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Terror in Berlin; Russian Ambassador Assassinated; Chinese Return U.S. Underwater Drone; Electoral College Formally Votes Trump In As President. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:09] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Terror in Berlin. A man in custody right now after a big truck plows into a crowd, killing at least 12 people and injuring many, many more.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And a Russian ambassador assassinated in Turkey. The killing could be linked to Syria's civil war.

ROMANS: And breaking overnight, that underwater drone seized by China is now back in American hands this morning.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: Good morning to you.

Good morning to you. I'm Miguel Marquez. It is December 20th. It is 4:00 a.m. here in the East.

This morning, authorities in Berlin are questioning the man suspected of driving a large tractor-trailer truck through a crowded Christmas marketplace, turning a festive holiday shopping arcade into a scene of mayhem and carnage. Twelve people killed, 48 others injured by the truck, which witnesses say barreled through the market about 40 miles per hour. Police say they found a dead passenger in the truck. They say he was Polish which may tie him to the truck itself which had a Polish license plate.

For the latest, we turn to senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. He is in Berlin.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Police here in Berlin tell us that they have forensic workers who are still at the scene of where this truck plowed through that very crowded Christmas market -- of course, at work throughout the entire night. They also say that they have one man in custody, but they don't know the man's nationality yet and they can't be 100 percent certain whether that man was the one who was sitting at the wheel of that truck as it plowed through this very crowded Christmas market on Monday. Now, they say there was a second man found dead on the passenger seat

of that truck. They have now confirmed that man is a Polish citizen. And that could potentially be very significant because the truck has Polish license plates. It belongs to a Polish trucking company. And the man who owns that trucking company said that he lost contact with the driver of that truck at some point on Monday.

The truck was supposed to deliver in Berlin. It had some steel rods loaded, about 25 tons of them. But at some point, contact was lost. And, of course, now, there is the fear that the truck may have been hijacked and then may have been used here to plow into this Christmas market on that Monday evening.

Now, the people who are describing the scene as this unfolded had some very harrowing details. They say around 8:00 p.m. local time, the truck plowed into the Christmas market, that there are people obviously who couldn't get out of the way, that several stalls were completely destroyed by this truck. It was going around 40 miles an hour, they say. They obviously made absolutely no effort to hit the brakes. And then at some point, as it plowed through the Christmas market, came to a stop.

Police here are still very much on the scene, still investigating the matter. They've cordoned off the entire area. There are several agencies that are at work, and that's something that certainly going to continue for the next couple days.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


ROMANS: Thank you, Fred. We know you keep following that for us, certainly a tragedy in Berlin.

Meanwhile, a team of Russian investigators is due to arrive today in Turkey to help probe the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey. Now, warning here: what you're about to see is quite graphic. The shooting of the ambassador, the killing of the ambassador was captured on video. A gunman shouting, "Do not forget Aleppo" and "God is greatest", "Allahu Akbar".

That gunman shot and killed Ambassador Andrey Karlov, who was at an art gallery in the capital of Ankara. Now, the shooter identified as a 22-year-old police officer. He died in the attack. That's according to reports of a number of media organizations, including "Reuters". And in just the last hour, Turkish authorities say they have detained six people in connection with the assassination. They arrested his mother, his father, his sister, his roommate.

In a separate incident hours later, a man shot fired a shotgun into the air outside the U.S. embassy. He yelled, quote, "I swear to God, don't play with us."

CNN's Matthew Chance joins us live from Moscow with the very latest.

And, good morning, Matthew. The assassination of an ambassador there in Turkey, at a time when

Turkey and Russia have been working, sometimes at odds most recently together, to try to provide a corridor to get people out of Aleppo. What does this do to the relations between those two countries?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this will -- President Putin of Russia has condemned this on national television. He called it a despicable act, and he's outlined what he thinks the motivation for it was, to basically put a wedge in between Russia and Turkey, as they attempt to continue to normalize their relationship. Of course, their relationship plunged to depths after Turkey shot out of the sky a year ago, just over, a Russian war plane which violated its territory allegedly.

[04:05:04] They've severed diplomatic relations. They have been rebuilding those ties steadily ever since.

Putin and Erdogan, the Turkish president, say that this incident is not going to derail that and is not going to derail their efforts to try and find some kind of solution to the Syrian crisis. In fact, to the end, the Turkish foreign minister, along with the Iranian, and the Russian foreign minister all meeting in Moscow today to try and work out what the next step is forward. It's a preplanned meeting, but to work out what the next step forward is to try and implement a bigger cease-fire, try to evacuate more people from Aleppo in that devastating conflict in that country.

In terms of wt impact this killing is going to have on the Turkey/Russian relationship, though, if it had happened a year ago, this could have been cataclysmic. It didn't, it happened now. And the Russians and Turks are saying this is not going to put them off, trying to rebuild their relationships. So, that's one positive that comes out of this.

ROMANS: All right. Matthew Chance for us in Moscow, following there -- thank you so much, Matthew.

MARQUEZ: Now, President-elect Donald Trump responded to the terror attacks with written statements and a tweet. He wrote, "Today, there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany and it's only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking." Mr. Trump mentioned Switzerland in a reference to a shooting at a Zurich mosque that injured three people.

ROMANS: All right. A muted stock market reaction to those attacks in Berlin and Ankara. Dow futures pointing higher, inching its way toward 20,000, with a small gain yesterday. The main index in Frankfurt is rising this morning. Other European stocks trading with gains as well. Shares in Asia mixed overnight. They're finished for the day.

Back here in the U.S., a new report shows just how hot the stock market is right now. Since the election, investors report a stunning $63 billion in U.S. stocks over the same span, $37 billion has gone out of the bond market. Three reasons behind all of the stock market buying. First, the stock

market was hot before the election. Forecasts for a drop if Trump won. Oh, yes, remember, that was dead wrong. Investors instead are buying stocks on Trumponomics. They expect big spending, slashed regulations, lower taxes.

And, quickly, finally the Fed, it hiked rates last week and plans three more rate hikes next year. We think that makes the bond market less attractive and stocks a better buy.

MARQUEZ: Breaking overnight: the Chinese government has returned the under water drone it grabbed last week from the South China Sea.

Sharp contrast visible in the way the two governments are characterizing the handover of the drone, though. The Chinese ministry of defense statement describes friendly consultations with the U.S. and transfer smoothly completed. The Pentagon, on the other hand, scolds the Chinese for what it calls the unlawful seizure of the drone in international waters. The U.S. calls the Chinese conduct, quote, "inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism."

ROMANS: All right. Donald Trump now officially the president-elect. That's right. His reaction to the victory, he's got those 270 votes. His reaction causes some controversy, though. We got that next.


[04:11:20] ROMANS: All right. As expected, the Electoral College has given Donald Trump enough votes to officially win the presidency. The president-elect immediately taking to his Twitter making this statement, a statement that some are now questioning. This as some Democrats like Bill Clinton are speaking out about why they think Hillary lost. Hillary Clinton lost.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta picks up the story.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, Donald Trump moved one step closer to officially becoming the 45th president of the United States, formally clinching the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House.

There were a few protests as electors gathered across the country Monday to cast their ballots.

Minutes after he cleared the 270 electoral vote threshold, Trump released a statement saying he had won a, quote, "landslide victory". But by historic standards, that is not the case.

Meanwhile, Democrats are still feeling bruised after their defeat on Election Day. Even Bill Clinton who served as elector in New York seemed to blame the FBI and the Russians for Hillary Clinton's defeat.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: 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. She did everything else and still one by 2.8 million votes.

ACOSTA: Trump also posted a tweet about his victory, saying he won despite all of the distorted and inaccurate media, showing that the president-elect will continue his attacks on the press after he takes the oath of office -- Christine and Miguel.


MARQUEZ: Thank you, Jim Acosta.

First Lady Michelle Obama setting the record straight on speculation she might make a run of her own for the White House. Mrs. Obama laying it out when she sat down with Oprah Winfrey and her final interview as first lady. She said that while she's enjoyed her time in office, now is her time to bow out gracefully.


OPRAH WINFREY, TV TALK SHOW HOST: Would you ever run for office? I have to ask you.


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 have proven that. I'm pretty direct.

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.


MARQUEZ: The first lady said there is a lot of weight to becoming president. Most people don't realize how hard the job of president is. She also said, in spite of her disappointment on Election Day, she's optimistic for the future our nation.

ROMANS: All right. President Obama granting 78 pardons and 173 commutations Monday. That's a single day record for the use of presidential clemency power. All together, he has commuted the sentences of over 1,100 inmates, majority of those cases involving drug related charges. Mr. Obama is expected to grant more commutations and more pardons with just 32 days left to go in office.

Family members of the Pulse Nightclub shooting victims suing Twitter, Google and Facebook. The lawsuit claims the internet giants provided support to ISIS. The terrorist group regularly uses popular online services to spread ugly propaganda and attract new recruits. Earlier this month, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, they said they would share a database of terror images and videos to combat the spread of that content. MARQUEZ: And authorities leading the search for MH-370 say the

missing flight is likely not in the current search zone. They say it could be further north, in a remote area of the Indian Ocean. Only a few scattered pieces of the wreckage have been floated to the shore and the search for the body of the plane is slated to end in early 2017. The Malaysia Airlines flight vanished on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing back in 2014.

[04:15:06] Two hundred and thirty-nine people were on board.

ROMANS: And those families still so frustrated.

All right. A French court has found International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde found guilty of negligence. The case stems from a fraud charge leveled back in 2008 when she served as French prime minister. Now, Lagarde is accused of giving businessman Bernard Tapie preferential treatment on a legal challenge against the French government. Lagarde's lawyer says she will repeal.

So far, no punishment handed down by the court. And the IMF board has met and reiterated its support of their chief.

MARQUEZ: It's interesting situation with her.

It remains to be seen what impact if any the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey might have on the effort to evacuate residents from war-ravaged eastern Aleppo. New clues may emerge when the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran meet in Moscow today to discuss strategies on potentially ending the Syrian conflict. More than 130 buses took civilians out of the war zone in just the past 24 hours alone.

CNN's Muhammad Lila is live on the Turkish-Syrian border with the latest.

Muhammad, how is the evacuation going? And do you have any sense from people there on the ground of this assassination? Do they even know about it? Do they have a reaction to it?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, Miguel, you know, the immediate concern in the aftermath of the assassination was how was this going to spill over into the conflict in Syria? Because what happens in Turkey is so closely linked to what's happening in Syria.

So far, the good news according to the international relief organizations on the ground is that the evacuations out of those besieged parts of Eastern Aleppo are continuing. We understand that since, you know, the end of last week, about 25,000 people have been evacuated. Evacuations right now are happening, but it's still a little bit chaotic on the ground.

There has been no official response or official reaction from any of the rebel fighting groups on the ground to the association of the Russian ambassador. But we also know that today, there's a very key meeting. The foreign ministers and defense ministers, Miguel, of Turkey, Russia and Iran are meeting today in Moscow to hammer out what may end up being some sort of tentative framework that could lead to some sort of nationwide cease-fire. And so far, the assassination of the ambassador has an impact to those meetings. All three parties have said they're going to go ahead and hold those meetings as scheduled.

MARQUEZ: And, Muhammad, the evacuations had been sort of stopped at several points along the way. Are things running more smoothly now and do you think that we are headed toward a place where at least those in immediate harm's way will be out of harm's way and will now have to deal with sort of refugee status in other places?

LILA: Right. So, just to give you an example, the U.N. yesterday said they were able to rescue 47 orphans from an orphanage that were trapped in some of the needed medical care. They are now getting medical care. So, we understand that some of -- quite a lot of these cases are evacuated. Another big development is that the United Nations Security Council has approved international U.N. monitors to be on the ground.

And, Miguel, that's so important because there are so many groups fighting on the ground, fighting each other, fighting the Assad government, all sorts of different rivalries and alliances. What is really needed in this case are those international monitors that can step in and provide that guarantee and say, look, there is a neutral force observing this whole thing. And that makes it more difficult for the militant groups or Syrian army to take matter into their own hands.

So, yes, the answer to your question, there is more optimism today. And as long as these evacuations keep going, you have to remember, they could take several days to get all of the people out of these besieged areas.

MARQUEZ: Muhammad Lila for us, thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right. Eighteen minutes, 19 minutes almost past the hour. A manhunt under way and reward being offered after the shooting death of a toddler in that apparent case of road rage. This story is just unbelievable. We've got the latest on the hunt, next.


[04:22:33] MARQUEZ: A $40,000 reward now being offered after an apparent road rage incidents that turned deadly in Arkansas. The victim? A 3-year-old boy. The suspect is still out there.

CNN's Polo Sandoval has more.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Miguel and Christine, this morning, police in Little Rock are still hoping for that key evidence or perhaps a phone call that would lead them to the man who reportedly fired the shot that ended the life of the 3-year-old little boy. Here is what we know about what took place in the city's southwest

side Saturday night. A 47-year-old young grandmother was on a shopping trip with two grandchildren in the backseat when she approached a stop sign. She's telling investigators a driver pulled up behind her and then honked once. She then honked back. That's when the individual then stepped out of the car and fired a single shot.

She assumed this individual fired in the air so she went on her way. A few moments later, she pulled over and noticed a bullet hole in the vehicle and looked in the backseat and saw her 3-year-old grandson Acen King was slumped over. The little boy rushed to the hospital where he later died. His 1-year-old sibling also in the vehicle at the time was not hurt.

This is leading investigators to track down as much evidence as they can. They are very confident that was, in fact, a case of road rage and don't believe that there was any sort of relationship between the suspected gunman and this 47-year-old grandmother. So, as a result, they are now offering a $20,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of this individual.

They don't have a very good suspect description at this point. Just an African-American man driving a black Chevy Impala at the time. They do hope someone in the community saw something that Saturday night -- Christine, Miguel.


ROMANS: And just update you on the story, Miguel tells me the reward has been raised to $40,000 for anyone with an arrest and capture of the person who fired that shot and killed that in that suspected road rage incident.

Right. New Orleans will pay out $13.3 million to settle civil rights lawsuits linked to multiple police shootings in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The civil rights violations stem from fatal confrontations between police officers and unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge. In all, six civilians died. The settlement covers claims by 17 plaintiffs. On Monday night, Mayor Mitch Landrieu apologized to the victims' families.

[04:25:03] Twenty police officers were charged following a civil rights probe, 11 pleaded guilty.

MARQUEZ: Now, in just hours, more criminal charges are expected in the Flint drinking water investigation. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is set to announce more charges at a 10:30 a.m. news conference. But details are being closely guarded. So far, eight current or former state workers and one city of Flint employee have been criminally charged with neglect or misconduct among other charges in connection with the contamination of Flint's drinking water in 2014.

ROMANS: All right. The California judge in the Brock Turner sexual assault case has been cleared of misconduct by an independent commission. Thousands of complaints and petitions were lodged against Judge Aaron Persky, accusing him of being far too lenient on Turner. Turner, a former student athlete at Stanford. Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail, which he serves its half. The Commission on Judicial Performance says there is no clear evidence of bias and the case closed without any disciplinary action.

MARQUEZ: North Carolina's bathroom law may soon be repealed. The state legislation holding a special session tomorrow on what's known as House Bill 2. The law requires people to use a bathroom based on the gender listed on their birth certificate. The action comes as part of the deal under which the Charlotte City Council unanimously repealed the city's nondiscrimination ordinance on Monday. That law allowed people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

A truck used as an apparent weapon of terror in Berlin, mowing people down in the street at a cherished Christmas market. The latest on the investigation next.