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Police: Berlin Suspect Previously Arrested, Released; Tragedy at Mexican Fireworks Market; Source: Trump to be Briefed on World Events Today; Trump Outlines Plan to Act without Congress. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 10:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

And good morning, I'm Carol Costello, thank you so much for joining me. We're following three big stories around the world right now. Lawmakers in North Carolina gathering at this moment, a special session about to get started which could repeal the state's controversial bathroom bill. In Mexico, a massive explosion ripped through a fireworks market packed with customers. 31 people now dead, 72 more injured. And in Germany, a massive terror manhunt underway, German police now say they know the suspect and that he was arrested just months ago and then released by a judge.

So let's start with what's happening in Berlin and that suspect and the new information. CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank joins us now. You broke much of this information. Tell us about this suspect.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Carol, he's Tunisian and born in 1992, and somebody that had been part of an ISIS recruitment network in Germany moving in those course, a charismatic Iraqi figure was the leader of that network, a 32-year-old and they were shifting people over from Europe, from Germany to send them to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. This is somebody that was on the radar screen of German security services, somebody considered to be potentially dangerous.

That was also confirmed in the press conference which just wrapped up from German officials in Berlin. And this is an individual that had resided in the northwest Rhine part of Germany and there have been raids there throughout the day in Germany. We are told by security officials as part of this investigation, but they have not yet taken him into custody. They are very worried that he's armed and dangerous.

More information coming in from security officials that he was detained in the southern Germany town of Friedrichshafen in the summer. He was on his way to Italy with fake identity papers. And then the Germans after that initiated deportation procedures against him, but they weren't actually able to deport him because they were not actually able to ascertain his identity for sure. Under German law you have to know who you're dealing with before you deport them. And so he was released and so there are a lot of questions for German authorities this morning.

COSTELLO: So Paul, I know that his identification papers, were they found in the cab of that truck that drove through the Christmas market and if they were, why aren't German authorities showing people a picture of this man?

CRUICKSHANK: Yes. His identification papers were found in the cabin of the truck. That was the key clue that allowed them to identify this suspect and to initiate this manhunt. They do have pictures of him. I have actually seen those pictures. But from whatever combination of reasons, they have decided not to put them out yet, not to share them with the general public like for example, the investigators in Boston did after the attacks just a few years ago, the bombings there.

That will be a decision that will be taken at the very highest levels in Germany, not yet to put these pictures out, but if they don't arrest and find him soon, I think you can expect them to put those out and to kind of crowd source the investigation so we're waiting on that to see if that happens.

COSTELLO: OK. So Paul, stand by. I want to take our viewers to Berlin for just a second and journalist Chris Burns because earlier today, the German president visited those injured in the attack in a local hospital. The president said the trip was symbolic of the millions who support the victims saying, "They are not alone." Tell us more, Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, JOURNALIST: Well, Carol, yes, that visit as well as another visit here just a while ago by the foreign minister Frank- Walter Steinmeier (ph) with the Italian counterpart foreign minister visiting here at the memorial church where at the foot of that church is where that market is that was hit by that bus -- by that truck just a couple days ago. And Frank-Walter Steinmeier (ph) saying -- telling the media we are living through difficult and painful hours right now. We want to get to the bottom of this investigation, we want to find the actor in this, the guy, the attacker or the attackers, and at the same time, we want to preserve our way of life. And that is really

[10:05:16] what we're trying to do. Berliners are trying to do here today. It is come back to life. The market -- the Christmas market here is still closed but there are other markets that are open. Under heavy guard, police with sub-machine guns, road blocks and that is happening all across Germany with heightened security as that manhunt goes on. Carol?

COSTELLO: I love the fact they just put that tree up right again. So Chris, thank you very much. I want to bring in now, Buck Sexton, he's a former CIA counterterrorism analyst and Paul Cruickshank joins us too. So, welcome back, Paul. Welcome, Buck. Buck, what do you make of this latest information?

BUCK SEXTON, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it all fits in with I think what most people's expectations were given that a lot of the tactics, techniques, procedures that we see in this attack mimic a couple of other ones. In fact, there have now been three attacks that the Islamic state has claimed credit for using its channels, its propaganda channels online, involving vehicles. So, just given the initial reports on this, it certainly seems to be a jihadist attack, probably ISIS inspired, if not ISIS directed, and so this is all fitting in with what expectations were, I think.

And now, it's just a question of how quickly they can get the perpetrator and also, there's always the possibility of not just following attacks from the one individual who is guilty of this mass casualty event but also perhaps associates of his. Sometimes they will be accelerated -- attack plans because they are afraid that they may be caught because of their association with the individual that's now part of this massive nationwide manhunt.

So there's a race against the clock that's happening. Everything seems to be falling into more or less I think what people would have expected given all of this, and we just have to see if German authorities can catch this individual before he has a last stand attack.

COSTELLO: You know, Paul, this story sounds achingly familiar, right? The suspect, he appeared before a judge. They had him in custody, and then he went free, disappearing somewhere within Germany, and now this.

CRUICKSHANK: Yes. Well, I mean, the bottom line is they have got a lot of people on the radar screen in Europe in time and time again. We have seen attacks or plots by people already on the radar screen of security services. We saw with the Paris attacks on November 13 -- of last year, that the majority of those plotters were actually already on the radar screen in European security services. It's very difficult for them to monitor everybody all the time. You just need huge resources. You can only really monitor a fraction of the people that you suspect could be dangerous at any one moment of time.

But let me just add one point on the manhunt right now. What we do now know about this suspect is he was connected to part of a radical network in Germany that was smuggling recruits to join ISIS, to send them to ISIS. And so, that may give him an opportunity to take advantage of a logistical support network in Germany, one potentially to hide him and two potentially to get him out of the country. And so, that may complicate the task of German investigators in the hours ahead but there are other people, other extremists that he's been mixing with, who may be helping him hide or possibly escape.

And we saw with the Paris attacks in November 2015. That Salah Abdeslam, who ducked out of that attack, was hidden by that network behind the attack, in Brussels for months and months and months before they managed to find him. And so, this could be a very long manhunt, it could be over very, very quickly. The longer it goes on for, the more likely those pictures are going to be broadcast all over the place by German officials because that will shrink the operating universe that this individual can work in.

COSTELLO: And Buck, I suspect that intelligence officials within Germany and elsewhere within Europe are conferring right now, trying to share information and figure out what to do?

SEXTON: Absolutely. There's the concern that's very real among security services well outside of Germany and even here at home that the Islamic state has been saying for months now, vehicle attacks, knife attacks, those are the sorts of things they want people without any direct affiliation to engage in, in order to sort of create a constant state of ever-present jihad in societies around the world. And quite honestly, this is also a heightened time because it is the holiday season, the Christmas season. We know that there has also been propaganda saying -- they should strike out at the west, strike out of Europe and America, during this period of time.

So, there are also probably plots that are underway or that need to be disrupted right now well outside of Germany, including the possibility as Paul pointed out, of those who are tied to this individual or part of a broader network, perhaps part of a terrorist cluster. So, security services have a lot of work to do. And until we have this individual and have more answers, who is working with him, who is helping him and who else may be operational, we'll just have to see.

There are a number of plots in Germany the last few weeks, last few months that were disrupted that didn't get much media coverage that were similar

[10:10:16] in the scope and intent to what we saw here. So this is not really surprising. It's just horrific and tragic.

COSTELLO: Buck Sexton, Paul Cruickshank, thanks to both of you.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, tragedy in Mexico, 31 people dead after an explosion ripped through a popular fireworks market packed with families prepping for the upcoming holidays. We take you live there, next.


[10:14:13] COSTELLO: This morning, in Mexico, a search for answers after a mass explosion ripped through a popular fireworks market in Mexico City. Charred debris is all that remains of Mexico's largest fireworks market. 31 people now dead, 72 others injured. Three children suffered burns so extreme, they were flown more than 1,000 miles to a hospital in Galveston, Texas. Sara Sidner, live in Mexico with more. Hi, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning. Yes, now, we are seeing some more very disturbing images. We are seeing the forensics team come in and continue to search for bodies as well as cadaver dogs. I will give you a look behind me at what the market looks like this morning. One of the things we are also learning is that this was considered in much of South America. This was considered a fairly safe market. They had had incidents before, fires that did not kill people but injured people from exploding fireworks. So they moved -- and you will notice they moved

[10:15:16] the buildings further apart. Little market stalls further apart. But clearly, that did not help in this tragedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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 size marketplace, 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 now, we are hearing that the governor of the state is expected here to give an update on what is going on at this hour. We do know that there are still families at the morgue. There are still bodies that are unaccounted for. Some of the bodies are charred so badly, they can't seem to identify the victims. Carol?

COSTELLO: Sara Sidner, reporting live for us this morning. Thank you.

In the world of politics, President-elect Donald Trump will meet with his national security adviser today and he's expected to be briefed on a host of world events. This meeting comes amid questions over whether Mr. Trump has been taking his daily intelligence briefings. CNN's Jessica Schneider is following the story for us this morning. She has 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 attacks this week. All they are saying right now is that he is being briefed by his national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn but that's essentially second-hand information. Now, 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. Now, that meeting was scheduled before the attacks overseas took place.

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

COSTELLO: Jessica Schneider, many thanks.

While Americans ponder how many intelligence briefings President-elect Trump is taking part in, the House Speaker Paul Ryan is schooling the outgoing president, Barack Obama.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Presidents don't write laws. Article two of the Constitution says that presidents faithfully execute the laws and article one says Congress writes the laws.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've got a pen and I've got a phone. Whenever I can take steps without legislation, I will.

RYAN: The legislative branch, the one that is directly elected by the people to write laws for the people is the branch that writes our laws. The executive branch does not.


COSTELLO: OK. So, President-elect Trump is also not opposed to using executive orders. Just two weeks ago in Louisiana, Mr. Trump outlined how he planned to act without Congress.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL-ELECT: One of my first executive orders will be to ask the Department of Labor to investigate all visa abuses that undermine jobs and wages to the American worker. This is about our country now.


COSTELLO: In November, Mr. Trump also outlined a list of executive actions he would take in his first 100 days in office. He would withdraw from trade deals. He would kill energy regulations. And he would impose a five-year ban on lawmakers becoming lobbyists after leaving office, among other things.

So let's talk about that and more. I'm joined by CNN political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein and politics editor at "," and political science and communications professor, Jason Johnson. Welcome to both of you.


COSTELLO: So Jason, it appears that Donald Trump is also going to use executive actions. So, is Paul Ryan putting his eggs in a basket too soon?

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR "THEROOT.COM" AND PROFESSOR POLITICAL SCIENCE/COMMUNICATIONS MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: I mean, look, -- everyone has a problem with -- a president using their executive power when it's not what you want. You know, there are lessons that we could make a video about Paul Ryan as well that it's Congress' job to [10:20:16] actually sort of implement a budget, that it's Congress' job to actually do something about when a president puts someone for the Supreme Court.

So, this is just you know spiking the football, the Republicans want to be snide because they won the presidency but Donald Trump is going to use executive orders just like Barack Obama did because when you don't think Congress is acting fast enough that's what you do.


COSTELLO: I mean the cat's out of the bag. It's been happening not just with President Obama but with presidents past, too, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: The long-term trend is clearly toward presidents pushing the boundaries of executive authority. Part of that, Carol, is because the situation we're in now, starting in January, has become the anomaly. We have seen unified control of government, the same party holding, the White House and the Congress, for only 12 of the past 48 years. And when it's happened, it hasn't lasted very long.

And when you have divided government, and more kind of parliamentary style government where it's difficult to get bipartisan agreement with the president and members of Congress and the other party, what we have seen is whether it was George W. Bush on national security or President Obama on a series of domestic issues particularly immigration, presidents pushing the boundaries of executive authority. I would underline one other point, which is that, the other thing we've learned over the past 15 years is that it's really hard for Congress to stop a president who wants to push the boundaries of executive authority. The real limit on their ability is the courts, not so much the Congress.

COSTELLO: So, maybe Paul Ryan is banking on the fact that Donald Trump is a Republican and the House is Republican-controlled as is the Senate. So, shouldn't the divisiveness and the need for executive orders go away because of that, Jason?

JOHNSON: No, no, now that you're all on the same team everyone wants to line up to get what they want. Look, I think the Republicans will be unified in some policies but I think now that they control not only the presidency, not only the Senate, not only the House, but a lot of governorships. I think every single Republican who has a particular issue whether it's a moral issue or economic issue or infrastructure issue, they are all going to be ling up at the White House to get what they want. And once those requests come in, you are going to have conflicts. The similar things have happened when Democrats ran all the different branches of government.

So, I think Paul Ryan again, he feels really confident right now but once those Christmas lists come in, he's going to have just as much difficulty wrangling together his caucus as did his predecessor, John Boehner and Democrats like Nancy Pelosi before him.

COSTELLO: OK. So something voters might not be too jazzed about because they really like that term drain the swamp, Ron, right? Well, Newt Gingrich wrote something very interesting. He says Donald Trump now wants to end the use of drain the swamp because, "I'm told he now just disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn't want to use it anymore." What do you make of that?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean you know -- you have a situation where they have appointed a government that includes you know, lots of people from Wall Street, wealthy cabinet members and a lot of more ideological appointments than you might have expected from the campaign where he was kind of more - heterodox kind of candidate. He's appointed something that really reflects more the different aspects of the Republican coalition.

And you know I think - some of the ethics concerns maybe not only what we are talking about in terms of where the appointees come from but the questions about his kids. There's a certain incentive for Republicans on the hill to not push these as hard as you might, as certainly as Democrats wanted to push, because they want to keep a unified front to move forward, a policy agenda that has been building, that has been kind of like building behind the dam during the two terms of President Obama.

And I expect a lot of movement on a lot of fronts very quickly from this unified government, many of which are going to be very controversial even perhaps to some of Trump's voters on issues like Medicare, for example, converting that into a premium support system as Paul Ryan wants to do. And I think in the service of that, I think many of these ethics issues are going to be somewhat sublimated.

COSTELLO: So, is it just a simple matter of it's not so easy to drain the swamp, Jason?

JOHNSON: No. I just don't think he ever had any intention of draining the swamp. There are all sorts of things that Donald Trump said that he has no intention of doing. He talked about getting rid of the Affordable Care Act. And now he's waffled on that. He talked about draining the swamp and he's brought a whole bunch of his cronies in. He talked about making an administration full of America. And it has more white men and fewer women and fewer people of color than the last two or three administrations including Bush combined.

So, I'm not surprised that Donald Trump has backtracked on a lot of his promises. What I will find interesting going forward is, when he does actually get into office, and has to get things done, how many times is he going to be able to backtrack on promises before it has a consequence in 2018 or even some of these governors' races in 2017?

COSTELLO: All right --

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick

COSTELLO: Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick, Carol, the consequence may be more actually fulfilling some of the promises. I mean, I do think they are going to move forward on repealing the Affordable Care Act. I think the biggest single question they face from a policy perspective is whether in fact they try to restructure

[10:25:16] Medicare the way Paul Ryan has been proposing since 2010 because many of the Trump voters, which are dominated by blue collar, older, and nonurban whites, don't like that idea. So maybe going forward, that it is kind of more explosive than moving back.

COSTELLO: OK. We'll have to see. Ron Brownstein, Jason Johnson, many thanks.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, it's a British Royal tradition, Christmas at Sandringham but Queen Elizabeth and her husband may be sitting this year out. We'll tell you why.


[10:29:13] COSTELLO: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me. Britain's Queen Elizabeth is delaying her traditional Christmas travel because she and Prince Philip are suffering from, "heavy colds." The pair had been scheduled to depart by train today. Ian Lee, live in London to tell us why. Good morning.

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol. Buckingham Palace is playing down this news that both the Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, have heavy colds. It does, though, delay their trip to Sandringham where they have their annual Christmas tradition. The royal family goes there. You will have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate. You also have Prince Harry, as well as Prince Charles and Camilla there for this Christmas tradition. Usually though, the -- Buckingham Palace doesn't give us this play by play of how sick they are or what they have but because it is delaying this trip, that is why they're letting us know.