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German Police Looking for Tunisian Man in Terror Attack; Trump Children Deny Involvement with Fundraiser Auctioning off Presidential Access; Huge Explosions Rip Through Fireworks Market, Killing 29; Attacks Spotlight Trump's Tone on Terror. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 07:00   ET


[07:00:03] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's unusual language for them. We'll get into what that means. Let's begin this hour with CNN International's Hala Gorani, live in Berlin, with what we've learned about the suspect. A big turn here from the refugee to this Tunisian man, Hala. What do we know now?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Very significant news this morning. A security source telling CNN they found I.D. papers of an individual, a Tunisian national born in 1992. So 24 or 25 years old. A young man.

And now it's a race against the clock to hone in on this individual and make sure that they neutralize or arrest him before he can do any more damage. Take a look.


GORANI (voice-over): An urgent manhunt under way across Germany. Authorities telling CNN they are now looking for a Tunisian national born in 1992. Officials believe he may be connected to Monday's deadly attack, after finding his identity papers inside the truck.

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 the terrorist group.

JOHN KIRBY, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: 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: So it's going to be very important to apprehend this individual to determine, A, if he was the perpetrator; B, if he was connected to a network or a lone-wolf individual if, indeed, it is him who perpetrated this horrific attack, inspired by ISIS material online. All important questions that the German people want answered as quickly as possible to make sure this doesn't happen again -- Chris and Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hala, thank you for setting all of that up for us.

Let's talk more about it now and what investigators are dealing with. Let's bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd; and former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, James Jeffrey. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here.

Phil, so they have these identification papers of a Tunisian. I assume they have DNA from the truck. Why aren't they releasing his name? And what now? How do they try to find one person in a, you know, European manhunt?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: First thing they're going to do is look at public information: for example where he lived, his apartments; go talk to anybody who lived with him or around him. If they have a name, you can presume they also have the potential to go to communications companies and determine whether he has a cell phone.

If he had a cell phone, that thing is like a noose around his neck. Who did he talk to? Who did he text? Who was on his contact list? Every single one of those people is being covered.

I think the next question, the most curious question, is whether they have a photograph so that you can go to the public. They know, if they have technical information like his phone, who his inner circle is. I want to know, if they release the photo, if he touches people who he doesn't know; and they call in and say, "Hey, this is our guy."

The reason they might not release the name is they don't want to tell him they know. He suspects that they're closing in on him, but I wouldn't want to spook him, if he still believes that he can escape. Let him believe that.

CUOMO: Quick follow. Is it relevant that he may have used aliases? And what does it mean that ISIS says they inspired the attack? That's unusual language for them.

MUDD: The ISIS-inspired issue means nothing to me. ISIS is on the run. They've lost leadership. They've lost geography. They've lost western recruits. European and American security officials, including the FBI director, have talked about, in contrast to 2014, how many fewer young people from Europe and the United States and North America are going to Syria.

[07:05:17] So if you're in the ISIS situation, you just lost Aleppo. You're sitting there saying, "Wow, what's the down side to saying this is our guy? I want to still recruit people. Maybe it can look like we still have some semblance of power among potential recruits."

On the aliases, I think that's critically important. A name in this -- in this digital world gives you a clue to what somebody's e-mail is, what their phone is, what their ATM accounts are. It gives you a digital trail on a human being. If you have an alias, that could put you off the digital trail that, in essence, is going to allow you to close in on a human being just by looking at the footprint he's left: by where he took money out, who he called, who he texted.

CAMEROTA: So Ambassador Jeffrey, this was not, as was originally reported by the authorities there, this was not a refugee from Pakistan. We don't know this suspect's refugee status, only that he was a Tunisian national.

Yet, is the damage done for Angela Merkel, the fact that people already are saying as -- this has given them a reason to renew the debate and the criticism of her for allowing in almost a million refugees?

JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ AND TURKEY: The damage is definitely done. Again, if this suspect, this Tunisian, turns out to be, in fact, the person who perpetrated the crime, the important thing is not whether you're a refugee or not; it's that you're a Muslim. That is the problem. That is the issue in German politics today with this populist wave. It's not against refugees from Siberia. It's against people from the Middle East, Muslims, who people fear either will support terror or simply not assimilable (ph) -- able to be assimilated into German society. That's the crucial problem for Merkel.

CUOMO: Phil, I was reading a piece the other day about John F. Kennedy and the difference what happens during the Bay of Pigs and what happened during the standoff. And the writer's theory was that the big difference in Kennedy was that he had been seasoned from experience with getting his intel briefings, that he knew what he got wrong on the Bay of Pigs, who to trust, who not, how big a circle to have around him, what kinds of questions to ask. Those questions are now coming up about the president-elect and his

reluctance to get intel briefings on a daily basis. He says, "Pence gets them. I listen to my guys. I don't need them every day." Is there an instruction in what John F. Kennedy did with his own evolution?

MUDD: There is. There's a short piece of this. What I learned in the business, especially in the business of crisis, is that there's one characteristic, one key characteristic of leadership. That is, when things get hotter, you get cooler. I'm not seeing that happen here.

When I see tweets hours after an event before European officials even speak, that tells me when things get hotter, we have a president-elect who gets hotter. That is not what you need in a crisis situation.

On your question about intelligence briefings, don't use that word "briefing." This is a conversation where you have leaders in the room -- vice president, national security adviser, potentially other officials, chief of staff in the Oval Office -- and you receive information. In this case, for example, about the attack. A couple of days ago it would have been what the Chinese were doing with that drone. And that begins a conversation where the president-elect can go back and forth, saying, "What did we really know? What's the history of Chinese activity in the South China Sea?" Turning to his advisers and saying, "What's the president -- precedent for this in terms of U.S. military reaction?"

So it's really a conversation in the Oval Office or, in this case, in Mar-a-Lago down in Florida, among advisors. It includes back and forth with the briefer. It's a 360-degree exercise, not just a one- way briefing, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Ambassador Jeffrey, I want to ask you about what has happened since the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara, Turkey. It was a Turkish gunman who killed the Russian ambassador. Yet somehow it seems, geopolitically, this has brought Turkey and Russia together to figure out what to do in Syria. Explain what's happening.

JEFFREY: Well it has only had a minor effect, Putin has played this well. What he has done is to encourage the idea, which President Erdogan of Turkey also tends towards, thinking that this is another plot by the Gulenist movement which tried to overthrow Erdogan back in the coup of July 2015.

Now, that's helpful, particularly to Putin, because the leader of the Gulenist movement, Fathullah Gulen, is here in Pennsylvania. The Turks want him extradicted. He hasn't been yet. So it's a way to put the United States under pressure.

What happened in Russia between Iran, Russia and Turkey following the fall of Aleppo over the last two days, is a good indication that the Middle East is shifting away from the United States towards some sort of condominium between Iran and Russia. And Turkey feels it has no choice but to try to make hay with these people, because Turkey is on the losing side of this battle in Aleppo and the battle for Syria.

CAMEROTA: And very quickly, how troubling is that to you?

JEFFREY: It is terribly troubling to me. Since the early 1970s, the United States has guaranteed the basic international order in the Middle East. We walked away from that in Syria and a few other places, and we're seeing the results right now not just in Syria, not just in Russia but we're seeing it in Europe with this refugee flow.

CAMEROTA: Philip Mudd, Ambassador Jeffrey, thank you both very much for all of your expertise.

JEFFREY: Thank you.

CUOMO: Trump's transition team says the president-elect is keeping a close eye on the terror attacks in Turkey and Berlin. This as his children deny involvement in a fundraiser that they were tied to that was reportedly advertising access to the president-elect to high donors. What are the facts?

CNN's Jessica Schneider is live with more now -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Chris, the brochure advertised it as a chance to meet the president the day after the inauguration and to participate in a multi-day hunting and fishing trip with Donald Jr. and Eric Trump, all for about $500,000 to $1 million.

Well, now the transition team is pushing back after this became news, saying Trump's sons asked to be removed from any mention in that fundraising event. This is the statement: "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 the goals of this event. However, they are not involved in any capacity."

Now the brothers say that they will not attend the event, but despite legal documents showing that Eric Trump served on the board of directors for that newly-formed charity.

All that while there is uncertainty about whether the president-elect received official briefings from U.S. intelligence in the wake of those attacks in Europe and Turkey this week. The transition has not answered repeated inquiries from CNN about whether Trump was briefed, only saying that he is closely monitoring the situation and getting daily briefings from his national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.

Now, CNN has learned that Trump has been averaging one presidential daily briefing per week, with some weeks as many as three. And the president-elect does have someone available directly to him 24/7 to inform him on the latest intelligence -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: That's good to know how that works behind-the-scenes. We didn't have that information, that there might being three briefings a week.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for all that, Jessica.

Well, we do have some breaking news to tell you about. The death toll has gone up to at least 29 following those massive explosions at a fireworks market north of Mexico City. More than 70 people were injured.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is following the very latest for us. He's live from Dallas. What's the latest, Ed?


It was a stunning and terrifying sight as fireworks stands in this popular market just north of Mexico City started erupting in explosions that seemed to go on forever.


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: And Alisyn and Chris, Tultepec is basically known as the firework capital of Mexico. Every year they hold a pyrotechnics festival there that draws about a 100,000 people every year to this. So this is a huge industry in this small town.

CAMEROTA: Ed, thank you very much for that reporting.

Well, President-elect Donald Trump quickly declaring Monday's terror attacks as the work of Islamist terrorists. Did he place blame before he knew anything about the conclusions of the investigation? We'll discuss that next.


[17;18:18] CUOMO: All right. The investigation into terror attacks in Germany and in Turkey and in Switzerland are all continuing in different directions this morning. But before the investigations really had a chance to play out, President-elect Donald Trump was decisively calling all three incidents terror attacks, blaming them on Islamic or Islamist terrorists.

Let's discuss with representative from Texas, former CIA undercover officer, member of the Committee for Homeland Security, Will Hurd. Congressman, thank you for joining us. Best to your family for Christmas.

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

CUOMO: So let's talk about whether or not this matters. In Germany they had the wrong guy. Now they're looking at a Tunisian. In Turkey we still don't understand whether or not this was a man motivated by secular Syrian concerns or Sunni sectarian concerns or Islamic extremism.

The president-elect comes out right away and bundles them all as, "This is Islamic terrorism. We've got to get after it." Is there any concern with doing that?

HURD: Well, attribution in attacks is incredibly important to do. Sometimes, despite the signatures of a particular attack that may look like a calling card of a known organization or a known terrorist group, it may not be. This could impact the investigation.

And so, yes, I think before trying to attribute an attack, you should know who it is first.

And when it comes to the Middle East it's such a complex and convoluted place. And when you talk about Turkey, in specific, and Russia's activity in Syria, Russia has created a lot of enemies; and there's a lot of folks that would like to see something happen to the government of Russia. There's been protests against the Russian embassy in Turkey for a number of weeks, and the relationship between the Turks and the Russians have been incredibly tense since the Turks downed a Russian plane a number of months ago.

[06:20:23] CUOMO: Congressman, speak to the American concern that complexity is, in effect, weakness; and that what resonated during the campaign was the president-elect saying, "I'm not going mince words. We know what this is. This is Muslims who are trying to kill us, and everybody else wants to dance around it with political correctness. I'm not going to do that."

His team is using this situation as an example of his directness. Is there criticism of that, or is he just speaking in a way that Americans understand? HUD: Well, I do believe that the greatest problem and greatest

challenge that we have in the Middle East is Islamic terrorism, and ISIS is the poster child of that. And we need to be doing everything we can to stop ISIS in its tracks on their home turf. And that is going make us safer here in the homeland.

So, this -- but there's other issues at play in the Middle East. Iran's influence in that region; Russia's growing influence in that region. So -- so there's a number of challenges that we have. I mean, it is complex, as I've said.

But, you know, the challenge of Islamic extremism -- if we would have stopped them in Syria from growing, you wouldn't have some of the problems that we're seeing throughout Europe. You wouldn't have an entity that's able to inspire people, even if they're 6,000 miles away. That's something that's incredibly troubling about ISIS's capabilities; and it's a capability we did not see in al Qaeda or other groups before them.

CUOMO: Let's shift topics and get your take on what you make of the president-elect and supporters around him refusing to acknowledge the intelligence consensus that Russia was behind the hacks that took place during the election, and Senate leaders, Senate Majority Leader McConnell's rejection of a select committee on hacking. He says the existing committees can handle it.

HUD: Well, I think a number of issues have been conflated over the last couple of weeks on this particular topic.

It's very clear the Russians did not influence our election. When it comes to the voting boxes, you know, manipulating the ones and zeros of the voting boxes, that did not happen.

But it is clear that organizations tied to Russian intelligence was involved in the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the DNC hacks.

The reality is the DCCC spent $6 million trying to unseat me. An attack on them is an attack on all of us. And there has to be a clear and concise response to any kind of cyber-attack on the U.S. government or our businesses that have been perpetrated by nation states.

And so I think that that what needs to happen going forward is the national intelligence apparatus needs have a clear assessment of can we figure out what, indeed, were the intentions of these groups? Who made the call? And if we don't that have the high place sources to do that what is a strategy to get there?

And the best people to oversee that are the existing intelligence oversight committees. The people, the members that are on those committees understand intelligence. They understand the need to protect intelligence. And when it comes to trying to understand the plans and intentions of one of our biggest adversaries, that means we've got to have very well-placed human sources that are putting themselves in harm's way. And the folks on the intelligence committees are the ones that are able to protect that kind of information so that we can protect those people that are trying to give us insights

CUOMO: So you're believing, to borrow an expression from the president-elect, that he should call it what it is when it comes to these hacks, which is Russia's involvement in trying to disrupt the democratic process. Why, we need to discover. And in terms of how you get that answer, you're OK with the existing committees?

HURD: The existing committees are the best place. Understanding the intentions of our adversaries is incredibly important. Knowing the tactics they use to gather information is also important, and trying to prevent certain outcomes from happening is important, as well.

And this is something that there has to be a clear response to this behavior so it doesn't happen in the future.

You know, I've been calling for months, at a minimum, we should have at least kicked the Russian ambassador out of the United States or the senior intelligence officer, to show that we're not playing around. It's not enough to tell someone to cut it out. There has to be a clear consequence to this kind of behavior.

[07:25:15] CUOMO: That would be a strong move, though, removing a diplomat from the country. I haven't even heard that suggested. Do you think there's any chance that happens?

HURD: Well, we'll see in the coming weeks, but it has to be strong. Anybody trying to attempt to manipulate our elections in any form or fashion is unacceptable; and the Russians have a long history of information operations. They've been doing this in eastern Europe for a number of years. The Germans have been concerned about Russian activity there.

You can not let this happen again into the future. You can't allow this, you know, for anybody in the United States to question the integrity of our elections. And we cannot allow an adversary like Russia to get away with this kind of behavior.

CUOMO: Interesting suggestion from you, Congressman Hurd. Right now, we have a president-elect that, while in 2014, he acknowledged what you're talking about right now, Russia's meddling, now he refuses to touch it. We'll see what happens from here. We look forward to coming back to you for more perspective on this. All the best for Christmas.

HURD: Thank you, sir.

CUOMO: All right. Be well. Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So Chris, that search warrant that was used to renew the Clinton e-mail probe has just been unsealed, and critics are blasting it. Was there probable cause for the search less than two weeks before election day? CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is here next.