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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Sends Scathing Letter To Pelosi Denouncing Impeachment; House Panel Debating Rules For Impeachment Votes; McConnell Rejects Schumer's Call For Impeachment Trial Witnesses; Trump Letter To Pelosi: Democrats Are Declaring Open War On American Democracy; Pelosi Calls Trump's Letter Ridiculous and Really Sick; Secret Surveillance Court Slams FBI Mistakes; Russian Spy Ship Sailing Recklessly Off U.S. Coast. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 17, 2019 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It starts at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JakeTapper, Twitter show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. See you bright early tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news. This on the eve of the historic House impeachment votes, President Trump has just sent a scathing six-page letter to the Speaker Nancy Pelosi denouncing the process and accusing Democrats of "declaring open war on democracy."

The letter comes as the House committee is meeting to lay out the rules for tomorrow's impeachment votes. And as the war escalates between Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer over how President Trump's trial will be held, with McConnell rejecting Schumer's call for witnesses.

Let's go straight to the White House. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is on the scene for us. Jim, this is truly a remarkable letter from the President, defending himself and denouncing Democrats.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is taking some very personal swipes at Democrats as the House has just one day away from this impeachment vote. President fired off an angry letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accusing her of trying to orchestrate a coup.

Mr. Trump told me in the Oval Office earlier this afternoon he takes "zero responsibility" for what will certainly go down as a stain on his legacy. The President's fierce response today is a sign this impeachment is getting under his skin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): One day away from impeachment, President Trump is coming out swinging, ripping into Democrats and refusing to take any responsibility for his historic predicament as he told CNN in the Oval Office.

(on camera) Do you take any responsibility for the fact that you're about to be impeached?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. I don't take any -- zero, to put it mildly. They took a perfect phone call that I had with the president of Ukraine, an absolutely perfect call. You know it. They all know it. Nothing was said wrong in that call. To impeach the President of the United States for that is a disgrace and it's a mark on our country.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The President fired off a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that's dripping with raw anger and placing the blame on Democrats, writing, "This is nothing more than an illegal partisan attempted coup that will, based on recent sentiment, badly fail at the voting booth. History will judge you harshly as you proceed with this impeachment charade." Adding, "Voters will not forgive your perversion of justice and abuse of power."

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): And I still pray for the President. I pray for the President all the time.

ACOSTA: The President also dismissed Pelosi's recent comment that she prays for Mr. Trump, remarking, "You are offending Americans of faith by continually saying 'I pray for the President,' when you know the statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense." Trump writes in a letter adding, "It is a terrible thing you are doing, but you will have to live with it, not I." The President sounded just as disgusted in the Oval Office about the impeachment vote that's coming.

TRUMP: I'm not watching. I haven't -- I'm not seeing it. What did it say, a hoax. The whole impeachment thing is a hoax. We look forward to getting on to the Senate. We're not entitled to lawyers. We're not entitled to witnesses. We're not entitled to anything in the House.

ACOSTA: While the President is venting his frustrations, he appears to be backing off of his demand that Republicans call witnesses like Hunter Biden once the impeachment fight moves from the House to the Senate. Mr. Trump told reporters he will leave the issue of witnesses to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

TRUMP: I believe the Senate is equally as well united. I watched Mitch McConnell this morning. I watched numerous people last night, senators. And I think we're equally well united. They know it's a hoax, it's a witch hunt.

ACOSTA: McConnell is channeling the conventional wisdom taking hold in the Senate that a longer more unpredictable trial could backfire against the President.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If it ends up in the Senate, we certainly do not need jurors to start brainstorming witnesses -- witness lists for the prosecution and demanding to lock them in before we even heard opening arguments.

ACOSTA: Despite all of the President's fury, he allowed his aides to shout over our follow up questions.

(on camera) What do you say to Americans who believe you abuse the power of your office?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jim, we're done. That's enough.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: President sounded hopeful that the Senate would hold a vote on his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico before an impeachment trial, but that may be wishful thinking. If it's delayed, President likely won't take the blame for that either.

As for the letter, it comes across more like a campaign speech or a six-page tweet than a letter coming from the White House. It is filled with his grievances against Democrats accusing Pelosi at one point of viewing democracy as her enemy. That's also in this letter. But missing from the letter, Wolf, is any indication that the President takes any responsibility in anyway for his actions.

BLITZER: You know, a very scathing letter. Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's go to the White House -- excuse me, Capitol Hill right now. Our Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is joining us.

[17:05:01]

Manu, the President sent this letter on the eve of the impeachment votes. There will be two votes tomorrow in the House of Representatives. Will this letter change anything?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly not. We expect Democrats almost united on this vote tomorrow, a number of Democrats who serve in districts that President Trump carried in 2016 now are signaling that they, in fact, will vote to impeach the President on both counts. That includes freshmen members who had difficult races last year and will likely have difficult races next year.

They are making the calculation that they are going to vote to impeach the President. Only right now that we expect two Democrats to vote against it. One Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota had initially gone -- was opposed to moving forward on an impeachment inquiry. Today, when I asked him if he's going to vote for certain against those articles he would not say, but he signaled that he probably will vote against it. He said he will make his decision tomorrow.

The other Democrat, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey Democrat, someone who won a race in a Republican leaning district, a freshman who is now been telling his member -- his colleagues privately that he plans to switch parties to the Republican Party in the aftermath of blow back he's been receiving back home. This led to staff exodus in his staff.

And for the first time, we got a chance to talk to Jeff Van Drew today about his decision and he pushed back against the notion that he's doing this only for political reasons. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: You're clearly making this decision for political reasons because of the challenges you blow back in your district, right?

REP. JEFF VAN DREW (D-NJ): No. You can make decisions for philosophical reasons, political reasons, governmental reasons, public policy reasons, for a lot of reasons.

RAJU: Are you worried, though, that your -- I guess your voters voted you -- for you as a Democrat. Now they may -- you've changed parties.

VAN DREW: They voted for Jeff Van Drew. A lot of Republicans, a lot of Democrats and a lot of independents voted for me. We have more Republicans and independents in our district than we do Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: He wouldn't say explicitly if he would change to the Republican Party, but that is the expectation right now. And also the expectation, Wolf, Republicans expected to vote in lock step against those articles.

Tomorrow expect total Republican unity and we're seeing that play out tonight too, Wolf, in the House Rules Committee, which is still debating the rules to set the parameters to the floor debate. That rule will ultimately be approved tonight and that will lay out exactly how that debate will take place before those historic votes tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Senate, Manu, is clearly preparing for an impeachment trial in January. What's the latest on the fight over witnesses?

RAJU: Yes. The demand from Chuck Schumer for four witnesses, people who did not come before the House, impeachment probe has been rejected by that Senate majority leader because Mitch McConnell says there's no need to hear from these witnesses because the Senate is not, in his view, a fact finding body.

He said that's a trial stage in the Senate and the House should have pursued those witnesses and ultimately the Democrats chose not to get those witnesses in court after the White House blocked them from coming forward to likes of Mick Mulvaney, the Acting White House Chief of Staff, John Bolton, the National Security Adviser.

Mitch McConnell says we're not going bring them forward even though the Democrats are demanding that as part of the Senate trial in the weeks ahead. Now, Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, pushed back and argued that Mitch McConnell is shirking his responsibility and needs to hear from these witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): President Trump and Senate Republicans are trying to conceal evidence and block testimony, it's probably because -- it's probably not because the evidence is going to help their case, it's because they are trying to cover up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So the next step is for actually McConnell and Schumer to cut a deal about how the rules of the trial will actually play out. Don't expect agreement on how the witnesses, because Mitch Mcconnell, of course, does not want live witnesses at this point but. But Wolf, ultimately that decision about whether they will hear from any witnesses could come down to four Republican senators.

All -- the Democrats would need 47 Democrats to vote with 4 Republican senators and a majority vote on the floor of the Senate to call certain witnesses from coming forward. But at the moment, Wolf, these Republican senators who could flip are not signaling that they will. They're keeping their cards pretty close to their chest.

WOLF: They certainly are. All right, Manu, thank you.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California is joining us. He's a member of both the judiciary and the intelligence committees. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's begin with this extraordinary letter from President Trump to the Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He says Democrats are the ones who are actually interfering in the election. He accuses Nancy Pelosi in his word of cheapening impeachment, treating democracy as the enemy, and lying when he says that she prays for him. What's your reaction to this purely stunning letter?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): It's a tantrum. And Mr. President, we don't need your childish whiney letter. Don't send us that. Send us the documents that you have buried and have refused to provide to us. Send us the witnesses who you continue to block from us hearing, because unless you send those to us, we can only conclude that you're guilty because in America, innocent men do not hide and concealed -- conceal evidence.

[17:10:07]

In fact, Wolf, they do just the opposite. They are forthcoming and they want to cooperate and the President is acting like a very guilty person right now.

BLITZER: The President is set to become tomorrow only the third president in American history to be impeached. Give us your thoughts on the historic nature of tomorrow's votes. There will be two votes on these two articles of impeachment.

SWALWELL: Certainly nothing that any of us came here to do. But it is our duty to uphold oath to the constitution, Wolf, but also to protect national security and the integrity of our elections and we have accused the President of abuse of power, which is the highest of high crimes in our constitution.

Alleging that by asking the Ukrainians to help him cheat in our election, he violated his oath of office and jeopardized what we hold most dear. But it's also articles of impeachment that are not written in the passive voice. We're not looking at something he did in the past and that stopped and that he's contrite about.

In fact, this is ongoing. And in fact, the President's lawyer was in Ukraine last week and he is updating the President as we speak in real-time shows that this President thinks this is OK. Unless we check him tomorrow with this impeachment vote, he will continue to violate his oath and jeopardize our national security and elections.

WOLF: What else, Congressman, can you tell us about tomorrow's votes. What should we expect?

SWALWELL: Well, you're going to expect, you know, each member to really personalize this and talk about what it means to them. I'm looking forward to hearing from our members who have served in the military and the intelligence community, many of the freshman members who had the courage very early on to come forward and say we should have this inquiry because they had taken oaths before coming to Congress and they knew what it meant to honor their oath and that the President was violating it by what he had done. And I look forward to hearing those stories.

And if they can be courageous enough to come forward and launch this inquiry, and if people like Ambassador Yovanovitch and Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Dr. Fiona Hill can risk their jobs to come forward and stop the President and make sure Ukrainian got the aid, my Republican colleagues can do the right thing and risk whatever it may mean against the President by coming forward and also voting for impeachment.

BLITZER: Once the House votes to impeach the President, the Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she'll have to choose a handful of impeachment managers to present the case during the trial in the Senate. Do you want that job?

SWALWELL: I want to continue to help the team and do what's best for my constituents and that means showing up tomorrow and telling them why the President has to be held accountable and frankly, Wolf, I'm not looking beyond that.

BLITZER: But if she asks you to be one of the impeachment managers, you would say what?

SWALWELL: Wolf, I'll continue to help our team and help our country and my district. And, you know, I'll leave it at that.

BLITZER: Do you want to tell us who you think the Speaker should choose?

SWALWELL: I think we've got a lot of, you know, talent in our caucus. That was showcased during the intelligence and judiciary committee hearings. I think what you saw on our side, you know, was the diversity of the caucus, people who had immigrated to the United States and came here because of the promise of America. And one of my colleagues, I think Pramila Jayapal said, America is worth fighting for and defending. And so I've really have been moved and we've bonded as a caucus as we've defended against the President's actions and I look forward to hearing those stories being told tomorrow.

BLITZER: What do you think of when the President suggested in the six-page letter to Nancy Pelosi that it's the Democrats, you guys, who are actually interfering in the election?

SWALWELL: He's projecting and that's something he does often. He is accusing you of what he is doing because he is doing it. He thinks that other people are doing it. The news for you, Mr. President, is I know who my colleagues are and why we're here. And we're here to defend the constitution and make sure that the next election is one that is pure and free from outside interference and inside cheating.

BLITZER: He writes this, "You are the ones interfering in America's elections. You are ones subverting America's democracy. You are the ones obstructing justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our republic for our own selfish, political and partisan gain."

SWALWELL: Wolf, again, this President has priers (ph). If this was a one off, you could say, OK, maybe he could apologize and we can move beyond it. This is what he did in 2016 by asking the Russians to interfere. It's the same pattern of conduct that we're seeing here. And if we do nothing, if we just say it's OK, we could lose everything.

BLITZER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you so much for joining us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, Rudy Giuliani says President Trump still supports his political dirt digging in Ukraine. But what exactly is the President's personal attorney up to right now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:19:25]

BLITZER: So we're following multiple breaking stories as the House Rules Committee continues setting the parameters for tomorrow's debate on the House floor on impeaching the President of the United States. Mr. Trump is lashing out bitterly both on camera and in a scathing letter to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Let's ask our experts, our correspondents to discuss all of this. Daniel Dale, you've been going through this six-page letter very carefully and you've seen some distortions, some lies.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Yes. It's filled with lies, false claims, misleading claims, various inaccuracies. Trump repeats his most frequent lie about this Ukraine saga saying that his -- the whistleblowers complaint about his call with Ukrainians President Volodymyr Zelensky bears to resemblance to the actual call.

[17:20:09]

In fact, we know that it bears a close resemblance to the call. Trump grossly mischaracterized something Joe Biden said to NPR earlier in December, claiming that Biden had admitted that his own pressure on Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who seemed corrupt "looked bad."

Biden was not talking about his own pressure related to the prosecutor when he said looked bad. Trump just took that out of context. Trump then offered a large list of what he said were his own accomplishments in office. Many of those accomplishments were not accomplishments at all.

For example, Trump touted what he said was a colossal reduction in illegal immigration. That reduction only exists, Wolf, from the peak of the Trump era. Illegal immigration under Trump has been higher than it was under Obama.

Trump also claimed, for example, that the U.S. has become the world's leading energy producer. That also happened under Obama in 2012. So even that part of his was not true at all.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, let me read a line from this letter, six- page single spaced. "The articles of impeachment introduced by the House Judiciary Committee are not recognizable under any standard of constitutional theory, interpretation or jurisprudence. They include no crimes, no misdemeanors, no offenses, whatsoever. You have cheapened importance of the very ugly word, impeachment."

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there you go. This is -- this letter is a screed, it's a tantrum. It is the longest tweet in America, I think. And it is -- you can tell the parts that his lawyers may have kind of shoved in there and the rest of it is pure Trump.

He also accuses any member of Congress, Wolf, who votes in support of this as showing how deeply they revile the voters and how truly they detest America's constitutional order. They would say that they are voting to preserve the constitution, not to destroy the constitution.

It is full of things that are also offensive, calling Nancy Pelosi a liar when she says that she prays for the President. You know, I don't believe you. This is written on White House stationary. You know, this is not just a tweet, even though it reads like one. And I think if I'm a senator, a Republican senator, and I'm looking at this and this landed in my lap like a grenade today, I would wonder about the President's fitness for office.

BLITZER: Bianna, let me read that line that Gloria was referring to. Even worse than offending the founding fathers, you are offending Americans of faith by continually saying 'I pray for the President,' when you know this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense."

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, it clearly bothers the President when Nancy Pelosi says repeatedly that she does pray for the President. We also saw how much it upset her when she was asked whether she hated the President. So the President taking yet another personal dig at the Speaker.

But you get a sense from this letter just why McConnell wants this trial to be quick, right? Because he wants to be in control of it. He wants to run the trial. He has repeatedly sent messages to the President and to the White House. I got this. Let it happen. Let it happen quickly. You will be acquitted.

But this President clearly wants more than that. He wants to be vindicated and he wants to be proven that there's nothing that he's charged with is accurate and that's why he keeps going back to this claim that you see somehow, you know, mangled in the six-page letter it was a perfect call.

So the question is, will the senators, will Republican senators be able to say that it is indeed a perfect call. It is very hard to justify that. Regardless of where people stand on whether they think the President and what he did is impeachable, it is very hard to justify. In fact, you cannot justify that this was a perfect call and yet here the President is on the eve of being impeached continuing to hold that line.

BLITZER: He writes this, David Axelrod, to Nancy Pelosi. "You have spent three straight years attempting to overturn the will of the American people and nullify their votes. You view democracy as your enemy." Those are incredibly strong words against the Speaker.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, they are. Look, I agree with Gloria. I think this is at the end of the day a protest that Twitter is only 220 characters long and he couldn't get it all in there. But you know, the fact of the matter is that, you know, he dismisses the Russian investigation as a hoax again.

What we now know and what has been proven is that there was an elaborate effort on the part of Russians to intervene in our election on the President's behalf. He doesn't like to acknowledge that fact, but that is what came out of that investigation that he dismissed as a waste.

And then the day after that investigation apparently -- or the day after Mr. Mueller testified, apparently emboldened by the end of that investigation, he called the president of Ukraine and shook him down to go after one of his political opponents in the next election.

[17:25:06]

So, you know, the President -- the facts are very inconvenient here for the President. That's why they haven't turned over documents, that's why they haven't provided the key witnesses, and you can see his frustration boiling over here that the facts are inconvenient and he's trying to change them through the fury of his words.

BLITZER: Laura, what do you think? LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, the -- it's outrageous to have a tantrum from the President to this degree. But perhaps the silver lining in all of this is that this may indicate, this is the only opportunity for a soapbox he will get. He perhaps (INAUDIBLE) with his lawyer said, am I going to have a day in court so to speak that he's been demanding, getting able to call Hunter Biden or Joe Biden, like -- that he wanted that full vindication.

They probably said, no, we're going to put a muzzle out of your own best interest. And if you're Pat Cipollone who is White House counsel looking ahead to future presidents, we don't want it. So perhaps this is him saying here is my happy medium. Give me a chance to say what I want to say as tantrumesque as it may be.

But it's so odd to me to have somebody to go on the offensive in this degree when the odds are in your favor given the composition of the Senate that you will not be removed from the office of the presidency. This is telling you that he's a bit unhinged. I use the word a bit loosely here.

And somebody who is looking for somebody to say, please, I didn't win the popular vote. I hate being unpopular. This is an indication of me really not being popular. I have to have a moment to speak and this is what comes out.

BLITZER: You're a legal analyst, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, Michael Gerhardt. I'll get to you react to this one short sentence from the President. "More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials."

MICHAEL GERHARDT, IMPEACHMENT HEARING WITNESS: Well, that's pretty much the same as any other sentence in there which is it's wrong. It's factually wrong. And as I read through that sentence as well as the rest of the letter, two things occur to me. One is you can feel that he's beginning to feel the weight of history. At some point presidents are in a unique position to feel the impending judgment of history. And this judgment of history for him is crushing.

And I think he's railing against it, maybe like a Shakespearian figure to some extend, railing against it in a way that I think is introducing the whole new concept for me in the constitution m -- constitutional projection. Everything he's saying there by the other side could be applied to him. So when he says, you're attacking democracy, this whole impeachment is about his efforts to undermined it.

BLITZER: We're just getting in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's first reaction to the scathing letter. Let's take a break -- quick break. We'll update you on that when we come back.

[17:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with our analysts and our experts. And, guys, we're getting the first reaction from the Speaker, Nancy

Pelosi, to the scathing letter that the President wrote to her just a little while ago. Watch the exchange she has with our Manu Raju.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Your reaction to the President's letter?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: No reaction. It's ridiculous.

RAJU: You have no reaction. Why not?

PELOSI: You know, I haven't really fully read it. We've been working. I've seen the essence of it, though, and it's really sick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It's really sick. That's what she says about this letter.

BORGER: I'm surprised she didn't say, I'm praying for him. That would, you know --

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: That would've been a good thing to say. Look, she said it many times before. This isn't the first time we've heard her speak about the President this way, and I think you could hear the disgust in her voice and in her response.

BLITZER: What does it say to you, as a law professor, Michael Gerhardt, that the President of the United States, if you read this whole letter, is so scathing in the personal attacks on the Speaker of the House?

GERHARDT: Well, two things occur to me. The first is that the White House Counsel probably helped participate in this. And as a lawyer, law professor, but also as somebody who teaches legal ethics and professional responsibility, I have a really serious concern about whether or not the White House Counsel is simply facilitating misleading false statements, which is exactly the wrong thing a lawyer should be doing.

The other is these personal attacks of the President do fit a pattern. This is how he's been over the last few years. If he runs into a problem, he attacks other people. That's his defense, somebody else is worse than I am. That's essentially what he's saying each and every time he's caught.

BLITZER: Yes, and --

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And remember, the role of the White House Counsel, you said it best, you know. The White House Counsel is not the private attorney of the President of the United States. It happens to be the attorneys who are supposed to look out for the prospects and the longevity of the executive branch of government and the White House specifically.

So for them to engage, if they have, in this way, to kind of rubber stamp ridiculousness in this way, or to facilitate misinformation suggests to you that the role of the White House Counsel has been undermined because it's supposed to be a viable legitimate area to actually get counsel, not just rubber stamping.

BORGER: How about the role of the Attorney General?

COATES: Well --

BORGER: I mean, speak about that, too.

COATES: We can go on.

BORGER: Right.

COATES: Yes.

BLITZER: I suspect the Attorney General wasn't consulted on this letter --

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: I expect not.

BLITZER: -- but a whole bunch of political guys were. You know, Daniel Dale, you do amazing fact-checking for us here at CNN.

DALE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let me read one sentence and let -- get your reaction. This is what the President says to Nancy Pelosi -- you know full well that Vice President Biden used his office and $1 billion of U.S. aid money to coerce Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was digging into the company paying his son millions of dollars.

[17:35:09]

DALE: There's a bunch wrong with this. Number one, this was not a billion dollars in aid; it was a billion-dollar loan guarantee. Those are factually two different things.

Number two, the former deputy to this former Ukrainian prosecutor has said publicly that the investigation into the company on which Hunter Biden sat on the board was dormant at the time Joe Biden applied his pressure. And so, this was not Biden stopping an investigation. The investigation was effectively already stopped.

And third, and possibly most importantly, Wolf, this Biden effort to oust the prosecutor was in accordance with international and U.S. government policy. This was not Biden going rogue trying to help himself, help his son. This was Biden executing the policy of the U.S. government against a prosecutor who was wildly considered corrupt.

BLITZER: What did you think, David Axelrod, of the Speaker's reaction that we just heard in that brief exchange she had with our Manu Raju?

AXELROD: You know, I think less is better in this regard. Let the letter speak for itself. Pelosi has, I thought, consistently dealt with Trump in a way that Trump doesn't know how to really handle, in that she doesn't take his bait. She doesn't go -- she doesn't go back and forth with him on these things.

And -- but one thing I want to say about this letter, Wolf, is that, you know, the President asserts that this was all done for crass political gain on the part of Democrats. I don't think, for a second, Nancy Pelosi sees this as a great big winner for Democrats.

Remember, she was reluctant for the longest time to get -- go down this road because she knows, at the end of the day, that the -- and the President has said and McConnell has said it's going to end in acquittal in the Senate. And so, she was reluctant to go down this road, and she did it because the President forced her hand with his antics in Ukraine.

So, you know, I think Pelosi has gotten pretty high marks here for the measured way in which she's -- in which she's handled this. And as for -- look, I want to make also a point about what Laura said earlier. I do think that, yes, the lawyers allowed him in ways that they shouldn't have to write what he wrote or to release what he wrote, but I do think this is all about managing him.

I think that, you know, he desperately wants his point of view to prevail. They've told him, as was said earlier, that this isn't going to help you in a trial. And the quicker the better. We've got to extinguish this thing, we can't have witnesses, we can't have a debate. And so, you know, out of frustration, you see this -- this very over tort letter.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And he really can't be managed. And you look at the turn in the relationship between the President and the Speaker. Remember, just a year ago, Trump was pushing for Pelosi to be Speaker of the House for maybe perhaps this exact reason, because she -- he believed that she did not want to go down to route of impeachment.

She has said all along -- remember, just a few months ago, she said that it was not worth it, and he was not worth it. And obviously, it took this Ukraine scandal to finally convince her that this was worth approaching. This may not be politically beneficial for Democrats, but it's what she believes is the right avenue to pursue.

And when it comes to the attacks in this letter that we've just become so accustomed to in this country, unfortunately, he attacks Adam Schiff as well. I think it's a reminder of why you may see some witnesses and fact witnesses not want to testify and witnesses that are close to the President, like his Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, and John Bolton. Because if they say something, if they say something truthful, if they give information that's damning to the President, you can imagine him issuing tweets attacking them as well.

Again, this goes back the McConnell wanting to own this, wanting to make it short, wanting to make it quick, and the President wanting to be vindicated.

BORGER: You know, this a president who, just days ago -- I can't remember when anymore -- said, well, there's -- what they're charging me is with impeachment light. It isn't really serious. This stuff is nothing. And then, you get this creed.

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: This six-page creed. Well, what does that tell you about how the President himself regards this impeachment? This is not a response to something he regards as light.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Everybody, stand by. There's more breaking news coming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. A usually secret surveillance court goes public with a scathing rebuke of the stakes by the FBI. Stand by, we have details.

[17:39:39]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking late this afternoon, an unprecedented rebuke of the FBI by the normally very secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court known as the FISA court. Let's bring in our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, how unusual was this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's very unusual. This court, as you said, Wolf, does almost everything in secret, and this is an order from the Chief Judge of the FISA court, Rosemary Collyer. And she is citing these findings from the Inspector General of the Justice Department who said that there were 17 instances in which the FBI either presented things as facts which they were not or left things out of this application for a FISA surveillance of Carter Page.

And so, there were these problems that the -- that the Inspector General found that now requires the FBI to undergo a more fulsome review of how it does these FISA applications. And I'll read this one part of what the Judge said. She said that the fact that these -- these problems were found calls into question whether the information contained in other FBI applications is reliable.

[17:45:12]

Again, those are strong words from the Judge. She's ordering, Wolf, that the FBI come back by next month and say exactly what it's doing to correct these problems so that they don't occur again. The FBI, by the way, just issued a statement saying that the Director, Christopher Wray, has ordered 40 different fixes that are, hopefully, going to fix problems like this from happening again.

BLITZER: Yes, because I don't remember a time when a FISA judge has written a public letter like this --

PEREZ: Public letter.

BLITZER: -- saying we don't know if we can believe you.

PEREZ: Right, exactly. And, again, these problems are systemic, it appears, at the FBI.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Evan, for that report. Pretty tough letter indeed. Coming up, a Russian spy ship sailing recklessly and posing a potential threat to vessels off the east coast of the United States.

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[17:50:50]

BLITZER: Officials are warning of a maritime hazard off the southeastern U.S. coast -- a Russian spy ship. CNN's Brian Todd is here with details. Brian, this Russian vessel, what, it poses a threat?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, Wolf. You know, normally, this ship, the Viktor Leonov, menaces America's east coast with its spying operations. Tonight, it's not only doing, but U.S. officials say it's putting other vessels in danger as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): It's known for playing "Hunt for Red October" style games with the U.S. Navy. But tonight, according to U.S. officials, the Russian spy ship, the Viktor Leonov, is sailing recklessly right off America's shores.

Two U.S. officials telling CNN, the Leonov has been operating off the coast of South Carolina and Florida in a, quote, unsafe manner. Not using its lights in low visibility weather. Not responding to signals from commercial ships which are trying to avoid colliding with it.

STEPHEN BLANK, FORMER PROFESSOR US ARMY WAR COLLEGE: It's absolutely purposeful. First of all, this is an intelligence ship, so it's not going to disclose its point of location to anybody. They like to be able to intimidate people and bully them, and this is another way of doing that.

TODD (voice-over): The U.S. Coast Guard says the Leonov is making other erratic movements and, tonight, warns other ships to maintain a sharp lookout for the Russian spy ship.

The Leonov has been prowling around America's east coast for more than four years near some key U.S. Navy installations -- Cape Canaveral, which handles underwater operations; King's Bay, Georgia, home to nuclear missile submarines; Norfolk, the world's largest naval complex; and New London, Connecticut, another major submarine base.

Experts say those U.S. bases offer a treasure-trove of possible intelligence for Vladimir Putin's navy.

BLANK: Well, they'll be looking for the schedule of ships entering and leaving the port. They'd be trying to monitor as much of their communications as is possible. They would also be trying to monitor underwater developments if they can track submarines.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say Russian vessels have even been spying on under-sea Internet cables.

MICHAEL KOFMAN, SENIOR RESEARCH SCIENTIST, CNA: And the reason why they want the map of that is so that, in future conflicts or crises, they actually have the opportunities they can to attack and destroy it or otherwise tamper with it.

TODD (voice-over): But despite the dazzling unveilings of hypersonic missiles and other weapons, Putin's military hasn't been hitting on all cylinders recently. Its only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, caught fire last week during repairs at an Arctic Sea port.

In August, during what U.S. officials believe was the testing of a secret nuclear-powered missile, a mysterious explosion occurred, killing five. This summer, a fire aboard a Russian submersible killed 14 crew members. Tragic examples, analysts say, of the Russian President overextending his military.

JEFFREY EDMONDS, FORMER DIRECTOR FOR RUSSIA, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: There are certain parts of their military that are very formidable, but they push the entire military as much as they can. And so, those parts that might be weaker or older might be more subject to accidents and mishaps.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say that despite the recklessness, the accidents, all these setbacks, we should not expect any of this to deter Vladimir Putin from pursuing his grand strategy, not only of projecting Russian military power across the globe but also of signaling his American and NATO adversaries not to mess around with his turf, those naval bases in the Baltic and Black Seas in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans that the Russians value so much -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And yet, Brian, U.S. forces seem to be messing with Putin's turf somewhat tonight.

TODD: That's right, Wolf. There is an American guided missile destroyer, the USS Ross, that has docked in a Romanian port in the Black Sea in recent days. That is sure to get Putin's blood boiling because he considers the Black Sea, as experts say, a Russian lake. Experts say the Russians have boosted their military presence in that area and the Russians are almost certainly shadowing that American warship tonight.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch it closely. Brian Todd, thank you.

The breaking news next, a blistering letter from President Trump to the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, on the eve of the historic impeachment votes.

[17:54:53]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Zero responsibility.

President Trump insists he bears no blame for his imminent impeachment as he sends a blistering letter to Speaker Pelosi that reads like a mash-up of his angriest Twitter attacks against Democrats.

[18:00:01]

Pelosi's power. Tonight, the Speaker is firing back at the President and his letter on the eve of the House impeachment vote.