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Berlin Terror Investigation; Russian Ambassador to Turkey Assassinated; Chinese Return U.S. Underwater Drone; Electoral College Formally Votes Trump In As President. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:03] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: A terror investigation under way in Berlin after a truck plows into a crowd, killing at least 12 people.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Six people are now questioned after the brazen assassination of a Russian ambassador in Turkey.

MARQUEZ: And the underwater drone grabbed by the Chinese is now back in the American hands this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Miguel Marquez.

ROMANS: Really nice to see you this morning.

MARQUEZ: Good to see you.

ROMANS: Nice to have you here all week.

I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

This morning, authorities in Berlin are now 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 dead, at least 48 others injured by this truck, which witnesses say just barreled through the market at about 40 miles per hour.

Now, police say they found a dead passenger in the truck. They say he was Polish. He was in the passenger side of the truck. It may tie him to the truck itself, which had Polish license plates, leading to the suspicion that this truck was stolen at a work site, driven to Berlin with the sole purpose of killing these people.

For the very latest, I want to bring in senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen live for us in Berlin.

What do we know new this morning about this horrible attack?

For people who don't know the tradition of these Christmas markets and in this country, we call them Kris Kringle markets. They are beloved German tradition with cider and hand made ornaments and lots of people. And authorities have been worried and stepping security at events like this.

What do we know?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly have, Christine. And you are absolutely right. These Christmas markets have a long tradition here in Germany and really very much the centerpiece of Christmas celebrations. It's where people go to meet friends especially in the afternoons and evenings on weekdays in the run-up to Christmas, especially after you've done your Christmas shopping.

And this is a very busy shopping area and was a busy shopping area, of course, when this happened last night. And that's one of the reasons why the market was also so packed and why so many people had been injured and also killed as well.

Now, the latest in the investigation is that the police say they are still questioning this man they have in custody. So far, they have not come forward and said what they think his nationality is and they have not come forward and said whether they are 100 percent certain that he was also the man who is at the wheel as this truck plowed through the Christmas market.

They do however say that they are certain that this was done deliberately, that this was not some sort of freak accident that happened, that someone took the truck and ran into this pedestrian zone, trying to obviously injure as many people as possible. For the scene itself, you know, we have been speaking to a lot of eyewitnesses. And they said it was absolutely awful as you mentioned. He was going at around 40 miles an hour, obviously made no effort whatsoever to hit the brakes.

And the other thing about this Christmas market, Christine, is that the sort of alleyways, pathways between the market stalls, where all the items are displayed, they are very, very narrow. So, there really wasn't anywhere for people to try and escape, for people to try and get away as the fast truck was moving through.

And to make matters worse, the truck was only fast, but it was also heavy, making it more destructive. It had about 25 tons of steel beams loaded in its trailer and therefore obviously barreled through. And those market stalls obviously did absolutely nothing do stop it because they're made of light wood. The truck came to a standstill I would say about 20 to 30 yards from where I am right now.

The people here in Berlin absolutely shaken and concerned. Many people we have been speaking to say this is something they feared might have happened, but, of course, had hoped never would, Christine.

ROMANS: Of course, it feared it might happen, it has happened before in Nice. You had, you know, 86 people killed just in July, at, you know, at a parade, at an outdoor gathering of people there. We know this has been one of the items in the playbook of terrorists, don't we?

PLEITGEN: Yes. We know that it has been one of the items of the playbook of terrorists, you are absolutely right. That's one of the reasons also why specifically on Christmas markets, the German authorities were talking about increasing security measures.

So, this was something that was known by terrorists to be done, but also the other thing that German authorities said before the Christmas season had even started, they said they feared two things. First of all, that there could be attacks in Germany at Christmastime. And secondly, specifically, that Christmas markets could be targeted at Christmastime. Of course, they know the targets are what analysts call soft targets.

So, a lot of civilians in one place, very difficult to make them safe and to absolutely stop things like this from happening. There are some barriers at this pedestrian zone, but obviously the truck is so heavy, that it just simply plowed through them, Christine.

[04:35:01] ROMANS: Yes. Just tons and tons of steel bars in the back of the truck, a huge -- a huge truck there. I guess the investigation into who this was, who they have on the scene and maybe they will find out more.

Thank you so much for that. Fred Pleitgen for us in Berlin.

MARQUEZ: A team of Russian investigators is due to arrive in Turkey to help probe the assassination of the Russian ambassador to that nation. A warning: what you are about to see is very, very graphic. The shooting was captured on video. The gunman shouting, "Do not forget Aleppo" and "God is greatest", shot and killed Ambassador Andrey Karlov at an art gallery in the capital of Ankara.

The shooter identified as a 22-year-old police officer died in that attack. That's according to reports from numerous media organizations, including "Reuters". In just the last hour, Turkish authorities saying they have detained six people in connection with the investigation.

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

CNN's Nic Robertson joins us live from Ankara with the latest.

Good morning, Nic.

Is there any sense that these two incidents are connected in some way?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The sense is that they are connected inasmuch as people showing their anger against the government and showing it against Russia and against the United States. Is there more connection than that? That's really not clear.

The government has not provided any substantial detailed information yet about what they think led this gunman to kill the Russian ambassador. Those six people arrested in connection of the case. His mother, his father, his sister, two other relatives and a man who shared an apartment with this young policeman. This is standard procedure here in Turkey for family members to be

arrested or to be detained. It doesn't mean that they are complicit. But this is often what the authorities do here.

The foreign minister here today who said as a mark of respect for Andrey Karlov that he is -- the street outside the Russian embassy here will be named after him. That is an honor this country wants to bestow upon him because they want to show the Russian government that they bear no ill will through this act, that their relationship political and diplomatic relationship that they are rebuilding and foster with Russia, they want that to continue.

And that has been the tone of what we heard from President Erdogan and President Putin. They said they will have this joint investigation. They need to get to who was behind the attack and this won't damage what they describe is a normalizing of their relations at the moment, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: This attack is utterly shocking. Cleary, the -- I guess the hope of the attacker is possibly to stop that progress that Turkey and Russia were making in repairing their relations. I mean, it doesn't sound like that will happen. It sounds like it will tie them closer together.

ROBERTSON: On the surface it does. I mean, when you look at this from President Putin's point of view, there have been protests outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul just last week. Now, protests don't happen on the streets here without the government giving a nod and wink. Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides on the conflict in Ukraine conflict. They came together to help negotiate that truce, to get civilians out of Aleppo, but they are on opposite sides. So, there has been a very long level of distrust here.

So, if you are President Putin and you're looking at your ambassador shot down here at an event, when this have been heightened tensions against Russia because of the situation in Aleppo, you have to ask how could a gunman, gets -- even if he is a policeman and there isn't, others here as well, to stop this sort of attack, how could this happen? What about this environment that's allowed it to happen?

There's a sense that perhaps the government is allowing the population here to let off some anger on the streets about the situation in Aleppo and that's been directed against Russia. So, how good are the relations at the moment? Putin and Erdogan might want to be close, but it's -- it is still a very rocky road, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Very, very interesting dynamic. Thank you for being here for us, Nic Robertson.

ROMANS: All right. Thirty-nine minutes past the hour.

President-elect Donald Trump responded to the terror attacks with recent 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 reference to a shooting at a Zurich mosque that injured three people.

MARQUEZ: And breaking overnight, the Chinese government has returned the U.S. underwater drone it grabbed last week out of the sea. Sharp contrast, though, visible from the way the two governments are characterizing the handover of that drone. The Chinese ministry of defense statement describes friendly consultations with the U.S. in a smooth -- a transfer smoothly completed.

[04:40:07] 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: Right.

The Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen has her finger on the pulse of the U.S. economy. And in a commencement speech yesterday, she gave reasons why the graduates she says should be optimistic about scoring a good job.


JANET YELLEN, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRWOMAN: First, after years of slow economic recovery, you were entering the strongest job market in nearly a decade. The second reason for optimism is that you have already done the one thing that research shows is most important to a successful and stable working life, earning the degrees you will receive today.


ROMANS: Yes, college matters is what she is saying. The other headline there is strongest job market in about a decade. That's good for the class of 2016 and next spring with 2017. She added the grads make a lot more, earn a lot more over their career. She cited research that shows they even live longer and they lead happier lives. They'll also probably get some paid time off.

But a new report shows many people don't take advantage of it. This surprises me -- 52 percent of Americans will not use all of their vacation days this year. That number is even higher for millennials. The excuses: some blame too much work. Others say they enjoy their work. That is why Miguel never takes a day off.

MARQUEZ: I'm so important. I'm very important.

ROMANS: Some report they can't afford a vacation -- that's me -- or fear they might lose their jobs.

MARQUEZ: I like the staycation. Take time off.

ROMANS: Isn't that interesting? Fifty-two percent.

MARQUEZ: Shocking. I'm shy a few days this year. But I'm pretty --

ROMANS: You roll it into next year? MARQUEZ: Not allowed here.

ROMANS: HR, let him roll.

MARQUEZ: California, you can. New York? No, sorry.

ROMANS: Calling HR. He is leaving days on the table.

MARQUEZ: That's right.

Donald Trump is now officially the president-elect. His reaction to the victory causing some controversy.


[04:45:58] MARQUEZ: Well, as expected, the Electoral College has given Donald Trump enough votes to officially win the presidency. The president-elect, though, immediately taking to his Twitter account, making a statement that some are now questioning, this as Democrats like Bill Clinton are speaking out about why they think Hillary Clinton lost.

CNN's senior White House Jim Acosta picks up that 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.


ROMANS: All right. Jim Acosta, thank you, Jim.

First Lady Michelle Obama pushing back against what she says is an unfair depiction of her in the White House. She says she was taken aback when she was first described as an angry black woman during her husband's run for president. She says that phrase is more reflection of the people who say it, not of her.

Here she is talking to Oprah Winfrey.


OPRAH WINFREY, TV TALK SHOW HOST: When you were labeled that an angry black woman, was that one of the things that knocked you back a bit?

MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: That's one of those things that you just sort of thing, dang, you don't even know me, you know?


OBAMA: I mean, you just sort of feel like, wow, where did that come from?


OBAMA: You know? And that's the first blowback, because you think, that is so not me. But then you sort of think, well, this isn't about me. This is about the person or the people who write it. You know? I mean, that's just the truth.

WINFREY: That was Maya always used to say. I mean, yes.

OBAMA: It's so much about that, and you start thinking oh, wow, we're so afraid of each other. You know, color, wealth, these things that don't matter still play too much of a role in how we see one another. And it's sad, because the thing that least defines us as people is the color of our skin. It's the size of our bank account.


ROMANS: The first lady says race and religion is not a way to determine a person's values. She said, Miguel, she said she is going to help Melania Trump as much as she can coming in the White House. She said that Barbara Bush was incredibly helpful to her. Every day of her time there, Barbara Bush has been helpful to her and other first ladies have been very helpful to her and that she wants to be helpful to Melania Trump as well.

She said also that, you know, color in particular, race in particular, is the least defining of the person's characteristic. So, to be the first thing that haters would see is something that is sad and troubling.

MARQUEZ: A class act to the very end.

ROMANS: Yes. MARQUEZ: President Obama granting 78 pardons and 153 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, the majority of those cases involving drug related charges. Mr. Obama is expected to grant more commutations and pardons with 32 days left to go in office.

ROMANS: All right. Just moments ago, the Kremlin said the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey will not -- will not hurt efforts to get a Syrian peace deal done.

[04:50:06] The foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran meet in Moscow today to discuss strategies on potentially ending the Syrian crisis. More than 130 buses evacuated civilians out of the warzone in Aleppo in just the past 24 hours. So, people are now getting out once again.

CNN's Muhammad Lila live on the Turkish/Syrian border with the very latest.

And, Muhammad, you have had certainly a busy and interesting 24 hours covering both the evacuations out of Aleppo and then the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey.

Bring us up to speed.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is very interesting you mention the two separate events because there was a lot of concern last night once the assassination took place that there would be a major spillover into the refugee and evacuation crisis in Syria. So far, though, on the ground, it appears as the evacuations are moving forward.

The Red Cross tells us 25,000 people have been evacuated from the eastern part of Aleppo. Those are those few neighborhoods that the rebels have left in their control. A smaller number of civilians had been released from neighboring towns that had been under siege by militant groups. But so far, it looks like it's so good.

And you have to remember, the U.N. and Red Cross have been saying for a long time this is not going to be a fast process. You are dealing with transferring tens of thousands of people. It is not something that happens overnight. They have said that they are going to continue to work through these evacuations to continue even if it takes days or even if it takes weeks.

But just going back to that number, 25,000, that's a very significant number because, you know, there hasn't been an exact estimate for how many people trapped in eastern part of Aleppo. Some have said 100,000. Some have said as few as 50,000. So, if we are at 25,000 evacuated, clearly it is a good sign things are moving forward on the ground.

ROMANS: All right. Muhammad Lila, thank you so much for being there for us and bringing us up to speed. Thank you very much. A very busy, busy day in news in that part of the world and all of it very important.

MARQUEZ: Disturbing day of news.

ROMANS: Absolutely. Important ramifications.

All right. Donald Trump adding another billionaire to his administration. This time, the secretary of the army. We'll show the unique resume that makes Vincent Viola the top pick for Trump, next.


[04:55:25] MARQUEZ: 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 violation stems from fatal confrontations between police officers and unarm civilians on Danziger Bridge. In all, six civilians died. This settlement covers claims by 17 plaintiffs. On Monday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu apologize to the victim's families. Twenty police officers were charged following the civil rights probe, 11 pled guilty.

North Carolina's controversial bathroom law may soon be repealed. The state legislature holding a special session today on what's known as House Bill 2. The law requires people to use bathroom based on 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 identity.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty-six minutes past the hour. Time for a little money.

A check on CNN Money Stream. Investors cautious here. They're pushing stocks a little bit higher following those string of attacks overseas. Dow futures taking higher. The Dax and Frankfurt is rising. We're seeing gains in London and Paris as well. Shares in Asia, they finished -- they're mostly lower overnight.

Now, despite a decent gain yesterday, you know, the Dow has not hit the 20K yet. You know, it's just a psychological milestone. But Dow 20,000 remarkable. It would cap a big year of gains for U.S. stocks.

The first few months of the 2016 marked the worst start to the year ever for the three major averages. Oil is crashing. Investors were freaking out about China. And then things started to turn around. They were worried about Brexit. Anticipation of the Fed hiking interest rates, a strengthen of the U.S. economy. Finally, Donald Trump's victory pushing, the market to record highs.

One final hurdle to go, Dow 20K, now just 117 points away.

Donald Trump adding another billionaire to his administration. Vincent Viola is Trump's pick for secretary of the army. He is worth $1.8 billion but has deep army roots. He's a West Point grad. He was an officer in the 101st Airborne Division.

He may be best known for Wall Street. He was a trader and became chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. More recently, he founded the multimillion dollar high frequency trading firm, Virtu Financial.

Check out the new CNN Money stream. It's business news personalized. Stories and videos you want, Miguel, all in one feed.

MARQUEZ: I want them all.

ROMANS: Download it now on the App Store or Google Play or just ask me in the commercial break.

MARQUEZ: I'm going to ask you. That's much easier. Too hard with this.

EARLY START continues now.


MARQUEZ: Terror in Berlin. A man in custody after a big truck plows into a crowd killing at least 12 people.

ROMANS: A Russian ambassador assassinated in Turkey. The killing could be linked to the Syria's civil war.

MARQUEZ: Breaking overnight, an underwater drone seized by China now back in American hands.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Miguel Marquez.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, December 20. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Nice to have you here all week.

A lot to get to this morning, folks. This morning, authorities in Berlin are questioning the man suspected of driving a large tractor- trailer truck loaded with steel bars, driving it right through a crowded Christmas marketplace, turning a festive holiday shopping arcade into a scene of mayhem and carnage. Twelve people killed, at least 48 others injured by this truck. Witnesses say it barreled straight through the market at about 40 miles per hour.

Now, police report they found a dead passenger in the truck. They say that passenger was Polish, which may be he was driving this truck itself. The truck had Polish license plates.

The very latest, we turn to senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. He is in Berlin -- Fred.


PLEITGEN: 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 who was 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.