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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA

Berlin Suspect on Anti-Terror Radar; Attacked Christmas Market Reopens; Obama Halts Program Tracking Arab and Muslim Men; Russian Military Behind DNC Hack; Trump Denies Dropping Drain the Swamp; JetBlue Incident with Ivanka Trump; Kellyanne Conway as White House Counselor. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 22, 2016 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And not because she won on "Jeopardy!."

Rachel Crane, thanks so much for being with us.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: Top of the hour. John Berman here.

We have new and alarming developments in the Berlin terror attack. What officials did know about the suspect before the attack and what they didn't do about it. CNN has learned that German authorities not only knew who Anis Amri was, not only knew that he had contacts with pro-ISIS operatives, but they knew he had spoken several times about launching attacks in Germany, that he also believed that members of a pro-ISIS network, to which he was linked, offered him a place to hide. Officials now say that they've recovered fingerprints from Amri from the truck used to kill 12 people at the Christmas market and injure dozens more. There is a huge manhunt underway.

Paul Cruickshank is our terror analyst in London right now.

And, Paul, you've uncovered a lot of these details about what German authorities knew. A giant investigative report that you've been poring through.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: That's right, 345 pages of it, been looking through it over the past few hours and really extraordinary revelations. The Germans had a police informant inside this ISIS recruiting network to which Amri belonged to, and that police informant was reporting back details to investigators, including the fact that he wanted to launch attacks, including the fact that members of his - of his circle, part of this network, wanted to launch truck attacks, truck ramming attacks in Germany, which they were hoping not only just to ram into people, but also to put bombs on board the truck and also load it up with a lot of gasoline, an even more spectacular attack.

And that's all very worrying because it suggests he has other people who can help him hide. But also other people that may be able to furnish him with more weapons, even with explosives, to carry out a secondary attack.

And then, concerning as well because there are all these other individuals linked to the network, some of which are still at large, who could, themselves, launch strikes against Germany. So this is a very worrying period now upcoming. Not only do the Germans need to take this individual into custody, but they really need to hammer this entire network. They were able to make five arrests back in November, the five leading figures they felt in this network. They obviously focused on those five individuals, the more senior members, the older members, people who were teaching, recruiting, persuading, cajoling people to launch attacks. But some of the junior foot soldiers of this network, they didn't do surveillance in such an intensive way because of that need to prioritize, and they were left out in the open and, of course, one of them has moved forward and launched this attack.

BERMAN: You know, Paul, I do understand the need to prioritize. You know, we also constantly hear about the manpower it takes to constantly surveil people. But it strikes me that in this case, they had a critical mass of data pointing to Anis Amri as a serious and perhaps imminent threat to Germany. Is it surprising to you - because you've seen a lot of these instances. Is it surprising to you that he somehow manage to slip through the cracks?

CRUICKSHANK: I would use the word jaw-droppingly surprising. I mean even despite the fact that they - that there's such a huge challenge that they have with a number of people that they're having to monitor in Germany, in Europe, the fact that they have limited resources that they feel overstretched, there were major warning signs here this individual was extremely dangerous and extremely committed to want to act. And so by not having in recent weeks that intense surveillance on him, that gave him an opportunity to move forward with an attack. And we're going to have to wait and see what explanation the Germans come up with for why there wasn't in recent weeks that intense surveillance on him. Did they - did he somehow manage to sort of get away, start hiding somewhere, where they couldn't follow him? What were the reasons that they were not tracking him more closely?

And they're going to have to look at all the other members linked to this network still at large now and to come up with a determination about whether they are a threat. But, of course it's difficult because to bring people into custody, you have to have enough evidence to charge them with terrorism offenses.

BERMAN: Right.

CRUICKSHANK: And in Germany, there's a very, very high bar when it comes to that. And the word of a police informant may not be enough.

BERMAN: All right, Paul Cruickshank, standby.

I want to go live to Berlin right now and outside the Christmas market in that city, which, by the way, we should say, has reopened today, albeit with new security measures, new unformed officers scattered about. You can see some pictures of them setting up that market earlier today. It is nighttime there now with memorials in place and flowers and people there to pay their respects. [12:05:06] CNN's Erin McLaughlin live in Berlin.

And, Erin, we did just hear from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, and she is under intense pressure to find the main suspect at the heart of this manhunt, 24-year-old Tunisian national Anis Amri. She said that they are growing increasingly confident that he is the man who perpetrated this attack, citing his fingerprints which were found inside the cabin of the truck.

In that statement, she also took a moment to remember the victims of the attack. Take a listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): Theoretically, we have known for a long time and the minister mentioned it, that we are a target for the Islamist terrorists. And if then such an incident happens, as the one we had at the (INAUDIBLE) then there is something else. So in every hour, we are with the - our thoughts are with the victims and also the relatives and we think of everybody in hospitals and we must work as best as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: Now, while Germans are mourning the victims of this attack, many that I've been speaking to are expressing outrage at the way security services has handled Amri's case, especially considering they knew he had links to this pro-ISIS recruitment network, that he had been arrested, detained, back in August for trying to cross illegally into Italy on forged documents, but a judge allowed him to go free, that in June he had been - tried - authorities tried to deport him back to Tunisia but failed after failing to concretely identify him, the fact that he was able to drive a 25-ton truck through the Christmas market just behind me, killing 12 people, and walking away undetected, all of those things have Germans outraged here tonight.

John.

BERMAN: All right, Erin McLaughlin, thanks so much.

Paul Cruickshank is still with us.

And, Paul, you talked about the jaw-dropping gaps in follow-up from German authorities. That's sort of the glass half empty, extremely empty, I should say, look at this. The glass half-full point, which you brought up earlier, is they do now have a lot of information about where to look, things that they could follow up on, perhaps leads in their search. What's the latest on that?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, thanks to this police informant, they have a very detailed map of this network. They have addresses. They have phone numbers. They have locations where this group frequented. And so they can go back to all those places, addresses, look at the phone traffic, to try and pick up any trace of him.

But this is a group whose purpose was to hide and smuggle people and trying to get them out of the country and go and join with ISIS, or for radicals already inside Germany to give them safe houses so they could prepare for terrorist attacks. So this is a group that has some experience in hiding someone. It may well be that there were several others within this network who knew that this was coming and they had a plan in place with an address somewhere in Germany that they felt comfortable was not on the radar screen of security services to hide him. That may mean it will be quite complicated for the Germans now to figure out where he is.

And we saw after the Paris attacks with Salah Abdeslam, at that point the most wanted man in Europe who ducked out of that attack, he managed to hide for four whole months - BERMAN: Right.

CRUICKSHANK: Because of this kind of logistical support that people sympathetic toward ISIS have been able to provide.

BERMAN: Paul Cruickshank, we'll let you get back to that investigative report, 345 pages. New information keeps on coming out of it. So we will hear from you again.

Thanks, Paul.

We have some breaking news right now. The Obama administration says it is ending a dormant program that was once used to track mostly Muslim men entering the United States. "The New York Times" first reported this story. The program is called National Security Entry/Exit Registration System, or NSEERS for short. It started after the September 11th attacks, but the Obama administration stopped using it in 2011.

CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez joins us now from Washington with the details on this.

Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the Homeland Security Department says that they are dismantling this program now. They had stopped using it, as you mentioned, back in 2011. Apparently, according to Obama administration official, it has been obsolete. It has never once flagged a terrorist. And so it was a program that was useless.

[12:10:03] It was a program that was set up after 9/11, as you mentioned. It targeted students, workers, terrorists, people - tourists, rather, not terrorists, seeing to try to find if anybody was coming into this country to try to commit terrorism. It was listed in 25 countries, including North Korea. But most of the countries were mostly of Muslim populations. And so that's the reason why there was a lot of criticism for it.

In recent days, we had seen various organizations, civil rights organizations, and the New York attorney general had asked the Obama administration to get rid of it completely out of fear that it could be used as sort of architecture for Donald Trump's stated goal of setting up some kind of registration system for Muslims. As you know, the Trump team has now disavowed that. They say that they're going to do a much smarter system to try to target countries - people from countries where there is an increased risk of terrorism, John. But at this point, the program now is no more simply because it was obsolete. It never really did anything. And so now the Obama administration says they've gotten rid of it.

BERMAN: Right. I mean the question was why you'd dismantle something that's dormant anyway, and the answer is for political reasons because the Trump - incoming Trump administration, actually (ph) a year ago Donald Trump talked about a Muslim ban. His people have clarified that he wants to do heavy screening, extreme screening on certain people coming in from certain countries.

PEREZ: Right.

BERMAN: And this would have provided the architecture for that. So, in theory, what would the Trump administration have to do to reinstate it?

PEREZ: Well, they can simply write new regulations and start their own program. So, really, I mean this is - I know this is probably in response to some of these organization and some of these groups around the country that had asked the administration to get rid of it, but really nothing would stop the incoming administration from writing new regulations to - to do something exactly like this.

Look, the issue here is that it was a useless program because in the years after 9/11, the United States enacted tougher security restrictions on visas, including fingerprinting and background checks and so on. So it really wasn't working anymore. It wasn't really a useful program. But that said, John, I think you're right, I mean the incoming president could simply write new regulations and it would probably be very much legal if he did that.

BERMAN: This lets the Obama team say it wasn't our program -

PEREZ: Right.

BERMAN: That a President Trump used to do something. That's why people think this might be a little bit political.

PEREZ: Exactly.

BERMAN: Evan Perez, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

PEREZ: Sure.

BERMAN: A cybersecurity firm says there are direct ties between the Russian military and the hack into DNC e-mails. We'll have details on that just ahead.

President-elect Donald Trump is standing by a campaign phrase "drain the swamp." He's saying that despite the fact people close to him say he's not. So why the sudden defense from the president-elect? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:24] BERMAN: All right, a new report just in on the hack into the Democratic National Committee that also points to Russia as the culprit. This comes from the cyber security firm Crowd Strike and says that the hacking group responsible is linked to Russian military intelligence. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins me now with the details.

Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John.

Well, Crowd Strike was apparently hired by the DNC to look into all of this for them and has now issued this report. The company has found in its view that, in fact, the hack into the Democratic e-mails was tied back to Russian military intelligence. Interestingly, they find a similar pattern of a Russian military hack that impacted soldiers, the military force of Ukraine, giving the Russian military the ability to track Ukrainian soldiers. They find some parallels in how these different cyberattacks happened.

It's interesting, the U.S. intelligence community has let it be known in recent days it believes that the hack is tied to the Russian government, to the highest levels, all the way potentially to Vladimir Putin. We here at CNN had been told several days ago that the U.S. intelligence community looking at this found essentially the equivalent of a cyber fingerprint. They found evidence that this was tied back to possibly one of two Russian military agencies and - elements of the Russian military intelligence, the only ones capable of engaging in such a sophisticated attack.

In fact, one U.S. official saying it was the equivalent of the cyber tools that are used by the U.S. National Security Agency. That part of the U.S. government that engages in cyber activity. Very sophisticated. Only capable of being done by the Russian military intelligence community. And they would not do it unless Vladimir Putin knew about it and wanted it to happen.

John.

BERMAN: All right, Barbara Starr, remember, we do expect an official intelligence review before January 20th. Thanks so much, Barbara.

New this morning, Donald Trump standing by one of his favorite phrases from the campaign trail. He just put this out on Twitter. He said, "someone incorrectly stated that the phrase 'drain the swamp' was no longer being used by me. Actually, we will always be trying to DTS, drain the swam."

This comes after several Trump supporters suggested that maybe the phrase was going away.

I want to bring in CNN's senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Also with us, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich, and politics reporter at "The Daily Beast," Betsy Woodruff.

Jeff, so drain the swamp, it was out, it was in, not it's in? What's going on?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, it does seem like it's in. And the someone who Donald Trump is referring to is Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who started this all again this week by - in an interview on NPR by saying that he was told that Donald Trump wants to stop using that phrase, "drain the swam."

So Newt Gingrich, moments ago tweeted this. He said, "I goofed. Drain the swamp is in. Donald Trump is going to do it and the alligators should be worried."

Of course, John, a little bit of translation here. Alligators, not the kind that you may find in waters in Florida, not necessarily here, but other waters in Florida. Alligators in Washington mean lobbyists, means consultants, means others.

Donald Trump, of course, is filling his administration. Some people have worked as lobbyists before. Some people still currently are lobbyists. So the question here, the point of all this, substantively, is, is Donald Trump going to drain the swamp, change things in Washington? Always harder to do than to say on the campaign trail. But Donald Trump, in one tweet today, saying he is still intending to do it. And Newt Gingrich backtracking big time today, John.

[12:20:07] BERMAN: Yes, you know, it's interesting, Jeff, perhaps the Twitter back and forth and sub tweeting between Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump was actually less interesting than the substance of whether or not he is, in fact, draining the swamp in Washington, Jackie Kucinich.

ZELENY: No doubt.

BERMAN: You know, Corey Lewandowsky, this morning, his former campaign manager, said today out loud that "drain the swamp" would not be a priority. It would be at the bottom of the list after creating jobs and other things. This is Corey Lewandowsky, who's setting up a consulting firm -

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BERMAN: That may or may not be giving people access to the Trump administration, which is just the kind of swampy thing that Donald Trump said he would do without. And along those lines, you know, the swamp, during the campaign, also included Wall Street financiers at Goldman Sachs, the likes of which who will now work in the Trump administration.

KUCINICH: Right. It seems like, at this point, he's draining the swamp perhaps to see the creatures better because, as you said, Corey Lewandowsky is now going to start a consulting firm that is - is right next - actually, physically, right next to the White House. It's maybe a block away. And then, as you mentioned, there are several people from Wall Street who are very prominent members of his - not only his transition team, but also that are going to be incoming in his cabinet.

So it doesn't - it's easier said than done. I'm interested how they'll spin this, frankly, #dts. I mean it - they are - as much as they say it, they aren't really doing it right now. That's just a fact.

BERMAN: You know, and, Betsy, one of the things people have told me consistently, Trump supporters, is this is just the way Washington works. But the reason we keep bringing this up is because Donald Trump ran on changing the way Washington works. Drain the swamp was his promise.

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE DAILY BEAST": Right. Exactly. And it just indicates the extent to which it's hard to change Washington when a lot of the folks you would need to hire to fill those thousands of administration jobs that are now open are people from Washington. Many people just sort of on the political higher level who have lobbying backgrounds, who have experience working for some of the companies that many Trump supporters are frustrated with. And so that puts him in kind of an awkward position. It's one of many personnel problems Trump has.

Of course, we also know the Trump transition team has been very hostile to the folks who have signed letters during the primary, during the general election, that were critical of Trump. That's been an issue for him as he works to staff up the national security side of his team. So, from Trump's perspective, if you get rid of all the movement conservatives who are really critical, if you get rid of anyone with a lobbying background, if you get rid of anyone who can be construed as a swamp creature, then the project of putting together the number of staff and employees that you need to run a federal government just becomes challenging and I think that's why this campaign promise is such a messy one for Trump to figure out how to keep.

BERMAN: You know, Jackie - and, Jeff, I'm going to get back to you because we have news on some Trump family members I want to get to you in a second with, Jeff.

But, Jackie, it's interesting, just in the last 24 hours, we have seen the Trump team be responsive in a way to criticism. Jeff reported a short time ago that the president-elect received the presidential daily briefing, the classified briefing, for the second day in a row. He'd been criticized for not doing as much earlier.

Eric Trump said today that he would not be soliciting money for a certain charity by selling - by offering access to him for hunting trips and other things. Again, responding perhaps to some criticism about blurred lines over the last few days. Do you think these are signs that Trump and his team are listening to worries that are out there?

KUCINICH: It's really hard to say, honestly. I mean, I wonder if Eric Trump is listening to his lawyers, because that - because he could be in some pretty hot water if these - if it does look like there's some kind of nepotism going on. But I - but, also, when it comes to the presidential daily briefing, I do wonder if events have forced this, rather than criticism. Obviously, there - the - the presumed terrorist attack in Berlin, the assassination of the Russian ambassador, there have been world events that would necessitate more information. I wonder if he'd be taking that same approach had there not been these world events.

BERMAN: Well, they happen. He is receiving them.

KUCINICH: Right.

BERMAN: So those who say he needed to and were critical of him when he wasn't should note that now, in fact, he is.

All right, Jeff Zeleny, some interesting news about Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner and an incident on an airplane. What happened exactly?

ZELENY: OK, John, so apparently this morning, Ivanka Trump, Jared, her husband, Jared Kushner, and their three children, were flying from New York here to Palm Beach to spend this holiday weekend at Mar-a-Lago behind me here with their family, the Trump family, and there was an incident on a JetBlue airplane this morning. They were flying commercially. And apparently one passenger was hurtling insults at Ivanka Trump. Reportedly shouting at her, saying your father is ruining the country. This is based on social media accounts. And this passenger was thrown off the plane.

[12:25:06] Now, we do have a statement from JetBlue airlines talking about this incident that happened this morning. Let's take a look at that statement. It says, "the decision to remove a customer from a flight is not taken lightly. If the crew determines that a customer is causing conflict on the aircraft, the customer will be asked to deplane, especially if the crew feels the situation runs the risk of escalation during the flight. In this instance," talking about the flight this morning here, JetBlue goes on to say, "our team worked to re-accommodate the party on the next available flight."

Now, John, we did talk with a Trump transition official who told CNN this. He said, "the story speaks for itself. It's an incredibly unfortunate situation." And left it at that.

We have seen photographs also that were going through now on social media showing Ivanka Trump on that airplane this morning. The Trump team confirming that she was indeed flying here to Palm Beach. So that incident happening. Of course, a lot of emotions still about this election. But, John, they were simply flying here for a holiday weekend with their family.

John.

BERMAN: Sure, with their kids on board as well. And as you say, the Trump transition says, let it speak for itself. We will, too. We'll let the facts speak for themselves as well there.

Betsy, while we have you, one other piece of transition news today. We learned that the woman who ran Donald Trump's campaign, at the end of the campaign, Kellyanne Conway, credited largely with helping steer it to victory, she has a job in the White House. She will be counselor to the president.

This is, you know, this is an important role. I mean it's important politically. It's important because she will be perhaps the most influential woman inside the White House. And Kellyanne Conway, you know, she had been offered apparently some other jobs in the administration. She'd been considering a role outside the administration. So a significant move today.

WOODRUFF: Right, exactly. And the Trump transition team is having a little fun with Kellyanne Conway at the expense perhaps of Hillary Clinton supporters. In the statement they put out about it, and then again this morning on the conference call that the team has with reporters, a Trump spokesman said, look, Donald Trump's election broke the glass ceiling because Kellyanne Conway's the first woman to manage a winning presidential campaign. They're seeing her as sort of the - one of the faces of the Trump presidency to women. Of course, alongside Ivanka Trump.

Another thing that's interesting about Kellyanne Conway, and quite important, is how much support she has in the pro-life community. Conservative activists, many religious activists who'd like to see tougher restrictions on abortion, potentially the overturning of Rove v. Wade, are extremely heartened and extremely happy that Kellyanne Conway's going to be in the White House because she is seen as a true believer on that issue in a way that many other folks who are in Trump's orbit, particularly some of the more moderate, potentially pro-choice, New York Republican, who are some of his confidents, aren't seeing quite so much as on the same page. So this is a big deal for social conservatives.

BERMAN: All right, interesting perspective there.

Betsy Woodruff, Jackie Kucinich, Jeff Zeleny, thank you all very, very much.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

BERMAN: A seven-year-old who tweeted to the world about her struggle to survive the horrors of Syria is now talking about her ordeal. Coming up, she tells how she narrowly escaped bombs in her hometown of Aleppo.

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