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Suspect In Berlin Market Attack May Be At Large; Turkish Media: Assassin Had Al Qaeda Books At Home; Six Detained In Diplomat Assassination Investigation; Pardons, Gitmo, Drilling Ban: Obama's Final Rush; Trump Hits Back At Bill Clinton: "He Doesn't Know Much" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:04] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now, those being questioned includes the shooter's family and his roommate. Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, is vowing revenge.

But we are going to begin this morning in Berlin where German police are in high alert and working under the assumption that the perpetrator behind yesterday's deadly attack on a Christmas market is armed and still at large. To be clear, officials say the man they have in custody might not be the man who drove the truck.

This attack happened at 8:00 p.m. Berlin time. A tractor trailer plowed through a crowd of holiday shoppers dragging some people 50 to 80 feet, leaving 11 people dead, nearly 50 other injured. There was a man found dead in the passenger seat of the truck.

An asylum seeker from Afghanistan and the Pakistan region, he was detained yesterday about a mile from the scene, but police now say it is unlikely that he was the driver.

CNN Frederik Pleitgen is in Berlin right now with these new developments. Fred, what are you hearing?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, one of the reasons why the police are saying they believe they might have the wrong person in custody is that they obviously questioned this man from Pakistan. He continuously denied any sort of involvement in all of this. It seemed as though potentially some alibis may have checked out.

One of the things that the police say is so alarming about this is that they believe that if this is not the person who was at the wheel of the truck as it plowed through this Christmas market, that that person who's still at large then would then potentially be armed.

The reason for that is a second body was found in the cab of that truck on the passenger seat with gunshot wounds. But there was never a gun recovered here at the scene of the crime or where that Pakistani person was taken into custody.

So the police say, look, if there's still someone out there, if we haven't gotten the suspect in custody yet, as you say, they believe they don't, then the person at large potentially is armed and is obviously very dangerous as well. After they've seen the -- what happened after this attack here on this Christmas market.

Of course, as you mentioned, it happened at 8:00 p.m. when the truck plowed through here at about 40 miles an hour. Making no effort to hit the brakes. Hitting a lot of the market stalls of the kind you see behind me, and of course, also hitting a lot of people as well.

Some descriptions from eyewitnesses are absolutely harrowing of people being trapped underneath the truck as it continued to move. Of course, we know the death toll of course also one that is very alarming, 12 people at least killed and almost 50 people, some of them with very severe injuries -- John.

BERMAN: Fred, while I have you here, I just want to make clear to our American audience the role these Christmas markets play in German culture. These are places that people go, everyone goes, in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It's part of the celebration with your family and loved ones.

PLEITGEN: Yes, it certainly is part of the celebrations, an important part of German Christmas culture, if you will. The Christmas market we're in now is one of the largest ones in the western parts of Berlin so many people go here.

On top of that, of course, you have to keep in mind this attack happened at 8 p.m. that's usually around the time people will have gotten off work, will have done some Christmas shopping. This is also a very large shopping area as well.

A lot of them will have met their friends here at the Christmas market. A lot children will also have been here as well. So certainly from that vantage point, this was of course a soft target but also one of course that was packed with people.

One of the things eyewitnesses have described is how impossible it was for the people crammed into this area to try and escape because the alleyways, the pathways are very narrow and of course that truck was moving very, very quickly. For the people that were stuck here, it was almost impossible to try and get out of its path as it plowed through here -- John.

BERMAN: It seemed to be an attack designed to kill as many people as possible in a place to inflict the greatest symbolic harm. Frederik Pleitgen for us in Berlin. Fred, thanks so much for your reporting.

So Jan Hollitzer was on his way home from work when he witnessed this attack. I had a chance to speak with him.


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

JAN HOLLITZER, WITNESSED ATTACK (via telephone): Yes, it was very horrifying and I don't want to go into detail what I see. The people I saw on the ground and other people who take care of the injured people. It was really unimaginable. Yes, you know. BERMAN: How long was it before emergency personnel got to the scene?

HOLLITZER: They came very fast. Also policemen gave first aid also in a container on the market.

[11:05:04]I guess it's on every Christmas market and there's also some policemen who protect (inaudible) -- and the rescue teams, and the police came very fast.

BERMAN: Were you able to see inside the truck at all?

HOLLITZER: Yes, at first, the truck came through the Christmas market, so it moved through this destroyed booth and people lying there and then go on the back of the truck and then I went another way, outside, to go on street, to come on street and see the front of the truck and there's destroyed glass and destroyed front and the driver door side was open and -- I only saw one person was lying there inside the truck. I don't know the other person escaped, was the information of the police, yes.


BERMAN: All right, that was Jan Hollitzer explaining to me what he saw as he walked passed that Christmas market. Joining me now, Paul Cruickshank, CNN terrorism analyst, editor-in-chief of the "CTC Sentinel." Paul, The news this morning is that this man that the German officials have in custody, this man they believe either to be from Pakistan or Afghanistan, at this point, they're not sure, he may not be the man driving that truck. That is a major development.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, not only are they not sure, John, but they think it's probably not the attacker that they have in custody. I was told that by two German intelligence officials. So they're really back to square one in terms of this investigation.

They're also worried that there may well be a perpetrator at large armed and dangerous, somebody who has already killed all these people and also has a gun with which they would have killed this Polish driver inside the truck.

So it may well be a scenario right now of a manhunt, a race against time to arrest this individual before they can strike. Again, they've shown plenty of capacity to kill people in Germany.

The problem is, it's not clear the Germans have any good leads at the moment. That's why they're asking the public to send in any video they have from the area of people who were there so perhaps they can catch sight of whoever it was on that tape.

BERMAN: To be clear, the reason this is a major development is all night overnight, we were covering this, there were details that they believe the driver may have been a refugee from Pakistan and Afghanistan. That's all now out the window. They do not believe that to be the case. They have no idea who drove this truck and at this point, there's this huge manhunt under way. CRUICKSHANK: Well, it's important to say they haven't completely ruled it out, that they might have got the right guy. They're just heading in the other direction at the moment in time of the investigation. Yes, all this information about this being a Pakistani refugee coming into Germany late last year, all of that open to severe question right now.

Look, I mean, all we really have going for us here in terms of understanding the possible motivation is this is a very similar M.O. to these ISIS-inspired attacks that we've seen in the United States a few weeks ago at Ohio state but also in Nice last summer, and they've been calling for these kinds attacks.

But it's certainly possible at this hour that there is a different ideology, a different motivation going on here completely to Islamist terrorism and we should not rule this out. It seems they're back to square one in terms of this investigation.

It comes at a time when the Germans and all their European counterparts are on high alert there could be other copycat attacks in Germany, elsewhere in Europe. Notably deafening silence from ISIS.

If somehow this person had been in touch with them, surely they would have put something out by now. But it's quite possible if this guy's still at large, he could be downloading a tape right now on the internet.

BERMAN: All right, Paul, standby. I want to bring Peter Neuman. He is in the director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence. Peter, it's interesting, we do not know who carried out this attack at this point.

There are more questions than answers this morning as German authorities tell us they're leaning against the notion that the man they have in custody did it. But it does have the hallmarks of the type of attack that ISIS has called for over the last year. It is eerily similar to what we saw in Nice on Bastille Day.

[11:10:00]PETER NEUMANN, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF RADICALIZATION AND POLITICAL VIOLENCE: Absolutely. Definitely, if you look at everything that has happened, the type of attack, also the fact that ISIS has attacked Christmas markets in late 2014 in France with cars, that in Nice we had a truck driving over a number of people.

It all seems to fit together also with ISIS strategy, which is to encourage precisely this kind of attack. Only last month, we had the ISIS online magazine providing prescriptions for exactly this kind of attack.

So on the basis of that, you would say this makes sense. On the other hand, of course, we do not have an ISIS claim and we do not have an attacker. So this is still a very open investigation and we still do not know who did it.

BERMAN: So Peter, along those lines, I hear music behind you. It sounds like there are people out on the street and celebrations going on. What's the atmosphere like in Berlin with the very possibility that there is a masked murderer on the loose right now?

NEUMANN: I don't think people are necessarily aware of that. Around the attack site here, you have on the one hand an eerie silence. I know that very well because I studied in this city, I grew up in Germany. Normally this is a very busy place in Berlin. It is almost entirely empty.

You have peace concerts. You have people laying down wreaths. You have people writing cards and people speaking silent prayers. This is completely unprecedented. I don't think a lot of people are aware there's an attacker on the loose potentially and people are not necessarily thinking about this right now.

BERMAN: All right, Peter Neuman in Berlin, right near the site of attack, thanks for being with us. Paul Cruickshank, thank you as well.

New this morning, police detaining at least six people in connection with the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey. Hear how they are linked to the gunman.

Plus, just hours after the shooting, shots fired outside the U.S. Embassy there. We have new details on who was behind that.

Plus, President Obama with a flurry of new actions in the final days of his presidency and these are moves that will not please his successor, Donald Trump.



BERMAN: All right, breaking this morning, six people are being held for questioning in connection with the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey. Those arrested include the killer's parents and other family members as well as his roommate. This horrific attack was captured on video. We do want to warn you, it is very graphic.


BERMAN: All right, that gunman who you see there is shouting, do not forget Aleppo and God is great as he opened fire on Ambassador Andrey Karlov. That's what he shouted afterwards. He had been speaking at an art gallery in Ankara, the Turkish capital. The shooter was a 22- year-old police officer. He was killed on the scene.

Russian special agents have arrived in Turkey now to help with the investigation. We want to bring in CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson is in Ankara, Turkey, and CNN senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward in Moscow for that angle.

Nic, first to you on the ground there. What's the latest on the investigation? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, we saw just a few hours ago the Russian investigators go into the area of the art exhibit. They had sort of white forensic lab coats, if you will. They had blue plastic bags on their shoes as if they were going into the crime scene.

They didn't appear to spend too long at this location. But what we do, both President Putin and President Erdogan have said is they want to get to who was behind this man, who was supporting this young policeman, were there any others involved.

It's sort of common practice here in Turkey that the parents, close family members, roommate, would be detained. It doesn't necessarily mean that they're implicated, but this is often the place that Turkish officials would start.

However, there have been scant details. The Interior Ministry here reporting there was some al Qaeda books found in his apartment. That there were also what they call "Ghoulenist" type books in his apartment.

Remembering that the "Ghoulenists" are who the government blames here for that coup in the summer in July and we've seen the government here round up tens of thousands of people, put them in jail, throw them out of jobs, et cetera, accusing them of being behind this coup. It's a common slur that the government uses.

So at the moment, we don't have publicly made evidence to support that. So for Russian investigators, very likely one of the things they would like to know, and we've heard hints of this from the kremlin spokesman today, is how that gunman was in the room standing behind the Russian ambassador alone with a weapon for so long, being unchallenged -- John.

BERMAN: Diplomatic security very much in question right now. Clarissa Ward in Moscow, let's go to you. We heard from Vladimir Putin overnight. What are Russian officials saying about this today?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, officially, I think the reaction has been very much in calling in unison with the reaction of the Turkish president. Both leaders are saying essentially this was a provocation that was aimed at derailing the Russian/Turkish relationship. That has been a troubled relationship in the past.

It was just about -- just over a year ago that Turkish military shot down a Russian fighter jet that they claimed had erred into Turkish airspace. But since then, there has been a significant warming of that relationship and particularly in the last six months since the failed coup attempt against President Erdogan.

So officially the party line here is absolutely stern. This was an act of terror. This must be investigated. As you said before, John, a team of Russian investigators is now on the ground in Ankara. They're working closely with Turkish investigators. We also know that the body of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador who was assassinated in such a brutal fashion, is now on the way back to Moscow. The mood here is definitely somber. People are lighting candles and paying their respects.

But there is a definite sense that nobody wants to see this escalate, that nobody wants to see the relationship between Turkey and Russia really suffer as a result of this and there has been a large summit here in Moscow today between the Turkish foreign minister, the Iranian foreign minister and the Russian foreign minister.

[11:20:04]The goal or aim of that summit was essentially to try to build out some kind of a road map for dealing with the Syrian crisis. I do think it's telling that that summit went ahead as planned.

While of course the late Karlov was mentioned in the summit, it did not devolve into any kind of spat or he said/she said about who is to blame. As I said before, John, I really think Turkish and Russian officials are taking pain here to say, you know, the relationship remains strong, the focus must be on the fight against terror -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, no space as of yet between Turkey and Russia on this. This attack yesterday, just one of the areas of extreme violence flaring up all around the world. Nic Robertson, Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.

New this morning, Donald Trump calling out Bill Clinton over the former president's remarks about Donald Trump's intelligence and the former president's explanations for why his wife lost the election.

Plus, dramatic 911 tapes just in from the road rage confrontation that left a 3-year-old dead during a shopping trip with his grandmother. There is a manhunt under way.


VICTIMS GRANDMOTHER (via telephone): I was at the stop sign and the guy blew the horn at me and I threw it back and he shot, and I thought he shot in the air. He shot at the car!



BERMAN: You might be on vacation right now but President Obama rushing to get things done during his final days in office. Actions that might not make the President-elect Donald Trump very happy. Let's go live to Athena Jones in Hawaii. Athena, let's begin with the president's plan on offshore drilling.

[11:25:02]ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Hi, John. This is an example of the president trying to run out the tape. He's talked about working up until the very end at the things he wants to accomplish. This is one of them -- we understand the president plans to move as early as today to bar offshore drilling in parts of the Arctic and the Atlantic Oceans. That means no more leasing of oil rights in those areas. What's interesting about this move, he's made several other moves to restrict drilling in the waters surrounding the U.S. in the past.

This move is being done using a law from 1953 that will make it much harder for any future president to reverse. Of course, the future president in mind we're talking about is President-elect Donald Trump who has promised to boost U.S. energy production.

And so that is why this is significant. It will not be an easy thing for Trump to come in and reverse. As I mentioned, this is an example of the president trying to run out the tape. He is trying to protect his legacy on two fronts in some ways.

Doing as much as he can on the policy front while also having these conversations and consultations with the president-elect to try to influence him to keep some of the policies he's put in place. This though is one area unlikely to be agreement -- John.

BERMAN: No, they don't seem to agree on this and with 31 days left, it makes you wonder what else might be on the current president's agenda along those lines. Athena Jones in Hawaii, thanks so much.

A new war of words between President-elect Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton told a paper near his home that Donald Trump, quote, "Doesn't know much, one thing he does know is how to get angry white men to vote for him."

So this is how the president-elect responded. He wrote, "Bill Clinton stated that I called him after the election, wrong, he called me with a very nice congratulations, parenthetically. He doesn't know much especially how to get people even with an unlimited budget out to vote in the vital swing states and more. They focused on wrong states."

I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. Ron, those are two explanations for why the election went the way it did, you know, Bill Clinton talking about angry white voters, Donald Trump talking about the fact that Hillary Clinton didn't campaign in certain states.

There's a third explanation as well that we've heard in the last 24 hours. That, too, from former President Bill Clinton, who cast his electoral vote yesterday for his wife, Hillary. Listen to what he said.


FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I've never cast a vote I was prouder of. You know, I've watched her work for two years. I watched her battle through that bogus e-mail deal. She fought through that. She fought through everything and she prevailed against it all. But, you know, then at the end, we had the Russians and the FBI deal and she couldn't prevail against that but she did everything else and still won by 2.8 million votes.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: You know, win, even though you get 2 million votes more, if you don't win the electoral votes that aside. So that's a third explanation. Bill Clinton offers the FBI as an explanation. Angry white voters is an explanation. Donald Trump says it's because Hillary didn't campaign in certain states. Which is it, Ron Brownstein?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A little of all the above. Look, the election was so close in the end, Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by 2.8 million, but losing the Electoral College by a combined 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. You can fairly point to anything if you want.

Like the James Comey letter as a tipping point in the result. The reason it was so close, that the James Comey letter could have been the tipping point really is the other -- is the other key variable here.

Hillary Clinton was running as a candidate with the highest negatives of any presidential candidate ever. The fact he was within reach, even if that did tip it his way, was revealing.

It was revealing of how many voters had resistance to her, reluctance about her, and their deep difficulty at reaching not only angry white men, but also none college white women who voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin equal to Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale.

So even if you want to say that something like the Comey letter was the tipping point, there were deeper structural problems in the Clinton candidacy that allowed it to play that role.

BERMAN: Well stated, Ron Brownstein. When you point to any one thing without including others, it is not the exhausted explanation for what happened in this election.

Let's look forward to possible future elections, shall we, because the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, she sat down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey and discussed the question that a lot of Democrats are asking right now. Will she possibly one day, just maybe, run for office? Listen.


OPRAY WINFREY: Would you ever run for office, I have to ask it?


WINFREY: No kind of office?

OBAMA: No. Look, that's one thing I don't do. I don't make stuff up. I'm not coy so --

WINFREY: The Democratic Party has not asked you to run for anything?

OBAMA: No. WINFREY: No conversations?

OBAMA: I'm not having conversations. No. Conversation is like two- way street. I don't know what they're talking about, but I'm not talking back.


BERMAN: That is Sherman-esque, Ron Brownstein. For other politicians who've danced around questions about whether they may run, that's how you say no. No, I'm not running for office. No, it's not going to happen.