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

Aired December 20, 2016 - 05:00   ET


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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.


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.

[05:00:00] 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.


MARQUEZ: Thanks to Fred there.

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 was captured on video. The gunman shouting, "Do not forget Aleppo" and "God is greatest", shot and killed Andrey Karlov in the capital of Ankara.

The shooter identified as a 22-year-old police officer died in attack according to reports from numerous media organizations including "Reuters". And in just the last hour, Turkish authorities are saying they detained six people in connection with the assassination.

In a separate incident, hours later, a man 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 is live for us in Moscow.

Matthew, good morning to you.

Relations between Turkey and Russia have been rocky the past couple years. They have gotten better in recent months. What is this just horrific likely to do to that relationship?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is horrific. Those images that have been put out across media platforms just really reaffirm just what a tragedy this was.

But look, if this happened a year ago, Miguel, we would have looking at a potentially cataclysmic eruption in the relation between Russia and Turkey. But it didn't happen now and, you know, ever since the past couple of months, particularly, the two countries have been building ties, they've been normalizing those ties. Of course, Turkey shot down a Russian war plane in Syria of November of last year and after that point, they were absolutely at each other's throats. They've been building that relationship up now.

And what Putin says and what Erdogan, the Turkish president, has said as well is that this attack was clearly intended to derail the process of normalization of that relationship and both leaders have said that they're not going to let that happen. So, if anything, it's bringing these countries closer together. But it also outlines or underlines rather just how much public antipathy there is, how much public anger there is towards Russia inside Turkey for what Russia is doing inside Syria, because remember, Russia and Turkey are opposite sides of that Syrian war and that position generates tensions and violence of the kind we saw in Ankara last night.

MARQUEZ: Is there any sort of discussion that may be what they are putting out publicly. But will there be any discussion in the Kremlin about how in the world does a police officer get through to this ambassador like that and shoot him down in cold blood, feet away from him?

CHANCE: I know. It's incredible. I mean, look, they're definitely going to have that discussion. I expect that the Turks are going to be having that discussion as well because this is a major embarrassment for President Erdogan.

I mean, we should move away this was state sanctioned. There could have been element within the Turkish security forces or intelligence service that sympathized with rebels and support rebels inside Turkey that may have wanted to express themselves in this way. But this is an embarrassment for the Turkish state.

And there is an investigation that's going to be held. It's being held now. It's going to be a joint investigation. So, the Turks and the Russians are joining forces to try and get to the bottom of this.

And already, the Russians have sent a high level team of investigators and others into Turkey to work with their Turkish counterparts to try and find out not just how this happened, but who was linked to it.

[05:05:05] The hand of those that delivered this assassination, that's to paraphrase Vladimir Putin in his address to state television last night, will be found. They are going to find -- they're determined to find who's responsible for ordering this and I expect the Russians and the Turks are going to exact their revenge.

MARQUEZ: Matthew Chance for us in Moscow -- thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right. Let's break down this attack and what happened in Berlin this morning with Sajjan Gohel. He's an international security director or the Asia Pacific Foundation. He joins us live from London.

So, let's stay in Ankara for a moment here. You just heard the report from Matthew Chance. You know, the question here, we know there have been some arrests or people have een detained. His mother, his father, his sister, a roommate. But there's a possibility here this could be a lone gunman, a lone off-duty police officer who is furious with Russian involvement in Aleppo and took this into his own hands. We just don't know whether there was a broader conspiracy at play here.

What's your best sense of what this does to the relations between these two countries and any kind of peace process going forward with Syria?

DR. SAJJAN M. GOHEL, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR, ASIA PACIFIC FOUNDATION: Well, the video of the death of the Russian ambassador was extremely disturbing. You see life extinguished in front of you.

It illustrates tensions are very high in Turkey. And President Erdogan has in some ways contributed to this problem. He has purged his own military, his police, his judiciary. And in many ways, the people that are left are those harbor radical and angry and nationalistic views that are potentially detrimental to the Turkish state and that could harm relations with other countries.

Russia in particular has had a tense relationship with Turkey. They did appear to be signs of improvement. But after this tragedy, one hesitates to say what may come next.

MARQUEZ: Dr. Gohel, it sounds like you are saying the bulk of this, despite that this was a Russian ambassador, that the bulk of the outpouring of this and the effect of this will be on the Turkish state itself.

GOHEL: Very much so. Turkey is central and critical to what happens in Syria. Remember that a lot of the ISIS foreign fighters that came into Syria came through Turkey. Turkey did not get directly involved in dismantling ISIS until more recently. They had a different position to Russia previously and were involved in bringing down a Russian jet.

Seems recently, relations improved. It seems that Russia and Turkey were coordinating in terms of the peace in Aleppo. But the aftermath has been bloody. The city is being destroyed, and tensions are running very high in the country. And, unfortunately, there are a lot of centrifugal forces that the Turkish president cannot control even though he likes to see himself as a micro manager.

ROMANS: Let's switch gears and talk about the attack in Berlin. Twelve dead and 48 plus wounded. A huge truck with a Polish license plates, with a dead Polish driver, presumably, in the front seat, ramming through this Christmas market in Berlin. Authorities have been so worried about this. Something like this just happened in July in Nice. What does this tell you about the state of the soft targets in Europe in the holiday season?

GOHEL: Well, I'm afraid we are witnessing a disturbing trend where a vehicle is turned into a lethal weapon for the purposes of terrorism. You mentioned the Nice attack which was on Bastille Day in France that resulted in 86 people being killed. A truck traveling for just over one mile creating total devastation.

Now, the marketplace attack in Berlin may not be on the same scale, but nevertheless, it was filmed, brutally graphic, the visualization of terrorism. And there has been a big concern that marketplace, especially during Christmas period in Germany, could be targeted. Only last week, a 12-year-old boy was arrested for trying to plant explosives in a marketplace. So, Germans have been concerned about this.

ROMANS: Angela Merkel just said, she was just speaking and she said we must assume this is a terrorist attack. She will go to the side of this jus utter carnage here. What we don't know, we know that someone is in the custody. In the Ankara attack, the gunman is dead. And there's really no question. You have video of him.

Here, there is someone who is in custody. It is going to be really compelling for the German populace who this person was, how recently this person came, if this person was a refugee. I mean, that's what already people are talking about. We don't know who the person is though.

GOHEL: Right. And keep in mind that social and ethnic tensions in Germany are currently very tense. They're running high. Ever since Angela Merkel allowed in over 1 million Syrian refugees, there has been this concern that it has created a degree of polarization inside the country.

[05:10:09] Ironically, groups like ISIS have tried to exploit those tensions. There's going to be an election next year in Germany. It's going to very much be effectively a referendum on whether Germany continues to support Chancellor Angela Merkel. And all it's going to take a sense of terrorism, and there has already been a spate of plots in Germany this year where you had refugees carrying attacks which is unfortunately been exploited by extremists on both the far right and also by ISIS as well.

MARQUEZ: Dr. Gohel, you are sitting in London, we are in New York, in both places, I think authorities ramped up security at similar Christmas markets. Germany, clearly, these markets are huge.

Is there -- I mean, France has had so many of these soft target attacks over the last couple years. Is there any sense that governments can properly respond to these sort of attacks?

GOHEL: It's a very important question that you raise. The key to disrupting plots for counter terrorism is intelligence, to have good quality on the ground intelligence which is something the metropolitan police in London pride themselves in as do the NYPD in New York.

As we have seen, intelligence is not foolproof. The authorities have to be lucky all the time. The terrorists need to be lucky just once. And sometimes, a lot of these plots, there's not a lot of network. There's not electronic chatter which can be disrupted. It can suddenly results in individual's rapid radicalization and the consequences are devastating, mass casualty attack as we've seen in Berlin.

ROMANS: All right. Dr. Sajjan Gohel, thank you so much for your expertise this morning from London.

GOHEL: Pleasure.

ROMANS: Nice to see you, sir. Thanks so much.

All right. So, sometimes when these things happen, you see reaction in world markets. Not this time. A pretty muted reaction overall to those horrible attacks in Ankara and Berlin. Dow futures a little bit higher. The average inching toward 20,000. Small gain yesterday. The main index in Frankfurt has just turned lower. Other European stock markets, they are higher. Shares in Asia finished mixed overnight.

Back here in the U.S. A new report shows just how hot the stock market is right now. Since the election, investors have poured a stunning $63 billion into U.S. stocks. They pulled $37 billion out of the bond market.

Few reasons behind all of the stock market buying. The stock market was hot even before the election. Forecast for a drop if Trump won were dead wrong. Those contrarians made a bundle.

Investors excited about Trumponomics. He is promising big spending. He is promising to slash regulation which lower costs for business. He is promising to cut taxes. In general, Wall Street thinks he is a good guy for business.

Finally, the Fed, it raised interest rates last week. Plans three more rate hikes next year. That makes the bond market less attractive and stocks a better buy. I'm going to be honest.

MARQUEZ: Don't be honest.

ROMANS: I'm going to be honest. People are really struggling to figure out what higher rates will mean. Traditionally, higher rates take the shine off the stock market. One of the reasons the stock market has been so good over the past seven years because rates have been so, so low. Now, with rates rising, does that hurt stocks?

Well, (AUDIO GAP) pro-growth policies which stock market investors think it's gong to be good for them. So, there's this kind of push/pull and I think that's why you've seen some indecision in the markets this week.

MARQUEZ: There is a lot of wait and see in this world right now. ROMANS: There is actually. You are right. That was profound.

MARQUEZ: Thank you very much. Thank you. That's it. I'm done for the day.

First lady of the United States opens up about what she really thinks about handing the White House over to the Trumps. We'll have that in a moment.


[05:16:52] ROMANS: As expected, the Electoral College has given Donald Trump enough votes to officially win the presidency. The president-elect immediately taking to his Twitter account, making the statement that some are now questioning. This as some Democrats like Bill Clinton are speaking out about why they think Hillary Clinton lost.

CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta wraps it all for us.


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 to Jim.

Let's talk Trump, his transition and the response to terror and all things political with CNN political managing editor Zachary Wolf joining us from Washington, D.C.

Thank you for getting up so early.

And right here in New York, political analyst and bestselling author, Ellis Henican.



MARQUEZ: It's too early. Good morning.

HENICAN: Good morning.

MARQUEZ: How are you?


MARQUEZ: So, Zachary, first to you.

Donald Trump obviously has the Electoral College votes now. Do you expect that the tweeting will sort of calm down now, now that he is official? Do we expect that this will start to bring some normal president?



ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL, MANAGING EDITOR: No, no. Absolutely not. I mean, he's not going to be -- people need to get over that. He's not going to be a normal president. He's not going to stop tweeting. It's who he is. He's shown that over and over.

He has had so many opportunities where he could stop tweeting. I think the only time was there at the end of the election for just a short amount of time. Now, he is in office. I mean, it's -- no. He's going to keep doing it. It is his political identity.

ROMANS: Well, it is. But also it is his way of getting past us, getting past any gatekeeper of the message. You know, this is why -- he said this week, at one of his rallies, he said, this is why I have these big rallies. Am I going to have rallies when I'm president? I don't know. This is how I make sure those guys, meaning us, can't filter or correct the things that I'm saying.

Ellis Henican, big things in the world right now. You have the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara. You have this terrible truck attack at a Christmas market in Berlin.

[05:20:00] Donald Trump had some real issues that he's facing on the foreign policy front. You've got this drone, this drone, this American drone that the Chinese have returned and two very different responses, from the government -- the American government and the Chinese government about the drone and how peaceful the handover, conciliatory handover.

Donald Trump has a lot on his plate here.

HENICAN: Are you implying he should go to daily intelligence briefings? Is that where this is going?

ROMANS: I'm implying nothing. I'm saying, can you be having rallies and tweeting in the middle of the night when I think the job might change the behavior?

HENICAN: There is the can-question really. It's always hard to tell a new president of the United States to do something he doesn't want to do because, my God, he's just been elected president, right? And that's particularly true when you have the sort of psychological make up of a guy like Donald Trump.

I mean, does it make sense -- should he be boning up on the complex issues? Absolutely. Is he? Unlikely.

ROMANS: Well, the people around him clearly are and will be.

I mean, I guess, Zach, that is my question. When he takes over, the job might change Donald Trump.

WOLF: Yes. And you heard Barack Obama talk about this. It is not until you actually sit down in the chair in the Oval Office and where it starts to weigh in on you, I guess, that you sort of realize you are in charge of this great enterprise of American government.

And I suppose it's possible that that could change Donald Trump maybe at the edges. But this is a guy who has shown himself pretty clearly, his identity has not changed throughout this entire campaign. I'm not sure it would now.

It will be interesting to see how much access we do get, how many interviews or press conferences or, you know, things like that. He could -- you could envision a White House in which it becomes very insular, in which he's there and really doesn't want to talk to the press. And the only time we hear from him is when he tweets to his supporters.

MARQUEZ: That's the question. Presidents always get into the bubble and this -- he may be in the ultimate bubble eventually if it continues the way we were going.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to Oprah Winfrey about that transition and about going into the White House for the first time. Here's what she said.


MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: The words that we say moving forward, all of us, it matters, which is one of the reasons why Barack and I are so supportive of the transition, because no matter how we felt going into it, it is important for the health of this nation that we support the commander in chief. It wasn't done when my husband took office, but we're going high. And this is what's best for the country.

So, we are going to be there for the next president and do whatever we have to do to make sure that he is successful because if he succeeds, we all succeed.


ROMANS: You know, Ellis, she told Oprah she wasn't the one who invented we're going high. I mean, that's something we really associate with Michelle Obama over the summer, over this election, when they go low, we go high. She said she learned that from other first ladies who told her that is how you survive this job.

HENICAN: It's important to point, in that comment right there, there is great fight. But she is not talking about the Bushes. She's talking about people in Congress and political folks, because she went out to her to talk about how terrific the Bushes were in welcoming him and just feels like she had to pass that down.

You know, it reminds you when you listen to her, she is someone who connects with people, right? And we can talk about 100 things that might have affected Hillary's defeat. But one of them clearly was lack of ability on a personal level to connect the way that Michelle Obama did right there.

ROMANS: What a job. High profile. Unelected. Unpaid.

HENICAN: Beloved. Beloved. On the way out the door.

ROMANS: And so much responsibility. Oh my gosh.

OK, guys, don't go away. We'll talk to you again very, very soon. Thanks, guys.

MARQUEZ: Two very different reactions after China takes action with a seized American drone. We go live to Beijing, coming up.


[05:27:21] ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight: the Chinese government has now returned the U.S. underwater drone it grabbed out of the South China Sea last week. And there are sharp contrast in the way these two governments are characterize in the handover of the drone.

Joining us live with the very latest, CNN's Matt Rivers in Beijing.

Good morning, Matt.

One government says this was a friendly, constructive exchange. Another saying, hey, you shouldn't have taken this in the first place.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. This handover happened around noon local time in the South China Sea, actually not far from the location where the drone was first seized by the Chinese. It was given back to a U.S. destroyer in that same area. And just like you said, the Chinese said it was given back after

friendly consultations. But the United States and the Pentagon releasing statement in which they said that the Chinese action was inconsistent with both international law and standards of professionalism for conduct between navies at sea and that they will be continuing to investigate this incident. And we know that this kind of territorial conflicts happen in the South China Sea all the time.

And so, the fact there remains differences with the U.S. and Chinese on to exactly what happened here certainly comes as no surprise. And it might be even emblematic of broader issues that the United States and China continue to have in this part of the world, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Matt Rivers, thank you so much for that.

And, Miguel, we're getting just breaking news now about that Berlin suspect, just crossing the wires.

MARQUEZ: Two German intelligence sources telling CNN the individual who drove the truck into the German Christmas market was, in fact, a refugee from the Pakistan/Afghanistan border area.

ROMANS: And he arrived in Germany, a year ago, December 31st, 2015, after traveling through the Balkans. Again, this is CNN reporting, two German intelligence officials and a policy official telling us this is, in fact, a refugee from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region. That, of course, starts to fill out more of the picture of the horrific investigation. We've got more, next.