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Berlin Police: Man Found Dead in Truck was Polish Citizen; New Details on Truck Used in Christmas Market Tragedy; Video Shows Assassination of Russia's Ambassador to Turkey; Trump Wins Electoral College Vote; First Lady on 8 Years in the White House; First Lady on Impact of Last Eight Years. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 21:00   ET


[21:00:00] FREDIRICK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: ... custody. They're not cot coming out passenger seat of the truck, a dead person found there, was a Polish citizen. So it's unclear whether or not that was a truck driver, whether the truck may have been hijacked along the way. We do know that Berlin police has one man in custody. They're not coming out yet and saying what nationality that person is or whether they're 100 percent sure that that person was, indeed, the man who was sitting at the wheel when all of this happened, so at this point, unclear whether all of this is terror-related, and also whether the man in custody is actually the person that plowed this truck into that very crowded Christmas market.

Of course, as you can imagine, still people here shocked, even so many hours after this happened. Of course, this really in many ways a unique and one of the worst terror incidents in recent times here in Germany, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. We still need to learn much more about the man in custody, but what we do know at this point was this was a Polish vehicle that had made its way to Berlin. And there's a dead Polish citizen inside that vehicle right now. We just heard from a journalist who spoke with the trucking company owner, who noted that it was carrying steel cargo, a very heavy cargo to Berlin, which no doubt, Fred, only made it deadlier as it plowed through that market.

PLEITGEN: Yeah, absolutely. And that's something that we're also hearing from the eye witnesses that we've been speaking to on the ground here as well. Is that the truck plowed into this Christmas market, doing about 40 miles an hour. So it was very fast, obviously, there was no one hitting the brakes in that truck. It just kept on going.

And you know, this Christmas market, it has a lot of stalls here that are made of really very light wood. So the truck just absolutely plowed through all of those. Took out a couple of these decorated Christmas trees, and of course, hit many people along the way. And some of the folks that we've been speaking to say that there were people who are trapped underneath the truck as it kept moving forward. Obviously, also, John, nowhere for these people to escape to because the pathways in between these stalls are very, very narrow, so you can't make it to either side when that truck was coming through.

And on top of this, of course, it all happened very, very fast. And that's one of the reasons also why the carnage has been so bad from this incident with now 12 people confirmed dead, and at least 48 people still being treated for various injuries, John.

BERMAN: At least 12 dead at this point, with so many injured, there are fears that that number could rise.

Frederick Pleitgen in Berlin thanks so much.

Now to someone who saw this all happen right before his eyes, his trained eyes, we might add, though obviously no amount of training really prepares anyone for this. Jan Hollitzer is Deputy Editor in Chief of the Berliner Morgenpost. We're grateful he could join us.

Jan, I understand you were on your way home from work tonight, you were passing the Christmas market, walk me through what happened next.

JAN HOLLITZER, WITNESSED ATTACK: Yeah, I heard some noise from the market and when I looked over, I saw some Christmas lights in the smaller Christmas booths. They're shaking and people screaming and later on, the truck came out of the market on the street again and, yeah. Immediately you have the pictures from Nice this year in your mind. That was the situation right there.

BERMAN: Is that what you thought of immediately? You believed this from the beginning not to be an accident?

HOLLITZER: No, no, not that. You know the pictures from Nice and it's almost there were a crowd of people and there were truck and it was the same situation, like this. And, yeah, so you think about it. But it was not exactly in the first moment that I thought about that it was an attack or an accident, you know?

BERMAN: Did the truck slow down at all? Did it drive the entire way through the market? How far away did the truck finally stop?

HOLLITZER: Fifty to 60 meters.

BERMAN: And what was the scene like right after the truck drove through? Those images, what you saw must have been horrifying.

HOLLITZER: Yeah, it was very horrifying. And I don't want to go in detail what I see about -- the people I saw on the ground and a lot of people take care of the injured people. And it was really unimaginable. And yeah, some scene -- you know ...

BERMAN: How long was it before emergency personnel got to the scene?

HOLLITZER: They came very fast. So, also, the policemen, first aid also in the container on the market, I guess it's on every Christmas market and there are also some policemen who protects some ordinary (inaudible) And the rescue team sends -- the police came very fast after this. Yeah. [21:05:15] BERMAN: There were reports that there were two people inside the truck, the driver along with somebody else. Were you able to see inside the truck at all?

HOLLITZER: Yeah. At first there were (inaudible) truck took on the Christmas market, so I moved through this strand booth and all the people were in line there and then I got on the back on the truck and then I went another way, outside, go on the streets, to come on the street and see the front of the truck and destroyed glass and destroyed front. And the door from the driver, the driver side door was open. And yeah, I only saw that one person was lying there inside the truck. I don't know the other person escaped. That's the information of the police, yeah.

BERMAN: And Jan, we understand that these Christmas markets are a big part of the holiday season in Berlin, in Germany. What are your thoughts tonight as this place that's supposed to be a place of joy seems to have been the target of an attack?

HOLLITZER: Yeah, there's several warnings at the beginning of the -- before the Christmas market started in Germany, there are several warnings that maybe an attack could take place on a Christmas market in Germany. So now it happened and it's terrifying. It happened like this. It's always incredible how people could do this.

BERMAN: Jan Hollitzer, we are glad that you are OK. Sorry you had to be in the middle of this all. Thanks so much for joining us.

HOLLITZER: Thank you.

BERMAN: Sadly, this is hardly the first time a vehicle has been used as a weapon, far from it. Tom Foreman has that.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Eighty six people dead, more than 400 injured. The attack in Nice, France, five months ago proved how deadly a big vehicle can be. In that case, it was a huge rented truck, traveling close to 60 miles an hour, plowing through holiday revelers.

GREG KRENTZMAN, NICE ATTACK SURVIVOR: I had a choice to either jump to my right or jump to my left, because the truck was swerving, so I had to make a decision which way to jump. I decided to jump to my left and thank God I did, because if I didn't, I would have been dead.

FOREMAN: Purposeful attacks using vehicles have happened plenty in recent years. At the University of North Carolina in 2006, a man rams his SUV into a crowd. Luckily, no one dies.

But in the Netherlands in 2009, a car slams into a parade and eight people are left dead. In Canada, in 2014 pair of soldiers are run down in a parking lot and one dies. That same year, in Israel, a driver veers off the road and steps on the gas to hit people waiting for a train, two were killed. And in France, a pair of incidents, one right after the other, leaves 20 people injured and one dead. In each case, questions of terrorism were raised and the prevalence of such attacks prompted Homeland Security to issue this warning during the holiday season half dozen years ago. "Vehicle ramming offers terrorists with limited access to explosives or weapons an opportunity to conduct an attack with minimal prior training." Among the warnings signs vehicles reinforced with homemade metal plates on the front and large trucks in heavily-trafficked pedestrian areas at unusual times, especially if they're driving erratically.

Still, just last month, it happened again, at Ohio State, a young man ran into a crowd with his car before he was shot by a police officer and became the only fatality that day.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is plenty of available evidence to indicate that this individual may have been motivated by extremism and may have been motivated by a desire to carry out an act of terrorism.


FOREMAN: The simplicity and effectiveness of these attacks are clearly why terrorist groups keep pushing them on the internet, knowing that all it takes is one radical to get one started, and yet it requires a whole lot more resources to detect such a plan, or stop it. John?

BERMAN: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

More perspective now. Paul Cruickshank back for the hour and we are joined as well by former senior CIA and FBI counterterrorism official, Phil Mudd, as well as retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

[21:10:05] You know, Paul, I should say, we have a number of developments just in the last few minutes. We learned that this truck originated in Poland that it had gone as far as Berlin to deliver whatever cargo it had, although it did not deliver that cargo. And we also know that there's a dead Polish citizen found inside the cab of this truck. What else are you learning from your sources tonight?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, that this is being investigated as an act of terrorism, though they haven't confirmed that's the case yet, I expect that we may have a determination by tomorrow. They're trying to put all the pieces together here, looking into whether this is a potential hijacking situation in which perhaps a Polish truck driver had his truck hijacked by some kind of terrorist actor who then managed to get the truck to Berlin and then drive it into a crowd.

But they're trying to put all those pieces together tonight. They're working furiously, as well, to try to understand if this threat is over or if there is still some threat. They're always worried about follow-on attacks, copy on attacks.

ISIS really have called for these kind of attacks over the past few months, especially after the Nice attack, where we saw 86 people being killed. So many similarities between this attack and the Nice attack, though in the Nice attack, that truck was able to travel a much larger distance and so you saw a much greater fatality rate. In this case, 30 or 40 meters, and a terrible loss of life, but not quite, we understand, on the scale of what we saw play out in Nice.

BERMAN: No, still horribly deadly, though. Phil Mudd, take us inside the German Intelligence operation right now. What is the very first thing they are trying to determine? What are they doing or trying to draw right now from this suspect or this man that they have in custody?

PHILIP MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: Well, many of these cases, obviously, you have a suicide bomber, so you don't have someone to question. In this case, you have an individual, hopefully he's talking. You're going to ask him two questions. Is there another plot out there and are there other plotters out there?

Meanwhile, if you have his identification, you're going to acquire data like his phone data, e-mail data, to see whether or not he's talking, whether that data can give you a picture of his inner circle. Then, shortly after, in the coming days, you start to ask broader questions. Did anybody provide him money? Was he radicalized someone?

But the first question isn't what happened. I wouldn't ask him anything about what happened in that square. My first question would be, did anybody tell you to do this? And is anybody out there tonight planning to do something that you're aware of? Imminent threats are questions, John.

BERMAN: Keeping the next thing from happening first and foremost. General Hertling, you know, we should note, you were stationed in Germany for a number of years so I am sure this attack is close to your heart.

We should also note that there has been a State Department warning over the last several weeks to Americans traveling Europe to exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets, citing credible information indicating a possible attack. I mean, in many ways, these types of Christmas market is exactly what they're talking about. It's exactly the kind of soft target that is so vulnerable.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): It is exactly what generated the warning, John. And when you talk about Christmas markets, as the Germans call them [Foreign language] Christkindlmarkt, Christian market places during the holidays, it is a social gathering. This is a traumatic event. And every large city down to every small burgh has one of these things. They're normally centered around the church.

So when you talk about a traveler alert from the State Department saying be careful of these things, you can't go anywhere in Europe, not just Germany, but France as well, where they're not having a Christmas market.

It is a population draw. It is where the locals go to socialize and buy a few presents. It happens every single night the 20 days before Christmas. So this is the place to be. Usually they're very safe. It's a societal thing. So this truck incident will be a traumatic event, not only in Germany, but in the rest of Europe where these things take place.

BERMAN: You know, Paul, the General was saying that you can't go to a country without a Christmas market. You also -- and, you know, it's hard to find at this point a nation in Europe that hasn't been the target of a terrorist attack just in the last year, city after city now being targeted.

CRUICKSHANK: That's right. And this is the new normal of more than a hundred people being killed in terrorist attacks in Europe every year. How sustainable is that going to be in terms of breakdown in social cohesion in Europe, real fears about that. But as far as Germany was concerned, the system really was blinking red.

German officials were speaking of an unprecedented terrorist threat against their country. The intelligence pointing towards ISIS ramping up their terrorist attack planning against Germany, directing operatives who they trained and sending them back to Germany. But also trying to instigate attacks over social media, over encrypted communication apps, where they essentially walk these people every step of the way in terms of launching attacks in Germany.

[21:15:12] In the last several months, we've had five terrorist plots and attacks connected to ISIS or where people were in communication with ISIS, every month, there seems to be a new plot. So this was in the way, inevitable.

BERMAN: You know, Phil, I asked you to take me inside German Intelligence a little while ago, now take me inside U.S. Intelligence. Because I have to believe that our security forces and intelligence services are watching this very closely. What's the U.S. interest?

MUDD: Couple of things. First, you have to look at proving a negative, which is difficult. In this case, if someone hijacked a truck for this kind of operation, my knee-jerk reaction is, this is pretty primitive. The likelihood that there's a circle around him is small. You cannot assume that in U.S. Intelligence services.

So information sharing means that U.S. and other authorities are asking Germans for information about the individual who was driving to say, what's his name, what's his e-mail address, et cetera, to try to prove the negative, that is -- that he never had contact with anybody in the United States.

And then there's the broader question. Did we learn anything about tactics? This kind of tactics that are transmitted through ISIS and formally al-Qaeda publications that will help us secure things in America. And I think the question there is going to be very difficult to secure something if the target is a broad public place and the weapon is a truck, there's not much you can do, John.

BERMAN: No, and there's no sort of as a new target. Gentlemen, thanks so much. I really appreciate it. And I'm sorry it had to be under these circumstances. Next, the political repercussions, including Donald Trump's reaction to the attacks in Berlin and elsewhere, including the capital of Turkey, where Russia's ambassador was assassinated, gunned down by a killer shouting "Allahu Akbar."


[21:20:15] BERMAN: President-elect Donald Trump weighed in this evening on the awful events today, all of them. "Today, there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland, and Germany" he tweeted, "and it's only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking." He's referring to Zurich in Switzerland and the shootings at a local mosque there.

This is, as you might recall, far from the only time he has used Twitter to react to incidents like this, either abroad or at home. After the Orlando nightclub shooting, he tweeted, "Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don't want congrats, I want toughness and vigilance. We must be smart." After the Bataclan massacre, he wrote, "They laughed at me when I said to bomb the ISIS controlled oil fields. Now they are not laughing and doing what I said."

After San Bernardino, "I beat Hillary in the new Fox News Poll head to head. She has no strength or stamina, both of which are needed to make America great again." And after Brussels, "My heart and prayers go out to all of the victims of the terrible Brussels tragedy. This madness must be stopped and I will stop it." The suggestion in those tweets that things will change when he takes office.

Here to explore that aspect of this latest apparent act of terror, Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, "New York Times" political correspondent Patrick Healy, and "The Daily Caller's" Matt Lewis.

Jeffrey Lord, thank you so much for being with us, all of you, thank you for being with us under this awful circumstances and this awful attacks.

The question is, what will be different during a Trump administration? Because these attacks that we saw today, both in Berlin and Ankara, the murder, the assassination of the Russian ambassador, they weren't attacks directly on the United States, so how do you see Donald Trump's policy changing this?

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, I think he's going to be very tough. And one of the things that I think it's important to bear in mind, and you knew I'd reached to Ronald Reagan. A seemingly unrelated event in his efforts to end the cold war is firing the air traffic controllers. And what was so unusual about this was that the Soviet Union, which we didn't realize at the time, sat up and took notice.

He said "I will fire you if you do this." They struck, he fired them and they thought, we're dealing with somebody who means what he says. I think Donald Trump will have opportunities sadly here to react, to do things and send the message that don't fool around here. We're -- you know, peace through strength and by God, I mean it here.

BERMAN: Any president, it seems, in these times will have ample opportunity to react to terror attacks that happen all around the world.

LORD: Right.

BERMAN: Matt Lewis, it strikes me that Russia was the target of an attack today, in Ankara, the Russian ambassador was killed there. Obviously, Donald Trump wants to reach out to Russia. You know, Russia is seen, you know, Vladimir Putin, no shrinking violet, a strong man yet Russia is still the target of a terror attack, so obviously being strong isn't the only way to prevent terror.

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, THE DAILY CALLER: No. I think that's right. And in fact you could argue that in this case, it's a backlash against Russia's involvements. But having -- so I think the point is well taken that you can never stamp out all terrorism and that some -- in some cases, strength actually will create some problems. Overall, though, I actually think Jeffrey is exactly right.

And I think that we have a problem right now, which is the opposite of Ronald Reagan firing the air traffic controllers, and that's Barack Obama drawing a red line, and then seeing that red line trampled. And I think it sent a message to Vladimir Putin, as well as to radical Islamists, who in some cases are on other sides of a battle but they're both adversaries of ours. It sent a message to them that America could be pushed around. And I think with Donald Trump, that might change.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, and I won't argue U.S. policy in Syria, which is certainly open to a whole lot of criticism, including the red line there. But this attack, the one in Ankara, was the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, I don't think it had to do with the red line that Obama, you know, the blurry red line, and also I don't think the attack on Germany, necessarily. And again, we don't know who carried this out. It doesn't look like it had anything to do with that specifically.

Patrick Healy, you know, it is striking, you know, Donald Trump and now he is the president-elect. You know, today the tone of his statements different, right? I mean, there's no campaign issue here, so there's no bragging, there's no way to make a political point here. All he essentially tried to say is, we need to think differently about terror going forward.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And we've seen him use Twitter in different ways. Sometimes he's created distractions from the issues that he doesn't want to talk about by going hard at something on Twitter. Then, also, he uses social media sometimes to draw sort of contrast to President Obama to the current administration's policy. I think what he's trying to do, you know, to somebody (inaudible) focus is look like a commander in chief. We haven't seen very much of that yet. He's still president-elect.

But also sort of identify that these are global hot spots that have become battlegrounds because of either U.S. policy in Syrian, Russian, policy in Syria, Turkey has become a place that has become less stable. That's a major issue for all of Europe. It's such a gateway into Europe.

[21:25:12] And I think what he's trying to do is look for moments where he comes across certainly as sort of in control of someone who would be commander in chief on a world stage, but also be identifying the places in the world where he wants to bring policy change.

BERMAN: Right. Maria Cardona, again, today, the statements that he issued on these attacks, they were not about him, right? And that's the difference ...


BERMAN: ... from the campaign.


BERMAN: But there are already liberal critics to his statements today who note, well, he immediately said, these were acts of Islamic terror. He immediately said, these were carried out, in the issue of Berlin, you know, attacks on Christians there. And there are people who say, well, we don't know all the facts that's he's getting out in front of the facts. On the other hand, based on the patterns we've seen before, you know, his statements would fall into the fact pattern that we've seen in past incidents like this and people could applaud him for his frankness here.

CARDONA: They -- and it may very well end up being what he said. But the problem is, all of those other tweets and statements where he sort of jumped the gun, he was in a campaign. Campaign is very different than actually governing as the commander in chief and leader of the free world. And this is a difference, I think, that Donald Trump doesn't quite understand yet, but maybe is transitioning into understanding that.

To your point, I did notice the big change in his tweets. They were not all about him. They were about these terror acts and the fact that the civilized world does have to change. I don't think anybody can disagree with that. But I think where we are still looking to see the big question mark is, he talked so tough during the campaign, you know, saying, I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do that, and I'm going to bomb ISIS, and talked about the oil fields, you brought up that tweet. But that wasn't reality, because he wasn't governing back then. He now, you know, January 20th, he's going to wake up in the White House and he is going to have to govern. What is he going to do differently than what President Barack Obama has done?

BERMAN: Well, we'll see in just a matter of weeks. And obviously, these are very complicated issues.

CARDONA: And I hope he's taking his briefings now, because we clearly see things changing on a minute-by-minute basis.

BERMAN: We had our three week (ph), that was the latest where we got on that. Guys thanks so much for being with us. Really appreciate it.

LORD: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Up next, for us, the latest on today's other attack. You've heard us talking about it. The assassination that took place with a camera rolling, it is now really reverberating across the global stage.


[21:30:50] BERMAN: All right, we just received late word from Ankara in Turkey. Turkish police arrested a man who fired into the air with a shotgun outside the U.S. Embassy there. That is according to Turkey's state news agency.

The man pulled the weapon from his jacket and fired into the air, we're told, eight or nine times. Video fed by Turkish video news agency IHA showed a handcuffed man being led by security officers into an unmarked police car as he shouted, "I swear to God, don't play with us," he shouted that in Turkish.

The U.S. Embassy is in the same neighborhood as the Russian Embassy and the art gallery where the Russian ambassador was assassinated on Monday. He was shot and killed while speaking at an art gallery there. The gunman, the police officer shouted, "God is greatest and don't forget Aleppo." It was all caught on camera and the video is, frankly, very difficult to watch. So turn away now if you need to.

This is the moment when the gunman opened fire.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: [Foreign Language].


BERMAN: All right, joining us now from Ankara, CNN correspondent, Muhammad Lila.

Muhammad, first of all, it's been a very long day from you. You began the day on the Turkish-Syria border and then you rushed to Ankara, the site of this attack. What are you learning?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, first of all, it's interesting that you mentioned those locations because it seems now that this is all connected, and that chilling, chilling video. I mean, and the bravery of the photographers who shot that footage, risking their lives to do it. It's simply incredible.

We do know that this is a 22 year old Turkish national. He was born and raised on the coastal areas of Turkey. He was a police officer, specifically assigned to the riot squad.

And John, when you watch that footage, that chilling footage, you can see that this gunman clearly knows how to use a firearm. That first shot he takes hits the Russian ambassador straight in the back, a direct hit and the ambassador crumples to the ground. And we now know why he knew how to use a firearm because of that police training.

Now late in the evening here, we got word that Russia plans to send its own investigators here to Turkey, not to conduct their own investigation, but they say to conduct a joint investigation with Turkish investigators. And that's important because there was a talk earlier about how this attack might drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia. But it seems as though that is not the case.

The messaging coming out of both Moscow and Ankara today is that they are now on the same side, fighting the same terrorists, because both have been affected by this terrorist attack, very significantly.

BERMAN: All right, Muhammad Lila, I think I misplaced you. I think you were still on the Syria-Turkish border. Nevertheless, it has been a very long day for you as horrifying events take place in that country.

Thank you so much, Muhammad.

Joining me now is CNN contributor, Michael Weiss, the senior editor for "The Daily Beast" and co-author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror".

Michael, first of all, let me start with the news that we led this segment with, the idea that there was someone arrested outside the U.S. Embassy firing shots into the air. Now we don't have any real information beyond this, other than that the man was shouting and shooting.

Is it the type of thing where officials are on higher alert, when we see copy cat cases, when he we see follow up attempts at terror, typically, like this?

MICHAEL WEISS, CO-AUTHOR, "ISIS: INSIDE THE ARMY OF TERROR": Yeah, and also, the fall of Aleppo. Remember, this is something the CIA and the joint chiefs have said. It's not just a humanitarian catastrophe for the Syrian people, but it's also a severe counterterrorism threat to the United States. Why?

If you look at what's taking place in Aleppo, this is not the Assad regime that sacked the city. This is Iranian built militias backed by Russian air power and according to the "Wall Street Journal", Russian Special Forces on the ground. This is going to be a rallying cry for Sunni Jihad for generations to come, this battle.

I've covered the Syrian conflict for five years, right? The stuff I'm seeing on social media from people who I consider to be friends, in some cases, cheering the assassination of the Russian ambassador, because they see him as a war criminal, as his own form of state terrorist. This is harrowing stuff.

[21:35:07] We are headed into one of the most perilous sectarian meltdowns that this region has ever seen. And I think that the United States, frankly, has played this very poorly, and not anticipating events like this. Now, the gunman outside the U.S. Embassy shouting "Don't mess with us." The assassin of the Russian ambassador saying, "Remember Aleppo, remember Aleppo, you know. As long as you do this to us, we're going to deliver this unto you."

This is only the beginning, John. We are going to see attacks like this all throughout the world. I, frankly, you know, I've said before that with the rise of ISIS and the catastrophe in Syria, a catastrophe that is not containable, that has spread into the European content, spread into North America and the United States, affected electorates, Democratic electorates in choosing politicians, who are going to lead their country.

This is a more dangerous time than we saw immediately before, immediately after 9/11.

BERMAN: How does that jive with what you will occasionally hear from U.S. officials that the territory that ISIS controls is shrinking ...

WEISS: It is.

BERMAN: ... in jeopardy in Raqqah? Mosul could be on the brink of falling right now. The caliphate, as it were, is shrinking in size.

WEISS: I wouldn't say it's on the brink of falling. The operation to liberate Mosul has ground to a halt.

BERMAN: Nevertheless.

WEISS: Sure. That they will lose in Mosul eventually. But if there's some very ominous statistics coming out of Iraq. The vanguard fighting force that's trying to retake Mosul from ISIS is known as the Golden Division. This is Iraq's most elite counterterrorism strike force.

They've suffered 50 percent casualties in the three months since this operation has been underway. If this rate continues, they will be combat ineffective within a month. Raqqah is nowhere near being retaken.

As long as ISIS controls these two population centers, these are two provincial capitals, they still have a lot of territory. But just even beyond all of that, what I'm seeing now, the transformation of this organization from a Sunni Arab led Jihadist insurgency and a state building enterprise, it's turning now into a European Jihad.

And the evidence for this is as follows. The guys who lead ISIS's foreign operations, the head of their (inaudible), which is essentially their CIA, Abu Suleyman al-Faransi, he comes from France.

Born in Morroco but was raised in a town called Lyon (ph), France. He served in the French Foreign Legion and fought in Afghanistan with distinction, was recipient of a NATO medal. OK. His deputy comes from Belgium, was imprisoned in Iraq for almost 10 years, got out of Iraq, went back to Belgium, spent a couple months and headed straight for Syria. This is a Frenchman and a Belgian who is leading ISIS's foreign operations.

This is a sign of things to come. The caliphate is leaning on. Western Jihad is committing terrorism attacks inside the West.

BERMAN: Yeah, beyond the territory when he gets on it, we should note that we do not have any claim of responsibility by ISIS for the attack inside Turkey. We do not know if ISIS was behind it. And there's no shortage of people necessarily associated with the battles inside Syria who may have a motivation to carry it out.

But your point is well taken, Michael Weiss. Thank you very much

Coming up from us, a welcome retreat into politics. How often can you say that?

The Electoral College officially chooses Donald Trump to be president.

I'm going to speak to an electorate from Michigan, that's next.


[21:41:53] BERMAN: Another step closer to the White House today for Donald Trump, after the Electoral College selecting him as the winner of the presidential election. It was Texas that put him over the magic number of 270. Now, there had been this long-shot push by Trump critics to get electors to go rogue. That really didn't materialize in any significant way.

Joining me now is an elector from the state of Michigan, Jim Rhoades. Jim, thanks so much for being with us. You say you received thousands of e-mails and probably hundreds of phone calls.

JIM RHOADES, REPUBLICAN MICHIGAN ELECTOR: I received over -- probably over 90,000 e-mails. It kind of disrupted my business. You know, I'm a small business owner and, you know, no one -- no threats, just rude people saying that, you know, Trump is not experienced, doesn't know what he's doing, he's not a politician. Well, you know, what did Barack Obama do before he got elected? You know, at least you got a guy who is creating jobs and giving people work and who understands the economics of this country and the world.

BERMAN: So, Jim, I don't know if you've ever been an elector before, but did you anticipate this kind of reaction when you signed up to run?

RHOADES: No. There hasn't been a Republican elector since Reagan in Michigan. So this was a first. But with all these people, you know, they had people protesting and they really don't understand the system. In Michigan, number one, I'm obligated to vote for the person that wins the vote, the popular vote in Michigan, and that was Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence. So I, by law, have to vote that way.

Now, I supported Trump. I originally was with Carson, and when Carson bowed out, I was with Trump and I've been with him 100 percent all the way. I like what he has to say. I like what he's doing. So, I was convinced, but technically, I have to still vote for him because he was the winner in our state. And these people that were protesting outside the capital have no comprehension.

BERMAN: Some 28 states have those laws against so-called faithless electors. You said you received 90,000 e-mails. That's even more than we get here at CNN.

RHOADES: Well...

BERMAN: What do they say? Like, what does the average e-mail say?

RHOADES: Basically, they say that I should be looking to not vote for Trump because of Russian intervention and, you know, Facebook postings and, hey, the problem there with Hillary Clinton is she had no message. And she has very bad character. And, I mean, from my perspective, I go back to the late '60s, early '70s when he was affiliated with Saul Alinsky, the communist who wrote the book, "Rules for Radicals."

BERMAN: Jim, let me ask you this because I don't think there's any question the tradition states in the United States over the last 200 years, that the people who win the election the way to Donald Trump won, you know, that electors don't go faithless by and large. But I'm curious...

RHOADES: Right, right.

BERMAN: As an elector yourself right now, what's your reading of the constitution and the 12th amendment, where, you know, it's written how the Electoral College works. Because as written, and if you read what Alexander Hamilton wrote at the same time, you know, it does seem that he intended the Electoral College, you know, the people who are members of it, to vote how they wanted.

[21:45:03] RHOADES: Well, it was meant to have a little more flexibility, but through the years, it's been clarified. I think that I just read the -- several books on this stuff and I think that those -- the founding fathers were geniuses and most people can't comprehend how much it took to make sure that small states and large states had the same say in the election. I mean, you know, these people who are out there and the people that are writing to me and e-mailing me and calling me on my phone, I don't know how they get my phone number, but, you know, they're saying that she, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote. And the way I look at it is, in a democracy...

BERMAN: Right.

RHOADES: ... you got 100,000 wolves and 999,999 sheep determining who's going to be lunch. You know who that is. So one more than half should not rule and it's not intended in the constitutionally limited republic.

BERMAN: Jim Rhoades, thank you for being with us. You know, on behalf of your e-mail box, I'm glad you're going to have some peace and quiet in the coming weeks. Coming up...

RHOADES: Well, I got home from the thing here tonight and I had a whole thing full of letters, too. BERMAN: That's what delete, delete, delete is all for. All right, Jim, thanks so much.

Coming up for us, first lady Michelle Obama reflects on her past eight years in the White House and whether she would ever consider running for office. Her answer to Oprah Winfrey, that's next.


BERMAN: First lady Michelle Obama says the presidential election was challenging for her to watch and painful just as a citizen for her.

[21:50:01] She sat down for an interviewee with Oprah Winfrey for an interviewee there just tonight. And the first lady reflected on the past eight years and what's to come next.


OPRAH WINFREY, THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW HOST: So, what do you think your greatest impact as first lady has been?

OBAMA: Greatest impact, that's hard to say. That's one of those sort of I'm really good, and let me tell you how.

You know, I -- probably the greatest is just one of the greatest things when I see young women, particularly African-American women but young women generally seeing somebody educated, strong, outspoken, just seeing that on a regular basis.

WINFREY: That's exactly what I said on the way here in the car.

OBAMA: What did you say?

WINFREY: I said, you're just being here, being who you are, being yourself, and allowing the rest of us to see that made us feel that whatever it is you were, we couldn't be that, we couldn't be in the White House, but we wanted a little bit of that for ourselves.


WINFREY: The people seriously think that you are going to run for office.

OBAMA: I don't -- I think some people think it seriously and some people are just, you know ...

WINFREY: Hopeful.

OBAMA: They're just hopeful and that's good. Hope is good. But, yeah, it just -- that reaction ...

WINFREY: Would you ever run for office? I have to ask you.

OBAMA: No, no.

WINFREY: No kind of office. OBAMA: No, I -- look, that's one thing I don't do. I don't make stuff up, I'm not coy. I haven't proven that, I'm pretty direct.


OBAMA: If I were interested in it, I'd say it. I don't believe in playing games, you know. It's not something I would do. But it also speaks to the fact that people don't really understand how hard this is. And it's not something that you cavalierly just sort of ask a family to do again.


BERMAN: Back again now with CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona and journalist Kati Marton, author of "Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History".

Guys, we just heard that sound for the first time and I have to say, that was Shermanesque. If you're going to say you're not going to run for office, that is how you do it. Not this I have no intention of it, I have no plans to run for office. You said no. No, I'm not going to do it.


BERMAN: And she does mean it.

MARTON: Yes, she really does. It would be the end of her carefully constructed and winning image, and this new territory that she's carving out for herself as a moral voice, a nonpartisan moral voice for the country.

BERMAN: But let's talk about new territory because you get the sense that her life starting January 20th at 12:01 or whenever the time, you know, is actually going to be a lot different than she may have been planning for.

MARTON: Absolutely. Well, it's a different world. And she, I think, was planning on a genuinely private and quiet retirement. And the last six months have changed her trajectory and our nation's. And I think now she cannot retreat, she's found our voice. She sees what a necessary voice it is that people indeed are looking for hope and she provides that, she's a role model. She's not only to African-American women, but first of all them, but I think now to all women, I would say even my son now considers her a great role model for parenting, for marriage because the Obama's marriage has been exemplary, there hasn't been a hint of a rumor of scandal or corruption or any of that. Eight years of absolute good behavior in the White House, which by the way, since I write about White House history, is nearly unprecedented.

BERMAN: Maria, what do you think she's going to do?

CARDONA: I think that is the question that we're all waiting to hear. But I have to assume, and I sense that whatever she does it's going to continue her legacy in strengthening and empowering women and girls. She started the office of women and girls in the White House. And I think everything that we've talked about is really toward being the role model for young women these days. She just mentioned it in the clip that you ran. And sure, for African-Americans, for all women of color, but for girls in this country who always go through such a difficult time, no matter what their background is, especially in the age of social media, right?


CARDON: Women and girls go through such difficult times when they are trying to find their voice. Here is somebody who found her voice, and perhaps the most difficult forum that there is, and she lived it authentically.

BERMAN: Let me -- I think we have time for when the first lady is talking about raising her daughters inside the White House. Let's listen.


OBAMA: Now, the teenaged years, this is the time when, you know, kids start to bristle against all kinds of authority.

WINFREY: Exactly.

OBAMA: Imagine being 18, 17, 16, 15, and you've got at least eight men with guns driving you around, walking into your parties, not letting you ride in your friends' cars. I mean, there were those tensions for sure that we had to sort of work through. But as I reminded my girls it's like these aren't problems, OK?

[21:55:07] WINFREY: Or at least there are some very high class problems.

OBAMA: These are very high class problems.

WINFREY: I have too much security.

OBAMA: So me and -- Barack and I because of where we come from, we just couldn't sympathize with their -- it's like, girl, you live in the White House.


BEMRAN: I have to admit I was disappointed when the daughters didn't show up to their final turkey pardoning this year. I though it was the night that they showed up. But at the same time, Kati, you know, these are, you know, are young women. At a certain point ...

MARTON: Yes, yes. And by the way, the White House is not a good place to raise kids and the Obamas, I have to say this, they have done an extraordinary job of protecting and nurturing and enabling these magnificent young women to become who they are. Normally, presidential couples tend to be entirely focused on the presidency, and they make poor parents historically.

So, again, in the -- we were talking about Michelle, the role model, I mean, this is -- she has shown us not only what a modern marriage looks like, because she and her husband clearly have an extremely close -- and I would say even romantic relationship, but modern parenting.

BERMAN: Sure and I hope -- let's hope that going-forward, you know, presidential parents are accorded the space they need to raise their children.


BERMAN: Guys, thanks so much for being with us.

CARDONA: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: It's been really fun. We'll be right back.


[22:00:07] BERMAN: That does it for us. CNN TONIGHT with Don Lemon starts now.