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Impeachment Stalemate; Protesters Attack U.S. Embassy In Baghdad; Interview With Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA); Hanukkah Stabbing Suspect Served In The Marines; Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) Open To Witnesses In Impeachment Trial. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 31, 2019 - 18:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Happening now: Trump's new threat. The president is warning, Iran will pay a very big price after protesters attack the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.

We're learning about growing concerns within the White House that tensions could escalate if the hours ahead.

Inappropriate. A moderate Republican senator says both parties are wrong to prejudge the president's impeachment trial. But Susan Collins is signaling she may support a key demand by Democrats, in a potential break from her party's leadership.

Overrated. President Trump takes aim at Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats as the year of his impeachment comes to a close. He's ringing in 2020 with a new Twitter rant.

And Pelosi's power play. We will show you how the speaker is flexing her muscle as she keeps a tight grip on the articles of impeachment and tries to extend her influence into the Senate.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar.

This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

Right now, tensions with Iran are on the rise, and American troops are on the move, after protesters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. Supporters of an Iranian-backed militia tried to storm the embassy compound retaliation for deadly U.S. airstrikes against the militia group.

Now President Trump is vowing to hold Iran fully responsible for any deaths or damage, warning in a new tweet that the country will pay a very big price.

Also tonight, as the standoff over the president's impeachment trial drags on, a key senator is suggesting a potential crack in GOP unity. Senator Susan Collins revealing she's open to calling witnesses. But when?

I will talk with Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Democrat on the Oversight and Foreign Relations committees. And our correspondents and analysts also are standing by.

First to CNN White House Correspondent, Boris Sanchez. He is with the president in Florida.

And, Boris, Mr. Trump just issued a new threat to Iran over that attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Tell us what's in it.


President Trump putting the blame squarely on Iran. White House officials telling CNN they're very concerned about what's happening at the embassy in Baghdad.

Their belief is that these protesters are actually part of an Iranian- backed militia, and they're concerned that hostilities could escalate tomorrow. President Trump today scrambled to develop a response, but part of his focus remains on impeachment as he launched fresh attacks on Democrats.


SANCHEZ (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump weighing a large response, blaming Iran for the attempted siege of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, writing -- quote -- "Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost or damage incurred at any of our facilities. They will pay a very big price. This is not a warning. It is a threat."

The president leaving his golf club after less than an hour this morning to address the erupting situation, protesters scaling walls, forcing the gates, and setting fires inside the heavily guarded compound while diplomats were trapped inside, a backlash against American airstrikes that killed dozens of members of an Iran-backed militia group in Iraq.

Both Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih, according to a State Department spokesperson, guaranteeing the safety of U.S. personnel inside the embassy.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who golfed with the president Monday, tweeted that he met with Trump and other officials about the raid today, writing that Trump is determined to protect Americans, adding -- quote -- "No more Benghazis," a reference to the 2012 attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. nationals.

But critics argue Trump's foreign policy has left the U.S. in danger.

Senator Chris Murphy scathing on Twitter: "The attack on our embassy in Baghdad is horrifying, but predictable. Trump has rendered America impotent in the Middle East. No one fears us. No one listens to us. America has been reduced to huddling in safe rooms hoping the bad guys will go away. What a disgrace."

All this as President Trump continues to hammer Nancy Pelosi on his impeachment, tweeting: "They produced no case, so now she doesn't want to go to the Senate. She's all lies. Most overrated person I know." Trump also claiming: "The Democrats will do anything to avoid a trial in the Senate in order to protect sleepy Joe Biden."


SANCHEZ: And, Brianna, back to the situation with the embassy, President Trump made the Benghazi comparison himself a short time ago on Twitter, writing -- quote -- "The anti-Benghazi."


White House officials tell us that they are encouraged by talks that they have been having with Iraqi leaders. They say they hope tomorrow will be better than what they saw today, but they are prepared for anything -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Boris, thank you so much for that report.

And U.S. troops are being mobilized tonight. This is in response to the situation at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Let's go now to the Pentagon and CNN's Ryan Browne.

Tell us what you're learning about troop deployments, Ryan.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Brianna, the U.S. military has already taken several steps to reinforce its posture in the wake of these -- this kind of protest that's really largely being led by this militia group that the U.S. military conducted those airstrikes against.

Now, the military has already talked about it send about 100 additional Marines from a crisis response unit in Kuwait that have arrived at the embassy, flying in on MV-22 Ospreys. They landed there. They're bolstering the security there.

The U.S. military flew two Apaches, attack helicopters, overhead over the embassy, where they released flares as a warning sign of potential military retaliation if these protests get out of hand.

But we're learning now that the U.S. is also planning to move additional forces from the United States. Members of the 82nd Airborne Division will be sent to the region, not to Iraq itself, but to nearby countries, to -- so that they could respond if this situation escalates further.

Now, the U.S. has blamed the militia that's participating in these protests for a series of rocket attacks against U.S. military facilities, one of which led to the death of an American contractor and prompted those airstrikes.

So the U.S. is very well aware that this group has the ability to conduct attacks on U.S. facilities. So they very much want to be prepared in case the situation deteriorates further.

KEILAR: All right, Ryan Browne, thank you so much at the Pentagon for us.

And now to impeachment.

A key Senate Republican is signaling she might break from the GOP leadership on the question of whether to call witnesses at the president's trial. But there could be a caveat here.

CNN Congressional Correspondent, Phil Mattingly is joining us.

This is a significant remark by Senator Susan Collins of Maine. But you have to look at the details of what she said as well.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Read between the lines for full context.

KEILAR: That's right.

MATTINGLY: Look, witnesses have obviously been the huge split between where Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is and where Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is at this moment.

It's why there's an impasse over what this trial will actually look like. Susan Collins now weighing in directly on the issue. Take a listen to what she told Maine public radio.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I am open to witnesses.

I think it's premature to decide who should be called until we see the evidence that is presented and get the answers to the questions that we senators can submit through the chief justice to both sides.

What I don't understand is why the House, having issued subpoenas to Secretary Pompeo, for example, did not seek to enforce those subpoenas in court, and instead rushed to get the articles of impeachment passed before Christmas, and yet have not transmitted them to us in the Senate.

So that seems an odd way to operate.


MATTINGLY: Deconstruct that.

First, take the final point she made, and I think it's important one, which is that she -- as she told me before she left for the holidays -- has problems with how the House Democrats have run this process.

So, take that where it's been. She's been there for a time. Obviously, saying she's open to witnesses is a big piece of this. However, she said she's open to witnesses after the initial trial presentations.

Where does that line her up? That lines her up directly behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch, who his pitch has been, like what they did in 1999 with the Senate impeachment trial for President Bill Clinton, is to have both sides present their cases, have senators have an opportunity to ask questions to the defense and to the House managers.

And then they can decide whether or not there will be witnesses or subpoenas for documents. Obviously, Chuck Schumer has said he wants this all arranged and set up at the very beginning of the trial, not wait until that point.

But at least when you listen to Susan Collins, and how she talks about this, she may be willing to vote for witnesses with Democrats later on in the process, but it looks like not right at the start.

KEILAR: Logistically, there's so much ahead of us, right? When are the House managers picked? When are the articles of impeachment sent over? When do we find out if they're going to have witnesses and at what point? When does the trial begin?

Do you have -- are you getting any sense of these things?



MATTINGLY: And I would like them.

KEILAR: Right. Well, that's good. Neither I have.

MATTINGLY: I would like them.

Look, I think the most interesting part of the past two weeks, particularly given all the heat and light on impeachment, and rightfully so -- it's a historic moment, it's something we have only seen three times in the United States' history -- is how little has occurred over the course of the last two weeks.

Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell have not spoken. The speaker has not spoken to the majority leader in the Senate. Nobody has any idea what Speaker Pelosi's plans are in terms of sending over the articles of impeachment.

Here's the expectation right now. We know the House comes back into session on January 7. That's the absolute earliest the House could vote to send the articles of impeachment over. The Senate comes back on the 6th.

The expectation, I think, is, you will hear from Senate Majority Leader McConnell when they get back into town, probably on Friday, when he gets back into town, in terms of what the next steps will be.


But we don't know when the articles are sent over. And that's kind of the trigger for everything else.

In the meantime, my understanding is, Senate Republicans are going to proceed business as usual until those articles come over. So they're not going to be making any special trial preparations. They're not going to be doing anything -- doing a trial without the articles coming over, which has been the theory that some have tried to push. That's not going to happen.

If no articles are coming over, Mitch McConnell is going to act like, well, it's the Senate. It's a new session. Let's get to work. And then we will figure it out when the articles come over.

So keep an eye on January 7, when House comes back into town, and, hopefully, we will get some answers. Who knows?

KEILAR: Right. It would be nice to have some answers.


KEILAR: Then we can stop asking the same questions.

Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

And joining me now is Congressman Gerry Connolly. He's a Democrat who serves on the Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.

Sir, thank you so much for joining us.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): My pleasure, Brianna.

KEILAR: So, the president right now -- I want to talk to you about what we're seeing going on in Iraq, where the U.S. Embassy has -- at least the compound in Baghdad has been attacked.

The president is blaming Iran. He tweeted this: "Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost or damage incurred at any of our facilities. They will pay a very big price. This is not a warning. It is a threat."

What is your reaction to that tweet?

CONNOLLY: Well, this is a president who's made many elaborate threats against foreign leaders or other countries in the past, and has not followed through on them.

So, I fear that his credibility with adversaries is very limited. Obviously, there are several things that have to happen here. One is, we have got to secure the compound in Baghdad, make sure all of our personnel are safe and secure.

Secondly, we have to hold the Iraq government to account here. They are responsible, as the host government, for the security and safety of American personnel, the diplomatic personnel. And they need to live up to that obligation, which, frankly, they were not doing in the last 24 hours.

And then,thirdly, I would call upon the president to reexamine both his rhetoric and his policies with respect to Iran.

Much of this friction and violence flows from his very fateful decision to renounce and walk away from our own agreement that was working, the Iran nuclear agreement, thus severing any working relationship we possibly could have with Iran.

And Iran now has very little to lose in the relationship. That puts it in a very dangerous position.

KEILAR: Are Americans at the embassy compound in Iraq safe, in your view?

CONNOLLY: I don't know that. It's a big compound. It's about 100 acres.

It's one of the largest, if not the largest, diplomatic facilities in the world. It's hard to police and patrol adequately. And that's why we have to rely on security forces in the Iraqi government itself.

And, reportedly, a number of those forces stood by while Hezbollah- related Shia crowds stormed or attempt to storm the embassy. That obviously is a very dangerous situation reminiscent of 1979.

KEILAR: Well, that's exactly the image -- the moment that these images conjure up, is 1979.

And I wonder, with what is supposed to be the ability to entrust security issues to the Iraqis, and the U.S. to a degree still relying on this and telling the Iraqis, look, this needs to be something that you're paying attention to, do you think that the ability to have an effective U.S. military footprint, a U.S. diplomatic footprint in Iraq is still an ability -- or that that ability is deteriorating?

What do you think?

CONNOLLY: I think the domestic security situation is very volatile in Iraq right now. It has a very substantial Shia population that's really roused up by the United States decision to undertake retaliatory strikes after the death of an American contractor at the hands of Iranian-supported militias or insurgents.

But it is the obligation of the Iraq government. And it's my understanding, reportedly, that the Iraq prime minister gave assurances to President Trump that, in fact, they would fulfill those obligations.

Well, they need to do that.

KEILAR: I want to turn to impeachment now with you.

You have heard from Republican Senator Susan Collins, who says she's open to witnesses in the Senate trial. She does say, though, it's premature to choose witnesses before evidence is presented, which puts her in line with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

What do you think about this? Do you think there's any hope in reading that perhaps she can join Democrats or provide some pressure for there to be witnesses? Or do you just think she's in line with McConnell? [18:15:03]

CONNOLLY: I think Susan Collins is struggling with her own independence.

It's got to be tough to be in her position, with the overwhelming majority of Republican members apparently having made up their minds or not seeking a fair and open process.

And so I admire what she said today, which is to strike out a little bit and put a marker down for the possibility of witnesses.

Her disclaimer about her disappointment in Democrats not pursuing subpoenas is a little disingenuous, from my point of view, because she knows that to do that would have been years of litigation in the court system.

And that's why the Democrats didn't pursue it. And the idea that we rushed to judgment is false. The impeachment process was the culmination of an over-two-year effort by Robert Mueller and, of course, compellingly documented on the Ukrainian issue in terms of what the president did.

And as clear as the nose on the face, that was abuse of office.


KEILAR: She's making the point that, if that's the case, then why weren't the articles of impeachment sent over? And, to that point, we have been trying to get answers to that question. When will they be sent over? Will they go over in January, do you think?

CONNOLLY: Well, yes.

You know, we're on recess, as is the Senate. And I'm not quite sure the obsession about, well, when will they be said over?

But I will say this. I think it's also disingenuous to suggest you went into rush -- and I was trying to explain we didn't rush. And, secondly, why aren't the articles of impeachment here?

Well, that kind of pretends that Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and other Republicans, your colleagues in the United States Senate, Senator Collins, haven't made outrageous statements about their lack of impartiality in advance of taking an oath to be precisely that, impartial.

And I think the Democrats, and certainly Speaker Pelosi, have reason to pause as to, well, what -- to what body are we handing over these articles of impeachment? Is this a sham trial with a rigged jury? Or is it indeed going to uphold its second oath -- it's the only time senators take a second oath -- to be impartial jurors in the impeachment trial process?

And I think we're entitled to know the answer to that before we send over the articles of impeachment. And I think the speaker is right to pause to give everybody the opportunity to examine that question.

KEILAR: It seems like this has been a practice in trying to hold the articles of impeachment to raise questions about -- or, I should say, raise the issue of impartiality, and hope that it really is something that is absorbed a little more by Americans, that the Democrats' message is absorbed a little more by Americans.


KEILAR: And maybe there's some pressure that can be put on Mitch McConnell and Republicans.

But do you really see that happening? I mean, right now, you have heard what Lisa Murkowski said, but she had criticism for you guys as well, and the same really with Susan Collins.

CONNOLLY: Yes, I kind of take some of that criticism as a bit of a disclaimer to give themselves some political protection, because their position is an awfully lonely position in the Republican Caucus in the United States Senate.

And so I admire their forthrightness and their willingness to stake out a semi-independent position. I hope they will follow through on it.

KEILAR: All right, we will watch as well.

Congressman Gerry Connolly, thank you so much for joining us, and a happy new year to you.

CONNOLLY: My pleasure, and happy New Year.

KEILAR: All right, just ahead: Will the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq explode in the coming hours? We will break down the White House's concerns and President Trump's threats.



KEILAR: We're following a very tense situation at the American Embassy in Baghdad, after it was attacked by protesters enraged by recent U.S. airstrikes.

President Trump is vowing to hold Iran fully responsible. And he says that is a threat, not a warning.

We're told there's concern inside the White House that the protests could escalate in the coming hours.

Let's bring in our analysts and our experts to talk about this.

And, Phil, it's interesting,, considering there is concern in the White House that this could escalate, that the president sent this tweet: "Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost or damage incurred at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE," all caps. "This is not a warning. It is a threat. Happy new year."

What does this mean to you?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I would take that with a big grain of salt.

Look, the president has spent three-and-a-half years trying to get us out of Syria. There was that debate about him announcing we were leaving prematurely.

A little known story, there's a lot of reporting about getting near closure on a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, again, bringing American troops home.

My point here is, I don't think that Americans sitting around in the Situation Room at the White House and the president of the United States want to react every time Iran does something, because Iran has a massive presence around the Middle East, where obviously we have a presence as well.

And I don't think we want to get into a tit-for-tat shooting game, where we don't know what the end ramp is -- or what the endgame is.


MUDD: I think the president wants to send out threats because it sounds good, but I don't think we're going to attack the Iranians every time they do something, Brianna.

KEILAR: Well, that's what's really interesting, Abby Phillip.

And you have covered President Trump a lot. He's talking a big game. But his actions tell you he doesn't really want to do what he's talking about. So what's the effect of basically crying wolf.


I mean, there are two things here. One is this constant waving around of a big stick and not really doing anything about it. It really makes people wonder if the threats really mean anything around the world anymore, not just in Iran, but in North Korea, in Syria.

I mean, this is a pattern in all over the world, in Venezuela, where the president talks a big game, and doesn't carry it out. But I also think what we're seeing here with the president's tweets is his fixation on President Obama.

He called this in one of his tweets the anti-Benghazi. There is a sense here that the president wants to talk a big game, in part because he wants to make a political point, that this is not the same as the Benghazi attack, which Republicans, of course, really pilloried the Obama administration for, for many years.

And so some of this, it seems, has to do with the president making a show of it for his base that he's doing something, that he's responding, that he's engaged. [18:25:07]

And a lot of that has to do with his fixation on being better than Obama in all areas of his presidency.

KEILAR: They need to avoid this being a Benghazi. But let's be honest, this would be more of a U.S. Embassy in Tehran situation if this escalates a lot, Susan. What are the chances of that happening?

Are you are you pretty confident that things are under control?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look, right now, there's a lot of people who are trying to make points about whether or not we should be playing hardball with Iran or Iraq as sort of a larger strategic matter.

The important thing right now in the immediate sense is to ensure the physical safety of American troops on the ground, U.S. Embassy diplomatic personnel, embassy staff, people who are safe and sheltered in safe rooms right now, but actually are in sort of immediate danger. And all of the longer-term sort of strategic questions just have to come second to that fundamental question of either re-securing the facility or safely evacuating individuals.

And so this is a really delicate situation. It's a situation which certainly we would not want to see any kind of escalation. President Trump is directing his ire and his tweets at the Iranians. Ultimately, it's the Iraqi government's responsibility as sort of a matter of international law to ensure the safety and security of U.S. diplomats on their soil.

And so one thing we would expect, as we see sort of individuals trying to de-escalate the situation and prevent the escalation, is to really see strong partnership, hopefully strong partnership, between the United States and the Iraqi government, who does have obligations to us, just as we have obligations to foreign diplomats who operate in the United States.

KEILAR: Jim Baker, you oversaw -- you supervised the Justice Department's Rule of Law Development Program.

So, as you're looking at this situation, I wonder what you think, because the understanding from Arwa Damon's reporting is that Iraqi security forces let these militia members from these Shia Iran-backed militias basically just walk past checkpoints or easily get past checkpoints to get to the point where they could puncture this outer wall.

JIM BAKER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, given my role that I had back in those days, my first and foremost concern was the safety of our folks at the embassy and elsewhere in Iraq.

And so, to me, what this talks about is the poor nature of our relationship with our Iraqi allies. As Susan was saying, I mean, they could have stopped this from happening. For whatever internal reasons or dealing with Iran or whatever, or trying to send a message to the United States, they let this happen.

They have this obligation. They have the capacity to keep these people away from the embassy, and they need to do that. And so, in terms of de-escalating, I think the first thing that needs to be done by the U.S. is to is to figure out what's wrong with that relationship and get the Iraqis to do what we need to do to bring this situation under control and not expose our folks to this type of violence.

It's crazy.

KEILAR: Everybody, stand by for me, if you will. We have a whole lot more ahead to discuss.

Is Republican Susan Collins throwing a lifeline to Democrats, or not, as they pursue their impeachment trial and demand witnesses?

And on this New Year's Eve, we're following celebrations around the world.

Just look at these pictures from Paris, beautiful pictures, where they just rang in 2020 moments ago with a light show and fireworks at the iconic Arc de Triomphe.



KEILAR: We're back now with our analysts on the brink of the New Year as anticipation is building for the Senate impeachment trial.

So let's break down where we are. And the big thing is Senator Susan Collins, she is really the second Republican who's come out and has she or hasn't she broken with Republican leadership at all. She said, I'm open to witnesses. She also said though she thinks it's premature to decide who should be called until we see the evidence. That puts her squarely in line with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. And then she took her chance to kind of ding House Democrats for moving so quickly and then withholding the articles of impeachment.

What do you think her comment means, if anything, for the Senate trial?

HENNESSEY: Yeah. I mean, this is kind of a classic Susan Collins in a sense that it's pretty inscrutable, it expresses some concern with what the president did while not actually making any commitments and then taking the opportunity, of course, to criticize Democrats. So I don't know how much we can read into it in terms of what she'll actually do in terms of follow through.

The reason why people are so focused on people like Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, Cory Gardner and others is because unlike actual conviction and removal, in order to ensure procedural fairness, you only need 51 votes in the Senate. And so the question will a handful of moderate Republicans join with the Democrats in order to ensure that witnesses are called and that they can return to their constituents and say, look, we called witnesses, we actually did engage in fact-finding even if they ultimately, you know, vote not a convict and not to remove the president.

PHILLIP: I think Susan Collins is a lot less independent in this scenario than she might originally seem. She is running for re- election. And as much as she is not sort of in Donald Trump's corner 100 percent on every single thing, she is not going to go out of her way to pull the rug out from underneath her, alienating his base even after she's already infuriated the left.


So there are a lot of people back in Maine on the left who might have been open to Susan Collins after she voted for Brett Kavanaugh. That is over.

And I think what she is saying to McConnell here is give us some room. Let me at least look like there is some independence here. But I think, ultimately, she is going to fall in line with the vast majority of Republicans on impeachment as a whole.

KEILAR: That dims the chances of seeing witnesses. And we should say, highlight that this is happening as we see this New York Times report, the president completely was overriding his top officials in his administration when they said do not hold this aid for Ukraine.

BAKER: Yes. I don't know how you watch the hearings, read that article and not conclude that what's fair for the American people is to have witnesses so the American people can figure out Mulvaney, Bolton, Pompeo, they all need to show up. That's if -- otherwise, I don't know how you're going to view this -- how the American people are going to view this at the end of the day as a fair trial.

KEILAR: And, Phil Mudd, how history will view it.

MUDD: Yes, I think that's fair. I mean, history is going to look at this and say it was a partisan event from day one. Susan Collins is going to be partisan on this. She just gave us a nothing burger on New Year's Eve. I was hoping for nice food spread. It's going to go partisan lines, I think. I don't think it's that complicated.

KEILAR: All right. You guys, thank you so much. Have a wonderful New Year. Phil Mudd, Jim Baker, Susan Hennessey, Abby Phillip, it's wonderful to spend this holiday with you all.

And just ahead, the speaker versus the president. We'll be looking at how Nancy Pelosi is leading Democrats as the impeachment battle is shifting from the House to the Senate.



KEILAR: As we head into 2020 in a little over five hours here on the East Coast, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is keeping everyone guessing about when she'll send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. We'll have to wait until the House of Representatives returns to Washington January 7th. And even then, Democrats aren't giving any clues about when they'll hand over these articles.

CNN Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash has more on Pelosi flexing her muscle as the most powerful woman in Washington and arguably as President Trump's worst nightmare.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: These Days, Nancy Pelosi is a cult-like figure among Democrats for going head-to-head with President Trump. Sunglass 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 a 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), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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 it's going to be voted on the day after impeachment, the fact 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 a 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 the 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's 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: Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.



KEILAR: And just ahead, we're learning more about the suspect in the Hanukkah stabbing attack in New York, his brief military service and his possible motive.



KEILAR: And just ahead, we're learning more about the suspect in the Hanukkah stabbing attack in New York, his brief military service and his possible motive.


KEILAR: Tonight, authorities are digging into the background of the Hanukkah stabbing suspect after his bloody attack that left five people wounded.

CNN national correspondent Sara Sidner is following the investigation in New York.


And, Sara, we're actually learning now that the alleged attacker was briefly in the military.


And, Brianna, tonight, we have for you a brand-new image of the suspect. We got this from law enforcement sources, as well as community members who tell us this is the photo just before the attacker came into the rabbi's house. That picture taken from a surveillance camera. This is just before he started slashing at people inside the rabbi's home.


SIDNER (voice-over): Tonight, new details are emerging about Hanukkah stabbing suspect Grafton Thomas. In what Thomas' lawyer claimed as the suspect's handwritten resume, there is a line listing Thomas as a marine. CNN confirmed he was a marine in 2002, but only lasted less than two months.

The undated resume describes him as highly motivated and lists mental discipline, survival skills and team work as attributes. His attorney says Thomas has long suffered with mental illness and is disturbed, not hate-filled.

The governor counts this as the 13th anti-Semitic attack in New York in the last few weeks alone.

The attorney general now promising action.

LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: And we will be establishing a hate crimes task force and we will be again working with local and state elected officials to come up with some legislative fixes and some solutions to address what we have been witnessing throughout the state of New York.

SIDNER: Thomas pleaded not guilty to the initial charges. In all, he is now charged with 11 counts including attempted murder ask federal hate crimes after investigators say they found references to Adolf Hitler, so-called Nazi culture, the star of David and the swastika in a handwritten journal found inside Thomas' home.

There was also an apparent reference to the Black Hebrew Israelites. Authorities say a person who may have been linked to the same movement was responsible for the killing of four people in and around the Jersey City kosher market just a few weeks ago.

Meantime, the witnesses, victims and orthodox community at large say they are forced to overcome fear in their daily lives like never before.

Rabbi Shmuel Gancz of the Chabad Jewish Center of Suffern visited two of the wounded. Both he says were slashed in the head in the attack. One was the son of the Monsey rabbi.

RABBI SHMUEL GANCZ, THE CHABAD JEWISH CENTER OF SUFFERN: The message that I got from the rabbi's son that it wasn't my time and nothing can scathe me if it's not my time. That was a message of reassurance.


SIDNER: And that message of reassurance, there is hope, there is light, according to the members of the community here even after they have suffered this terrible, terrible attack. They still believe that it was a Hanukkah miracle that more people weren't hurt or killed -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Sara, thank you so much. Sara Sidner in Monsey.

And we have more news ahead.



KEILAR: CNN viewers can celebrate the New Year with the music of a legendary performer. The new CNN film "LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE" tells the inside story of Ronstadt's rise to fame, winning awards and legions of fans along the way.

CNN's Bill Weir looks at her amazing career.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it comes to range --

LINDA RONSTADT, SINGER (singing): I've been cheated --

WEIR: -- and risk --

RONSTADT: Been mistreated --

WEIR: -- she's one of a kind.

RONSTADT: When will I be loved.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the winner is Linda Ronstadt.

BONNIE RAITT, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Linda was the queen. She was like what Beyonce is now.

WEIR: But how many mega stars risk opera on Broadway?

How many rock stars manage a smash hit album of Mexican folk songs or can hold their own with country goddesses like Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton?

But for Linda Ronstadt those risks worked because they came from a heart, a heart full of childhood sing-alongs on the Mexican border.

RONSTADT: When I was growing up, I thought people sang in Spanish and spoke in English.

WEIR: She left Tucson for L.A. at 18. And it only took a couple of open mic nights at the Troubadour to launch a rocket ride. Yet, she managed to stay grounded.

RONSTADT: Rock and roll stars ended up isolating themselves more and more and more, you know, thereby you're increasing your alienation and anxiety, and they wonder why it is miserable.

WEIR: But at age 63, after a lifetime of multiplatinum harmony, that amazing voice went away.

RONSTADT: I just lost a lot of different colors in my voice. It turns out I had Parkinson's disease. I still sing in my mind but I can't do it physically.

EMMYLOU HARRIS, SINGER-SONGWRITER: I don't think she misses going on the road. I think she misses singing with her friends and singing in the living room with her family. There is just no one on the planet that ever had or ever will have a voice like Linda's.

WEIR: Thank goodness for the recordings.

Thank goodness for the range, risk, and reward of Linda Ronstadt.

Bill Weir, CNN, New York.


KEILAR: "LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE" premieres tomorrow New Year's Day at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, only on CNN.

I'm Brianna Keilar and a happy New Year to you.

A CNN special report, "All the Best, All the Worst 2019" starts right now.