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THE SITUATION ROOM
House Debates Rules For Impeachment Vote; Trump Slams Democrats And Impeachment In Scathing Letter To House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); Interview With Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD); Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D- CA) Calls Trump's Letter Ridiculous And Really Sick; FISA Court Issues Rare Public Order Slamming FBI For Mistakes In Russia Probe Warrants. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 17, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Pelosi's power. Tonight, the speaker is firing back at the president and his letter. On the eve of the House impeachment vote, we will take you inside the speaker's world, as she calls the shots and takes on Trump. 9
Digging for dirt. Rudy Giuliani tells CNN he has Mr. Trump's support for his ongoing mission in Ukraine seeking political ammunition against Joe Biden and Democrats. Why is he boasting as his boss is about to be impeached?
And FISA vs. the FBI. The secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court offers extraordinary public criticism of the bureau for errors made seeking warrants in the Russia investigation. I will get reaction from former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.
As President Trump is just hours away from impeachment, he's unloading in an angry, rambling letter to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. It's six pages filled with attacks on Democrats, accusing them of an illegal attempted coup and pursuing baseless charges against him.
Tonight, Pelosi is calling the letter ridiculous and really sick. But the president's most telling remark may be what he said in the Oval Office earlier the day, taking zero responsibility for his actions leading to this grave and divisive moment in American history.
The full House now scheduled to vote on two articles of impeachment tomorrow. The ground rules are being hammered out in committee tonight.
This hour, I will talk with the number two House Democrat, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president is venting his fury. He is denying any blame, as impeachment is about to become a reality.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Impeachment is coming, Wolf.
And President Trump is taking some very personal swipes at Democrats, as the House is just one day away from this impeachment vote. The president fired off, as you said, an angry letter at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of orchestrating a coup.
And I asked the president earlier today whether or not he takes any responsibility for the predicament that he's in right now. His response? Zero.
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 is 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 soon 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 this statement is not true, unless it is meant in a negative sense," Trump writes in the 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 out. TRUMP: I'm not watching. I haven't -- I have not seen it. Look, it's a hoax. The whole impeachment thing is a hoax. We look forward to getting onto the Senate. We're not entitled to lawyers. We're not entitled to witnesses. We're not entitled 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 this ends up here 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 have 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 abused the power of your office, though?
ACOSTA: Now, as for the president's letter to Nancy Pelosi, it comes across more like a campaign speech or a six-page tweet than a legal document coming from the White House.
It's filled with his grievances against the Democrats, accusing Pelosi of viewing democracy as her enemy. But missing from this letter is any indication that the president is taking any responsibility for his actions at this point.
And one other thing we should point out about this letter, Wolf, it is six pages' long, as I said, but it is also filled with so many inaccuracies and falsehoods and just outright lies, that it might take the remainder of this program just to go through them line by line -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now.
Our Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is watching all of this unfold.
Phil, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, she just responded to the president's letter. Tell us what she said.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf.
And while she made clear she hadn't read the entirety of the letter, it's fair to say, based on what you told our colleague Manu Raju, she got the general gist of it. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Your reaction to the president's letter?
PELOSI: No reaction. It's ridiculous.
RAJU: You have no reaction? Why not?
PELOSI: No. I mean, I haven't really fully read it. We've been working. I have seen it essence of it, though, and it's really sick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: The speaker never really mincing her words when it comes to the president.
But while that was all happening, the speaker also drafting and sending a letter to the entire House Democratic Caucus underscoring kind of the stakes of the moment that the caucus is taking up tomorrow on the House floor when they vote.
Part of that letter saying -- quote -- "Very sadly, the facts have made clear that the president abused his power for his own personal political benefit, and that he obstructed Congress as he demanded that he is above accountability, above the Constitution and above the American people. In America, no one is above the law."
And, Wolf, as I speak, the House Rules Committee is still meeting to lay out the structure of that actual House floor debate tomorrow on those two articles of impeachment.
But one thing at this point is certain. House Democrats have the votes on both articles of impeachment to impeach President Trump. History will be made tomorrow. President Donald Trump will become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House, Wolf.
BLITZER: What's the latest, Phil, on preparations for a Senate impeachment trial in January and the fight over witnesses?
As all that is going on in the House, across the Capitol, political partisanship is breaking out in a major way. Now, this all stems back to the decision by our Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday night laying out his proposals for a Senate trial, including the idea that four witnesses, administration officials or former administration officials, have to testify during that trial.
Well, Wolf, today, McConnell took to the Senate floor and sharply criticized Schumer's effort, made clear he disagreed with several of the proposals that were in that letter, disagreed with the Democratic leader's decision to send that letter at all, particularly to release it to the press, before the two of them have a long-since scheduled sit-down to try and work out a bipartisan resolution on the way forward in the Senate.
Schumer firing back with this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): If 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're trying to cover up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Now, Wolf, we are still waiting for that meeting between McConnell and Schumer to try and lay out some pathway, some guideline in a bipartisan manner for how this trial will actually go, including just the simple things, like when it will actually start, how long will the managers and the president's defense team have to actually lay out their cases.
But the big question remains, based on Schumer's letter, based on where Democrats stand, will there be any witnesses at all in the trial?
And the reality for Senate Republicans, more and more that I have talked to over the course of the last couple of days, is, they say their answer is no. And why that matters is this. Republicans control the majority in the chamber, 53 seats. When it comes to that Senate trial, Wolf, the magic number is 51.
With a majority, a simple majority of votes, Senate Republicans can do pretty much anything, whether it comes to ending the trial, having witnesses, dismissing the charges altogether. And that's what they are pushing towards right now.
We will have to see how this all plays out, again, with all eyes on that looming meeting between Senator McConnell and Senator Schumer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will watch that closely as well.
Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you.
Joining us now, the second highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, the majority leader, Steny Hoyer.
Leader Hoyer, thanks so much for joining us.
And let's get to this incredible letter from the president on the eve of this historic impeachment vote. The president is accusing Democrats of, in his words, violating your oaths of office and declaring open war on American democracy.
He says -- and I'm quoting him once again -- "History will judge you harshly," but that you will have to live with it, "not I," he says.
What's your reaction to this stunning letter?
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Well, of course, I think he's correct. History will judge us. I think he's totally incorrect on what history will judge and who harshly will be judged.
The fact is, we are pursuing what we believe is our constitutional duty, which the Constitution sets forth as an abuse of power check and balance.
We believe, having voted three times, in December of '17, in January of '18, in July of '19. Over those two years, we voted against articles of impeachment because we did not believe the facts at that point in time justified such action.
However, subsequent to the July 25 telephone call, and the extensive hearings that we have had, and the witnesses that have come forward, we believe that we have no other choice but to bring these articles of impeachment, and to have them tried in the Senate, if we are going to check a president in the abuse of power.
And, of course, we believe the abuse of power was essentially a shakedown of the president of Ukraine to act on the president's behalf, not on our country's behalf, and act for his political ends, and undermine the integrity of our elections, as well as put our national security at risk.
So, we believe that we are doing what our oath of office demands that we do in protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States and opposing the abuse of power. That's what our founding fathers wanted us to do. They did not want King George to return to power. They did not want foreign governments to influence our government.
And so we think that this is exactly the action that the founders thought was appropriate when they -- when you see abuse of power.
BLITZER: The president also says this in his letter to Pelosi.
"You are the ones interfering in America's elections. You are the ones subverting America's democracy. You are the ones obstructing justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our republic for your own selfish, personal, political, and partisan gain."
You want to respond to that? HOYER: That's the president's modus operandi. It was his modus operandi when he was in business in New York.
It's been his modus operandi when he campaigned and his modus operandi now, attack, attack, attack, distract, distract, distract, undermine the truth, undermine the truth, undermine the truth.
That's what I think of this letter. This is a campaign letter. It's clearly a campaign letter. It's an appeal to his hard-line supporters that he is being subjected to a wrongful action.
My opinion is that, when you look at the evidence in a fair and balanced way, it is inevitable that you come to the conclusion that this president abused his authority, his power as president, and ought to be held accountable, because, if we don't do that, then we are subject, as so many constitutional experts have said, to losing our democracy.
BLITZER: It looks, at least right now, as if most of the House Democrats elected in Trump districts will vote for these two articles of impeachment.
You said earlier today that you expect Democrats to actually pick up seats in 2020. But do you admit that you may lose some of these seats in places the president won in 2016?
HOYER: Look, I really believe, Wolf, that the people who are showing great courage are not people in districts like mine, who I think that we have big support for the action that we're taking in our districts.
But there are so many districts with so many of our members that don't share that view. But our members in those districts are doing what they think is right, irrespective of the politics.
And, very frankly, I think their constituents are going to respect them for their courage and their vote of conscience, so that I think we're not going to be at risk.
But this is not about politics. It's not about polls. It's not about whether one gets reelected or not. It's whether one complies with their oath of office to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States of America.
And so many of those folks that you mentioned served in the armed forces, served in the Central Intelligence Agency, in our security agencies, served in the State Department, served in executive agencies in the government, and they take their oath very, very seriously.
And it was not until this July 25 phone call, and all of the evidence that flowed from that, that those members took their position that we needed to have an inquiry. After the evidence, they have concluded what they have concluded.
We have not whipped a single member. When I say we, neither the speaker nor I have asked any member to vote for or against articles of impeachment. That is up to them. That's for their conscience to direct and what they believe to be their duty.
BLITZER: As you know, amidst all of this, the House of Representatives voted today to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year 2020, through the end of the -- of September.
Some liberal Democrats are frustrated that this also includes funding for the president's border wall with Mexico.
Do you feel that that concession was worth it?
HOYER: Look, it's last year's funding. It was in the bill last year. We repeated that number. The president wanted a number six or seven times as high.
But, look, this is a democratic process. We have a Republican Senate, a Democratic House, and we have a Republican president. All three of those entities are important in reaching policy conclusions.
So, we compromised. Some members thought that was not what they wanted to support. I get that. But the fact of the matter is, I am very proud, Wolf, of the fact there will be no shutdown.
When this -- when we took over in the beginning of this year, the government of the United States was shut down. We hadn't done our business. We passed appropriation bills, 96 percent of government funded by the end of June. Unfortunately, the Senate didn't pass any bills.
But we did come together, Senate, House, and, yes, the White House, and reached a compromise that was overwhelmingly supported by a majority of Democrats, in one case a minority of Republicans, and in another case the majority of Republicans on the defense four bills that we had, so that I'm proud of getting that done.
I'm also proud of the fact that we are continuing to do the people's business. We're not being distracted by impeachment. What we have focused on, for instance, just recently is passing a prescription drug bill.
We think that it mirrors what the president suggested in his campaign, what he suggested recently, in terms of how to bring prescription drug prices down for people.
We have now passed the appropriations bill. So, we're doing the people's business.
BLITZER: The House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, thanks so much for joining us.
HOYER: Thank you, Wolf. It's always good to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Just ahead, Rudy Giuliani talking openly about digging for political dirt in Ukraine and what he says is the president's support of his efforts.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the president's anger and defiance on the eve of the House impeachment votes.
He tells CNN he takes zero responsibility for the rebuke he's about to face. His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani seems equally unchastened tonight.
Let's bring in our Political Correspondent, Sara Murray.
Sara, Giuliani talking openly now about his ongoing hunt for political dirt in Ukraine, saying he has the president's support.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
He's continuing to carry out these investigations. And Giuliani insists to CNN that President Trump is fully on board.
MURRAY (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani is still running his own game of diplomacy, aiming to dig up dirt on Democrats in Ukraine.
In a phone interview with CNN, Giuliani said President Trump was -- quote -- "very supportive" of his efforts in Ukraine.
QUESTION: How much has Giuliani shared with you about his recent trip to Ukraine?
TRUMP: Not too much. But he's a very great crime fighter. He's a great person who loves our country. And he does this out of love, believe me. He does it out of love.
MURRAY: Giuliani stopped short of saying whether Trump directed him to go on his most recent trip to Kiev, but "We're on the same page," Giuliani told CNN.
Giuliani's comments back up a central argument for Democrats in favor of impeaching the president, that Trump and his personal attorney have pressured Ukraine to pursue investigations to benefit Trump politically.
In his latest media blitz, Giuliani admitted to helping recall the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, a well-known anti-corruption advocate, saying he spoke with both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about it.
"I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way," Giuliani told "The New Yorker." "She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody."
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: You forced out Marie Yovanovitch. You said...
RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Of course I did. I didn't need her out of the way. I forced her out because she's corrupt.
MURRAY: With an impeachment vote set for Wednesday, Giuliani still insisted to CNN, "Just in case you think we're on defense, we're not."
But if this is Giuliani's attempt to play offense, both parties say he could be stirring up trouble.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): But what I found most striking about Giuliani's comments was the admission, the confession that they needed to push Ambassador Yovanovitch out of the way to -- because she was going to get in the way of these corrupt investigations that Giuliani was pushing.
REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL): Extremely disturbing. And I think one of -- it argues again for slowing down, putting these guys under the threat of perjury under oath, and testify to find out, what's all the things he was doing over there?
MURRAY: Now, Wolf, of course, Rudy Giuliani has boasted about keeping the president in the loop on this, keeping Mike Pompeo in the loop on this.
And the secretary of state has been asked repeatedly what he thinks of Giuliani's activities in Ukraine, and he has repeatedly dodged the question -- back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thanks very much, Sara Murray reporting.
Our panel is here. We're about to break it all down.
We will take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: The gravity of impeachment may be sinking in for President Trump tonight, as he lashes out at Democrats just hours before the full House casts its historic vote.
We're following all the breaking news on his letter to the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and her reaction, as well as the ongoing meeting by the House Rules Committee, setting the stage for tomorrow's impeachment vote.
Let's bring in our analysts.
And, Jeffrey Toobin, let me read a sentence from the letter that the president wrote to the speaker. "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 the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment.
It goes on like that for six pages, single-space. What's your reaction?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, I try to be a good journalist. I try to express, like tell people what's going. I am incapable of expressing how crazy this letter is, how unhinged in its rhetoric, in its claims, in its factual inaccuracy and lies. The president says he's writing it for history. He writes at the very end, I write this to put my thoughts on a permanent and indelible record. It sure is. This is a window into Donald Trump's brain and soul and everyone should read it for just that purpose.
BLITZER: Here is another sentence. So, Susan, let me get your reaction.
Now, the president says, you are the ones interfering in America's elections. You are the ones subverting America's democracy. You are the ones obstructing justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our republic for your own selfish, personal, political and partisan gain.
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, look, it's not a substantive defense. It's projection. It's accusing other people of exactly what the president himself has done. This is a constitutional process. It is the process that the founders actually wrote into the Constitution for it to be used in cases in which the president of the United States abuses his office exactly what he's accused of having done here.
I do think what we see is sort of evidence throughout this letter is the president's fury that even his Republican defenders in Congress are unwilling to actually substantively defend his conduct. They'll say they aren't troubled by it. They are happy to attack the Democrats.
They are happy to talk about the process but very, very few of them are willing to come out and say, this was actually okay. What Donald Trump did, what he admitted to do, and what he has openly said on television was his intention, that is A-okay with members of Congress.
And so I think that he's angry to not see that kind of substantive defense. And this is some effort, I agree, an unhinged one in order to offer that defense for himself.
BLITZER: 21 years ago, I was covering another president who was about to be impeached by the House of Representatives, Bill Clinton. Listen to what he said on the eve of his impeachment. A very different tone than we're hearing from the current president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds. I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave into my shame.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So contrast that with what's going on now.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, where do we start, Wolf? I was just looking for any similarities. The word I was used by Bill Clinton in this letter and that's about it. I mean, it's remarkable.
Now, to be fair, the situations are completely different. The president then lied under oath and he had to admit that he lied under oath about an affair he was having with an intern in the White House. This situation is completely different. Democrats, today, argue that this is worse because this is about using his power, abusing his power on an international scale, which they spent weeks talking about the framers warning that this is the worst kind of abuse that a president could engage in.
He's denying it in this letter but doing so in a way that's almost hard to follow for somebody who is looking for kind of a logical argument. But we also have to remember that that's -- yes, it was intended for history but it's also intended as he's preaching to his choir, that they want to hear him say that.
BLITZER: Could you imagine, Abby, President Trump ever apologizing along the lines the way President Clinton apologized?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely not. It has almost never happened in the course of his presidency. And I do think in this case, there's a really important reason why he can't apologize. Because if he acknowledges that any of the substance of the claims are true, it really actually does validate the impeachment inquiry. It actually forces -- it will force Republicans to actually grapple with the facts at hand here which would put him in a really untenable situation.
This is not a Bill Clinton case where he lied about an affair and you could make an argument that it had no bearing on his ability to govern. I think this would have a really important bearing on his ability to govern because it would be him admitting to undermining his office.
But I also think that in this letter, you see a president who is mourning his own legacy. That's really what this is all about. He has wanted this job, being president, more than a lot of things in his life. He has it now and he's being impeached and he absolutely hates that. [18:35:00]
So this letter, maybe it doesn't follow any logical lines but it's an emotional letter. It's a very personal letter from someone who is seeing his legacy going in the wrong direction.
BLITZER: It certainly is. You want to comment?
TOOBIN: Well, you can be emotional but you can also be rational, and this is not rational. And even today in the Oval Office when Jim Acosta was asking him questioning, he has nothing to apologize for and he keeps using the word perfect to describe this phone call. What grown person, what adult calls any of their own actions perfect? I've never heard anyone else do it. It's just not the behavior of someone who is psychologically intact.
HENNESSEY: But additionally, his unrepentantness actually does sort of raise the stakes of impeachment. Not only has he had Rudy Giuliani come to the White House, reportedly briefed him on what he has found in Ukraine. He's been quite clear that if he's not impeached for this, he is going to continue in this course of behavior. And so the lack of any kind of remorse, I think, is a powerful to Congress as well.
BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is firing back at the president after his angry letter about impeachment. We will take you behind the scenes as Pelosi prepares to make history.
BLITZER: As the House of Representatives faces a historic impeachment vote tomorrow, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is reaching out to Democrats about the solemnity of the moment and she's dismissing a very bitter letter from President Trump as ridiculous.
Our Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, is back with us right now.
Dana, Nancy Pelosi clearly holds the power of the House. Take us behind the scenes right now for this historic moment.
BASH: Well, you saw Pelosi say to Manu tonight that on the president's accusation that she is interfering with election, subverting the American democracy, her response is it's really sick. And, ironically, that kind of attack from the president elevates her even more inside her party as she helps navigate them through impeachment.
BASH: These days, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a cult-like figure among Democrats for going head-to-head with President Trump. Sun glass clad coming out of an Oval Office meeting after Democrats won back the House where she said this.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Please don't characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats.
BASH: Taking an image Trump tweeted as an unhinged meltdown making it her own social media profile picture, a show of strength against a president who doesn't like to be challenged.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): If you think a woman can't beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.
BASH: But with impeachment, the skills that got Pelosi where she is in the first place, a leader who knows how to manage her diverse Democratic Caucus, are being tested.
Debbie Dingell is on her leadership team.
REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): The one thing I've learned about Nancy Pelosi since I've been here is she does listen and she understands the importance of building consensus. She did not move forward on impeachment without knowing that that's where her caucus was.
BASH: Part of knowing her caucus, making sure vulnerable Democrats had victories on other bread and butter issues to talk about back home.
The fact that there's a trade deal and that's going to be voted on the day after impeachment, the fact that there's prescription drug legislation that particularly moderates can go home and talk about, that's not an accident.
DINGELL: No, it's not an accident. She knows what she's doing.
BASH: On display at this contentious Michigan town hall with Elissa Slotkin.
REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): We will talk, of course, about the impeachment inquiry but we will also talk about really big things, like the USMCA or sort of the next agreement after NAFTA, as well as prescription drug legislation.
BASH: The speaker understood cutting deal with the administration on trade --
PELOSI: Defend the Constitution.
BASH: -- announced an hour after a milestone speech on impeachment allowed Democrat Slotkin to talk up the president in her Trump-won district.
SLOTKIN: I have to give a lot of credit to both the president and the president's negotiator.
BASH: On a progressive side of the caucus, you hear the same thing about Pelosi's leadership style.
REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): I think she's done a really good job of navigating very difficult waters.
BASH: Progressive caucus co-Chair Pramila Jayapal fought Pelosi hard and won some concessions on a key prescription drug bill Pelosi wanted done before Christmas.
JAYAPAL: Sometimes I'm sure she is irritated with us and sometimes we might be irritated with her, but it has to do with what we're fighting for. And at the end of the day, I do think she recognizes that if this is an ideological value for you and you make that clear, she's not going to try to talk you out of it.
BASH: Last fall, during a visit to her hometown of Baltimore, Pelosi described her role as a leader as one of a master weaver.
PELOSI: I'm at the loom and every member, whatever, generationally, geographically, gender identity, whatever the philosophical differences, whatever it is, all of it is a strength to us. And so you weave it and weave it. And you value every thread because it strengthens the tapestry of what you are creating.
BASH: And as we head toward tomorrow's impeachment vote, it is worth remembering that the left put a lot of pressure on Pelosi to impeach the president as soon as she got the speaker's gavel back. And she got just as much pressure from moderates in Trump districts saying no way to impeachment.
And, Wolf, as Debbie Dingell reiterated, she really didn't get there until she felt comfortable and confident that the majority, the vast majority of her caucus was there as well.
BLITZER: Excellent reporting, Dana. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news. The ultra secretive U.S. surveillance court makes a rare public statement slamming the FBI.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight on the truly extraordinary new criticism of the FBI. The usually secretive FISA court issuing a rare public order slamming the bureau for mistakes made in seeking surveillance warrants during the Russia investigation.
We are joined now by the former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. He is now a CNN contributor.
Andrew, thanks very much for coming in.
Let me read a sentence from this truly amazing and very powerful statement the FISA judge released publicly, referring to the inspector general of the Justice Department's report.
It documents troubling instances in which FBI personnel provided information to NSD, the National Security Division, which was unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession. It also describes several instances in which FBI personnel withheld from NSD information in their possession which was detrimental to their case for believing Mr. Carter Page was acting as an agent of a foreign powr.
This is very serious misconduct on your watch.
ANDREW MCCABE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Very serious. Very serious.
And I can tell you, Wolf, that everyone who I know, everyone in the FBI, anyone who reads that report is shocked and horrified by what they've seen in the recitation of the 17 errors. Shocked because we all believed, I certainly believed that the procedures we had in place were enough to guarantee that accurate information was going to the court. And horrified because it cuts against one of our most fundamental duties and that is to be perfectly accurate and truthful and complete with the court at all the times. That didn't happen.
BLITZER: The then-FBI Director Jim Comey, he says it was sloppiness. But this wasn't just sloppiness. These were brutal mistakes, deliberate errors, concealments involving search warrant surveillance activities of an American citizen.
MCCABE: They were very, very serious mistakes. They come into basically two different categories -- things that they told the court which were not consistent with what we knew in our own files and facts that we left out, that we should have told the court.
I will say, though, that the I.G. pointed out in his report that he found no evidence that those misrepresentations were intentional. Nevertheless, they are unbelievably serious and something that has obviously gotten the court's attention as you would expect.
BLITZER: The FISA judge writes that all this, the evidence we now know about, calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable. The FBI just responded saying they're going to take 40 corrective steps to try to deal with this.
But if such blunders, if such mistakes can be made, deliberate mistakes in such a high-from file case, you've got to wonder what's going on with lesser high-profile cases involving U.S. citizens.
MCCABE: If we have exposed, if the I.G. has exposed shortcomings in the process that ensures accuracy goes to the court, then yes, we need to take a look at all of the FISA work that's been done. That is what the court has said and that's what the I.G. has pledged to do and, of course, Director Wray has taken some very active steps to start that process.
BLITZER: What's the biggest mistake you made?
MCCABE: The biggest mistake we made. The biggest mistake, I think, is the process that was in place essentially left so much responsibility on the lowest level of FBI agents and supervisors involved in a process. Once those mistakes are baked in, they become very, very hard for the layers of oversight to uncover. That's the thing, if I were Director Wray, that I would focus on to those mistakes (ph).
BLITZER: To learn from those mistakes, to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Again, Andy McCabe, thanks very much for coming.
MCCABE: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. There's much more news right after this.
MADDOW: Finally tonight, as House Democrats are on the brink of a historic vote to impeach the president, Mr. Trump is brazenly claiming that they are subverting democracy, I can't help but think of Vladimir Putin. He and his pals are maybe sitting back in Russia and declaring mission accomplished as America is divided and in Putin's eyes America appears weak.
Remember, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that one of Russia's goals in interfering in the 2016 presidential election was to sow political dissent in the United States and to, quote, undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process. Intel officials in the Obama administration and later in the Trump administration supported that finding.
So did the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. The panels report on election interference warn Russia was trying to, quote, stoke anger, provoke outrage and protest, push Americans further away from one another and foment distrust in government institutions.
So as Americans battle over impeachment and both parties fan the flame, perhaps we should all think about Putin and his cronies sitting back in Moscow and smiling.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNsitroom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.