, not only given a chance to have time to better myself, but to better me as a Miss USA.  And I plan on walking out of this the best Miss USA that you‘ve ever seen.  And I promise you that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Heidi, I see all those flashbulbs, and all I can think is that the guy you work for, Donald Trump, is a genius.  He could not have paid for this type of publicity, could he?

HEIDI BRESSLER, FORMER “APPRENTICE” CONTESTANT:  Absolutely.  I‘m thinking, “Well, yes, she‘s probably like, ‘Oh, I got caught.‘”  But Donald Trump is probably thinking, “Yes, great, what timing.”  “The Apprentice” is coming out January 7th.  He always likes some kind of little story, get publicity on him.

And, you know, the new show is coming out, get it some publicity.  And let‘s face it:  He‘s a great guy, but at the end of the day, it‘s not about Miss USA.  It‘s about Donald Trump. 

And he is a loyal guy.  He‘s a great person, but it all comes down to him.  And she got caught.  I don‘t think he really cares.  I think he‘s just happy it‘s more publicity.  And his show is coming out in three weeks.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I mean—seriously, I mean, it just couldn‘t have gone any better for him.  And at today‘s press conference, Trump said Tara is a good example—a good example—for young people. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I believe that Tara can serve as somebody actually even more important than being Miss USA.  I believe she can be a great example for troubled people.  I believe she will be an amazing, an amazing example. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So, Katrina, I don‘t want to sound too cynical here, but we get...

KATRINA SZISH, “US WEEKLY”:  But go ahead.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... we get news—well, but I‘ll go ahead.  We get news leaked to us a couple of days ago that this woman is going be fired because her life is a wreck, because of coke, allegedly, because of sex, allegedly, because of underage drinking, allegedly.  All of this is thrown out so the press follows after it like rabid dogs.

SZISH:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And then we hear that he‘s going to fire her.  The press shows up to watch it, and Donald Trump, what‘s he do?  He throws some magic pixie dust out there, spares her, and it‘s even a bigger story.  We‘re going to be following this woman every day waiting to see if she slips up.  I mean, did Donald Trump and his P.R. guys all dream this up a couple weeks ago?

SZISH:  It certainly seems like that did.  I think it‘s one of those things that the reality happened, and then Donald being, as you mentioned, the genius that he is, figured out how to sort of spin the situation in a way that he was pretty much in—you know, at the top of headlines for several days.  And as you said, we‘re going to keep watching this.  So I think it was one of those things that they kind of made a miracle out of a bad situation. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And not only does it help this pageant, which has had some sagging ratings, it also helps “The Apprentice,” right? 

SZISH:  Oh, of course it does.  As Heidi pointed out, the new show is starting very soon, and it‘s going be taking place in L.A., not New York.  So it‘s going to be a different show, and I‘m sure it‘s not a bad time to drum up a little bit of interest in the new “Apprentice” that we‘ll be seeing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Tom, there was a little bit of conflict at this press conference.  It wasn‘t all wine and roses.  Tara and Donald Trump did disagree on whether Tara is an alcoholic.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONNER:  I wouldn‘t say that I‘m an alcoholic.  I think that that would be pushing the envelope just a little.

TRUMP:  Well, I don‘t think she denies she‘s an alcoholic.  My impression of that was that she‘s probably not very sure. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tom, I heard it on tape.  I mean, trouble in paradise already.  But, again, for Trump, let‘s say she gets in more trouble.  You know, we‘ve got more news reports following this young lady around.  We‘ve got more headlines.  We‘ve got more scandals.  It is a dream for Donald Trump.  He wins no matter what, doesn‘t he? 

O‘NEIL:  Oh, he really does, especially since this is the last big beauty franchise, really.  Remember, Miss America has gone off NBC.  And he really wants to keep this in the public eye.

And, look, I think Donald is very sincere in a way here, because he‘s guy we‘ve given a lot of second chances to himself, a guy who cheated on his wife and was caught.  And look at all the floozies we seem him in public with.  So it‘s important that he gives her a second chance. 

But I‘m with you, Joe.  I‘m very, very skeptical about this.  Because throughout this press conference, not just that instance there, she seemed to have a detachment from reality from what she was saying.  And we‘ve seen this all along.  Go back to that Miss USA pageant where he talked, you know, about how terrible Britney and Paris, that whole club culture is, while she was indulging in it herself and then dove in headstrong, you know, head-first, you know, for the past eight months. 

And now this press conference began today very interestingly.  The first question was, “Do you deny the drug charge?”  And at first it seemed as if she was doing it.  She was dodging it.  She was saying, “Well, you know, there are all kinds of false allegations out there.”  And then, hallelujah for her, she seized the change at the very end and said, “Well, as to that drug charge, no comment.” 

SCARBOROUGH:  No comment.  And, you know, earlier today, MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing was the first reporter to speak with Tara Conner after the news conference.  She asked Tara if she got caught up in the whirlwind of New York City.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONNER:  I come from a town of like 2,300 people.  We just now, you know, have a new stoplight that they put in.  So instead of having three, we have four.

You know, coming from something like that and having a stoplight on every block is different.  And, yes, I did come from a dry county.  And I was (INAUDIBLE) you know, I mean, we‘re just good Southern wholesome people.  And coming into this big city, you know, it was a bit of a whirlwind.  I‘d never lived on my own before, but that‘s no excuse. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Heidi, do you think they may have been one of reasons why Donald Trump cut her some slack, because she was a country girl in the big city that got swept away by all of this, or do you think, again, it was all about Donald?

BRESSLER:  I mean, I think he is a loyal person.  I think he did kind of feel he had a soft heart, and he felt a little bad for her.  She was a 20-year-old girl from Kentucky.

But at the end of the day, it makes him look like a better person.  If he were to fire her and take the crown away from her, then he looks like a bad person.  Now he looks like a hero.

But, also, he‘s a good guy.  I mean, he has children of his own.  And the bottom line is, not only did she make a mistake, she got caught.  And the thing is, to teach younger children or people her age, it‘s—the lesson, I guess, would be not to get caught.  They all do it.

But I think that, at the end of the day, it comes down to—Donald, he looks like a hero right now.  He looks like a good person.  And he is, but he looks even better. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  And, Katrina, you know, we follow pop culture and “Hollyweird” at the end of this show every night.  I just can‘t think of a story that embodies what American pop culture is about more than this type of story.  You‘ve got, you know, beauty, sex, flash, scandal, rehab.  I mean, it‘s just—it looks like it was just custom-made, this story, for the front pages of all of our magazines, right? 

SZISH:  I think that‘s a great story.  I mean, you pretty much have Paris, Britney and Lindsay all rolled into one little Southern girl, Jessica Simpson package.  And when you put all of those powerhouses together in one story, and then you add the “I was just a little, innocent girl from a small town in Kentucky,” then you throw in the Donald, it‘s ridiculous.  It is a story made in Hollywood heaven.

SCARBOROUGH:  It is ridiculous.  It is.  And just like me, just a small town boy that saw the big city lights. 

Anyway, Heidi, Tom O‘Neil, Katrina, thank you so much for being with us. 

Coming up next...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEHAR:  You have to put like a Hitler type, like you put Donald Rumsfeld there or something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  “The View‘s” Joy Behar compares Donald Rumsfeld to Adolf Hitler and then blames the media for her mistake.  Is the show headed off the cliff?

And later in “Hollyweird,” Reese Witherspoon finally opens up about her divorce from Ryan Phillippe.  What she‘s saying, coming up in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, the ladies of “The View” are at it again, but this time the words are setting off a firestorm.  They come from Joy Behar instead of Rosie O‘Donnell.  Take a look at what Joy said yesterday while talking about “Time” magazine‘s pick for person of the year. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Who would you have put?

(CROSSTALK)

BEHAR:  You have to put like a Hitler type, like you put Don Rumsfeld there or something.

(AUDIENCE BOOS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Today, Joy talked about the fallout from her comment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEHAR:  Yesterday, I made another faux pas that they were attacking me about on AOL.  You and I, we‘re always in trouble. 

ROSIE O‘DONNELL, HOST, “THE VIEW”:  I know.  No matter what we say.  I think, for the rest of the year, I‘m just going be like this.  Welcome to “The View.”

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You keep the show in the news. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So will Barbara Walters get the ABC show under control or should they turn the other cheek, as “The View” rides the ratings wave?  Let‘s ask David Caplan.  He‘s “Star” magazine‘s deputy New York bureau chief.  And also with us, Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

I mean, how disingenuous, Matthew, of Joy saying, “Well, I get attacked no matter what I say.”  And this woman just compared Donald Rumsfeld, a man, like him or not, who did his best as secretary of defense, but compared him to a man who killed 6 million Jews.  What‘s going on at “The View”?

MATTHEW FELLING, THE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS:  She seemed honestly surprised that these people would go to AOL and say, “I think Joy might have crossed the line.” 

What has happened?  We saw what happened with Michael Richards a month and a half ago when he dropped the n-word all over the place.  In political rhetoric, using words like Nazi, using words like Hitler, it‘s the equivalent.  It‘s just going way too far.  We should just declare a moratorium on them altogether.

And then for Joy and Rosie to come out today and say, “Oh, we just can‘t get away with anything.”  Ladies, you love the buzz.  You love the controversy.  But part of controversy—the definition of controversy is that you‘re irritating a lot of people, and you‘re also titillating a lot of people.  So you‘re going to break a couple eggs there, and you have to deal with it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Matthew, do you think that there was sort of—this was a trumped-up scandal, trumped-up plan by Joy, just while we were talking about it with Donald Trump?  Do you think she says something provocative like that, comparing Donald Rumsfeld to a man who killed 6 million Jews, just because she knows it will be more publicity for this show?

FELLING:  You know, honestly, I would love to be Mr. Grassy Knoll here, but I just think she had the political equivalent of Tourette‘s, where she just stream-of-conscioused it out there.  And with Rosie O‘Donnell around, she has the effect of a couple of cocktails, and everybody‘s inhibitions get drawn down on “The View.”

Rosie is on the way out, by the way.  We‘ve discussed this before.  And maybe Joy is thinking in the back of her head, “I want to be the successor.  I want to be the big buzz maker,” so she‘s building up a line of succession already. 

SCARBOROUGH:  David Caplan, another embarrassment, I would say, for Barbara Walters, and yet “The View” just keeps on rolling, right?

DAVID CAPLAN, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  Yes, I know.  I mean, it‘s incredible.  I mean, despite all these controversies, it seems like every other week we have a new scandal with Rosie, but their ratings continue to do great.  So despite sort of the uproar that we‘re always speaking about, the show‘s doing great.  Barbara Walters is happy.  Bill Geddie, the executive producer of the show, is happy. 

Although, of course, there‘s always people watching the show that are thinking that Rosie and now Joy are going a little bit too far.  But, I mean, Rosie really has paved the way on the show now so that you can say whatever you want.  And Joy is jumping on the bandwagon.

SCARBOROUGH:  I want you all to take a look at what the ladies of “The View” had to say about Condi Rice on Thursday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t enjoy her.  I don‘t.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don‘t like her?

O‘DONNELL:  No.  No. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m not a fan of the Condi.  I‘m not.  I‘m just telling you right now.  I don‘t enjoy the Condi.  I don‘t know.  Stop writing, because I‘m not going to enjoy her, and I‘m not going apologize.  OK...

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t know what she‘s really like. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, I would like to have dinner with her alone one night and force her to drink at least two glasses of wine and then I‘ll let you know if I like her. 

BEHAR:  But, you know what?  She‘s already drunk the Kool-Aid.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, well, it‘s a scary thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Matthew Felling, this is a frickin‘ women‘s show, a daytime women‘s show.  What‘s gone—why are they bashing Condi Rice?  Why are they bashing Donald Rumsfeld?  What‘s going on?

FELLING:  Well, I think that they‘ve gotten a lot more topical.  That was one of the Faustian bargains that Barbara Walters signed up when they brought on Rosie O‘Donnell.  And she‘s made it a buzz worthy program.  She‘s raised the ratings.  And Barbara Walters is OK with that to a point. 

But with Rosie going out, I think they‘re going to reel it in. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, let‘s hope.  Matthew Felling, David Caplan, thank you for being with us.  “Hollyweird‘s” next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, tell your plastic surgeon to hurry up and just inject the damn Botox.  It‘s time for “Hollyweird.”

First up, “American Idol” producers say they‘re planning a big surprise for the season.  Let‘s bring in “US Weekly‘s” Katrina Szish and “Star” magazine‘s David Caplan.

Katrina, what else could “American Idol” do?  This mega-hit show seems to surprise us every year.  What do you think‘s ahead?

SZISH:  It‘s surprising that they still think they can surprise us.  I think, at this point, they would have to mix “American Idol” with something like “Survivor” in order to really throw us off our game.  The instruction of real talent working with the finalists last year was a good surprise. 

I mean, but besides throwing in some sort of, you know, crazy adventure element, I don‘t really know what could be that big of a surprise. 

SCARBOROUGH:  David Caplan, is the show getting a little long in the tooth here, or should we expect another massive, huge response to “American Idol”? 

CAPLAN:  Yes, I mean, I think there‘s so much buzz about this show.  And let‘s not forget that last season more than 31 million people watched the show.  And the original numbers for the show were like 22 million.  So more and more people keep watching it. 

And this year, we‘re going to see, when the show debuts next month, they‘re going to do something that‘s being dubbed sort of an inside Hollywood-type segment, where they‘re going to group the performers together, and they‘re going to really sing songs together.  We‘re going to see a lot of more energy into the show, because the show is hot.  People love it.  And huge stars are being generated by being on this show, like “Dreamgirls‘” Jennifer Hudson. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Just unbelievable. 

And talk about huge stars.  For the first time, Reese Witherspoon is talking about her divorce.  She‘s telling “InTouch Weekly,” “Don‘t worry about me.  I‘m fine.”  Katrina, Reese, strong Southern woman, isn‘t she? 

SZISH:  She sure is.  I mean, she‘s one of those people in Hollywood who really makes you really think that Hollywood is still sort of one of those good fantasy places that we all used to remember it as.  And I think, what else could Reese possibly say?  I mean, it‘s a private matter.  It‘s a personal matter.  She‘s not going to come out and say, “I‘m devastated.  I‘m having a hard time.”

She‘s, you know, keeping a solid, you know, straight face for her kids.  And I think she‘s doing what she has to do. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, speaking of Southern women, Jessica Simpson‘s telling Britain‘s “More” magazine she‘s considering getting a boob job.  David, does she want to be Dolly Parton? 

CAPLAN:  Of course.  This is her huge idol.  This is classic Jessica Simpson.  Her boobs are her biggest asset, excuse the pun, and she‘s—she‘s saying that, when they start to droop, she will get plastic surgery on her boobs, but she won‘t touch her face.  So we may have a wrinkly Jessica Simpson in the face, but the rest of her body will be top-notch and look like 20 years younger than the rest of her body.  Maybe not the prettiest picture, but that‘s Jessica‘s plans. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, and what a plan it is!  Yikes.  David Caplan, Katrina Szish, thank you for being with us tonight.  I greatly appreciate it.  And thank you all for being with us.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  We‘ll see you tomorrow, but stay where you are, because NBC‘s live report, “STRANDED,” starts right now.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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