updated 1/16/2007 4:37:39 PM ET 2007-01-16T21:37:39

Guests: Josh Gerstein, Joan Walsh, David Caplan, Carmen Rasmusen, Kennedy

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, the drums of war beating in Iran. 

Well, Vice President Cheney calls it a growing threat.  So should America prepare for that coming war with Iran?  That‘s ahead.

But first, President Bush digs in for a fight over a troop surge in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re not very popular in the country right now, to be frank.  I wonder...

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You‘re right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Does that get to you?

BUSH:  Not really.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Those words follow an open rebellion by several leading Republicans over the president‘s battle plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  No American foreign policy can be sustained without the support of the American people.  We are projecting ourselves further and deeper into a situation that we cannot win militarily.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  The question tonight and across the world: Can President Bush stop this revolt in his own party before it‘s too late?  Now, according to “Newsweek,” a former senior Bush aide who‘s still very close to the White House is saying, quote, “If things don‘t improve, a delegation of Republican senators could one day show up in the Oval Office to tell Bush the party is no longer with him and the war must end.”

Here now the author of that article, Richard Wolffe—he‘s “Newsweek‘s” senior White House correspondent—Joan Walsh—she‘s editor-in-chief for Salon.com—Josh Gerstein—he‘s a national reporter for “The New York Sun”—and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Richard, let‘s begin with you.  It is your story.  It sounds like things are getting fairly dire for the president, his own party possibly going into open rebellion to end this war.  Tell me about it.

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I think there was just this shock and awe last week at how quickly the president‘s authority declined on the war.  And that led to a lot of speculation, again, from people, as we quote in this week‘s “Newsweek,” who are still very close to the White House, big fans of the president and supporters of the war, really try to map out the end game here.  And in their minds, the end game really is this, something like an LBJ or a Nixon-style situation, where senior members of Congress, maybe a senator like John Warner, would go up to the White House and say, It‘s over.  That‘s what they‘re thinking about now, and it really has got that bleak.

SCARBOROUGH:  So Richard, you‘re telling us that President Bush may have lost his own party in Congress, Republicans in open revolt.

WOLFFE:  I think when you get Mitch McConnell out there in front of the cameras saying that he supports the president, and then turning around and saying, Anyone got anything to say, and they all turn their backs, I think you‘ve got a huge problem.  And if it wasn‘t topic A and the only topic at the session at Camp David with Mitch McConnell and the president on Friday, then I don‘t know what else would be.  This is a party that the president has lost control of, and that‘s an exceptionally unusual situation for a party that‘s been in lockstep with him all these years.

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan Walsh, it sounds like a political legendary moment that we‘ve heard of, where a Republican senator goes to the White House and tells Richard Nixon it‘s all over.  Talk about it.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Well, once upon a time, Joe, the country was fortunate enough to have a Republican conservative senator from Arizona who eventually took it upon himself to walk over to the White House and tell a Republican president that he‘d gone too far.  That was Barry Goldwater with Richard Nixon.  And sadly, we do not have John McCain ready to do that.

McCain continues to really flummox me because he‘s totally bet his political career—and I believe that he‘s a man of integrity, I really do, and therefore bet his belief in this war on this increasingly pathetic so-called surge.  He knows—he has to know...

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan, do you think that could have—I mean, we can‘t read Senator McCain‘s mind, but could it be that he was sitting in a concentration camp or a POW camp over in Vietnam while he saw all these protests and he saw his country quit on him and the troops that were over in Vietnam, and maybe that‘s where it comes from, that he‘s willing to go against the political tide because he doesn‘t want to see America repeat the same problem?

WALSH:  I absolutely believe that‘s a large measure of where it comes from, Joe, but he also has to know better than you or I how sad this alleged 20,000 troop surge really is.  If you really want to win the war, if you really believe that as much is at stake as is truly as stake and you‘re a supporter of the war, then you don‘t settle for 20,000 troops.

So you see these other Republicans, like Chuck Hagel, like Sam Brownback, like Norm Coleman, starting to stand up, and that really is much more interesting.  We spend a lot of time talking about what the new Democratic Congress is going to do, the really interesting maneuvers are, as Richard says, coming from the Republican Party.  That‘s what‘s important.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, that‘s such a dramatic scene, of course, the possibility of a John Warner or John McCain going over to the White House and telling this president it is over.  Talk about the Nixon White House.  And did that Goldwater scene happen the way that we heard it happening?  Was it that dramatic?  And is that what ended it for Nixon?

BUCHANAN:  No, that‘s a complete myth.  Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott, who was the Senate leader, and John Rhodes, the House leader, came up to the White House.  They came up, I believe, on a Wednesday night.  Joe, we had decided at Camp David the previous Sunday the president couldn‘t survive because we had found the tape.  We‘d released the tape on Monday.  Ray Price (ph) had started writing the speech on Tuesday or Wednesday morning for the president‘s resignation speech.  This is just an urban myth.

Now, with regard to the president...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  It really is.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and...

BUCHANAN:  I know it‘s (INAUDIBLE)  It‘s a great story and everybody tells it, but it‘s nonsense.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, so, well, let‘s put that one aside, then.

BUCHANAN:  All right.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan has cleared up that Washington, D.C., urban myth.

WALSH:  Thank you, Pat.

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s talk about the—thank you.  We all thank you, Pat.  America thanks you.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s move on now, though, and talk about what Richard Wolffe is reporting tonight.

BUCHANAN:  OK.

SCARBOROUGH:  And certainly, I was on the House floor when Nancy Pelosi was sworn in.  There‘s so much anger over...

BUCHANAN:  There is.  There is.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... where the Republican Party is and where George Bush is.  This revolt may be the real thing, right?

BUCHANAN:  Well, we don‘t have Webster, Clay and Calhoun up on Capitol Hill.  Joe, the president of the United States—as he said last night—the decider made his decisions.  He sent the troops in.  He doesn‘t really care if Congress is running around, talking about different resolutions.  The Democratic Party—because the president acted.  Action creates a certain consensus.  The Democratic Party is already split, with Edwards attacking Hillary Rodham Clinton for not coming out for a fund cut.  Republicans are split...

SCARBOROUGH:  But Pat, what if you have Republican, though—what if you have Republican senators going up and telling the president, We‘re not supporting your war anymore, bring the troops home?

BUCHANAN:  Well, then, he will say, Well, look—I think what the president will say is, I‘m going to see this surge through.  You do what you‘ve got to do.  And if you want to come out and attack me or criticize me or bail out, bail out.  I‘m going to do what I‘ve got to do.

Now, I think the surge is only going to last, Joe, for a number of months, until Maliki—we see that Maliki simply cannot stand up, attack Moqtada al Sadr, the most popular Shi‘ite in the country, and his big army, the best army on the other side, and survive himself.  When that happens, I think Bush is going to realize the surge didn‘t work.

But before then, all this is just talk on Capitol Hill.  And it‘s endless.  And they‘re not going to do a thing.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Josh, let me bring you in here.  One of the things that I hear from Republicans—a lot of Republicans on the Hill is that George Bush seems disconnected from reality.  At least, he seems disconnected from the reality that a congressman or a senator has to deal with when he or she goes back into their district and hears from conservatives that this war doesn‘t seem to be going in the right direction.  And certainly, if that‘s how some of these congressmen and senators felt before last night, they‘re certainly feeling it more acutely today.

I want to play you a clip of the “60 Minutes” interview, when President Bush said he actually thinks the Iraqi people owe Americans a thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology?

BUSH:  Not at all.  I think—I think—I‘m proud of the efforts we did.  We liberated that country from a tyrant.  I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, Josh, I‘m certainly proud of what our troops have done, and I know all of Americans are.  But right now, you look at the chaos in that country, that certainly seems like a president who may be disconnected from the political realities not only in Iraq but also in America, right?

JOSH GERSTEIN, “NEW YORK SUN”:  Yes, I think so.  You know what I was struck by, Joe, was the fact that Senator Sam Brownback, who is about as rock-ribbed conservative as they come, came out and said that he thinks the surge is a bad idea, which is interesting because I don‘t think it‘s so much a question of whether President Bush is going to resign or stop the war or something along those lines, but the 2008 race is already under way.  And now we have conservatives, as well as Democrats, being divided on some issues related to the war.  You have Brownback saying the surge is a bad idea.  You‘ve got Romney saying, Anything the president wants to do is fine with me.  So you‘ve got cleavages across both parties, making for a very, very interesting race that‘s really upon us right now.

SCARBOROUGH:  So what‘s it mean in the end, Josh?  Does it mean that we maintain the status quo while presidential candidates in both parties just fight each other over nuances on how to end this war?

GERSTEIN:  I think what it means is a lot of symbolic posturing both by the conservatives and by the Democrats about who can get to the right position.  Meanwhile, the president‘s going to surge forward—if you‘ll excuse the term—with his policy, regardless of what anybody says about it.  And there just isn‘t much anyone can do about it until 2008, which will be upon us before you know it.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, you know, I want to read you all what an American military official in Baghdad told “The New York Times,” in blunt terms.  He said, quote, “We‘re implementing a strategy to embolden a government that‘s actually part of the problem.  We are being played like a pawn.”

And Richard Wolffe, this does appear to be a government that a growing amount of conservatives—I think of Krauthammer with “The Washington Post” after the botched Saddam Hussein lynching—saying that this government wasn‘t worth anymore troops, the Maliki government.  And then, of course, we saw they botched another hanging, where I guess a guy‘s head actually came off.  They don‘t—they—they—this government seems to be making all the wrong moves over in Iraq.

Is there a growing feeling on Capitol Hill that Republicans just don‘t want to invest any more political capital or any more money or any more blood, American blood, with the Maliki government and the government that protects al Sadr?

WOLFFE:  Well, that is the most serious question out there.  And look, it‘s the one that the White House has grappled with.  One of the first things I wanted to find out as a White House reporter from this White House as I went into this review was, What gives them such confidence in Maliki that he is still worth sticking with?  They say they‘ve been all over it.  They‘ve been eavesdropping.  They‘ve been pushing him in video conferences, and they really believe it.

Having said that, there‘s a lot of skepticism there.  And they‘re totally aware of the kind of military skepticism, even skepticism from the Agency, about the Maliki government, about whether democracy is really achievable in the short run.  Maybe they should just go for security first and leave democracy to a later date.

That is not what the president wants to do.  And as long as he‘s attached to this principle, this focus of standing up a democratic government, Maliki is the guy.  He is, after all, a product of a democratic process in Iraq.  So that‘s why they are where they are, but the White House is asking those same questions.  Just look at that leaked Hadley memo...

WALSH:  Right.

GERSTEIN:  ... just a couple of months ago.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.  And Joan, I‘ll throw this at, Joan, you or Pat.  Is the biggest problem that we‘re basically—we‘ve got troops dying for a government that‘s led by a man who‘s basically put in power by al Sadr?

WALSH:  By the other side.  He‘s put in power and kept in power by the people that we‘re fighting.  And that‘s why...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and—and...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Joan, let me—let me make one more point very quickly.  We‘re talking about going to war with Iran right now.  Well, al Sadr is nothing more than Iran‘s puppet.  Maliki is nothing more than al Sadr‘s puppet.  It seems to me that the Iranians, who lost—you know, the Iranians and Iraqis lost a million people in a war in the 1980s.  It looks like we‘ve cleared the deck for them, and now the Iranians are able to just walk right in and take over another country.

WALSH:  We seem to be on the same side, as far as I can tell.  And the really cynical thing here—to talk about Steve Hadley for a second—you know, he made that comment on “Meet the Press” yesterday, that, you know,the president can send these troops in.  He doesn‘t really need extra money or any authorization, certainly, to send in another 20,000.  And once they‘re in harm‘s way, Congress won‘t vote to cut the funds.  That is so cynical, Joe.  He‘s basically booby-trapping the situation for Democrats.

You‘ve got a lot of Democratic people, consultants who are cowards and say, Oh, the Democrats shouldn‘t do anything.  Well, this is why, because they are gaming this.  It‘s a political game, at this point, and it‘s really...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It seems like a political game, and it seems like this administration‘s putting 20,000 more troops in, as Pat Buchanan suggested last week, just to push this off to the next president.  But Pat, if I‘m the president and I want to win Republican support in the Senate, I‘d promise them that I will either arrest or kill Sadr, I will clean up the situation over there.  Why doesn‘t this president, who claims that he wants democracy to reign in Iraq—why doesn‘t he go after a thug who‘s being funded by the Iranians?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think they are.  I think they‘ve got two objectives in there.  One of them, they claim they‘ve got Maliki‘s support for going after al Sadr and the Mahdi Army.  Secondly, they obviously can get his support for going after the Sunnis.  This was what they claim they have.

Now, Joe, let me stay in—I‘m not in favor of the surge, I‘ll be honest, but I understand the president‘s case.  He looks at the Democrats and he says, Look, has anybody got a better idea...

SCARBOROUGH:  President—you know, Pat...

BUCHANAN:  ... to salvage this situation?  None of them have!

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, I understand.  I understand, Pat.  But if the president‘s serious about this, I‘ll tell you what, I would have—I would have supported a 50,000 troop surge or a 100,000 troop surge.  A 20,000 troop surge, you‘re just putting more young man in Baghdad, rotating them and getting them killed.

BUCHANAN:  Well, no.  I—let me make his case.  His case is that if we do this and we can get Maliki to go with us after the Mahdi Army and knock out the main prop of the Shia terrorists, and then we can knock down the Sunnis for a while, then we‘ll buy six months, and maybe Maliki can do it.  Nobody else has got a better idea.  So this is why I‘m doing it.  So I think—I mean, the—and the president‘s strong argument is the Democrats have no option, no plan of their own except to knock his.

SCARBOROUGH:  And if the president had a plan to say, I‘m going to take out al Sadr and I‘m going to put enough troops in there to make a real difference, I think you would see Republicans jumping back on his side.

Richard Wolffe, Joan Walsh and Josh Gerstein, thank you so much.  Pat Buchanan, stay with us.

Coming up next: The White House ramps up the rhetoric against Iran, calling it a “growing threat” and warning Teheran that they‘re going to be dealt with.  Is the Bush administration ready to start another war?

And later: Speaking of wars, Paula Abdul goes wild while promoting “American Idol,” the videos all America‘s talking about in the pop culture world.  Was she straight-up drunk or simply tired?  We‘ll show you her clips, her defense, and what it means for “Idol‘s” big debut this week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Is the White House setting the stage for a war with Iran?  Well, things are getting very tense between Washington and Teheran.  This weekend, Condi Rice confirmed President Bush directly authorized last week‘s raid of an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq, an operation that netted five Iranians who are still under arrest, in U.S. custody.  The president also ordered an additional aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, along with Patriot missiles.

And Vice President Dick Cheney helped beat the drum over the weekend.  He turned up on Fox News yesterday to echo the president‘s threat that Iran will be dealt with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s been pretty well known that Iran is fishing in troubled waters, if you will, inside Iraq.  And the president has responded to that, as you suggest.  I think it‘s exactly the right thing to do.  The threat that Iran represents is growing.  It‘s multi-dimensional.  And it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  So what message are you sending to Iran?  And how tough are you prepared to get?

CHENEY:  I think the message that the president sent clearly is that we do not want them doing what they can to try to destabilize the situation inside Iraq.  We think it‘s very important that they keep their folks at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  The big question this weekend among a lot of people in Washington is whether the White House is drawing up plans for an attack on Iran.  Here now Craig Crawford.  He‘s a columnist for “Congressional Quarterly.”  And still with us, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Craig, you know, listening to Dick Cheney make his case yesterday, it certainly sounded an awful lot like the fall of 2002.  Is this a White House that is preparing for war with Iran?  And is it a war that they think is necessary and a war that they may want?

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: 

Well, they‘ve been rattling this for quite a while, going back to the—indeed, almost the exact words that the vice president used on inauguration day two years ago, when he was asked on the Don Imus program about Iran and he started talking about the “growing threat” and pointed out something that I thought was very telling about the White House thinking, that if we didn‘t do it, Israel would, was the point he was making.

And I think, you know, the president‘s speech the other night, it wasn‘t a direct threat to Iran, not as direct as he‘s been in the past, but he brought it up and some of the mobilization of resources.

A couple of things here, Joe.  I think one, either they‘re preparing the battlefield for some sort of lightning strike, maybe an air strike, if they can bait the Iranians, provoke them into something that would justify such a thing, or they‘re setting up blaming Iran for some of the failures in Iraq, which I think is also part of their strategy, to point out Iranian meddling in Iraq and use that as one of the explanations for why we‘re not succeeding there.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, is—do we have an administration that‘s trying to bait Iran into making a false move, a wrong move, that would justify us going in and making strikes against nuclear facilities or other military targets?

BUCHANAN:  I have to say—and my answer to that would be, yes, I

think they are.  I think, clearly, the administration is preparing attacks

on Iran, when you move carriers into the Gulf—we don‘t need them in Iraq

and Patriot missiles.  So I think that is clearly being prepared, Joe. 

And these things—unless they are absolutely necessary, taking down this quasi-consulate, these things would appear to be provocations.

If the Iranians are smart, they will not retaliate for something like that militarily because if they did, I think the president would probably exercise his option to attack bases inside Iran and maybe use the B-2 bombers to take out their nuclear installations.  And if he did, it‘s my view that this Congress would be either be supportive or paralyzed.

And I think that—you know, if the president says, Look, I want to defend the world, the United States and Israel from the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons in the hands of a man who said he wanted to wipe Israel off the map, I think that the Democrats would not get up and say, We‘re going to impeach him for that.  So I think the president‘s got more of a free hand than he realizes.

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  ... military options there.  I mean, you know, Iran‘s, what, half the size of Europe?  I mean, we don‘t have the ground troops to follow up...

BUCHANAN:  We don‘t have ground troops, no.

CRAWFORD:  ... on any kind of—I mean, we can air strike, and that‘s

that always looks good.  But I don‘t know that it could be very effective, other than, you know, I mean, in terms of really making...

SCARBOROUGH:  But Craig...

CRAWFORD:  ... a long-term difference there.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... let‘s get back to this point.  This may sound surreal, Craig, to a lot of people out there.  But you look at the poll numbers.  Americans just absolutely, for the most part, have despised Iran since 1979, since the Iranian hostage crisis.  And I think Pat Buchanan is correct.  I think if the president decided to make this move, there‘d be very few people in Congress that would stand up in defense of Iran.

CRAWFORD:  Well, that‘s why I think it‘s so important to them to have some sort of provocation from Iran.  You know...

BUCHANAN:  They‘re working on it.

CRAWFORD:  ... along the lines of a Gulf of Tonkin...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes!  They‘re working on it!

(LAUGHTER)

CRAWFORD:  Or maybe Pearl Harbor.  I don‘t know.  But you know, this is what the...

SCARBOROUGH:  The Bay of Tonkin.

CRAWFORD:  ... administration is trying to set up.  They‘re trying to put their critics, put the Democrats in another straitjacket in another country.  It‘s very tempting to compare this to...

BUCHANAN:  You know...

CRAWFORD:  ... to Cambodia with Richard Nixon...

BUCHANAN:  This is not...

CRAWFORD:  ... except the difference is, Cambodia wasn‘t trying to develop nuclear power.

BUCHANAN:  What I think is unfair is to say this is all about Democrats.  I don‘t think Bush is about that at all.  I think he generally believes this about Iraq—I mean, Iran.  And that‘s why Walter Jones, a colleague of yours, Republican congressman from North Carolina, introduced a resolution the day after Bush‘s speech, or two days after, saying the president of the United States does not have the authority to attack Iran in the absence of a direct attack on our forces or an imminent attack on our forces.

CRAWFORD:  Joe Biden...

BUCHANAN:  The Democrats...

CRAWFORD:  ... made that point...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  But Joe Biden makes a lot of points verbally.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Let him sign onto this resolution, which says the president doesn‘t have the authority.  We‘ll see who really genuinely will stand up and say, You can‘t go after Iran without our permission.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, we‘ve got to go.  But I‘ll get a quick prediction from you.  Craig Crawford, before the Bush administration‘s time is done, are we going to see a military strike of any type on Iran?

CRAWFORD:  My guess is before this year is out, we‘ll see a strike of some sort, no matter how insignificant, on Iranian soil, as a threat, as—to make a point, to give them a warning shot.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, yes or no?

BUCHANAN:  Craig‘s got it...

SCARBOROUGH:  Will we attack them?

BUCHANAN:  Craig finally got one right.

CRAWFORD:  Oh, finally!

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Finally.  Whatever.  I agree with (INAUDIBLE)  I think at some point soon, we are going to see a military strike against Iran.  Craig Crawford, Pat Buchanan, thanks a lot.  A serious issue we‘re going to continue to follow.

Still ahead, though, not so serious, but America‘s talking about it, Paula Abdul at it again, acting bizarre on live TV and all before “Idol‘s” even back on the air.  We‘re going to show you her bizarre behavior and how she‘s trying to explain it away.  But first, a Nancy Pelosi photo op gets a lot of attention for the wrong reasons.  “Must See S.C.” next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it‘s time for tonight‘s “Must See SC,” some video you‘ve just got to see.  First up, since the night Nancy Pelosi became House speaker, she‘s been bringing children along to all of her speeches.  And Jay Leno showing us why this may not always be such a great idea. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  Now, watch this kid now, as he sticks his tongue out.  Now watch.  OK, now, look at—now, you think somebody would look at the child.  No, no, what is that, 30 seconds?  Somebody go look at this kid.  Hello?  Now he starts again with this.  Will somebody look at the kid?  Hello?  Mom?  Dad?  Is there someone—the only one that notices now is the little girl.  Now, watch the little girl.  Now she notices.  Look at her.  No, she goes—hey, what are you doing?  She thinks it‘s funny.  This goes on for like an—enough.  It goes on for like a hour. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Is that Rudy Giuliani‘s kid?

And finally, David Letterman gives us a sneak peek at the new rental car commercials, and look at the lengths that they‘re going to go to, to get you in their cars. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Avis is bringing the Internet to the comfort of your rental car.  For just $10.95 a day, our quality vehicles come equipped with wi-fi hotspots, so drivers can conveniently check real-time traffic reports, local weather, or surf adult sites.  Avis, that‘s smart driving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait, so that‘s—OK, OK, you‘re not supposed to do that.  Fine.

OK, coming up, tonight‘s surprising new details to the case of two kidnapped Missouri boys.  Did one of the teens actually try to contact his parents long before the police found him?  NBC‘s exclusive interview with the families coming up. 

But first...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

PAULA ABDUL, JUDGE, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  You know what?  Listen, listen, any publicity is good publicity.  You‘ve got to learn to eat it up and embrace it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  “American Idol” isn‘t even back yet, but Paula‘s antics are already getting her in trouble.  Was she drunk during an interview or merely confused or just crazy?  We‘ll show you the clip that has her in hot water and get to the bottom of it, when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Less than 24 hours to go until “American Idol” returns for its sixth season.  Now, producers are promising bad auditions, big surprises, and, of course, crazy commentary from the judges.  Well, Paula Abdul‘s already getting a jump start.  America is buzzing over Abdul‘s appearance on a Seattle TV station.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So tell us, what are you looking forward to this season? 

ABDUL:  How about a lot of you coming in?  It‘s a wild party where you are. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, that‘s what we hear.  We hear that Simon has actually said that this had some of the worst singers that he‘s ever heard.  What did you think of the singers in Seattle? 

ABDUL:  Well, I have to agree with Simon. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Paula!

ABDUL:  Hey, you know what?  It is what it is, and it was brilliant.  Any publicity is good publicity.  You‘ve got to learn to eat it up and embrace it and say, “Seattle had the best delusional people.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘ve got to learn to eat it up, drink it in, shoot it up, Paula Abdul, pop the pills.  That‘s what you‘ve got to do, Paula. 

Anyway, now Paula Abdul denies that she was under the influence of anything.  And her spokesman said she was just tired.  Is Paula Abdul actually self-destructing?  And can FOX do anything about her out-of-control behavior?  Here now to talk about it, former “Idol”‘ contestant Carmen Rasmusen and “Star” magazine deputy New York bureau chief David Caplan. 

Carmen, you‘ve got to be embarrassed for Paula Abdul.  You have to be embarrassed for “American Idol.”  What‘s going on here? 

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  You know what?  That‘s the first time that I actually saw that clip.  And I know Paula personally.  I never saw her drunk.  I never saw her on drugs. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You just did, huh? 

RASMUSEN:  Maybe so.  I don‘t know.  I hope that, if there is something going on, that Paula would have the courage to get help.  There are a lot of people going through things, a lot of celebrities that have had addictions that have done what they could to get over them.  And I think that the smartest thing for her, if there is something going on, is to get back on track. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, Carmen, you‘re shocked at this clip? 

RASMUSEN:  I am.  I‘m completely shocked.  I have never seen her like

that before.  And it‘s really surprising.  Because like I‘ve said, she

never acted like that on our season.  But I hope that—I think she has a

great career.  I think that she‘s great and very entertaining on “American

Idol.”\

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Carmen, I want to show you this.  I want to show you one more clip, too.  And Seattle wasn‘t the only Paula interview to raise a few eyebrows.  Take a look at these clips from her interview in Oakland and L.A., and it‘s the same morning.  And I‘m showing you these clips because I‘m wondering why somebody at “American Idol” didn‘t step in and stop it.  I‘m wondering whether this may have been part of just a big P.R. stunt.  Let‘s show this clip, too.

RASMUSEN:  All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you always wiggle around that much?  You‘re just wiggling around there in New York City. 

ABDUL:  I‘m a dancer.  I‘m a dancer.  I‘m doing a little dance moves. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can you imagine how this thing turned out? 

ABDUL:  Yes!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

ABDUL:  I‘m going to say everything different than anyone else is. 

Yes, I can.  And, you know, I predicted it.  I predicted the biggest show in the history of television, a lexicon of Americana.  I predicted that we are going to have so many stars that come out of this show. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Carmen...

RASMUSEN:  Wow!

SCARBOROUGH:  ... you know just how tightly controlled “American Idol” is.  And I don‘t think there‘s any way Paula Abdul would go on there and humiliate herself that way.  But I‘m wondering, do you think maybe some of the “Idol” handlers may have said, “Go ahead.  She‘ll go out and make a fool out of herself, but it‘ll actually add to controversy before we debut”?

RASMUSEN:  Well, I mean, OK, it is the day before “American Idol.”  They‘re predicting the biggest season ever.  I wouldn‘t like to think that they would do something like that.  But, as Paula said, any publicity is good publicity, and she‘s sure getting a lot of publicity right now.  But, like I said, I‘ve never seen her act like that before.  And that was the same day, wasn‘t it?  She‘s wearing the same outfit.

SCARBOROUGH:  It was the same day. 

And, David Caplan, I‘m going to ask you whether—and this is sad to see somebody like this, to see anybody like this, making such a fool of themselves on national television.  I don‘t care what you think of them.  But it seems awfully cynical of FOX or “American Idol” handlers to let her go out there and make a complete ass of herself time and time again.  Why would they do that, David? 

DAVID CAPLAN, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  I don‘t necessarily think that this was something, you know, created by FOX or that they even, to a certain degree, expected this.  I mean, Paula Abdul is a train wreck.  And she always misbehaves.  Every season we go through this.  And she clearly seems under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  There‘s definitely something there.  And I really think, to a certain degree, people at FOX have thrown their hands up. 

And, you know, they expect something from her.  And, true, it generates publicity.  It‘s perfect timing, right before the show.  But that‘s what she was doing.  She‘s promoting the TV show.  So I think the people at FOX are sort of, “OK, Paula.  Tone down.  You‘re a bit of a mess lately.”

But she hasn‘t done anything that egregious and that shocking that really would prompt them to sort of, you know, pull her back from doing any sort of press for the show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  David, Paula is saying again that she was not drunk during this segment.  I‘m just going to show you a quick clip of a segment of the L.A.—or actually the Seattle interview.  Let‘s look at it again, a quick clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Tell us, what are you looking forward to this season? 

ABDUL:  How about a lot of you coming in?  It‘s a wild party where you are. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, David, not under the influence?  Nobody‘s believing that.

CAPLAN:  I think there‘s something there.  That‘s not normal behavior.  If I was sitting here right now swaying back and forth and giggling for no reason, I think you‘d think something was up.  So I don‘t care what her publicist said, what FOX is saying... 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I would think we‘d move Pat Buchanan to the D block.  I‘m joking, Pat.  I‘m joking, Shelley.  But, you know, I mean, there‘s no doubt that there‘s something going on here.  And so again Paula Abdul embarrasses them every year, but is she like the crazy aunt that America loves? 

CAPLAN:  Yes, absolutely.  And, again, we should remember, you know, there‘s always murmurs with Paula Abdul that she does have issues with pain killers.  So this is not some groundbreaking sort of subject news bulletin that Paula Abdul has certain issues. 

But, you know, they really agree.  She is like the crazy, old aunt who misbehaves every Thanksgiving.  In her case, it‘s sort of every season, every few months.  And they‘ve just sort of—you know, OK, well, let‘s wait and see until she does something really out of control.  But this girl is a mess.  And at the same time, everyone loves it.  We always watch it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Carmen, FOX is standing by Paula tonight and claiming that her interviews had, quote, “technical difficulties.”  They issued this statement:  “All of us at FOX have tremendous respect and admiration for Paula Abdul.  Rather than getting angry about these difficulties or stopping the tour, Paula forged ahead and decided to have fun with the increasingly challenging situation.  But, unfortunately, because the reporters and viewers were unaware of the situation, her humor was misconstrued.”

Carmen, do you buy that from FOX? 

RASMUSEN:  You know what?  Like I said before, I‘m not sure.  Paula Abdul is a good friend of mine. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re not sure?  Do you want us to play you that clip again, Carmen?

RASMUSEN:  No, that‘s all right.  That‘s OK.

SCARBOROUGH:  Is there any question that Paula Abdul was under the influence of something? 

RASMUSEN:  I think she was definitely under the influence of something, whether it was lack of sleep, or whether it was drugs, or whether it was alcohol, whether she was traveling was so much and exhausted, I don‘t know.  But as I said before, I hope that, if there was something wrong, that she would have the courage to seek help and get control of it and have a great career. 

Because, I mean, it is sad, and it‘s embarrassing, and I don‘t think that she would put herself in a situation like that just for publicity, but...

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Carmen, you are a good friend of Paula‘s. 

And you stood up for your friend tonight. 

You‘re right.  It could have been lack of sleep.  It could have been, you know, technical difficulties.  It could have been that she had three bottles of scotch.  It could have been anything.  Carmen, thank you for being with us.

RASMUSEN:  Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH:  David, stick around.

Coming up next, a new twist in the alleged kidnapping of two Missouri boys.  We‘re going to show you how one of these teens actually tried to contact his parents online during the years he was missing.  We‘re going to hear directly from one of the boys for the first time.

And later, Britney Spears blows $40,000 grand in Vegas, and that doesn‘t even include the gambling.  The full scoop on her trip to the strip ahead in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Incredible new details are emerging tonight in the rescue story of two kidnapped Missouri boys.  Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck, of course, were found alive Friday in the neighborhood of Kirkwood, Missouri.  Their abductor was a 41-year-old employee of a local pizza parlor there. 

But tonight, we learned that Internet posting revealed that one of the boys actually tried to reach out to his parents by posting clues on their Web site, but nobody there could connect the dots.  NBC‘s Kevin Tibbles has more on this incredible story and the clues that were hiding for the parents to see in plain sight. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Fifteen-year-old Shawn Hornbeck, abducted in 2002, was free to use his cell phone and ride his bike right out in the open.  Now, further evidence he was even more visible than that. 

His picture was posted on numerous social networking Web sites.  Just over a year ago, a writer calling himself Shawn Devlin, which is the last name of the alleged abducted, posted this question on the Hornbeck family‘s Web site:  “How long are you planning to look for your son?”

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  I‘d like to think that this was a cry for help.  I‘d like to think that this was his attempt to try to see if people still cared. 

TIBBLES:  And he, along with 13-year-old Ben Ownby, would not have been found were it not for one vital clue provided to investigators. 

It was one week ago today that Ben Ownby got off the school bus here and simply vanished.  But one schoolmate still on that bus thought that he saw something strange, and he told the police. 

MITCHELL HULTS, LED POLICE TO CLUE IN DISAPPERANCE:  I seen a truck sideways in the road.  And it turned around real fast.

TIBBLES:  Fifteen-year-old Mitchell Hults described a white pickup truck.  That was the key.  Late Thursday, two suburban St. Louis police officers noticed a pickup matching the description outside this apartment.  They even knew its owner.  He worked at the local pizza joint. 

DARY WAOSTER, KIRKWOOD, MISSOURI, POLICE OFFICER:  The conversation intensified.  The questions got more specific.  You could tell that his whole demeanor had changed.

TIBBLES:  Inside the apartment, police found not only Ben Ownby, but Shawn Hornbeck, and arrested 41-year-old Michael Devlin. 

Also today, Ownby spoke for the first time in an interview to be broadcast tomorrow morning on the “Today” show.  He expressed his gratitude to Mitchell Hults, whose tip to police led to his freedom. 

BEN OWNBY, FOUND AFTER BEING KIDNAPPED:  Thank you for being such a great, big help in this entire thing. 

TIBBLES:  Michael Devlin will be arraigned on kidnapping charges later in the week. 

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Beaufort, Missouri.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you, Kevin.  A great story.  And you can catch the exclusive interview with Ben Ownby and his family tomorrow morning on the “Today” show. 

And coming up next here, did Tom Cruise convince soccer star David Beckham to come to America so he can convert him to Scientology?  Pack your cleats, “Hollyweird” next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Tell your plastic surgeon more collagen please, because it‘s time for “Hollyweird.”

First up, Britney Spears.  Now, the top pop tart drops $40,000 grand in Vegas for a Playboy suite and then returns to the scene of her New Year‘s Eve crime.  Here tonight to talk about that and so much more, the host of “Reality Remix,” Kennedy, and still with us David Caplan.

Let‘s start with you, Kennedy. 

KENNEDY, HOST, “REALITY REMIX”:  Hello, Joe, happy new year. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, baby.  Hey, happy new year to you, too. 

KENNEDY:  Thank you.

SCARBOROUGH:  But a happier new year to Britney.  She‘s still living large.  A $40,000 bill that doesn‘t even include catering from KFC.  What‘s going on with the pop tart? 

KENNEDY:  She‘s a nose job away from becoming the Michael Jackson, isn‘t she? 

SCARBOROUGH:  She really is.

KENNEDY:  It‘s kind of fun to see how quickly she can burn through her money and credibility.  Poor Britney.  I think Britney really needs to start acting like a mommy.  If you have a newborn at home, most women will tell you, it‘s pretty exhausting.  I didn‘t have time to get out of limos without my undie-wears on and vomit all over night clubs.  Now I wonder if I was doing something wrong? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, I‘m with you.  I mean, when I had kids, I tried not to do that.  But, David, obviously Britney is trying to do everything under the sun.  What‘s going on in her life?  And tell us about this story.

CAPLAN:  Yes, I mean, the great thing is, she took her new man, Isaac Cohen, who‘s a dancer-model from L.A., and this was their big weekend in Las Vegas.  But Britney, like you said, she wanted to return to the scene of the crime, a $40,000 a night, you know, the Hugh Hefner suite at the Palms hotel, glass elevator, a Jacuzzi, a pool, fully stocked bar.  So she was there to party.  And then she goes to Pure night club, where she fainted.  But I hear she did not drink.  She drank Red Bull, pineapple juice, and water.  So she‘s a kind of good girl.  Kind of.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, poor Isaac, too.  I mean, Kennedy, how would you like to be K-Fed‘s sloppy seconds? 

KENNEDY:  You know what?

SCARBOROUGH:  Sick, isn‘t it?

KENNEDY:  I hope he‘s hot.  I hope he‘s got something more than Federline had.  And I just wonder how soon it‘s going to be before she‘s pregnant again.

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s right around the corner, I‘m sure.  We‘ll be talking about it next week. 

Let‘s talk about “Star” magazine, though.  They‘re reporting that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are concerned that Suri is in danger.  David, tell us about it.

CAPLAN:  That‘s right.  Suri is under guard 24/7 by armed guards, because Tom and Katie—big surprise—are very hands-on parents, and they‘re concerned that Suri is going to be kidnapped, that, you know, this is a precedent in Hollywood.  Lots of stars get threats.  We know about it, but a lot of their friends are thinking they‘re being a little bit overboard with this, because this baby is never seen, even though, you know, it emerged after six months after she was born.  You know, the last photo of Suri was when they were in the Maldives for their honeymoon.  So they‘re really concerned, and this baby sleeps in a nursery with guards outside the door.  It‘s not a very warm, nurturing environment for most kids.

SCARBOROUGH:  Kennedy, it‘s just like your kids and mine, right, a perfectly normal life? 

KENNEDY:  Oh, yes, there are armed guards outside my daughter‘s room as we speak.  But mostly—it‘s not because we‘re worried about kidnapping.  We‘re worried about the alien invasion, just like the Cruises. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s coming.

Speaking of alien invasions, Kennedy—thank you for that segue—

David Beckham says Tom Cruise convinced him and wife Posh Spice to move to America.  The “Daily Mail” is reporting there may be a Scientology connection.  What do you think about that, Kennedy?

KENNEDY:  You know, there‘s been quite a bidding war for David Beckham, not in the soccer world, but between scientology and kabala.  And it will be really interesting to see which one of these religions wins the ultimate man of the universe, David Beckham.  The man‘s so hot he has a movie with his last name in the title.  Gosh.

SCARBOROUGH:  I know, I know, just like—well, there‘s also, of course, “Strike it like Scarborough,” not quite as big as “Bend it like Beckham.”

KENNEDY:  I think it went straight to DVD, but I watched it.

SCARBOROUGH:  It did.  So, David, what about the Scientology rumors?  Do we expect the Beckhams to be following the Church of Scientology anytime soon? 

CAPLAN:  Absolutely.  I mean, look at—absolutely.  Everyone who Tom and Katie‘s friends with are Scientologists.  You know, David and Victoria are all part of it, so they‘re going to be Scientologists.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, we will see.  Thanks, Kennedy.  Thank you, David.  And thank you all for being with us tonight.  See you tomorrow.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 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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