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German Police Searching for Tunisian National Attack; Does U.S. Share Some Blame for Crisis in Syria?; Remembering Craig Sager; President Obama's Criminal Justice Legacy. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 06:30   ET



[06:30:59] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news out of Berlin. Police telling CNN they are looking for a Tunisian national in his early 20s in connection with the deadly attack at a Christmas market that killed 12 people. And official says investigators found identification papers in the cabin of that truck that drove into a crowd.

Police had taken another suspect into custody after the attack but released him when they found no evidence connecting the man to the attack. There is a massive manhunt under way and we'll continue to update this story throughout the morning.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Four more people now charged in connection with Flint, Michigan's contaminated water crisis that exposed thousands of children to dangerously high levels of lead. Now, two of these new people being charged were emergency managers. They reported directly to Governor Rick Snyder. The two orders were water plant officials.

Now, all are accused of misleading the state treasury of getting millions in bonds, misusing the money and forcing the city's drinking water switch to the Flint River. The question remains, will the accountability here reach to the highest levels of government? Total of 13 people now facing charges.

CAMEROTA: Lawmakers in North Carolina meeting in a special session today to consider repealing the state's controversial bathroom law. House Bill 2 has been a lightning rod for controversy ever since its passage back in March. It demands that people use the public rest rooms according to the gender identified on their birth certificate. The bill triggered boycotts and economic backlash throughout North Carolina.

CUOMO: Now to holiday travel headaches. Southwest Airlines saying its frustrating website and app glitch is now mostly fixed. People were having fits for hours Tuesday as they tried to check in or book flights. Southwest says flight delays yesterday had nothing to do with its web problems. In July, Southwest cancelled more than 1,500 flights have computer systems and their back ups both failed.

CAMEROTA: You don't want to hear any back ups failed.

CUOMO: Mostly fixed means not fixed.


CAMEROTA: Not what people need around the holidays.

CUOMO: True.

President Obama vowed to take action if the so-called red line in Syria was crossed. Do you remember that? It is so important to take a look at how we got to where we are today. What was it that kept the U.S. from getting more involved in Syria? How is it that we just got boxed out of the latest power meetings of what the future of that country will be? We'll discuss.


[06:36:42] CUOMO: All right. Here's news: leaders from Russia, Turkey and Iran met yesterday to begin talks towards a solution to the war in Syria. But those groups are largely scene as the aggravating forces. The U.S. didn't get invited nor did any other Western powers.

How did we get boxed out?

This is a time to look at how we got there in Syria. If you go back 2012, there was active warring between Assad and his people. Multiple allegations of him using really heinous weapons of war against his own. It became a threshold of concern.

President Obama was pushed by members of his own Congress to do something about what seemed to be an incipient human atrocity. President Obama was slow at first. He wanted to be deliberate about it. He said it was complex.

He then said there would be a red line that if Syria crossed in the war against his own people, there would have to be action. One of his first interviews about that red line apparently being crossed was with us four years ago.

Here's the crucial part of that interview.


CUOMO: The "red line" comment that you made was about a year ago this week.


CUOMO: We know since then, there had been things that qualify for crossing that red line.

OBAMA: Well, Chris, I got to say this. The -- when we take action, let's just take the example of Syria. There are rules of international law. And, you know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then, there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.

We're still spending tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan. I will be ending that war by the end of 2014. But every time I go Walter Reed and visit wounded troops, and every time I sign a letter for a casualty of that war, I'm reminded that there are costs and we have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted, somebody who lost credibility, and to try to restore a sense of democratic process and stability inside of Egypt.


CUOMO: An interesting context there.

Let's bring in Bobby Ghosh, editor of chief of "Hindustan Times".

It's always good to see you my friend.

So, it's interesting to hear -- we included the part about Afghanistan because we thought that would be over in 2014. Things are more complex.

Now, so I pushed the president about this. What else do you need to see? How could they not have crossed it? He says we've got to go slow.

Within 72 hours, the president decides to do military strikes. Then what happens? We have a graphic to put up the steps. He decides to go to Congress. OK? Because Congress at the time had been saying we want a voice in these actions.

They wound up not taking a vote. And that's where everything got mired down and stymied. The U.S. and allies wound up deciding not to take military action, created a vacuum of power that's been filled by Russia and Iran.

[06:40:00] How do you see it?

BOBBY GHOSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, HINDUSTAN TIMES: Well, we dealt ourselves out of the stable and we shouldn't be surprised that there are other people gathering at the table to have discussions. Now, as you pointed out at the top of this, that these are people who are part of the problem. They're clearly not part of the solution.

But we decided, the president decided early on, taking his sounding from the mood of the American people and his own sensibilities that this is not a conflict he wanted to get into.

Now --

CUOMO: And Congress. Persistent problem we had that should be highlighted in Syria. You have so many in Congress blaming the president. The reason we want to replay this is, he wanted to take military

action. Congress said, "We want a voice." He went to them. They wouldn't vote. They backed out of the situation as much as anybody else.

GHOSH: I'm more skeptical about that, Chris. If he wanted to take military action, there are ways to present an overwhelming amount of evidence. This is kind of the opposite of what happened during the Bush administration with Colin Powell going to the United Nations and presenting what we now know to be false evidence.

This president didn't go to the United Nations to present anything, didn't go to the court of public opinion to present anything. No conclusive convincing evidence was presented although evidence existed. The White House did not make a full-toothed attempt to make the case for war.

Now, we can argue there were good reasons for that, but that's what happened. It's easy to now say, well, Congress didn't want to have a vote. But I don't think the White House --

CUOMO: They didn't debate it.

GHOSH: Yes, they didn't debate it. I don't think the White House pushed very hard.

As we know, this president can when he's moved by events reach over Congress and talk directly to the American people. That's the prerogative of presidents throughout the history of this country.

CUOMO: I'm just saying you have to include that, you know, one of the ongoing problems we have and president-elect is going to have to deal with it now, Mr. Trump when he takes it over, Congress declares war under the Constitution.

GHOSH: Right.

CUOMO: They consistently wimp out of that responsibility. Syria was an example of it. So, now, you get the ripple effect of this.

What have we seen happened in Syria because of the U.S. and allies not being there in a more impressive way?

GHOSH: Well, now, as you said, there are costs and there are consequences. There are costs to action. There are consequences to inaction. The consequences to inaction and you can't blame all of this on President Obama.

But the consequences are half a million Syrians are dead. Millions of Syrians are displaced. ISIS is more powerful than ever. Russia is more powerful and sort of a bigger actor. Iran is a bigger actor.

All of these are consequences of the United States and Western power, not the Americans alone, stepping away from the stable and saying we're out. CUOMO: The president-elect and the current president seem to agree on

this point of that President-elect Trump does not want to go into Syria. Does not believe we should be in the regime game and questions Assad's legitimacy in a positive way more than Obama ever did.

GHOSH: That's right. Obama at least identified Assad as the bad guy. With Donald Trump we're not sure who he regards as the bad guy. We know he thinks ISIS is the bad guy. Everybody agrees on that.

But he doesn't think of Russia being part of the problem. His views on Iran are up and down. His view on Assad is not entirely clear and I'm not clear whether he actually has any views on turkey.

But President Obama, this was part of the problem. He identified Assad as the bad guy. He said Assad has to go. When the president of the United States announces to the world that a dictator has to go and then doesn't follow through, there are consequences to that to how the world begins to perceive American forces.

The reason why Putin was able to step into this is that he saw that Obama was not going to step in.

CUOMO: Bobby Ghosh, appreciate the perspective. Thank you very much.

GHOSH: Anytime.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: President Obama putting pen to paper on a new round of executive orders. Will they impact how history remembers his eight years in the White House or will they immediately be overturned? That's next.


[06:47:19] CAMEROTA: Well, it was a celebration of life for long-time Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager.

Hines Ward has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hi, Hines.


Yes, the legendary NBA sideline reporter lost his lengthy battle to cancer last week at the age of 65. Memorial service was held near Atlanta yesterday where pastor wore one of Sager's trademark flashy jackets and TNT's "Inside the NBA" host Ernie Johnson delivered a touching tribute.


ERNIE JOHNSON, HOST OF TNT'S "INSIDE THE NBA": Amid the tears and all the memories we cherish now, we say farewell to our friend Sages and make this humble vow: There's no way to gauge the days we have, no way to know how long, but know this, Craig, we'll do our best to live them Sager Strong.


WARD: Now, last night, reporters across the league dressed in Sager- inspired outfits. What a great tribute. He'll definitely be missed on the sideline, Alisyn.

Pro bowl rosters were unveiled last night, and Raiders led all teams with seven players led by MVP candidate quarterback Derek Carr. The Falcons, they topped the NFC teams with six players and the Cowboys have five including rookie Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.

Now, the pro-bowl will be in Orlando, Florida, this Sunday before the big Super Bowl. You know, normally, the pro-bowl is held out in Hawaii. This year, they are doing it in Orlando.

So, it should be fun.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Both fun places. Hines, thank you very much for that reporting.

WARD: No problem.

CAMEROTA: Well, President Obama trying to cement his legacy, signing a new round of executive orders during his final vacation as president. Will Donald Trump try to reverse these efforts? We'll discuss all that, next.


[06:53:05] CUOMO: With less than one month to go, we're seeing an unprecedented number of clemencies from President Obama, that limit sentences, pardons, those remove guilt together. There's also executive orders limiting offshore drilling and transferring prisoners out of Guantanamo.

How are these decisions going to affect his legacy and how many will be undone?

Here to discuss, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis, and CNN political analyst, David Gregory.

Errol, let's skip right to the conservation ones, because the White House is saying, oh, we're signing these as executive orders, but in the statute there's no ability for these to be undone by a succeeding president. That's not the way executive orders work. Are they playing a game?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's right. It's far more than an executive order. On the other hand, my understanding is that President Trump will be able to try and undo it, but it will result in a court fight. So, he's making it more difficult for the next administration to undo what he's done and it will involve breaking with precedent.

Here again, Trump has no problem with breaking with precedent, but this is not the way it normally happens. You know, the statute and the past has shown that if a president takes an area of wildlife for offshore area and says, this is forever off limits, everybody has abided by that.

But they don't have to. They can put it to a test. It could end up in court. Figure out how it's supposed to court. Frankly, he might have given a little bit of a gift to Trump because if Trump doesn't want to get into a fight with all the governors up and down the East Coast, this is an easy way for him to say, well, my hands are tied.

CAMEROTA: Hmm. All right. Well, it sounds like we can throw out that rule book of precedent as we have throughout this entire election.

So, David, not just in terms of trying to make rules around offshore drilling of the Arctic, President Obama is also doing something else today. He is -- you know he vowed to close Gitmo. He was never able to accomplish that.

So, today, he's trying to release something like 22, maybe not that many, of the remaining 59 detainees.

[06:55:06] Once they are released, there's no way getting them back. I mean, that's not something that President-elect Trump could ever undo.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. And he'll have to face the very difficult decision of what the future of Guantanamo Bay should be and what do you with these prisoners. Remember when this came up, when there was talk of closing Guantanamo Bay down, it was a revolt among those in Congress who said, no, no, we don't want them transferred, we don't want these prisoners transferred to domestic prisons because of potential terrorist danger.

So, that's going to continue as a problem. What do you do with people who are scooped up off the battlefield who still presumably pose a threat when you don't want to return the home their countries or to the battlefield in some respects? So, that's going to be very difficult.

I just want to make a point about the larger issue of executive power because the president was asked this week about whether he has too much power and he's used too much power. His view is he told NPR was, look, it's always better to have Congress do this through legislation but where we have not succeed in that he's used executive powers on the issue of immigration.

This is very much going to be seen in the eyes of the beholder. People are going to view this as abusive, as an executive who is abusing this power to achieve policy ends that he couldn't get through legislation, and that's why executive power can so easily and in most cases, so easily be overturned. And that's why elections matter.

But this is an ongoing issue of the presidential power and power in the legislature. COUMO: This has really been something that President Obama struggled

with, Errol. I mean, we were just talking about how he got here in Syria with Bobby Ghosh. And that was an example where the president at first had decided, all right, you know what, the proof is there, I'm going take military action. Congress has been carping, that they don't have enough say in military powers, they do have the constitutional purview to declare war, he goes to them. They get squishy on it and then nothing happens.

So, it's like when he takes action he gets criticized. When he doesn't take action and he defers to Congress, he gets criticized.

LOUIS: That's right. Part of the many burdens that lie on the shoulders of any president, this president in particular, I mean, to talk for a minute about what he's done with commutations and pardons, he' getting criticized for that. It is such a small, small percentage of the very large population of prisoners.

CUOMO: But it's more than we've seen before.

LOUIS: More than anyone else before. I mean, as I was looking at the numbers, it throws in stark relief how damaging we have been. When you talk about mass incarceration, I mean, what he's getting criticized for, Chris, are things like, a 30-year sentence for an old drug offense being reduced to 20 years. You know, a 20-year sentence being reduced to ten years.

Anybody who spent five minutes in a federal prison or any other prison knows that this is not a picnic. It is soul crushing. It is expensive. It is demeaning. It is wasteful.

For him to say, look, let's take this person who under sentencing would have gotten a quarter of the sentence that they got back in the '80s, let's bring it in line with where we are now, stop wasting a bunch of money, stop destroying families and let the guy get off with 20 years instead of 30 years, and people complain about it. It's -- this is why they have executive power to try and bring some sanity when for a lot of reasons, the system has gone insane.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: And, by the way, this is in line with a policy prescription as Errol says. This is the president taking a view about the onerous nature of mandatory minimum sentences particularly for drug crimes and saying let me bring remedy in a policy area. This isn't pardoning some rich donor like Marc Rich as Bill Clinton did at the end of his term. This is something much more in keeping with policy.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Great to talk to you.

We're following a lot of news this morning, including the latest in a manhunt in Germany for a terrorist. Let's get right to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Identity papers inside the truck belong to a Tunisian national.

This is now the key suspect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ISIS now claiming to have inspired the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Trump understands the threat that radical Islamic terrorism poses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not the business world. He is going to get that call at 3:00 in the morning and he's going to have to act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to fight back hard and not be scared by these cowards.

CAMEROTA: The death toll rising, following a series of massive explosions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Columns of smoke filling the air, bystanders desperately running for their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mexican authorities are still trying to figure out exactly what cause this devastating explosion.

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.


CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

We do have some breaking news four out of Germany. Police at this hour searching for a suspect behind that terror attack that killed 12 people and injured dozens at that Christmas market in Berlin.

CUOMO: Now, the search had to resume because forensic tests could not link the initial suspect to the truck. ISIS then came forward and said it inspired the attack.