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German Police Release New Information on Terror Suspect; Huge Explosions Rip Through Fireworks Market, Killing 29; Trump Children Deny Involvement with Fundraiser Auctioning off Presidential Access. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired December 21, 2016 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A massive manhunt underway across Germany.
[05:58:21] PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: ISIS is making this claim that they've inspired this attack, but they've offered no evidence.
JOHN KIRBY, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It's prudent to treat this as a plausible terrorist attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: German police spent 24 hours interrogating the wrong man.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Whoever carried out this attack is at large, armed and dangerous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Explosions rocking a fireworks market north of Mexico City.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The horrifying scene, nearly three dozen people killed. That death toll could continue to rise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Investigators are trying to determine what went wrong.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, December 21, 6 a.m. in the east, and there is breaking news in that deadly truck massacre. Police honing in on a suspect who may be behind the murder of 12 people and dozens of injuries at a holiday market in Berlin.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The search resumes after forensic tests failed to link that initial suspect yesterday to the truck. ISIS now says it expired this attack.
We have all the developments covered for you this morning, beginning with CNN's international correspondent, Hala Gorani. She is live in Berlin for us -- Hala. HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have some
significant new information, according to German security officials who have spoken to CNN.
We understand that German police are now searching for a specific individual born in 1992, a Tunisian, in relation to this truck attack, the attack, of course, that happened on Monday evening in that market behind me.
We don't have any information about whether this means the police believe the man was the driver of that truck that plowed into the Christmas market, killing 13 people, or whether he's just loosely connected in some other way to the attack.
This is information we hope to get a little bit later. There are expectations that the police will be holding a press conference, that we're waiting to see whether or not they'll divulge or announce any significant or important information.
Meantime, of course, police are working around the clock to try to get more on this investigation and find the person or persons responsible for this atrocity.
GORANI (voice-over): An urgent manhunt under way across Germany. Police warning that the driver who carried out Monday's deadly attack may be armed and dangerous, and cautioning that there could be more than one perpetrator at large.
The desperate search intensifying after German authorities acknowledged Tuesday that they initially detained the wrong man, releasing the man who they picked up after forensic evidence failed to connect him to the scene.
This as ISIS claims they inspired the attack, calling the driver their soldier, although investigators have yet to uncover any specific links to terrorist group.
KIRBY: We don't have enough information right now to back up the claims by ISIS that they inspired or directed or in any way involved in this. We think it's prudent for the Germans to treat this as a plausible terrorist attack.
GORANI: The day of the attack the Polish driver of the black semi- truck was on a planned run from Italy to Germany, delivering steel before losing contact with his employer. Authorities believe that the truck was hijacked about four hours before plowing into the Christmas market. The driver's body, shot at close range, found in the passenger seat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People go here to have a good evening. To have -- they drink wine and eat -- eat something and stay here and with friends or family. And then they are dead.
GORANI: Thousands of mourners, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, filing into the famous Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Tuesday to pay respect to the victims.
Merkel's re-election bid complicated by the assault as she faces growing concerns over her government's generous acceptance of nearly 900,000 asylum seekers over the past year. Despite the fact that initial reports about the driver being a refugee were wrong, far-right leaders in Europe are already casting blame on the German chancellor for the attack.
GORANI: And a little bit later we're expecting the German foreign minister and his Italian counterpart to visit the scene. We understand, according to reports, that one of the victims was an Italian woman whose family is now in Berlin; and he says they are expecting the worst -- Chris and Alisyn.
CUOMO: Hala, appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Let's bring in CNN terrorism analyst and co-author of "Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA," Paul Cruickshank; and CNN contributor and co-author of "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror," Michael Weiss.
Paul, let me start with you. So they tracked a guy down about a mile and a half from where the truck stopped. He was a refugee. They say wrong guy because of forensics. How did they get to where they are now, looking for a Tunisian?
CRUICKSHANK: Chris, just a few minutes ago, I was told by a German security official that they discovered identity papers inside the truck, and those identity papers belonged to a Tunisian national who was born in 1992. This is now the key suspect behind this attack. They want to find him just as quickly as they possibly can. Somebody considered potentially to be armed and dangerous; somebody who shot and killed the Polish truck driver, perhaps, after a struggle inside the cabin of the truck; somebody who ran over 12 people, killing them, and many others who have been injured.
So this is really now a race against time to apprehend this suspect before they can strike again, coming after ISIS said that they inspired this attack. So, worrying times in the German capital.
CAMEROTA: Let's talk about that, Michael. So ISIS claims that it inspired the attack. How does law enforcement ever prove that, No. 1? And why is that important? I mean, Americans, I think, many just think, "ISIS. ISIS attack." Why is it important to figure out if it was inspired? If it was directed? If it was some other terror group?
MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, if it was coordinated or directed -- this guy had contacts with people, operatives that had been trained up in Syria -- that's a whole new threat level. Because that means there are people returning from the battlefield in the Middle East and getting back into Germany, and this is a huge concern for European security forces. What, something like 800, 900 people have gone off to join ISIS from Germany, of which number several hundred are thought to have come back. [06:05:00] ISIS has deployed -- I get this from ISIS defectors.
They've deployed thousands of sleeper agents all throughout the continent. And now these guys are at a premium, because the border has been so interdicted in Iraq and Syria that sending more is almost impossible. So they're keeping these guys lying in wait to conduct attacks.
Now, if this guy was just inspired, he wasn't an agent of ISIS, hadn't been trained up in Syria. Again I keep coming back -- the level of sophistication, not in the methods used. A truck is -- anyone can get. But he hijacks a truck. Kills the driver. Drives four hours into a crowded marketplace. Kills a dozen people. Now I'm seeing on news reports that there's a security cordon in North Rhineland, Westphalia. That's about 330 miles outside of Berlin. So he had 24 hours to get away.
He's used two aliases, according to the documentation found in the vehicle. This is not your everyday lone wolf. This is not your average inspired-by terrorist.
So I don't know, really, what's going on here. And if they catch him alive, then they can interrogate him. Obviously, there's human intelligence to be mined from him. If he has any kind of social media presence, they'll find out if he had pledged allegiance to Baghdadi and whatnot.
CUOMO: Part of their question is that ISIS, in their own words, are saying inspired. That's unusual for them.
Now, Paul, in terms of the ease of this, that Scania truck is a pretty sophisticated piece of equipment. Does the ability to drive something like that and some kind of even, maybe potential licensing provide any grist for the investigators here?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, by all accounts, the perpetrator wasn't particularly good at driving this vehicle, was sort of messing that up for some time before the attack. And actually during the attack the truck only went about 50 yards or so. And you compare that to the Nice attack where that truck plowed through about a mile, killing more people in that attack. And so whoever was driving this truck wasn't particularly adept at what he was doing.
And no. I mean, I don't think it's necessarily a sign of a sophisticated operation to drive a truck into people. Perhaps a little bit more sophisticated to hijack a truck.
But, of course, there are trucks that are idling all around the place, and if you've already got a gun, it's not too complicated to overpower somebody, to pressure them to drive somewhere or something like that. So, I'm not seeing this sort of massive sophisticated plot yet. But we'll have to see more details.
CAMEROTA: So now, of course, security has been beefed up, as it often is. You know, we're reactive after these things. What is security like in Berlin? I understand they don't have as many surveillance cameras as, like New York does. WEISS: Or the U.K.
CAMEROTA: Right, certainly than London. They've shut down, you know, Christmas markets now. So, what does it took like in Berlin?
WEISS: Well, I mean, as Paul was saying, this is a city, this is a country, Germany, that hasn't sustained a lethal terror attack since 9/11. So in a way we're on unprecedented ground here for the Germans.
Now German security forces have been anticipating something like this, because, again, the number of people who have gone off to join ISIS and come back.
And remember, one of ISIS's goals is to try and manipulate or to sway democratic electorates. Right? In that respect they're similar to what the Russian government is doing in Europe. They want to see someone like Angela Merkel, Mama Merkel as she was known after absorbing almost a million refugees, liberal, open, you know, sort of broad-minded when it comes to taking in people from the Muslim or Arab world, they want to see her toppled.
And they want to see elected or coming to power far-right anti-Muslims and aphobic (ph) politicians, because in the ISIS binary, there is no democratic integrated west. There is only us versus them.
CUOMO: Is the damage done there already? Because just the rumor of being a refugee initially sent the nationalist, far-right parties talking, and it hasn't stopped.
WEISS: Yes. And frankly, I mean, we don't -- this guy is a Tunisian -- a Tunisian national. We don't know what his situation is.
AFD, Alternative for Germany, came right out on Monday and said, "These are Merkel's dead," the dozen people who were killed. I'm sure you're going to see things from Pigita (ph), which is the more virulent anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant group.
CUOMO: Nigel Farage, the Brexit guy.
WEISS: Farage. Right. I mean, look, anybody you talk to in counterterrorism circles or anybody who's following ISIS, Syria is not a containable crisis. This has arguably impacted elections all throughout Europe already. It had a huge role to play in the Brexit vote. Arguably also affecting politics in North America in the recent U.S. presidential elections. People are terrified. ISIS knows this. ISIS watches CNN. They read "The New York Times". They want to sow this kind of fear and terror.
And if Angela Merkel loses the election in a few months, that's the last liberal stalwart in the world, frankly, kind of holding the fortress. Who comes next? We don't know.
[06:10:07] CAMEROTA: Paul, Michael, thank you very much.
We do have some breaking news for you. The death toll rising to at least 29 following a series of massive explosion at this fireworks market north of Mexico City. The video is incredible, the blasts leaving more than 70 others injured.
CNN's Ed Lavandera has the latest for us live from Dallas. Tell us what happened, Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
Well, Mexican authorities are still trying to figure out exactly what caused this explosion, but it was a terrifying scene.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Mexican authorities are 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 marketplace, about 25 miles north of Mexico City. This towering gray cloud could be 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 minors.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): To tell you the truth, I do not know how I ran out of here. Everything was so horrible.
LAVANDERA: After battling the blaze for hours, firefighters on the ground confirmed the fires are now contained, but the devastation left behind is staggering: vehicles and metal charred.
The marketplace was bustling with holiday shoppers, now reduced to rubble and ash.
And this isn't the first time this market, known for its pyrotechnics, has been rocked by such tragedy. This latest catastrophe marks the third time fires ravaged this location in the last decade.
LAVANDERA: So Chris, at least 29 dead. That death toll could continue to rise. As many people are fighting for their lives with extreme injuries. Many of them burnt. Three children, as we mentioned, brought to the United States -- hospital in Texas to be treated for extreme burns.
Investigators will continue combing through the area today to try to figure out exactly what caused this devastating explosion -- Chris.
CUOMO: Boy, oh, boy. You know, we say fireworks, and it gives people a sense of, you know, ease about what they are. But these are heavy- duty explosives. They burn at a very hot temperature.
CAMEROTA: That's what I mean.
CUOMO: Very deadly when they go wrong.
CAMEROTA: Just looking at that apocalyptic scene afterwards, it's amazing that anybody survived that.
CUOMO: Our thanks to Ed Lavandera. We'll check back with him if they have any discoveries on why it happened.
Let's take a quick break. Donald Trump's family distancing themselves now from an upcoming fundraiser. Why? Well, there are reports that there was this plan to offer access to the president-elect for donations. Family said they never had anything to do with it. But we're going to tell you what the facts are and talk about the bigger problem. Next.
CAMEROTA: Donald Trump's transition team says the president-elect is closely monitoring the terror attacks in Turkey and Berlin. This as his children deny involvement with a January fundraiser that reportedly advertised access to the president in exchange for a million dollars.
CNN's Jessica Schneider is live with all the details. What have you learned, Jessica?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Alisyn, the transition team is pushing back on reports that Trump's sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, have any involvement in a charity fundraiser scheduled for the day after the inauguration that seemed to offer access to them and the president-elect.
It's called the Opening Day Event, and the foundation behind it is a recently-formed charity. Legal documents, in fact, show that Eric Trump served on the board of directors.
But now both of Trump's sons have asked to be removed from any mention in that fundraising event, and the transition has released this statement, saying, "The Opening Day Event and details that have been reported are merely initial concepts that have not been approved or pursued by the Trump family. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid outdoorsmen and supporters of conservation efforts, which align with their goals of this event; however, they are not involved in any capacity."
The brothers now saying that they will not attend this event, but questions still linger about paying for access to the Trump family.
Now all that while Trump's team refuses to answer repeated questions by CNN about whether Donald Trump has received his daily intelligence briefing in the wake of those attacks in Europe and Turkey.
Trump, of course, tweeted his condemnation of the attacks, but the transition only saying now that he was closely monitoring the situation and that he gets his daily briefings from his national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. Of course, that's essentially second-hand information -- Alisyn and Chris.
CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica. Thank you very much for all of that. So let's discuss with it our political panel. We want to bring in CNN
political commentator and political anchor of Spectrum News, Errol Louis, and CNN political analyst David Gregory. Guys, great to have you here.
So, let's start with Mr. Trump's reaction to the terror attacks that we've seen, even if they haven't been categorized as that yet, the attacks. He has called them terror. He hasn't waited for any, you know, all of the information to come out; he says he doesn't have to.
Sean Spicer says things are about to change. Sean Spicer says that you're going to see Mr. Trump take a very different tack towards these attacks and threats. He says this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: I think it's going to be swift and fierce. Mr. Trump has made it very, very clear he understands the threat that radical Islamic terrorism poses to our nation and, frankly, to our friends and neighbors around the globe and that we've got to be able to call it what it is and then root it out by its very -- by the bottom.
We cannot be being politically correct. We've got to understand the threat that we face And attack it straight on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So Errol, attack it straight on. What does that mean?
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have no idea. I'm not sure what in -- allegedly a Tunisian gets in a truck in Germany, causes mayhem in the middle of Berlin. What does the United States then do? It's not going to involve bombs. It's probably not going to involve planes. They have adequate military capacity there. They have adequate, presumably, intelligence capacity over there.
So other than sending observers, other than asking the right question, in my opinion, which would be "What does this mean for America? What do we do?" The belligerence of the campaign trail, which is what I think we heard Sean Spicer saying there, is really just a stop gap until some kind of a foreign policy emerges from this new team.
[06:10:17] We have not seen that. You can excuse some of it because the personnel are not yet in place, but we've got a real gap between the belligerence of the campaign trail and the reality of serving as commander-in-chief.
CUOMO: But we also have a gap between what the president-elect assumed and what we know. How much of this, David Gregory, is spin game: them trying to justify Trump's tough talk in a situation where, in Germany, the U.S. isn't going to get on the ground in Germany and do anything about whoever was planning these attacks. They have no right to do that.
In Turkey, we still don't understand what the motivations of this guy were, and they may well point to things that aren't about ISIS or anything like that but a lot of secular and Syrian specific concerns about Russia's involvement.
Is this spin game them trying to make the tough talk look good, even in the absence of full understanding of the situation?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look. These are acts of terror, however they are ultimately put together. I mean, you attack a Christmas market; you have an assassination. And I think the current administration made that clear with regard to the shooting in Turkey, that you've got to stand together against any acts of terror.
So I do think it becomes less important, this idea of calling it what is it. I think this becomes a carry-over from the political campaign about who is going to be tougher on acts of terror.
The reality is much more complicated and daunting. Michael Weiss alluded to it earlier. You have a conflict in Syria that has not only brought into ISIS fighters who are trying to exploit that territory, but it has also resulted in people leaving Syria and going into Europe to act as sleepers, as operatives. That becomes a huge challenge for security services in Germany, elsewhere in Europe and for the United States.
So when the incoming administration talks about the war on radical Islamic terrorism, fine. What is that is going look like in terms of intelligence sharing, in terms of supporting our allies in Europe who are going through this, and to protect Americans in case of attacks moving forward? That's the kind of strategy that all Americans are going to be looking for.
The idea that this is a fight between Islam and the west, that's very much what ISIS wants to do. Remember, they're targeting Germany, because Germany is welcoming to the stranger. Germany is welcoming to the Muslim community. That flies in the face of the apocalyptic vision of ISIS, which is that no Muslims are safe anywhere other than the caliphate.
CAMEROTA: Let's move to politics back at home here, and there was this fundraiser scheduled for January 21. It's by something Called The Opening Day Foundation. They call themselves a conservation foundation.
Basically, in their literature, they were saying that donors could pay a million dollars for a meeting with President-elect Trump. They could pay half a million dollars to go hunting with Eric and Don Jr., Mr. Trump's sons.
The Trumps have said, "We don't -- we didn't have anything" -- when it came to light, the Trumps said, "We don't have anything to do with this."
Now Errol, what are we to make of this, of this promise from this foundation and whether or not -- can you ever pay for access to the president of the United States?
LOUIS: Well, sure. Look, the key phrase is "when it came to light." Had it not come to light -- look, I think we're going to have to get ready for about four years' worth of this kind of clash between traditional sort of commercial morality, which is really what the Trump Organization is all about, which is kind of -- we heard this on the campaign trail, sort of a "Catch me if you can." You know? "We're going to try this. We're going to try that. We'll see what market will bear. We'll see what the public will put up with. We'll see if we can make a fast buck along the way."
That runs squarely into public morality, which is that "We don't want to sell the White House. We don't want to sell access to the president."
Now, let's be clear. This would not be the first time that a politician did a fundraiser based on access to a powerful man. All politicians do it. We saw President Obama do it and his five predecessors.
CAMEROTA: Well, that's the difference?
LOUIS: Well, the difference in this case is that there's not even a hint of propriety about this. You know, this is not a fake charity but a brand-new charity that has no record of public accomplishment whatsoever. It's done in such a way that the donors to it could actually be shielded from the public so we wouldn't know who was doing this. And this was the campaign that used the phrase "drain the swamp." This is not draining the swamp. This is doubling down on the swamp. This is kind of putting a surcharge on the price of getting into the swamp.
And so I think we're going to have to expect a lot more of this over the next four years. Because again, they haven't even -- they haven't even arrived in Washington yet, and already they're trying to figure out how to do this.
[06:25:09] CUOMO: And David, just to be clear: this wasn't just mere talk. All right? There was a draft of an invitation that laid this thing out. That got into the hands of a media site, TMZ. There's a document filed with state of Texas incorporating this charity that lists both sons as initial directors of the Opening Day Foundation. That's the organization behind the event.
So, those are facts that show this was real. This wasn't one guy who said something, and it's being blown out of proportion.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, the Trump family and the president-elect is going to have to get real about what he campaigned on and the appearance of tawdriness being brought into the presidency and into the White House.
There's a complicating factor here, and that is that the Trump brand is just that: it's an international business brand and, therefore, it is complicated how to bring into relief these -- both potential conflicts and actual conflicts. But he's going to want to do this, not just because of his campaign promises, but because the public is not going to look kindly upon these conflicts and any kind of tawdriness around -- around the Oval Office. And he should be sensitive to that, since he hurled all those accusations toward the Clintons.
And with regard to his children and the business, again, there is -- there are always going to be people who want access. Whether it's for business deals or associations or for access to power. And monitoring that, figuring out how you become compromised in the space of all that becomes really difficult to manage.
CUOMO: Look, as somebody who grew up in it, there's a paranoia about avoiding people who want to pay for access to power, and this is the opposite of that. And the idea that they came forward afterwards and say, "Oh, there's a new invitation where it's not about paying for trips. And the sons will only be honorary chairman. They are don't have any vested interest in it." That's the fix after it was exposed. And until there's more transparency, the president-elect is setting himself and his kids up for heightened scrutiny.
CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much. We'll see you later on in the program.
CUOMO: All right. Up next we're going to update you on the breaking news in Germany. What we've learned about this new suspect, and what the officers are doing to try to track him down, next.