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Berlin Police Release Initial Suspect; Turkey Blames U.S.-Based Cleric for Assassination; Trump Looking to Fill Remaining Posts; 29 People Killed in Mexico Fireworks Blast. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:22] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: The Berlin truck attacker still on the loose. Turns out police had the wrong guy in custody.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Finger-pointing after the assassination of that Russian diplomat. Why Turkey, Turkey is now claiming the U.S. should bear some of the blame. We'll explain.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: And I'm Miguel Marquez. Good morning to you.

It is 30 minutes past the hour.

German authorities are scrambling for new leads this morning on the truck attack in the Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people and injured 48 more. Police released a man they had earlier described as a suspect, saying forensic analysis failed to tie the man to the truck itself. Whoever committed the deadly attacks, ISIS is now claiming that it was the inspiration.

For the latest on the investigation and manhunt, we turn to CNN's Max Foster live for us this morning in Berlin.

Max, first, just how are people reacting to this. Those Christmas markets just a national treasure in Germany.

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They really are. They're trying to reopen it for exactly that reason, to show that life can go on as normal here. And ISIS if they were responsible for this, aren't going to win this one.

At the same time, you've got alternative rallies happening today as well between the left and right, the right complaining that immigrants are potentially making Germany a more dangerous country. And the left saying events like this shouldn't fan the seeds of hope, as it were, the winds of hate rather in this country.

So, that's how it's avulsing here. While the police investigation continues, as you say, there are leads. The public have called in something like 500 leads potentially, they've called in and they're following up those calls.

And also, you talked there about the forensic evidence. Actually, there's a lot of forensic evidence from the crime scene behind me. DNA, also some satellite navigation evidence as well, we understand of some sort. We know that because the head of one of the police unions have been doing the rounds on the local media, saying that they're pretty confident that they will get a suspect either today or in the coming days. So, that investigation seems to be going well, even though on the back foot they had the wrong man for nearly a day.

MARQUEZ: Really interesting, they're trying to get that market back open.

Thank you very much, Max Foster for us in Berlin.

ROMANS: All right. The crucial evidence in that Berlin truck attack and the biggest lead in every sense is the semi truck itself -- abandoned by the driver after mowing down dozens of victims and the truck still carrying 25 tons of steel.

Breaking down what investigators are learning now from the truck about the time line of the attack, Tom Foreman takes us through it in the CNN virtual studio.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the truck used in the attack owned by a Polish shipping company. It was on what should have been a routine run delivering steel from Italy up into Germany when authorities believe it was hijacked in the outskirts of Berlin between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. The driver killed. His body later found inside that cab.

How did they know it was this period of time? The shipping company back in Poland says its truck was outfitted with a sophisticated GPS system. They told "The Mirror" newspaper that, basically, they saw odd behavior in this period of time, someone trying to start the truck twice and failing. And then when it got rolling again, erratic driving up toward Berlin, as if somebody else was behind the wheel, not the regular driver.

By 5:00, they say, nonetheless, it had reached the Christmas market up here near Berlin. They tried to call the driver numerous times, no answer. What happens next is also a mystery. For a few hours, it simply goes missing as it gets darker here, the foot traffic gets bigger.

And then the truck reappears down in here. Holiday markets highlighted here in red. And according to eyewitnesses, it begins accelerating, up to 40 less an hour, jumping the curb. This is where all of those stalls and people would have been, and plowing through people for about 250 feet before finally coming to a stop down there.

Why did it stop? We don't know. It didn't hit any kind of major barrier we don't think. The police don't seem to have challenged or to have rammed it. And there were no witnesses saying that they saw somebody get out and ran away, as far as we know at this point, only the murder victim found inside the cab and an awful lot of questions for the investigators.


MARQUEZ: Thank you for that.

Tension is rising between the U.S. and Turkey over claims the U.S. bears some responsibility for the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey.

[04:35:03] Secretary of State John Kerry calling Turkey's foreign minister following the murder to offer his condolences. The foreign minister telling Kerry that his country believes U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the attack by a Turkish police officer. Gulen is a reclusive Turkish opposition figure who lives in rural Pennsylvania. Turkey claims he was also behind the failed coup in July and has been trying without success to get the U.S. to extradite Gulen.

Kerry's spokesperson said the secretary raised concern on its call with Turkey's foreign minister about rhetoric blaming the U.S. about the ambassador's assassination. The spokesperson calls those claims absolutely ridiculous.


JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: With respect to American involvement/support, tacit or otherwise, for this unspeakable assassination yesterday, because of the presence of Mr. Gulen here in the United States, and it is -- it's a ludicrous claim. Absolutely false.


MARQUEZ: Now, for the latest on the assassination and Russian reaction, let's go to CNN's Matthew Chance. He's live for us in Moscow.

Matthew, the ambassador's body has been returned to Russia, such a moving moment in such a horrendous situation.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The Russian, I mean, not just the officials of Russia that have called this a despicable act, of course, and the promise this did not derail either their efforts to find a solution to the conflict in Syria. Or the efforts to build bridges with Turkey, they're not going to be derailed.

But even ordinary people here in Russia were shocked by the way this Ambassador Andrey Karlov was gunned down so publicly. Those pictures as we've seen them have been broadcast all over Russian television as well. I mean, this was meant to be a conflict, a short military operation that Russia was engaged on, an air war to support its ally Bashar al Assad. But increasingly, we're seeing there's a blowback effect. There are

consequences for Russia's military intervention in Syria, as that conflict spills out into the neighboring countries, and, of course, elsewhere across the world as well. And that's something that's a concern to the Kremlin.

In terms of actual funeral arrangements from Ambassador Karlov, it's been announced that he will be buried tomorrow in Moscow. Dignitaries like Vladimir Putin will be attending. Putin says he knew Karlov very well and what locations in the region.

And President Putin is also meant to have his annual press conference, which is a sort of set piece event that the Russian president does every year at this time. He's delayed that as well until the end of the week to make way to this funeral. This is something which obviously has been taken extremely seriously here.

But at the same time, they're saying it's not -- effectively, they're saying they're not blaming the Turkey state for what happened.

MARQUEZ: Very interesting how this is playing both politically and just to see that outpouring of mourning across Russia.

Matthew Chance for us in Moscow, thank you.

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

So, how often is president-elect Donald Trump getting briefed on security situations? The frequency of those high-level briefings back in the spotlight following attacks around the world. The president- elect is also working to fill remaining top jobs in his administration right now.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is at Trump's estate in Palm Beach.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, Donald Trump is beginning another day of vacation here in Palm Beach, Florida. It is a working vacation, though. He's meeting with business leaders and others as he puts together his cabinets, gets ready for his administration which now starts 30 days from today.

He still has two members of his cabinet yet to fill. The Veterans Administration secretary, as well as agricultural secretary. Other key post in the White House as well, White House press secretary, some other advisers could come this week.

Now, Donald Trump is hosting a series of meetings here in Mar-a-Lago, his resort here in Palm Beach, including Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire that Donald Trump railed against during the campaign. He invited him to dinner over the weekend.

Now, Donald Trump confirmed that in a tweet yesterday, calling him a great man, clearly a sign that things will be different in some respects when Donald Trump becomes president, taking a softer tone in some areas, not in others.

One key question, though, is Donald Trump receiving his daily intelligence briefing? He has said before that he does not need to receive it every day. He does not need to see the same information every day. Mike Pence, the vice president-elect is receiving one.

But in the wake of these attacks in Germany, his advisers would not answer our questions whether he received one directly yesterday or simply receive information from his transition team.

[04:40:05] That is something we'll be asking again today, as Donald Trump begins another day here in Palm Beach -- Miguel and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew cautioning the incoming administration. Lew says Donald Trump's ambitious tax cut plans could blow up the deficit.


JACK LEW, TREASURY SECRETARY: I suspect the environment in Washington won't be focused so much on the fiscal gap for the next few months. But it's really important that we keep our eye on that, because if you open a big fiscal gap, the only way to close it is to cut spending or to raise taxes.


ROMANS: The president-elect has vowed to cut taxes significantly for individuals and businesses. He wants to spend a trillion dollars on the infrastructure. During the campaign, he said he would pay for it by cutting wasteful spending, and boosting economic growth, all that without touching the most expensive parts of the federal budget, Social Security and Medicare.

And it's so interesting -- you heard me say this before -- that business leaders are talking about higher construction costs for infrastructure projects because of very tight market for skilled labor. Interesting, right? They're talking about, how do you find the workers for the infrastructure that could drive up the costs of the infrastructure as companies try to scour for workers? Or pay more to trained workers?

MARQUEZ: It will be a trillion dollar with no one to do the work?

ROMANS: Well, more than a trillion dollars. You have to pay --

MARQUEZ: Break it down for me.

ROMANS: You have to pay actually that works. So interesting to see how Jack Lew has to say about that.

MARQUEZ: Interesting days ahead.

ROMANS: Yes, indeed. MARQUEZ: President Obama taking action doing some things that President-elect Trump could have a hard time undoing when he gets to office. We'll explain.


ROMANS: Russia has come up with a road map that it claims will lead to a peace deal in Syria. The deal does not include the U.S. but the Russia's defense minister has convinced Iran and Turkey to sign on. This as Turkish officials say the dramatic evacuation of Aleppo could end today. Turkey's foreign military says nearly 40,000 people have pled the war-torn city, 40,000.

For more on that, let's go live to CNN's Muhammad Lila on the Turkish/Syrian border.

Muhammad, bring us up to date to what's happening here. Is the worst over for Aleppo? And what does that mean now for a peace process more broadly for Syria?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Christine.

You know, is the worst over? You know, we've been asking that over and over again for years and years, is the worst over, the answer has always been no. But there is cause for optimism this morning. We're getting reports from the ground from both sides, both the government side and the opposition side, that all of these evacuations from eastern Aleppo be supposed to be finished by the end of the day.

And the reason why there is some more optimism is that the U.N. is sending 20 observers to monitor that process on the ground. Twenty doesn't sound like a whole lot of people, but on the ground, 20 people can actually mean the difference between saving thousands of lives so there is optimism there.

Now, as far as the bigger picture is concerned, you mentioned that Russia now has some sort of framework in place with Turkey and Iran. You'll notice that the United States is not part of that agreement. And why this is important because Turkey, Iran and Russia are the biggest players right now.

In Syria, Russia has been backing up the Assad government with air strikes and military supplies. Iran has its proxies on the ground and Turkey has its proxies on the ground. All three countries say they're going to work together and their main goal is to fight terrorism inside of Syria. How they define terrorism, we don't know yet, because it's very easy to see, in Syria, it's a very complicated situation, so many different groups fighting each other.

But it looks as though with this group, there may be a building block of a cease-fire. At the end of the day, that cease-fire, whether it's broadly agreed to or not has the potential to save thousands of lives.

ROMANS: All right. Muhammad Lila, I know you'll keep us up to speed on that and keep us up to date. Thank you. MARQUEZ: Now, President Obama planning to downsize Guantanamo Bay before Donald Trump takes office. A congressional official telling CNN, lawmakers received notice Monday of the White House's intention to transfer some additional detainees. "The New York Times" reporting Mr. Obama plans to release or transfer 17 or 18 of the remaining 59 prisoners. President-elect Donald Trump vowed during the campaign to keep the prison open and, quote, "load it up."

ROMANS: President Obama taking new action barring offshore drilling in areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans indefinitely, the White House said the president made the move to protect marine mammals, ecological resources, and native populations.

President-elect Trump promised the policy allowing more U.S. energy reductions. He would almost face legal challenges, Trump would, if he attempted to reverse President Obama's order.

MARQUEZ: And singer/songwriter James Taylor canceling his upcoming concert in Manila in protest. In statement, Taylor said, his music isn't particularly political, but he said he felt he had to take a stand against a deeply concerning and unacceptable reports of summary executions of suspected drug offenders without trial in the Philippines. Taylor's concert was set to take place in February.

ROMANS: All right. Have you finished your holiday shopping?

MARQUEZ: Yes, mostly.

ROMANS: All right. Have you even started? Regardless of your list, there's a surprising number of options still available this year. I'm going to show you the best options for you procrastinators when we get a check on CNN Money Stream.

MARQUEZ: Oh, I'm not going there.

ROMANS: I'm not going there either.


[04:52:21] MARQUEZ: A deadly plane crash caught on video in eastern Colombia. The cargo plane can be seen tilting to one side and veering off the runway, just three minutes after it attempted to take off.

We'll show you another angle here. This is unbelievable. The jet skimming the road.

Five crew members were killed. And a flight technician was sent to the hospital with unknown injuries. At this point, it is unclear what caused the crash. Just unbelievable.

ROMANS: All right. At least 29 people are dead and 72 people are injured after explosions ripped through a fireworks market north of Mexico City. The video we're showing you here is pretty dramatic.

You can see thick smoke and explosions tearing through this market. Just -- it looks like a movie set or something. Investigators are trying to determine what went wrong.

Let's get more this morning from CNN's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, the video images emerging from the town of Tultepec, Mexico, which is just north of Mexico City, are simply staggering and horrifying to watch. The explosions went on and on as thousands of people gathered inside this open market.

In this town that is basically known as the fireworks capital of Mexico, it was a horrifying scene. More than 70 people injured. Nearly three dozen people killed. That death toll could continue to rise. We do know, we've been told by officials in Mexico that three young victims will be brought to a hospital in Texas to be treated for their extreme burns. So you can imagine just the horrifying scene that rescue teams, as well as just bystanders who were rushing into the scene to help whoever they could.

This is a scene that unfolded Tuesday afternoon. The images from the ground revealed the scorched fireworks stands. This is a place where elaborate fireworks displays are sold. Very popular, especially this time of the year as we head into the holiday season and the New Year's festivities.

This isn't the first time that this has actually happened in this open air market. It happened again in 2005. There were no deaths in those series of explosions, but it did cost a great deal of damage and injuries to many people as well. So, once again, the small town basically known as the fireworks capital of Mexico rocked by his horrifying incident -- Christine and Miguel.


MARQUEZ: Ed Lavandera for us, thank you very much.

Four more people charged in connection with the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan. To former Michigan state emergency managers face multiple felonies for failing to protect Flint citizens. Two former Flint officials also facing felony charges. All four suspects face penalties up to 20 years in prison on some of the charges.

[04:55:00] In 2014, officials switched the city's water supply to a system which pulls from the corrosive Flint River. That move triggered widespread lead poisoning.

ROMANS: And these charges keep getting higher and higher up the food chain here.

MARQUEZ: They have promised to continue investigating. And they're making good on their promise. A lot of outrage in Flint.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty-five minutes past the hour. Freezing fog could create dangerous in the southeast today, folks.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri -- actually, it's Allison Chinchar today.

MARQUEZ: Or both of them.

ROMANS: Very wonderful people. Both of them, but it's Allison Chinchar who has the forecast for us.


ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This morning, we're dealing with very dense fog across portions of the Southeast. And that's of particular concern in cities like Nashville, Birmingham and Atlanta where we have freezing fog advisories.

Now, the reason why this is a particular concern is because of the difference of what it is. Now, freezing fog is when the air temperature is below freezing. But the water droplets in the fog are super cooled so they can stay at a liquid state for temperatures as low as, say, 14 degrees.

Now, this causes problems because the droplets freeze on contacts so they can have the same hazards that black ice would have. That's especially concerning along bridges, overpasses and also along the highways as well.

Now, the good news is, as we go through the rest of the day, those temperatures will be warming up relatively quickly, especially after the sun rises. So, high temperature today, Nashville, 50, Atlanta topping out at 61. It will be slightly warmer today in Cincinnati with a high of 42. The high temperature today in New York will be 43 degrees.


ROMANS: All right. Allison Chinchar, thank you for that.

All right. From weather to money, here's CNN Money Stream. The quest for 20,000 might finally end today. Dow futures look higher.

You know, the Dow needs just 26 points to get to 20k. Stock markets in Europe and Asia are mixed. Asia just closed.

The Grinch stole Christmas for thousands of Americans who were given pink slips before the holiday. General Motors laid off 1,300 workers in a Detroit plant, 2,000 more slated to lose their jobs. GM says they'll try to find other spots if possible for them.

Boeing told employees this week, layoffs coming next year. Didn't give a number. Xerox and Caterpillar similar statements, pink slips are come. GoPro cutting 200 employees, 15 percent of its workforce.

This time of the year when they're trying to, I don't know, balance the book for next year. If you've procrastinated finishing or even starting your holiday shopping, good news, you still have options. If you're ordering only, there are a ton of deals, Target at 10 percent off electronics. If you order by 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time today, Target will deliver for free by the 23rd.

The deadline at Best guy 11:30 a.m. Eastern today for free two-day shipping. Amazon Prime can even wait until tomorrow afternoon to place their orders, but double-check when ordering, some may not make it in time. You're running out of time.

The award for the most dedicated retail chain who wants your money is Kohl's. Most stores have been opened for 24 hours this week. They closed, the Kohl's stores plan to close at 6:00 p.m. Christmas Eve. Walmart stores are opening, are closing also at 6:00.

And finally, a heartwarming story involving Amy Schumer. Seriously. A heartwarming story about Amy Schumer. The actress/comedian just bought back her dad's old farm. She posted a video on Instagram.

This is Amy Schumer as a little girl, walking through the corn fields, writing, quote, "We lost the farm when we lost everything else. But today, I got to buy it back for him", her dad. Schumer told "The New York Times" in 2013 that her family went bankrupt when she was 9 years old. Her reps declined to provide any additional details, but you know you have arrived when you can buy daddy the farm back.

MARQUEZ: That's very nice. You're actually making me nervous about this shopping stuff. So, please stop. I want you to deliver my gifts if I order them tomorrow.

ROMANS: I will deliver them.

MARQUEZ: Oh there you go. Fantastic.

Guess what? EARLY START continues right now.


MARQUEZ: A manhunt for the Berlin truck attacker. ISIS claims one of its soldiers carried the assault.

ROMANS: So, who behind the assassination of a Russian ambassador? Turkey points a finger at the U.S. We'll explain.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: And I'm Miguel Marquez. Very nice to see you. Merry Christmas.

It is Wednesday, December 21st, 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

German authorities are scrambling for new leads this morning in the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people and injured 48 more. Police released a man they had earlier described as a suspect, saying forensic analysis failed to tie the man to the truck itself. However, whoever committed the deadly, ISIS is now claiming that it was the inspiration for it.

For the latest on the investigation and manhunt, we turn to CNN's Max Foster live for us in Berlin this morning.