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Authorities Continue Search for Perpetrator of Christmas Market Attack in Germany; Fundraising Event Involving Donald Trump's Children Examined; Fireworks Explosions Devastate Market in Mexico; Interview with U.S. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 08:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed. Well, we are learning from security sources, as you mentioned there, that a Tunisian national born in 1992, so 24, 25 years old, is sought in connection with the terrible atrocity that happened in that market square behind me. A truck plowing into the Christmas market killing 12 people, including an individual in the cab of the truck.

[08:00:05] And security sources also saying there, as you mentioned, that it's believed he is linked to an ISIS network operating inside this country the leader of which has been arrested and charged with terrorism offenses already. So it is a race against the clock to try to find this man.


GORANI: 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, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We don't have enough information right now to back up the claims by ISIS that they inspired or directed or were in any way involved in this. We think it's prudent for the Germans to treat this as a plausible terrorist take.

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 in to 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 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 reelection 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, Chris and Alisyn, we're waiting to hear from the interior ministry and hoping as well for a police news conference today for more details on this man that they are looking for and whether or not they believe any more individuals are connected to the attack. Back to you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hala, thank you very much.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right let's get the latest on the investigation. We welcome back CNN terrorism analyst and co-author of "Agent Storm, My Life Inside Al Qaeda and the CIA," Paul Cruickshank, and CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Mudd. Paul we hear you have just learned new details. What are they?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "CTC SENTINEL": I've learned new details from German security officials that the Tunisian suspected perpetrator of this attack, there's a manhunt going on right now, was connected to an ISIS recruitment network in Germany whose key leaders were arrested in November, so just a few weeks ago, including a charismatic individual who says himself that he's part of ISIS. This was a network that was trying to smuggle people from Germany to Syria and Iraq to join the terrorist network, ISIS.

Also hearing that the Tunisian suspect was actually arrested trying to get over to Italy with a forged document in a southern German town in August but a judge let him go. That's another key detail hearing from a German security official.

I'm also hearing that there are new ongoing raids in North Rhine, Westphalia. North Rhine, Westphalia is where this radical recruitment network for ISIS were trying to proselytize where they were selecting people to travel to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. So there are a lot of strands now coming together to suggest that this may well have been an act of Islamist terrorism, and ISIS, of course, have claimed that they inspired this attack. And now we are seeing some concrete ties between this perpetrator, allegedly, and the network in terms of this recruitment organization based in Germany.

We'll have to see, though, of course, whether we get -- whether there is really the right guy this time after what happened yesterday with that Pakistani. One more piece of really important information -- the suspect is not yet in custody I'm told by German security officials. That means it's a very dangerous situation ongoing. [08:05:05] CAMEROTA: OK, so Paul, just a couple more questions before

we get it over to Phil for analysis. This suggests that they know the identity, they found the I.D. papers in the truck, we're told, of the suspect. Are they going to put out a photo to the public? And do they believe he's still in that North Rhine, Westphalia area?

CRUICKSHANK: Well based on the fact that there are ongoing raids in North Rhine, Westphalia, they clearly either believe he's there or that they can -- there's a residence there or something there that may help them to locate him somewhere in Germany, wherever he is. So this is a large manhunt going on right now in Germany. I would be surprised if a photo is not soon circulated unless they really do feel they're right at the point where they're about to capture him. If it goes cold again, this manhunt, I think they will likely put a photo out there a bit like with the Boston attack to sort of crowd source the investigation.

CUOMO: Phil, Paul and I spent a lot of time tracking one of the assailants from the Bataclan off into Belgium and Brussels, and the notion was that ISIS was trying to put higher ups in charge of operations, getting them to do things. Does this smack of that at all, the use of the aliases, the ability to get away where they need such a broad perimeter so quickly?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Not to me yet. You have to think about this as two types of operations. The first is essentially controlled operations like 9/11. We saw some flavor of that in the operations in Belgium and France where a central, what we call external operations in ISIS, is not only inspiring but bringing people into places like Syria to train them.

I think there's a middle ground between that and a true homegrown terrorist, that is a cell in Germany that had inspiration, maybe some kind of activity with ISIS, but that creates its plots on its own. This plot was relatively basic. The outlines of this appear to me to suggest that somebody just hijacked a truck and drove it into an open space. Not a lot of preparation. Not a lot of training.

Just one more comment, Chris. Remember in contrast to where we were even a year ago, ISIS capability in Syria where they're under so much pressure to bring in a foreigner for a formal training operation and then put them back out into a place like Germany is much diminished. They're not where they were a year ago.

CAMEROTA: Paul when you say that there's this pro-is network operating in the northwest of Germany, do you have any sense of how many people we're talking about?

CRUICKSHANK: This was a significant network, and a real breakthrough when the Germans announced these arrests in November that they took five people in custody, including the ringleaders allegedly of this network, an individual named Ahmed Abdullah, an Iraqi national who is 32 years old, known more popularly as Abu Walaa. This was a very significant network working at the transnational level to get recruits from Germany into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. And the fact that they now believe that he was part of this

network, linked to this network, suggests that he may have had at least an opportunity to develop contacts which may have given him the opportunity to even communicate with ISIS back in Syria and Iraq in some kind of way. We just don't know that yet. We don't know whether there was actual communication going back and forth or whether this is somebody who was just inspired, just linked to these guys who were arrested, and perhaps after they were taken into custody and a sort of dragnet coming down on this network, somebody who felt that they needed to act before perhaps they themselves would be taken into custody.

From what we're hearing from German security officials, this guy had a narrow escape, really, in August when he was taken into custody because of false document identity papers on his way, the Germans believe, to Italy, not clear where he was wanting to go next. But obviously southward is a route towards the Middle East.

And so, all of this sort of coming together, there may have been some sort of failed opportunities from what we're hearing from the first blush of information to sort of link him to this network to charge him with some offenses, but clearly they -- they did not have enough evidence at that point when he was arrested on forged document charges and then let go by a judge.

CUOMO: Phil, any reverberation from what's going on in Germany back here at home? Does this inform our own security situation at all?

MUDD: Oh, absolutely. There's a couple of things you're thinking. One is tactical. One is strategic. The first is pretty basic.

[08:10:00] As soon as you get that kind of information, the name of this individual, any other technical information, like phone information, you want to ask two questions. Did he ever come here? And did he ever talk to anybody? It is not good enough to say the likelihood of that is one percent. I want zero percent.

The second thing I'm asking is, if he's part of a broader network, that includes recruitment into a place like Syria, can we outline that network to determine whether there's anybody from North America using it? And can we take it back into Syria to determine who's the central cell and so we can put a drone on somebody's foreheads. This is not just about what's happening in Germany. It's about whether we have any links direct to the United States, and whether we can identify a foreign operations cell in Syria that we can then eliminate.

CAMEROTA: Phil, Paul, thank you very much. Paul, come back when you've had any more developing reporting. Thank you for all of that.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump's transition team says the president-elect is monitoring the terror attacks in Berlin and Turkey. This as his children deny any involvement in a fundraiser reportedly advertising access to the president-elect for $1 million. CNN's Jessica Schneider is live with more. What have you learned, Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, the transition team is pushing back as details emerge about this fundraising event. It was billed to give access to the president the day after the inauguration and participate in a hunting and fishing trip with his sons for upwards of $1 million.

Now 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 the goals of this event. However, they are not involved in any capacity."

Now the brothers do say that they will not attend this event despite legal documents showing that both Eric and Donald Jr. served on the board of directors for the newly formed charity. All of this while it remains unclear whether the president-elect received official intelligence briefings in the wake of this week's attacks in Europe and turkey. The transition has not answered repeated inquiries from CNN, only saying that Trump is closely monitoring the situation and getting daily briefings from his national security adviser, retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn.

But 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. Chris?

CUOMO: Jessica, thank you very much.

We have breaking news. The death toll has gone up to at least 29 following this series of just spectacular explosions at a fireworks market north of Mexico City. More than 70 others were injured. We've got CNN's Ed Lavandera. He has the very latest from Dallas. You say fireworks, Ed, and it makes it seem less urgent. And yet these are heavy duty explosives. They burn really hot. And you're seeing the impact all around you there in Mexico City.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This open air market in Mexico where this happened, this isn't the kind of fireworks stand that you might see on the side of the road in some country back road here in the United States. These are serious fireworks, very elaborate fireworks that are sold in this open air market, and the scene that unfolded there was simply devastating.


LAVANDERA: 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 size 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, (via 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 confirm 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, just so you know, this small town where this happened is basically known as the fireworks capital of Mexico. Every year in March tens of thousands of people gather there for this massive national pyrotechnic show. This is what this community is known for there in Mexico.

CAMEROTA: So tragic. Ed, thank you very much for all of that reporting.

Well, four more people charged in connection with the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Two of them were emergency managers who reported directly to Governor Rick Snyder.

[08:15:02] The two others were water plant officials. All of them accused of misleading the state treasury into giving them millions in bonds, then misusing the money, and forcing the city's drinking water switch over to the Flint River. A total of 13 people now face charges.

CUOMO: '80s icon Richard Marx comes to the rescue when a passenger starts attacking flight attendants and people on board a plane. Four hour ordeal took place on a Korean Air flight from Hanoi to Seoul. His wife Daisy Fuentes snapped these photos.

Marx helped subdue the unruly man, tying him to his seat. The man was arrested and the plane landed. No one was hurt.

CAMEROTA: Shouldn't we hear some Richard Marx songs so that we know exactly who we're talking about? Could you sing -- could you hum a few bars?

CUOMO: No, I would never do that. We want to give him respect right now for what he just did to help the passengers. The last thing we should do is insult him by me mimicking his voice.

CAMEROTA: I also appreciate you thinking of the viewers here.

CUOMO: Always. Daisy Fuentes is another big name in the '80s.

CAMEROTA: I know Daisy Fuentes. I just wanted to hear a little bit of Richard Marx songs.

CUOMO: I guaranteed that Camerota in acid washed jeans once shimmied to Richard Marx.

CAMEROTA: And a head band. I've got that photo. CUOMO: Tie dye.

CAMEROTA: All right. Meanwhile, there are bipartisan calls for a special committee to investigate Russian hacking during the U.S. election. So, why is the Senate majority leader refusing to consider it? Well, we will talk to Senator Jack Reed. He is one of the key senators pushing for that select committee. That's next.

CUOMO: Key question --


[08:20:11] CAMEROTA: Four high profile senators making a bipartisan call for a select committee to investigate Russian hacking into the U.S. election. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rejecting that idea.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: It's a serious issue but it doesn't require a select committee. I mean, we have Senate Intelligence Committee and a House Intelligence Committee run by knowledgeable, responsible people. There's no question the Russians were messing around our election. It's a matter of genuine concern. And it needs to be investigated.


CAMEROTA: OK. Let's bring in Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He's one of the four senators calling for that select committee. He is also the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee.

Good morning, Senator.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: You heard the majority leader there. A select committee is not necessary for this, he says.

REED: The Russian intrusion into our election is unprecedented. Foreign governments, through their security services, intervening deliberately, and frankly from intelligence reports at the very highest levels to affect our election is not something that can be treated as business as usual. What the majority leader is suggesting is this is just business as usual.

I think we have to have a joint committee. Senator McCain, Senator Graham, Senator Schumer and I believe on a bipartisan basis we do to answer these questions, to let the American people know what happened. And I think also, the Trump administration should be interested in that --


REED: -- because their foreign policy, particularly with respect to the Russians, will always be questioned unless there's definitive answers.

CAMEROTA: Well, the --

REED: I just think --


CAMEROTA: I mean, the majority leader is not saying that this is -- this is business as usual. He said that it's a matter of genuine concern. But he's saying that it can be handled by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

REED: Well, I think what he is not either realizing or saying is that this is an issue that cuts across so many jurisdictional lines. Senator McCain and I are proposing to have deliberations in the Armed Services Committee, which will consider the military aspect of the national security administration, overseas activities.

But this is not just the Intelligence Committee. It's the Homeland Security Committee. They have responsibility in the United States for the protection of cyber information. We've got the Justice Department, their activities. The FBI, they're involved in this investigation, notification, whatever.

All of that is beyond the role of the Intelligence Committee. So essentially what we've done, I think very appropriately, on a bipartisan basis, is ask to have a joint committee that all these voices are represented but not only that, that we're going to lead to legislation. We're going to actually do something. Not simply sort of kick the can down the road. Legislation that's going to make us better prepared because these incidents are not going to go away.

CAMEROTA: So, are you saying the Senate Intelligence Committee cannot do anything on its own?

REED: I think what they can do, and what they will do, and what they have to do is behind closed doors look very carefully at the intelligence, make an evaluation of the intelligence. But in terms of public disclosure, in terms of being able to pull together elements from the Judiciary Committee, elements from Foreign Relations Committee, that is something that is not likely to happen.

What you'll have is a fragmentation of efforts. You'll have committees pursuing different small aspects of the overall problem and you won't be able to effectively and rapidly put together comprehensive legislation --


REED: -- cyber is one of those issues that cuts through anything.

CAMEROTA: So, then, why is Senate Majority Leader McConnell not agreeing to it?

REED: Well, I just think he's -- has either failed to recognize the import, or he simply doesn't want to have these answers presented to the American public of what precisely went on. I think, again, not only will we benefit from it, but also I think the administration, the Trump administration, as it enters into their --


REED: -- operations will want to have these answers before the American public.

CAMEROTA: Do you think he's protecting the Trump administration?

REED: Well, I don't think he's going out of his way to answer these questions. And I think curiously enough, as I suggested, he might be doing them in a way a disservice since their activities against the Russians will always be now subject to some suspicion about whether or not there was some activity, collusion, even inadvertent discussions that went on between the campaign. So, this has to be pursued.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about something else that needs to be pursued and that is of course the Turkish gunman who on Monday killed the Russian ambassador to Turkey. Somehow, as a result, of that attack, it seems as though there's been an alliance formed between Turkey and Russia.

[08:25:09] The opposite of what you would think would happen. But now, an alliance formed with them whereby they're almost cutting -- they are cutting the U.S. out of any sort of Syrian plan.

What do you think of what happened this week?

REED: I think what's happened this week was preceded by very much serious concern in Turkey after the attempted coup, and also the concern about Kurds within Turkey and also Kurds operating with us in Syria. And as a result they seem to have changed their position versus Assad's regime in Syria. And they're now willing to talk to the Russians, and talk to the Iranians, they're, as you point out, excluded the United States.

I don't think those talks will be entirely successful because you need all parties around the table for a solution. But it indicates to me, not so much the assassination -- unfortunate assassination of the Russian ambassador, but more or less the uncertainty in Turkey after the coup and also their concern about the Kurds.

CAMEROTA: But how troubled are you that the U.S. has been excluded?

REED: Well, I don't think it's a good sign, because I don't think that it contributes to overall stability within -- within Syria, and in addition it seems to give Assad a longer sort of tenure. And our policy has been and should be to get him out of there as quickly as possible.

So, it's not encouraging. The only good thing might come about is the level of violence as they talk, that would be a relief to the Syrian people. But I think long-term, to get a stable, durable solution, you're going to have to have the involvement not only of Turkey, Russia, but the United States and the United Nations and the international community.

CAMEROTA: Senator Jack Reed -- thanks so much for being on NEW DAY.

REED: Thank you very much, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Let's get to Chris.

CUOMO: All right. President-elect Donald Trump is tweeting and deleting, and then tweeting again. Not about the terrorist attacks around the world. But once again a topic he can't let go of. Next, in the bottom line.