By Producer
NBC News
updated 5/19/2007 3:32:19 PM ET 2007-05-19T19:32:19

Former Sen. Fred Thompson — who says he is deciding whether to enter the 2008 presidential race and is anticipated to set up a presidential exploratory committee beginning early next month — is sparring online with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore over his new movie, “Sicko.”

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Sources close to Thompson have told NBC News an exploratory announcement is imminent from the Tennessee Republican’s organization. (See First Read blog posting.)

For now Thompson, widely known for his role as District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s “Law and Order,” is engaging in an Internet tit-for-tat — by way of his newly released Web video — with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore over his new movie, “Sicko,” which was shot in Cuba. Thompson has sharply criticized Moore’s trip there.

Moore’s film shows survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks seeking medical care in Cuba. Moore is now under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department for traveling to Cuba in possible violation of a U.S. economic embargo imposed on the Castro government.

The Internet battle began a few weeks ago when Thompson panned the film and the Cuba trip in the National Review, saying, “Moore’s talent for clever falsehoods has been too well documented. Simply calling his movies documentaries rather than works of fiction, I think, may be the biggest fiction of all.”

And he also attacked Moore and Hollywood, favorite targets of some GOP conservatives, “It always leaves me shaking my head when I read about some big-time actor or director going to Cuba and gushing all over Castro. And, regular as rain, they bring up the health care myth when they come home.”

Moore replied to Thompson on his own Web site, which he uses to publicize the film. Moore fired back challenging Thompson to a debate.

“While I will leave it up to the conservatives to debate your hypocrisy and the Treasury Department to determine whether the ‘box upon box of cigars’ violates the trade embargo, I hereby challenge you to a health care debate.”

Thompson has been known to be an aficionado of Cuban cigars.

Then, in a video posted on Breitbart.tv, Thompson shot back.

Seen sitting in a leather chair in his home study, slowly puffing from a cigar, Thompson swivels toward camera and begins by saying,  “I have been looking at my schedule Michael and you know I don’t have time for you.”  Then he reminds Moore that the Cuban government once thwarted a documentary filmmaker by putting him in a mental institution.

“Mental institution, Michael, might be something you ought to think about,” he says.

Thompson however does not offer any hint of further intentions. He simply signs off the webcast saying: “Hopefully, we’ll continue this conversation.”  Then he puts the cigar back in his mouth and swivels the chair away turning his back to the camera.

Mark Corallo, Thompson’s unpaid spokesman, told NBC News that he was called to Thompson northern Virginia home this week and told to bring someone with a digital video camera. The former senator had set up his home office in a way that all Corallo had to do was set the camera shot. “Fred said ‘action’ and did his Moore rebuttal in one take.” 

“Unscripted,” Corallo added.

Is that really that astonishing for the 64-year-old lawyer-turned-actor-turned-politician-turned actor again.

After all, Thompson has appeared in over 20 movies and will be seen next weekend playing a president on HBO. On May 27, Thompson will play the role of President Ulysses S. Grant in an HBO movie, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

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