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Source: Trump to be Briefed on World Events Today; Russian Team Investigates Diplomat's Death. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- Costello. Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Future interns? Of course, they'll be paid interns.



COSTELLO: Absolutely.



CUOMO: Fair pay for a fair day's work.

COSTELLO: Exactly. You guys have a great day. NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning, I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. The manhunt is on. German police now searching for a Tunisian national in connection with the Berlin Christmas market attack that left 12 people dead and 48 others wounded. CNN has also learned that investigators believe the suspect has ties to a pro-ISIS network within Germany. Hala Gorani in Berlin with more.

Hi, Hala.

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, fast moving developments and a country on edge, authorities doing everything they can. It's a race against the clock to find this suspect.

They describe him, security sources telling CNN, as born in 1992, a Tunisian national as you mentioned, believed to be connected to an ISIS network inside this country. They are also saying that they believe that this connection is significant because this ISIS network that was led by a man nicknamed Abu Walaa is now in detention, that they facilitated the recruitment of fighters and also helped organize travel between Germany and ISIS controlled territories in the Middle East.

If it is the case that he is connected to this network, it's significant because that would be mean that even though the leader of this particular group of radicalized individuals is in detention, that they are still able to carry out attacks if it's confirmed that this individual was behind that truck massacre that killed 12 people, including the original owner of the truck, we believe, on Monday evening.

So now, this is going to be very, very much a case of finding this individual. They are conducting raids in North Rhine-Westphalia. This is the region of the last known address, if you will, of this particular suspect, this Tunisian national. And they're going to have to go fast because lives are at risk here because if he perpetrated this attack, he is armed and he is dangerous, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Hala Gorani reporting live from Berlin this morning. With me now to talk about this, CNN's Terror Analyst Peter Bergen and Karen Greenberg, the Director for Center of National Security at Fordham University and a terrorism analyst. Welcome to both of you.

So, Peter, this Tunisian suspect is supposedly linked to a pro-ISIS network operating within Germany. What more can you tell us about that?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, not much, Carol, because I think "linked," it's an ambiguous word. Does that mean that he, you know, shared an apartment with somebody in the network? Does that mean that he was actively part of that network? I think that's not very clear.

You know, at one point, the German police have said that there was no direct link to ISIS. So now we're getting conflicting reporting from German security officials, that he had some kind of link to this network. But, again, "link" is kind of an ambiguous word. I mean, I'm sure we'll know more in the next 24 hours.

COSTELLO: And, Karen, we just got an urgent into CNN that Germany says about this suspect. It knew he was dangerous before this happened.

KAREN GREENBERG, DIRECTOR, FORDHAM SCHOOL OF LAW CENTER ON NATIONAL SECURITY: Yes. So, again, what Peter was saying, I mean, what does that mean that they knew he was dangerous? We knew he had been detained earlier. We've heard reports that he was detained earlier, that they had let him go. But, you know, it's very hard to predict what the turning point will be for somebody like this.

The interesting thing in this attack is that this individual, unlike other individuals and attacks, Nice, for example, has, you know, got away. So there was some kind of plan to get away. And so the question is, what kind of network is protecting him and where would that lead us? So I think that's why the focus on, is he tied to a network more than the direct who inspired him or who directed him right now?

COSTELLO: He left his identity papers in the cab of that truck, Peter. And I don't know, I just found that kind of strange. I know there was a big fight with the truck driver and maybe it fell out of his pocket then, but is that strange? BERGEN: I don't think so. I mean, people make mistakes all the time.

And, you know, because he's escaped doesn't necessarily mean that he's, you know, the world's greatest mastermind as a criminal. You know, the other option is, you know, did he intentionally do this? That seems unlikely.

But, you know, going back to what Karen was saying about, you know, people, authorities often have somebody on the radar screen, and then they, you know, either because there's not enough evidence to keep the case open or because of lack of resources kind of move on and we see this repeatedly in the United States. Omar Mateen who killed 49 people in Orlando was interviewed by the FBI on two occasions because of remarks he made about al Qaeda and ISIS to co-workers.

So it's not unusual for somebody who's done this kind of crime to have come to the attention of the authorities. In fact, that's really the norm. What's very unusual is when people come out of nowhere and do these things. We saw that in Orlando with the couple who killed 14 people attending an office meeting in San Bernardino where 14 people were killed. You know, that couple was not known to law enforcement. But that's really the exception, rather than the rule.

[09:05:26] COSTELLO: Interesting. So there has to be surveillance video, right, so, A, why haven't we seen it? Because it could help track down the suspect, couldn't it, Karen?

GREENBERG: It could and I mean, we don't know how much they actually know. There have been reports of them having pictures of this individual based on his papers. So we don't actually know. You know, this is not the U.K. where they have the kind of surveillance that they have in the U.K. in Germany. So again, this is going to raise a whole bunch of issues about surveillance, how much you have or when you have it and things like that.

COSTELLO: OK. So the long finger of blame is pointing in all different kinds of directions, but one direction it is in is the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel. Geert Wilders, who was a far- right Dutch politician who was recently convicted of hate speech in the Netherlands, tweeted out this picture.

It's a Photoshopped picture of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and you can see she's covered with blood. This picture actually wound up on the "Drudge Report," a blog that actively pushed Donald Trump for President. So, Peter, what should we read into this?

BERGEN: Well, that Geert Wilders is a very unpleasant human being, I think, is one way to read that. You know, we have seen the rise of far-right ultranationalist parties across Europe in Poland, in Hungary, in France, to some degree in the United Kingdom, and it's all in response either to refugees or immigration.

And this is kind of going to be one of the biggest features, I think, of the next decade. Many of these parties took great pleasure in the election of Donald Trump, who also ran on a sort of ultranationalist ticket. And the kind of incident we saw in Berlin is certainly going to make Angela Merkel's election campaign a lot harder to sustain. She's running for her fourth term.

As you know, Carol, the open door policy in Germany has basically become very unpopular. Initially, she was seen as sort of a heroic figure who was taking in refugees and doing the right thing.

But these countries are not really equipped to take on this large number of refugees, in a place where there's really no ideology, like we have in the United States of the American dream, where, you know, we bring in refugees and immigrants from all around the world and they become American citizens. There's really no ideological mechanism in Europe that's the same.

COSTELLO: Right. So there seems to be this concerted effort on the part of many people to oust Angela Merkel. But what would Germany be like without Angela Merkel in power, Karen?

GREENBERG: Well, that's an excellent question. And I think, to go to Peter's point, the question is what's really going to happen with the far-right in the west in Europe, in the U.K., and here? And the problem with their anti-immigrant, anti-refugee language, and also their lack of programs for integrating refugees and immigrants, is really a problem of simplifying the issue of radicalization and violence.

And so the more it's put on the idea of refugees, foreigners, immigrants, the more the real causes and the many, many multilayered causes of radicalization and violence are obscured. And so it's a concern not just from the point of view of civil liberties, but from the point of view of safety.

COSTELLO: All right. I have to leave it there. Karen Greenberg, Peter Bergen, thanks so much for your insights.

A massive explosion ripped through a popular fireworks market in Mexico City. The charred debris is all that remains of Mexico's largest fireworks market. Thirty-one people now dead, 72 others injured. Three children suffered burns so extreme they were flown over a thousand miles to a hospital in Galveston, Texas. Sara Sidner live with more.

Hi, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. It's a terrible scene here, this fireworks market where families would show up, now especially mothers, fathers, children, to pick out fireworks because that's part of the tradition here in Mexico, that you blow those off for Christmas and New Year's.

I'm going to give you a look at the scene this morning. There are military police standing here. There are forensic police who are still here looking for potentially more bodies inside. And there are families outside who still cannot find their loved ones, worried about where they are. They have not been able to identify them, some of the bodies charred so badly.

This is a terrible scene. It's about a football field of what was stalls that sold fireworks. That was the main purpose of this particular market.


[09:10:06] SIDNER (voice-over): Mexican authorities still searching for what exactly set off this massive fireworks explosion that left dozens dead and even more injured. A horrifying sight in the town of Tultepec. Shooting flares ripping through the stadium-sized market place about 25 miles north of Mexico City.

This towering gray cloud seen for miles. Images from above capture the chaos, showing emergency vehicles arriving on the scene, people running for their lives. Many of the injured escaping with severe burns, including three children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): To tell you the truth, I do not know how I ran out of here. Everything was so horrible.

SIDNER (voice-over): After battling the blaze for hours, firefighters on the ground confirming the fires are now contained. But the devastation left behind is staggering. Vehicles and metal charred. The marketplace bustling with holiday shoppers now reduced to rubble and ash. And this isn't the first time this pyrotechnics market has been rocked by fire. This latest catastrophe marking the third time fires ravaged this location in the last decade.


SIDNER: And I have to tell you, when we arrived, you can certainly smell it before you can see it. You can smell the charred buildings. You can smell that distinct smell of fireworks still in the air. Really devastating for the families, some of whom are waiting at the morgue trying to figure out if their loved ones are among the dead -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Sara Sidner reporting live for us this morning. Still to come in the NEWSROOM. Sources telling CNN that Donald Trump will be briefed on this attack and what's happening around the world. Actually, the terrorist attacks overseas, that's what he'll be briefed on. Should he have waited until then, until after this briefing to tweet out what he tweeted out? We'll talk about that next.


[09:15:18] COSTELLO: President-elect Trump will sit down with his national security adviser -- his pick for national security adviser today where he'll be briefed on events happening around the world. The meeting comes amid questions over whether Trump has been taking his daily intelligence briefings.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is following the story. She joins me now with more.

Good morning.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. You know, CNN has asked the transition team repeatedly, is the

president-elect getting these daily briefings by U.S. intelligence, especially in the wake of the overseas attack this week?

All they're telling us, though, is that he is being briefed by his national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, but that's essentially secondhand information. We have learned that Trump will meet with Flynn today. It will be for a briefing on events around the world, as well as staffing discussions and the meeting was scheduled before the attacks took place.

Now, CNN has also learned that Trump is averaging one presidential briefing per week with some weeks as many as three. They are, of course, available every day. We also know that the presidential -- the president-elect is vacationing in Florida and while he's there, he does have someone available directly to him 24/7 to inform him on the latest intelligence. Something that is customary for presidents while they travel.

Now, in the midst of all these questions about his briefings, the president-elect did take to Twitter this morning to change the dialogue to once, again, the Electoral College, stressing that he specifically campaigned to win the 270 electoral votes necessary, that he could have won the popular vote, that was the name of the game.

And then firing off this tweet about Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump tweeting, "I have not heard any of the pundits or commentators discussing the fact that I spent far less money on that win than Hillary on the loss."

Now, these comments coming on the heels of former President Bill Clinton speaking Monday about his wife's nearly 3 million vote lead. As we saw Monday in the Electoral College vote, Carol, it is official, Donald Trump will be president. So unclear why he keeps tweeting about the election itself.

COSTELLO: OK. So we won't talk about that anymore then.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

COSTELLO: Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Even as investigators overseas were trying to sort out the facts of multiple terror attacks, Trump had already jumped to his own conclusion. He tweeted quote, "Today, there were terror attacks in Germany, Switzerland and Germany and it is only getting worse. The civilized word must change thinking."

But that was not entirely true. The attack in Switzerland was not terror-related. The gunman was a Swiss national. Police say had no known links to terror groups and he attacked a mosque.

When it comes to Russia's hacking of the U.S. election, Trump claimed the White House only brought up the subject after Hillary Clinton lost. Actually, the White House said in October that Russia was behind the hacks. Critics say this is disturbing because it's unclear if President-elect Trump is getting intelligence briefings on a consistent basis.

So, let's talk about that and more. With me now, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics, Rebecca Berg, and Washington bureau chief for the "L.A. Times", David Lauter.

Welcome to both of you.


COSTELLO: Rebecca, we do understand that Mr. Trump will meet with his national security adviser Michael Flynn today before the Christmas holiday sets in earnest, and get an intelligence briefing.

Should, should Americans be concerned?

BERG: Well, it is problematic, Carol, if Donald Trump, moving forward, and especially after he's sworn in, is not receiving this presidential daily briefing, which is different as Jessica noted in her report, from Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's national security adviser, giving him this information secondhand. As we've seen from Michael Flynn, sometimes he can get his facts confused a little bit. He has trafficked in some conspiracy theories.

So, it's important that Donald Trump is getting this information straight from the source, straight from the intelligence community, and it's not only really a matter of getting this information daily to be able to make his decisions as president on a daily basis. But if there's an international crisis that pops up that Donald Trump wasn't expecting, he needs to know what's going on in the world, needs to have a sort of baseline sense of what's happening so that he can make a decision in that moment, moment of great measure and international crisis.

So, it is important once he is sworn in as president, that he be getting this information on a consistent basis, and it's important now, even, because here is someone who has never served in elected office, never served in the military, doesn't have sort of a baseline of information that he's working with. And so, it's important that we get up to speed before he is sworn in, so that he's able to make those big decisions.

COSTELLO: So, so, David, because he's not having daily briefings with intelligence officials, is that why he -- he may tweet out these erroneous things?


[09:20:01] I mean you know, there are two competing theories, really, about what Trump is doing. One is that he says things because he feels that they're politically helpful to him, or because it just is sort of a spontaneous thing that occurs to him that he doesn't have much of a filter. And that's possible.

The other is that he really doesn't exactly know the facts of what's going on. The latter is obviously the more disturbing one, in a president. And it's hard to know, of course, because the president- elect, unlike previous presidents-elect, has not held a press conference. He hasn't actually held a press conference in almost half a year at this point in terms of a full question and answer session with the press.

So, we've had very little opportunity to get a sense of how he's thinking about things, what his chain of thought is. We're left to sort of interpret the glimmers here and there from tweets and things like that. And, that has given rise to a lot of questions that he really hasn't put to rest about, how much does he really know about what's going on in the world? Is he sheltering himself in a bubble, or is he just sort of popping off about things that occur to him?

COSTELLO: Maybe -- maybe this is part of a -- a wider plan that we just don't know about, Rebecca. Maybe he wants to throw other countries off guard, and then go through -- to kind of intimidate them into doing business with the United States down the line.

BERG: And certainly he did say during the campaign, Carol, that he wanted to be unpredictable in terms of his strategy with foreign policy and national security. But, with the briefings in particular, Donald Trump said in a recent interview that he's just the smart guy that he doesn't think he needs these briefings on a daily basis, doesn't need to hear the same information over and over again.

But, the briefings aren't really about, you know, being smart, or not smart. They're about giving you the information you need to do your job as president, and also to have this conversation with your intelligence community --

COSTELLO: Right, I understand that. But you could cite an example of how it might have worked for Donald Trump with China and the drone, right? Because he tweeted out that he didn't like what China did. He made it very clear, right? That China did something wrong, and China returned the drone lickety-split, David.

So, maybe that sort of thing works sometimes.

LAUTER: Well, you know, there is a theory that you do better when you keep your adversaries off balance. Richard Nixon used to have what he called the Madman Theory. That it was great if other countries that that you were a little crazy and that you might retaliate in a way that they weren't expecting.

The problem, of course, with that strategy is that it has a higher risk, and you got to make sure that you get it right, and that's why having a really firm grasp of the details of what's going on is important, so that you can make the judgments about where you can push the risk, and where maybe if you push too hard, things might spin out of control in a way that you would regret.

And that's the question about the president-elect. Does he really have that grasp or not. Maybe he does. But he, as I said, because -- partly because he hasn't held press conferences, he hasn't made himself available, it's very hard for the public, not just the press, but the public, to evaluate how he's making his decisions. COSTELLO: Again, that could be totally orchestrated, right. We'll

just have to see.

Rebecca Berg, David Lauter, thanks to both of you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM: it costs them big events and big business. Now, North Carolina is taking step towards ending its transgender bathroom dispute.


[09:27:02] COSTELLO: Russia says it's too soon to speculate on the motives behind the murder of its ambassador to Turkey. Last night, a 18-person investigated team landed in Ankara, Turkey, and a spokesman for the Kremlin says it wants to hear their answers before drawing any conclusions.

Matthew Chance live in Moscow with more.

Hi, Matthew.


That's right. The funeral for Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador who was assassinated, effectively, in Ankara yesterday is going to be held in Moscow tomorrow, here local time. That's on Thursday. It's going to be attended, the funeral, by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, who says he knew Ambassador Karlov very well, personally, because he worked with him several times in the region.

And in the past few hours, the Russian president has announced a posthumous award giving him the title of Hero of the Russian Federation. It's one of the highest honors that Russia can bestow on a civilian.

And, this all underlines just how much mourning and grief there is in this country as a result of this dramatic and tragic killing. And Russians themselves are shocked at the idea that one of their high officials in Turkey was gunned down in such a public manner. The images that we've all seen, a lot now, of that lone gunman drawing his weapon at that photographic exhibition where the ambassador was giving a speech and shooting the ambassador nine times until he was dead, absolutely, again, shocking for many people in Russia.

And it underlines just what the consequences are for Russia for continuing its military intervention inside Syria. Until now, it's been a relatively cost-free military involvement. But this has really rammed it home that the Syrian conflict has the ability to spill out and cross its borders and into Russia's world.

COSTELLO: Russia is now responding to new sanctions put into place by the Obama administration. How is that going over?

CHANCE: Again, the Obama administration has extended the sanctions it already has against Russia, over its annexation, I should say, of Crimea. That it began in 2014. The Kremlin issued a statement saying it regrets this destructive line being imposed or being followed by the White House against Russian businessmen and companies that we disagree with him and will respond with adequate measures because it damages bilateral relations. U.S. imposed new sanctions on the seven men and eight companies in connection with the Crimean peninsula.

Russia is, of course, very hopeful that under Donald Trump, when he becomes president on the 20th of January, this regime of sanctions that have an impact on the Russian economy from the United States will start to be eased. Certainly, Rex Tillerson, who is Trump's choice for secretary of state, has been on record as saying in the past that he does not believe that sanctions are an effective tool of foreign policy for the United States. But, at the moment, you know, it's Obama that's in office, and he's extended these sanctions.

COSTELLO: All right. Matthew Chance reporting live from Moscow -- thank you.