updated 2/27/2007 2:47:49 PM ET 2007-02-27T19:47:49

Guests: Joe Klein, Melinda Henneberger, Ric Robinson, John Nichols, Julia Allison, Tom O’Neil

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight, a top Democrat throws down the gauntlet on George Bush by declaring that Democrats will change U.S.  policy, even if they have to tie the commander-in-chief’s hands.  Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin came out swinging on “Meet the Press” and signaled that Democrats are ready to cash in on the mandate given to them this fall to end the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN:  Of course, we’re trying to tie the hands of the president in his policy.  We’re trying to change the policy.  And if someone wants to call that tying the hands instead of change the policy, yes, the president needs a check and a balance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And according to a new “Washington Post” poll, most Americans want Levin’s Democrats to start taking the lead on Iraq by almost 20 percentage points, while another poll shows Republicans returning to the president’s side.

So what does it mean for a capital on the brink of political war over an increasingly ugly civil war in Iraq?  Plus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s stunning report that the U.S. government could be funding al Qaeda-backed operatives in their battles against Iranian operatives.

Here to discuss the increasingly desperate and confusing situation in Iraq, Joe Klein, columnist for “Time” magazine, Melinda Henneberger, political editor for the Huffingtonpost, and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Joe, let me begin with you.  Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin sounds like a man who is ready to fight.  Do you think the Democrats are finding their sea legs finally in this battle over Iraq with George Bush?

JOE KLEIN, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  No.  In fact, I think they’re kind of...

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.

KLEIN:  I think they’re kind of overreaching at this point, Joe.  You know, the Democrats don’t want to be in control of this war, and they’re not going to be in control of this war constitutionally.  They wanted to send a clear message that they were opposed to the surge strategy.  They did that.  But at this point, I think that the only thing that they can get out of this is embarrassment.

They’re not going to hold the full—their full majority, since Joe Lieberman isn’t going to vote with them.  Chuck Hagel and the other Republicans who are against the surge aren’t going to vote with them, either.  So I think that this is probably going to be a destructive—a self-destructive strategy in the short term.

SCARBOROUGH:  So Joe Klein, how do you explain this to, let’s say, a 19, 20, 21-year-old that is newly interested in politics, sees the polls leading up to the elections that say the American people do not want the United States to escalate the war in Iraq—they put Democrats in power, they reject the president and Republicans outright over this war—now let me show you this poll that I showed you at the top of the program, the new “Washington Post” poll that shows that America wants Democrats by margin of 20 percentage points to handle this war in Iraq, to do exactly what Chairman Levin is suggesting they do.  And yet you’re saying there’s very little the Democrats can do.

How do you explain to a 21-year-old that it just doesn’t matter what the American people want in Iraq, that the president has all the power?

KLEIN:  Well, I think that I’d send that 21-year-old back to his high school American history class, where he’d find out that Congress has the power to declare war but the president is the commander-in-chief and he can wage war.

SCARBOROUGH:  Joe, he’d also find out, though, that Congress and not the president has the power to fund that war.  And the Democrats could end this war tomorrow, if they wanted to, couldn’t they?

KLEIN:  They could, but it would be a very unwise thing to do.  This isn’t Vietnam.  We’re talking about long-term consequences.  It’s difficult to know what those consequences are.  And because the situation is so complicated, you want to leave those decisions to the actual commanders on the ground.  You want to keep on fighting al Qaeda in Anbar province, as John warner and Carl Levin and a whole bunch of other senators who are opposed to the surge do.  So you can’t just cut off the funds and...

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN:  ... there’s nothing you can do.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Joe Klein, I mean, not to jump on George Bush any more than he’s been jumped on, but you talk about how you want to follow commanders on the ground and their strategy.  You and I both know, and George Bush knows, that the majority of his commanders on the ground did not think the surge was a wise political move.  So one of those commanders has been moved out, and they put in new commanders that would agree with this president, right?

KLEIN:  Right, Joe.  And in fact, I found out recently that the vote was unanimous in the tank when the president met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  None of them were in favor of the surge, but none of them were in favor of cutting off funds for the war.  None of them would be in favor of a unilateral pullout.  You know, they want to continue to fight al Qaeda where they can, and they want to protect the region against an explosion.

So that’s where the difficulty comes.  Congress can’t micromanage, you know, the prevention of an explosion.  What they can do is authorize the war or cut off funds.  What we need is somewhere in the middle, and they can’t do that.

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan, what’s it all mean?  I mean, you look at this poll, where Americans are asked whether they think the war was a mistake or not -- 34 percent, only one out of three Americans, say that Iraq was a war worth fighting, one out of three Americans talking about a war that has basically crippled us militarily.  And I say that because we’re unable to go after North Korea.  We’re unable to go after Iran.  We’re unable to do a lot of things with our military because our military is spread so thin in Iraq.

So what do the Democrats do if they know that one out of three Americans may think the war is still a good idea, but two out of three thinks it’s a terrible mistake?  Can Democrats not do anything to stop this war?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, I agree with Joe on the Levin thing.  All they’re going to do is make themselves ridiculous.  They’re going to try to repeal the authorization for the war for which they voted.  Joe, you can’t do tests over, anymore than you can in college.  And if they do, they may not even get 50 votes.  They’re just going to look ridiculous.

SCARBOROUGH:  Is that what they’re trying to do here ? Are they trying to give Hillary Clinton and other Democrats who voted to authorize this war a chance to come back and vote again and say, You know what?  Now with the information that we have, we oppose this war.

BUCHANAN:  Well, they’re all virtually—the Democrats are virtually unanimous, except for Joe Lieberman, on one thing.  They want to be against the war and they want to be able to vote against the war, but they don’t want responsibility for defunding the war and losing the war.  That’s their objective.

You talk about that 19-year-old or 20-year-old.  He ought to be told that these guys are interested first and foremost in political survival.  That means getting right with their party, which means being against the war, and it also means not voting to defund the war.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Pat, it’s not just their party.  I mean, the American people have been ahead of politicians on the issue of Iraq for six months to a year now.

BUCHANAN:  Well...

SCARBOROUGH:  So it’s not like they’re just playing to the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party.  The overwhelming majority of Americans think it was wrong to go into Iraq and want to get out of Iraq.

BUCHANAN:  Two thirds of the American people think it was wrong to go into Iraq.  Two thirds are against the surge.  Sixty percent do not want to lose the war.  Over 50 percent think we can win the war.  The American people are deeply divided.  The Democrats want to be against the war, and they don’t want to lose the war.  And they know that if they vote to lose the war, if they vote to cut off—first, they don’t have the numbers to vote to cut off, but if they did, Iraq would sink in a year or two from now and be complete chaos and a disaster.  And people would say...

SCARBOROUGH:  It’s a complete chaos and disaster right now.

BUCHANAN:  Yes, it would be even worse.  But then they would blame that chaos and disaster on the Democrats.  Now the Democrats can blame it on Bush.  They want—Joe, what they want is—they don’t want accountability.  They want to be against the war but not accountable for what happens when what they want done is done.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Melinda, then what’s this vote all about?  Why do you have one of the most—well, actually, the most powerful Democrat in matters of war and peace going on “Meet the Press” and telling America, yes, he is willing to tie the commander-in-chief’s hands, if that’s what it takes to change policy in Iraq?

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  I think part of what’s happening is that they’re eager in the Senate to get Republicans on the record on vote after vote after vote saying, I recommit to this war.  So that changes it from being Bush’s war to being the Republicans’ war because it is so deeply unpopular back home.

But I also think—I agree with you that most voters out there want this—want the president’s hands tied.  They don’t think with the hands free has worked so well.  And I think that—yes, I agree with a lot of the conservative commentary I’ve read.  If these people have the courage of their convictions, they should cut off the war now, and I think that a lot of strong opponents of the war would say that’s true.

SCARBOROUGH:  And again—Melinda, look at these numbers.  Let’s look at the poll numbers, a new “Washington Post” poll, again, suggesting that most Americans agree with Chairman Levin.  Do you support or oppose Bush’s proposal to send additional troops on the surge issue?  Only 32 percent support, 67 percent opposed.

HENNEBERGER:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  Democrats seem to be on the side—whether you think they’re on the side of the angels or not, they are certainly on the side of the American public, two out of three Americans coming down on their side.  So why is it so hard for them to even get a vote?

HENNEBERGER:  That’s absolutely right.  That’s my question, too.  I don’t think it should be this hard.  I don’t think the political price is as high as everyone’s saying for saying, if you really think this war is already lost, if you think it’s chaos over there—and I do—if you think that it’s going to be a mess, no matter when we pull out, then we owe it to the troops to get them out of harm’s way as soon as possible.

SCARBOROUGH:  Joe Klein, you talk about chaos—you see this report by Sy Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, talking about how the United States is actually secretly funding, if not al Qaeda operatives, then certainly terrorists, the Sunni terrorists, that certainly are sympathetic to al Qaeda, basically desperate to do anything they can to rein in Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

Isn’t this a perfect example of how complex and chaotic the situation is over there?  And we don’t know whether we’re on the side of the Shi’ites or the Sunnis who are trying to kill the Shi’ites.

KLEIN:  Well, yes, that’s right.  In fact, what’s happening here is that the Saudis have been very worried about Iran’s increasing power, and Prince Bandar—you remember him, he was the ambassador...

SCARBOROUGH:  Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!  You know what, Joe Klein? 

You just...

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  If I were Groucho Marx, something would fall.  You just said the magic word...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  This is all about the Saudis, isn’t it.

KLEIN:  It is.  And the—you know, the Saudis and the Egyptians, to a certain extent, the Sunnis, who are very worried about Iranian power.  And you know, I think that there is—you know, there are real possibilities here, you know, to build a moderate coalition.  But at the same time, if you go all the way over to starting to fund, you know, Sunni terrorist groups, that’s insane.

(LAUGHTER)

KLEIN:  I mean, it’s just—it’s just ludicrous.

SCARBOROUGH:  But that’s what we’re doing!

KLEIN:  But you know, the thing is...

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN:  By the way, I don’t know that we’re doing that.  By the way, I want to see the details.  I’m not so sure that that’s what we’re doing.  I think that the big problem here—and you know, and I would dispute Melinda on one thing.  You know, the consequences here that you should be worried about aren’t the political consequences.

HENNEBERGER:  Right.

KLEIN:  They’re the policy consequences.

HENNEBERGER:  They’re the human consequences.

KLEIN:  I really do believe—I really do believe that we might be

facing, you know, ethnic cleansing, perhaps a genocide in Baghdad, and that

and a further aggrandizaton of Iranian power in the region.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

KLEIN:  And also, a safe haven for al Qaeda in western Iraq.

BUCHANAN:  Joe, what...

KLEIN:  I think we got to be able to do—you know, the thing—the amazing thing about this throughout, Joe, the most incredible thing is how little this administration has been interested in the details of this...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

KLEIN:  ... and the details are incredibly difficult.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Pat Buchanan...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I want you to—I want you—I mean, let’s talk quickly, Pat—and then go into the details.  Let’s talk very, very quickly about the details of this situation.  We go in there, we try to be liberators, we want to help the Shi’ites, who are 60 percent of the country, the Sunnis about 20 percent of the country.  When the Shi’ites turn bad, now we’re starting to help the Sunnis again.  And now you’ve got Sunni countries all around the region saying we can’t get out of there.  The same Sunni people that didn’t want us to go into Iraq are now saying we have to stay in Iraq, or else, of course, if we leave, then Iran will become even more powerful.  So we helped Iran do something they couldn’t do in a 10-year war against Saddam Hussein.

BUCHANAN:  Look, here’s what happened.  The United States went in there, took down the Taliban.  We smashed Saddam Hussein, took him down.  We suddenly woke up and realized that the big winner is Iran.  They now are pretty much getting in control of Iraq.  And so we have now decided that the United States has to side with the Sunnis in the great struggle, so we’re forming a grand alliance of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt.  The Sunnis in the west, we’re talking to them.  If you will, there’s a great containment strategy against Iran because we suddenly woke up to the fact that Iran is the big winner of America’s victory in Afghanistan and Iraq.

KLEIN:  By the way, the irony here...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... could be funding—we could be funding the same Sunni terrorists, or certainly people who are linked to the same Sunni terrorists...

BUCHANAN:  I can’t believe we will...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... that are killing Americans every day in Iraq.

BUCHANAN:  I don’t believe we will—I don’t believe we will ever fund al Qaeda, and any president or any administration...

KLEIN:  I don’t think we will, either.

BUCHANAN:  ... that was found doing that ought to and should be impeached.

SCARBOROUGH:  We will see...

KLEIN:  The irony—the irony here is that we’ve already been there, done that.  You know, history is repeating itself.  When—during the Iran-Iraq war, who did we fund?

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

SCARBOROUGH:  We funded the Sunnis.

SCARBOROUGH:  We funded Saddam Hussein and the Sunnis.

KLEIN:  You know, we funded Saddam Hussein.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Any final thoughts, Melinda?

(LAUGHTER)

HENNEBERGER:  We’ve already empowered the Iranians, so I think it’s just another example of how we keep going from bad to worse to even worse over there.  And the unintended consequences are so monumental that I think it’s just another argument for how it can’t possibly be worse to extricate ourselves from the situation.

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it, the situation keeps getting more and more chaotic.  And I will guarantee you, it all goes back to the Saudis.  We may not be funding al Qaeda, but we certainly could be funding Sunni insurgents or terrorists, anybody that will provide a check on Iran.  Thanks a lot, Melinda.  Greatly appreciated.  Joe Klein, Pat Buchanan, stick around.

Coming up next:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My fellow Americans, I’m going to take this opportunity right here and now to formally announce my intention...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  The Oscars fueled speculation about a possible White House run.  Is Al Gore planning a sneak attack that could knock out both Hillary and Obama?  And later: Is it the long lost tomb of Jesus or a Hollywood hoax?  We’re going to show you the controversial coffin which some believe proves Jesus had a son and was married to Mary Magdalene.

But first: High speed at the high court.  How far should police go in trying to stop an out-of-control car chase?  You’re see the video that could make hot pursuits a thing of the past.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) Officer.  Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go ahead and take him out.  Take him out.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He ain’t going to make it, man.  That wreck was bad!  Driver, can you hear me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That was the dramatic end to a 2001 high-speed chase in Georgia that left a 19-year-old man paralyzed.  He tried to outrun the cops, and then sued them for using excessive force to take him out.  And today the United States Supreme Court took up the case with the question:

Did the officers go too far?  And should police use deadly force to stop fleeing suspects?

NBC’s justice correspondent, Pete Williams, takes us inside a case that could change those hot pursuits forever.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  When a 19-year-old failed to slow down his speeding Cadillac, sheriff’s deputies in suburban Atlanta began this high-speed chase averaging 90 miles an hour.  Worried he was a highway danger, they decided to stop him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go ahead and take him out.  Take him out.

WILLIAMS:  A deputy bumped the car with his cruiser, hoping to spin it around.  Instead, the Cadillac swerved out of control, plunged down an embankment and crashed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He ain’t going to make it, man.  That wreck was bad!  Driver, can you hear me?

WILLIAMS:  The crash left him paralyzed from the neck down, so he sued.  Deadly force is usually allowed when a suspect is running away after committing a violent crime and remains a threat.  The Georgia man’s lawyer says there was no such justification in this case.

CRAIG JONES, LAWYER FOR CRASH VICTIM:  This is a guy who was just a traffic offender.  The interest in catching him did not justify the dangers posed by deadly force.

WILLIAMS:  But the deputy’s lawyer says the Cadillac was a danger, weaving into the oncoming lane and running stoplights.

PHILIP SAVRIN, LAWYER FOR DEPUTY:  He was determined to escape at great risk to the public and had shown that he was not going to stop on his own accord.

WILLIAMS:  And today, a majority of the Supreme Court seemed to agree.  Several of the Justices who watched the video seemed to believe force was justified to stop him.  Among conservatives, Justice Scalia said, with the Cadillac weaving, it was the scariest chase he’d seen since the movie “The French Connection.”  Among the liberals, Justice Ginsburg said anyone watching the tape must conclude he was endangering others.

Civil libertarians was hoping for a decision that would stop police from using force to end high-speed chases, but a majority of the Court seems prepared to rule that force is justified to stop speeding drivers, even if they’ve committed no other crimes.  Pete Williams, NBC News, at the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, let’s bring in right now former West Virginia state trooper Ric Robinson.  He’s been through dozens of these high-speed chases.  He’s the author of the book “Cop: The Truth Behind the Badge.”  Ric, thanks for being with us.  You look at those scenes, and police officers are using deadly force when they’ve got a guy that’s going 70 miles an hour and ram him on the side, they knock his car over, they’ve got to believe he’s going to end up paralyzed, like this 19-year-old kid.  Is excessive force justified for speeding?

RIC ROBINSON, FORMER STATE TROOPER:  I don’t think that they felt—I don’t think they felt that they were using excessive force, and I’m sure that they did not intend to see this guy paralyzed from the neck down.  He was 19 years old.  He was driving on a suspended driver’s license...

SCARBOROUGH:  Right, Ric.  But I mean...

ROBINSON:  ... so he was well familiar...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... when a guy’s going 70 years old (SIC) and you ram him in the side, like they did—and I’m not knocking them...

ROBINSON:  Actually, he was...

SCARBOROUGH:  I’m not knocking them.  I mean, look at this...

ROBINSON:  He was doing about 90.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK, well, he’s doing 90 and you hit him like that, you know he’s going to flip over and run and—you know, and possibly run into a tree or a light pole, right?

ROBINSON:  Well, your goal is to get that guy stopped so that he doesn’t harm somebody else who’s coming down the road.  And you saw, as I did, there were other vehicles that were traveling—both vehicles that pulled off because they saw those cars coming, vehicles coming in the opposite direction.  And so—and this guy was going left of center passing vehicles.  He also rammed one of the cruisers...

SCARBOROUGH:  So it doesn’t...

ROBINSON:  ... in a parking lot.

SCARBOROUGH:  It doesn’t matter whether the guy’s a murderer or whether he was—in this case, he was just guilty of a traffic violation.

ROBINSON:  Well, initially.

SCARBOROUGH:  You’re saying the fact that he could be endangering other people justifies the use of this type of force, that, again, could end up killing him.

ROBINSON:  You’re asking me, Did the ends justify the means?  That’s really the bottom line on that, is that correct?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, not just in this case, in all these cases we’re seeing a lot of these trucks being—vans being hit by police cars and knocked over.  Yes, that—I think that’s the question.  That’s the question the Supreme Court was asked today.

ROBINSON:  And I think that they’re going to look at this, and what they’re going to decide, did they feel in their minds that this rose to the level that there was a willful, wanton, disregard for the safety of others?  And did the actions of the officer involved—did it shock the conscience?  That’s the criteria that they’re going to review.  And was there a violation of the 4th Amendment, search and seizure?  And that’s an interesting position.  I’ve never seen that done before, so I—this attorney has gone at it from a different angle than we’ve seen in the past, and so he may end up getting a favorable verdict from these jurors because two other courts, in fact, said that the officer was wrong.

I think that if I were in that situation, I would hope that you wouldn’t have the same tragic result, but it may be that I would have to end that pursuit so he didn’t harm someone else.

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  You know, and Ric, I agree with you completely, and I think when you have Ginsburg and Scalia on the same side of the United States Supreme Court, chances are good they’re going to get at least five Justices that agree with you and me.  If you’re in a car, if you got police officers after you, if you’re going 70, 80, 90 miles an hour and speeding through red lights, you get what you deserve.  Pull over or else face the consequences.

Hey, Ric, thanks so much for being with us.

ROBINSON:  Always a pleasure.

SCARBOROUGH:  I greatly appreciate your insights.  Always Great to have you.

And coming up, forget the Chalupa (ph).  Jay Leon shows this Taco Bell’s latest offering, next on “Must See S.C.”  And later: Al Gore’s film may have won an Oscar, but will it help him win the White House in ‘08?  There are a lot of Democrats that are hoping it will.  A look at the inconvenient truths facing Al Gore straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, it’s time for tonight’s “Must See S.C.,” some video you just got to see.  First up, Conan O’Brien’s making some predictions for the year ahead, and this time they may come true.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O’BRIEN, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN”:  Crazed gunman will hijack a Jetblue airliner and force it to go to its scheduled destination on time.

JIMMY FALLON, ACTOR:  Angry parent groups will get the letter Q kicked out of the alphabet when it’s revealed that it’s just an o with its junk hanging out. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  In the year 2000...

O’BRIEN:  Britney Spears will reveal that the reason she shaved her head is to reduce aerodynamic drag as she plummets from fame. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And finally, Taco Bell is practicing damage control after a recent rat investigation.  Jay Leno shows us how they’re planning to win customers back. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And as you go in, there is a rat right now.  This is a live picture.  Look at that.  The rats are coming out from the garbage.  And earlier this morning, there were several more rats scurrying around inside this restaurant, just something that the people who’ve been watching this for several hours say is gross. 

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  Now, but, you know, Taco Bell, God bless them, they’re trying to make the best of it.  In fact, they just came out with—hand me that, will you, Joyce?  They just came out with this.  This is the new Burrato.

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, my gosh. 

And coming up, the director of “Titanic” says he has found the long-lost tomb of Jesus and his son.  Will this so-called discovery shake Christianity to its core or is it just a Hollywood hoax? 

But first, Al Gore is riding high after his Oscar victory, but will the new movie star status be enough to defeat Hillary and Obama in 2008?  We’ll see if Al Gore is born to run. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Coming up, is it physical proof that Jesus had a family or just another case of Hollywood hype?  We’ll look at the truth behind the supposed burial site of Jesus, straight ahead.  That story and a lot more coming up. 

But first, Al’s big night out.  Former vice president-turned-Hollywood favorite Al Gore stole the show with last night’s Oscars, fueling speculation that he could make another run for the White House.  Hollywood’s brightest stars showered Al Gore with praise, who played along, making this “Saturday Night Live”-esque announcement. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Even though I honestly had not planned on doing this, I guess, with a billion people watching, it’s as good a time as any.  So, my fellow Americans, I’m going to take this opportunity right here and now to formally announce my intention to...

(MUSIC PLAYS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So will all that star power from the West Coast propel the failed candidate to make another run?  And does America feel the same love for Al Gore that Hollywood does? 

Here now to talk about it, John Nichols from “The Nation.”  And still with us, “Time” magazine’s Joe Klein and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Joe Klein, let me start with you.  Do you think if Al Gore jumped into this race he could become the Democratic nominee and possibly the next president of the United States? 

JOE KLEIN, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Yes, if he stays loose.  I mean, he’s been very good playing against his stiffness, as you just saw.  And after the 2000 race, he vowed that he would never run another campaign that was over-managed by consultants.  Now, if he sticks to that, and if he comes in maybe next September, I think he’d have a real shot. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Joe, of course—and a lot of people have said this over the past eight years, but, I mean, I thought Al Gore was stiff and awkward.  At one point I called him a dork on the campaign trail.  I thought he was just awful. 

And then, the night that he conceded, I just saw a side of a man I had never seen in public office, and that looseness has seemed to move forward over the next six, seven years.  I mean, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama certainly both have reasons to be concerned about this man jumping in the race, right? 

KLEIN:  Well, I think that, on both sides, given a race that’s this long, a candidate who comes in next fall might have a real shot, especially someone who could raise, you know, millions and millions of dollars in about 43 seconds on the Internet like Al Gore. 

I mean, just think of what’s going to happen for the next six months in both the Democratic and Republican parties.  It’s going to be a constant process of diminution.  There are going to be all these candidate forums where you have to kiss the ring of the special interests, or the Republicans have to tell, you know, the NRA that they’re in favor of everybody carrying a bazooka, and Democrats have to tell NARAL that they’re in favor of abortion two weeks after birth. 

And so, by next September, the public may well be tired of all this and ready for a fresh face, even one that isn’t so fresh. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, John Nichols, Al Gore can just stand on the sidelines and wait.  I mean, as Joe Klein just suggested, the second he ran, all of the people that gave money or a lot of the people that gave money back in 2004 to a certain governor from Vermont, Howard Dean, would flood Al Gore with millions and millions of dollars.  Unlike Howard Dean, Al Gore would know how to use that money. 

I mean, he’s a very dangerous candidate for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, isn’t he? 

JOHN NICHOLS, “THE NATION”:  I think you’re exactly right.  Because one of the mistakes we political reporters make is to focus too much on the personalities, although they’re important, and too little on the dynamic of the year. 

If you look at 2008, it’s not shaping up as a fresh-face year.  It’s shaping up as a year where an election is going to play out against the backdrop of a war in Iraq, potentially, if Alan Greenspan is right, a bit of a recession. 

SCARBOROUGH:  A coming recession. 

NICHOLS:  That’s right.  And so voters start to look at a situation like that for an alternative to an unpopular president—George Bush is not popular—but not for somebody who is kind of new hand, somebody that they don’t know. 

I think the year may well be shaping up as an ideal one for Al Gore.  And you might see that many of the people who right now are giving money to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama might, come September or October, be willing to give a check to Nobel Peace Prize-winner Al Gore. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt.  And, I’ll tell you what, things look like they could be shaping up for Al Gore in a way.  And, you know, I remember when Pat Buchanan ran for president.  He had all of the Hollywood luminaries just clawing their way to try to help him. 

(LAUGHTER)

Let’s take a look at some of those same Hollywood stars gushing over Al Gore last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELISSA ETHERIDGE, MUSICIAN:  Mostly I have to thank Al Gore for inspiring us, inspiring me, showing that caring about the Earth is not Republican or Democrat. 

DAVIS GUGGENHEIM, DIRECTOR:  All of us who made this film, Laurie, Lawrence, Scott and Leslie, we did so because we were moved to act by this man. 

(APPLAUSE)

All of us were inspired by his fight for 30 years to tell this truth to all of us. 

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR:  I was just backstage with Jack Nicholson and Vice President Gore drinking.  I don’t think he’s running for president. 

(LAUGHTER)

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”:  Jennifer Hudson was on “American Idol.”  America didn’t vote for her, and yet she’s here with an Oscar nomination.  Al Gore is here.  America did vote for him, and then it’s...

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Pat, first of all, if Clooney is right and you can’t drink and be president of the United States, I’m going to just—I’m going to draw a line through that goal of mine and move onto the next one. 

BUCHANAN:  It’s a foolish consideration. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, Al Gore obviously absolutely beloved by these Hollywood stars.  Does it translate to Middle America, though?  I mean, this guy is becoming a rock star out there when you talk about the environment. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, he doesn’t have to translate right now to Middle America.  But, Joe, he’s got two tremendous aces.  He’s Mr. Environment.  He was right on the war.  Like Teddy Kennedy, he’s much better when he’s not an active candidate, you know, when he’s no longer running for something. 

I think you all are exactly right.  His problem, however, is one person.  That is Obama, because Obama has something he doesn’t have:  He’s got freshness; he’s got charisma. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But the same people that are supporting Obama would support Al Gore, would they not, Pat?  I mean, Gore is the smart anti-war vote. 

BUCHANAN:  What I’m saying is that Obama has got to fade for Gore to move.  He’s got to be knocked down.  And if he is knocked down, Gore should drive right in there, because then I think he could win. 

But you take a risk, because Iowa is not—is a state where it’s caucuses.  If you line up supporters who can get out votes early, you’ve got a tremendous advantage.  And it’s tough to overcome that, and Iowa would be crucial. 

Another thing.  Al Gore came in 40 pounds overweight for spring training, Joe.  He has got to—look, you went out for football, Joe.  You when a coach sees some guy waddling onto the field, he’s been eating all winter, it’s hellish.  And he’s got to lose that, and he’s got to—then I think he can do it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, my coach always told me that I’d been cheating on my wind sprints over the summer.  And it was very obvious. 

Joe Klein, you know, an interesting—Pat Buchanan raises an interesting dynamic here.  Barack Obama has to fade for Al Gore to get in.  So what does that mean?  That means Hillary Clinton’s people have to be careful that they don’t batter and bruise Barack Obama too much, because if they knock him out of the race, they could encourage Al Gore, right, a man that they certainly have to fear a lot more than a two-year U.S. senator. 

KLEIN:  I don’t know about that.  In all the presidential elections since 1960, the times that we’ve changed parties, five of the six times, the election has been won by a relatively inexperienced candidate, you know, from John Kennedy to George W. Bush.  So I think that there may be—and I disagree with John Nichols about this—there may be a real market for freshness here.

But Pat’s right.  If Obama starts to fade, and it really looks like Hillary is going to win the nomination, Al Gore will have another motivation.  He can’t stand her.  I mean, and she can’t stand him.  The two of them have been fighting since the summer of 1993 when they were vying to be—who was going to be the more important vice president. 

BUCHANAN:  And, Joe, listen, if Al Gore says the world is coming to an end and he’s got a shot at the presidency, how in Heaven’s name can he be consistent and say, “I’m going to go off and make another movie”? 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, John Nichols, let me ask you about—if you’re a Democrat, and you want to win—and I understand freshness, that’s great for bread, it’s great for presidential candidates—but Joe Klein talks about a comparison between John Kennedy and Barack Obama.

John Kennedy, if I remember my 1988 vice presidential debate accurately, John Kennedy had been in the House for six years, he’d been in the Senate for six years.  If I’m a Democrat, that seems like a lot safer bet, somebody with experience, more than a guy that’s been around for two years in Washington, D.C., and didn’t even vote on the Iraq war. 

NICHOLS:  Let me offer you this factoid.  If you take all of the federal elective experience of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, add it together, you still don’t begin to reach—in fact, you’re still 10 years behind Al Gore’s experience. 

Now, Joe may be right.  Maybe 2008 will be the year where people are feeling really loose.  The economy is great, the war is over, everything’s fine, and so they think they can take a shot on somebody new for the presidency. 

But my suspicion is that it’s going to be a year in which people are going to be very serious about their choice.  They’re going to want an alternative to the Bush era, but they won’t necessarily want to take another risk on somebody they don’t know much about.  And I think all those factors favor Gore. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You’re right.  And if you look at Iraq, if you look at Afghanistan, if you look at Pakistan, if you look at Iran, if you look at North Korea, now is no time to take a chance on somebody who’s untested. 

John Nichols, Joe Klein, Pat Buchanan, thanks so much for being with me.  Greatly appreciate it.

Coming up next, a Hollywood director claims he’s found Jesus’ long-lost son.  Will it change history or join a long line of holy hoaxes?  We’re going to look at the startling claims behind the discovery of a tomb that may have belonged to Jesus. 

And later, did the Academy Awards snub Anna Nicole?  You heard me. 

That and other Oscar mysteries, coming up in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It could be one of the biggest discoveries of our lifetime or it could be another in a long line of Jesus hoaxes.  Remember the Shroud of Turin?  Believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus, but declared a fake in 1988 by three independent scientific institutions. 

Well, now the director of the “Titanic,” James Cameron, says he’s found the coffin of Jesus Christ.  Oh, really?  Cameron claims he has proof that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had a son together named Judah who was buried alongside them.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Cameron has produced a documentary telling this story. 

NBC’s Meredith Vieira shows us why the stone coffins found in a 2,000-year-old tomb could rival “The Da Vinci Code” for stirring up controversy. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IAN MCKELLEN, ACTOR (voice-over):  Witness the biggest cover-up in human history. 

MEREDITH VIEIRA, HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW” (voice-over):  It was the central controversial claim of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”...

MCKELLEN:  Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife. 

VIEIRA:  ... that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and started a royal bloodline that continued today.  Brown’s story was fiction, but now a new documentary and book announce a startling real-life discovery. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It’s unbelievable.  This is it.  It’s the real thing. 

VIEIRA:  Journalist Simcha Jacobovici says this tomb, discovered underneath what is now an apartment complex near Jerusalem, may be the final resting place of Jesus Christ.  And this limestone box called an ossuary could have held his actual bones. 

This ossuary may have held Maria’s, or the Virgin Mary’s.  This one is labeled Mary Omne (ph), which Christian scripture says was Mary Magdalene’s real name.  And perhaps most shocking of all, the writing on this box translates to Judah, son of Jesus.  If true, the consequences are impossible to measure. 

FATHER THOMAS WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANALYST:  Well, Christianity really stands or falls with the fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead and that he physically ascended into Heaven. 

VIEIRA:  Father Thomas Williams is an NBC News analyst. 

WILLIAMS:  Where was this supposed son?  If he had one, he would have been a prominent member of this new church, and he wasn’t. 

VIEIRA:  The church is not alone in arguing this tomb may have nothing to say with the Jesus Christ millions now worship.  The site was first examined 27 years ago, and archeologists then came to a very different conclusion. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These are the most common names among Jews in the 1st century C.E. 

DAVID MEVORAH, CHIEF CURATOR, ISRAEL MUSEUM:  Suggesting that this tomb was the tomb of the family of Jesus is far-fetched. 

VIEIRA:  Jacobovici says experts and statistics, DNA and patina testing back up the conclusion that this could be the biggest archeological find ever. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We found it. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  We’ve found it, yes.  And I’ve got the Holy Grail inside this PVS cup (ph) right here.  Thank you, Meredith Vieira. 

Coming up next, from Brangelina’s absence to Anna Nicole’s snub, we’re exposing Oscar’s biggest mysteries, coming up next in “Hollyweird.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, tell your P.R. rep you better start getting next year’s Oscar nomination ready.  It’s time for “Hollyweird.”

First up, the mysteries of the Oscars.  Now, friends, it’s a day after the awards show, but the suspense isn’t over.  Here’s Julia Allison, contributor to “Cosmopolitan” and “Maxim” magazines, and senior editor for “InTouch Weekly,” Tom O’Neil. 

Tom, talk about the mysteries of the Oscars.  First of all, where was Brangelina?

TOM O’NEIL, “INTOUCH WEEKLY”:  Go ahead, Julia.

JULIA ALLISON, CONTRIBUTOR, “COSMOPOLITAN”:  Well, actually, Angelina was absolutely miserable when she was at the Golden Globes, and so she decided to opt out on this one.  She’s recovering from her mother’s death.  She didn’t not want to hear Ryan Seacrest’s questions about who she was wearing, so she went to Chad instead to do some humanitarian work.  And Brad was in New Orleans with the kids. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Tom, I mean, a lot of people are saying, where was the tribute to Anna Nicole?  I mean, she was in the “Naked Gun,” right? 

O’NEIL:  And, Joe, you’ve got to get over the fact that she wasn’t nominated for that.  You know, “Naked Gun 33 1/3” is a classic, but, you know, you’ve got to move on. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That’s when I turned the Oscars off forever, but go ahead, Tom. 

O’NEIL:  There were some people, actually, who did mention that, that she was missing from the obit reel yesterday.  A lot of people were upset at the fact that James Brown wasn’t in there, either, but, really, that is meant for, you know, long-standing veterans of the film community.  I’m sorry Anna Nicole—she wasn’t in there. 

And, by the way, though, if you want to believe in conspiracy theories, let’s consider this.  I imagine the Oscar producers were a little ticked off that Anna Nicole, this kind of trashy showbiz goddess, upstaged them in the media for the whole past week, but I think the Oscars got the last laugh. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, they certainly did.

Julia, talking about laughing, what happened to Jack Nicholson’s hair?

ALLISON:  Well, I think he was opting for the new Britney Spears bald. 

Maybe he was trying to avoid a drug test on his hair.  Ellen DeGeneres did mention that he looked awfully happy at the awards.  But the truth of it is, is that he was actually filming a movie about a cancer patient, and he was in his character. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, he certainly was.  Hey, speaking of characters, the U.K. newspaper, “The Sun,” is reporting that Britney Spears ordered a wing at the Promises’ clinic to be cleared so she doesn’t have to mix with the riffraff in rehab.

Tom, that’s not going to make her popular there, is it?

O’NEIL:  Oh, come on though, Joe.  Britney has only the highest standards when it comes to hanging out with drug addicts and drunks, you know?  If they’re not gum-snapping, bubble-headed fake blondes who hang out in Vegas clubs, she can’t deal with it.  You know, it cost $48,000 to stay at Promises for 30 days, so imagine what she’s spending for this whole wing.  My theory is that she’s tried to run away out of there a couple of times, so she had to come.  This is where she gets to run away from everybody and stay in.

SCARBOROUGH:  And she can stay there. 

And, Julia, finally, good news for guys out there.  Paris Hilton’s self-imposed year of sexual abstinence is ending soon.  I’ve got my calendar right here.  I’m marking the days off.  What’s going on here?  How long until Paris is back in action? 

ALLISON:  Well, apparently, she’s going to be back in action in March, and you can bet your anything that any male trust fund baby out there is stocking up on condoms.  He’ll need them. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They will need them, if Paris is back in action. 

Hey, Julia, thank you so much, Julia Allison and Tom O’Neil, greatly appreciate it. 

And coming up this week, I’m going to be taking my own trip to “Hollyweird.”  We’re taking SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY to L.A.  We’ll see you there tomorrow night.

That’s all the time we have for tonight, but we will be back tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  But don’t go anywhere.  Up next, undercover video shows husbands and wives hiring hit men, an “MSNBC REPORTS: SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY.”  It starts right now.  

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

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