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Sources: German Authorities Knew Suspect Discussed Attack; President-elect Trump Picks Conway and Navarro for Cabinet Posts; Source: Trump Weighs 5 Percent Tax on Foreign Goods; GDP Has Strongest Growth in Two Years. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 22, 2016 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA: Right.


CAMEROTA: I'd have to run the numbers.

CUOMO: Win-win?

CAMEROTA: Win-win. Time for NEWSROOM with Erica Hill in for Carol Costello. Good morning, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, nice to see you both this morning. Thank you. Good morning, I'm Erica Hill in today for Carol Costello. Thanks for joining us.

We do begin with chilling new details on the main suspect in the Berlin truck attack. According to investigators' files viewed by CNN, Anis Amri had previously discussed launching an attack in Germany and authorities knew it, long before Monday's killing spree. Amri had surfaced during an investigation of an ISIS linked group, and an informant told police, members discussed turning the truck into a giant bomb before plowing into the crowd. They also talked about how to help Amri flee the country afterwards.

This new information as the manhunt for him intensifies across Europe. We're also hearing German Chancellor Angela Merkel address the latest on the investigation at a press conference set to begin shortly. CNN's Erin McLaughlin is in Berlin with the very latest for us.

Erin, good morning.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. That's right, we are hearing some new and disturbing details about the 24- year-old Tunisian national and his links to the pro-ISIS recruitment network known as Abu Walaa.

Now, senior members of that recruitment network had been arrested by authorities here in Germany back in November. CNN has had a chance to take a look at the 345-page investigative file in relation to that case. According to that file, Amri is named several times, mentioned by a police informant as someone who wanted to launch attacks, an idea that members of that recruitment network, at least two, were supportive of and offered to hide him. We're also hearing, according to that file, that members of the

recruitment network had also been talking about driving a truck full of gasoline and a bomb into a crowded area, and also learning that at least one senior member of the group had been trying to arrange logistics to get Amri out of the country, out of Germany, in 2015 and 2016.

And we, of course, know that in August, Amri had been arrested here in Germany for trying to cross illegally into Italy with forged documents but for some reason a German judge, taking the decision to let him go. Now, he's on the run, one of Europe's most wanted men. There were raids in several German cities overnight. We're also hearing that they've raided -- searched, rather, a port in Denmark, 100,000 euro bounty on Amri's head -- Erica.

HILL: Erin McLaughlin for us in Berlin this morning. Erin, thank you.

There is a lot to cover here. I want to bring in our expert now for this conversation. Paul Cruickshank is a CNN terrorism analyst and editor-in-chief of "CTC Sentinel." Michael Weiss is a senior editor of "The Daily Beast" as well as co-author of the boob, "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror."

So as we start to unpack all of this and we're learning so much just this morning alone, we know, Paul, that German investigators are being asked why the man wasn't locked up. Is there a sense that this was bungled in some way?

PAUL CRUIKSHANK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CTC SENTINEL: I think there's increasingly a sense that there were missteps here in this investigation. There was a police informant inside this network for months and months and months. We know that because we've obtained the investigative files at CNN.

And this police informant inside this ISIS network had told authorities that the suspected perpetrator of the truck attack had actually discussed wanting to launch attacks in the period in the lead-up to the Berlin truck attack. And then other members of this network had even discussed launching truck attacks, ramming attacks with trucks full of gasoline, full of bombs. So this is a very, very dangerous network, indeed.

They actually moved against the senior members of the network back in November. They arrested five of those figures, including the ringleader, an Iraqi, and also a Serbian-German national. And that Serbian German national, Boban Simeonovic, had very, very close ties with the suspected truck attacker and had actually supported his desire to launch attacks and then had actually given him shelter inside Germany.

And so the worry is, number one, here's this guy connected to a radical ISIS network inside Germany that could provide him with a hiding place now. But the other worry is, here's a network that hasn't all been completely rolled up, connected back to ISIS, that wants to launch attacks in Germany and discussed doing so. Could other members of the network now move forward and launch attacks elsewhere in Germany? Real concern about that.

[09:05:09] HILL: And in terms of that concern, Michael Weiss, is there a sense that any of those attacks, were they to launch any other ones, that this could be imminent especially in the days just following this one?

MICHAEL WEISS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Absolutely. I mean, this replicates what we saw with the Frank Capone network based in Molenbeek in Brussels, right? They're similar state of affairs including a guy, a ringleader, a chief recruitment officer, that had been arrested by Belgian authorities. And his network was much wider and much larger than they had previously known. So, absolutely.

Look, they arrested five people in early November, including Abu Walaa who is kind of, you know, the imminence grace, the sheikh who is responsible for turning these Germans, radicals, into ISIS terrorists and sending them off to Syria. Germany doesn't know, simply does not know, how many members were part of this cell.

The Serbian-German national to whom Paul alluded was running a kind of ad hoc Islamic center out of his apartment in north Rhine-Westphalia. This was the guy who essentially gave the suspect a choice. You can either go make immigration to Syria and join ISIS and fight on the battlefields of Middle East, or you conduct a terrorist operation on German soil.

Now, how many people attended the, quote/unquote, "conferences," the Islamic indoctrination conferences at this guy's apartment? We simply don't know. There's a good chance that Amri was one of them, but how many else? You know, this is the question that the Germans must be asking themselves now.

HILL: Another question, too, because as we learned, when there was discussion in the past, there was also discussion about helping Amri get out of Germany. So how many of those people could now be involved in that effort? Paul, is there any sense that he's actually still in the country?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, he may well still be in the country because that logistical recruitment network was mainly based inside Germany. So those will be the people that could help him hide. And we saw after the Paris attacks that a similar kind of logistical network was able to help hide Salah Abdeslam who ducked out of that attack in Paris for four months. And so I think they'll be working on the assumption that he's still in Germany.

It's possible he got injured to some degree in that scuffle with the truck driver before he killed the truck driver. So this may be somebody that is not particularly mobile, but somebody that could be being given shelter by this network right now.

But I can tell you, now that his name is out there, his picture is out there, his universe where he can go is really shrunk in Europe. So he's going to have to stay where he is right now unless he's got completely out of Europe, which I don't think is very likely. And so I think, yes, more likely than not inside Germany, perhaps near Berlin still.

HILL: So at this point, though, we should point out too, he is still the only suspect who's been publicly identified. Michael, is there a sense that there will be more names, more pictures, put out, and how would that help or hinder efforts to find him at this point?

WEISS: Yes. I think it's very improbable that he acted alone in this. There are probably many others who knew that he was -- I mean, we know for a fact that there were others, Boban S. in particular. He was sort of the one who gave them the choice, go to Syria or blow something up here.

They're probably now looking for people within his immediate circle, rounding them up, trying to interrogate them, including family members, relatives, anybody who might have been part of or privy to his radicalization over the years.

But, yes, this has never looked like a lone wolf attack and I think the Germans now realize that they have a very significant pro-ISIS network but actually possibly an ISIS-connected network inside their own soil. And, as I mentioned earlier, they don't know the numbers of this network.

HILL: Michael Weiss, Paul Cruickshank, appreciate it. Thank you both.

Former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway landing a top job in the White House as counselor to the President. This morning, she's hard at work laying out Donald Trump's take on this latest string of terror attacks.


CUOMO: He is promising to end the war on ISIS quickly. What will you do that we're not doing now that will be so decidedly conclusive and quick?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: In addition to what I've already said several times, which is just stronger, better vetting policies, not looking the other way when there's evidence of terrorism and wrongdoing, in addition, getting our allies more involved.

You know, Donald Trump is constantly criticized here and elsewhere as, oh, my god, look, he doesn't even have the evidence yet and he's saying that it's ISIS. He's been right every single time. And he's not saying it to be right. He's saying it to remind us that the world is a dangerous place and anybody who accepts this as the quote, "new normal," they're giving in.


HILL: Well, that's coming as we await word on two more big appointments for Donald Trump's administration, Deputy Secretary of State and Press Secretary. CNN Senior Washington Correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me from Palm Beach, Florida where the President-elect is spending the Christmas holiday. And things are a little busy just ahead of the holiday.

So what more do we know at this hour, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. They are, indeed. With 29 days to go before Donald Trump takes the oath of office, he is busy filling out the White House staff, first among them, as you mentioned earlier, Kellyanne Conway, of course, the winning campaign manager.

[09:10:08] The first woman to lead a winning presidential campaign will be in the West Wing, just steps away from the Oval Office as counselor to the President. That is a role that is critical to sort of overseeing all the communications efforts and also being, really, a spokeswoman and a face of this administration here, in keeping all the sort of new appointments together.

And we are getting a new sign, particularly of economic policy and trade policy. Donald Trump, yesterday, announced that Peter Navarro, who is one of the hardest line critics of China, will be leading his effort on trade. Now, that is really interesting because his sort of anti-trade views conflict with some others in the administration already.

And one other thing we are learning this morning, Erica, is that the Trump administration is considering an early executive action on trade by imposing a 5 percent tariff on all foreign imports. This is in the discussion phase right now but, again, part of Donald Trump's America first plan he talked about so much on the campaign trail.

But this is going to be very controversial if he would go ahead with it. For one, can a President do this without Congressional approval? And two, Republicans in Congress, generally pro-trade. At least establishment Republicans certainly do not embrace this type of view.

So Donald Trump setting the agenda, setting the lines here of what some early fights maybe, but he wants to bring jobs back to the U.S. He campaigned on this America first agenda, so some of these early appointments, he believes, will help deliver on that.

Now, he has two members of his Cabinet that are still outstanding, the Veterans Affairs Secretary, the Ag. Secretary, and as you mentioned before, we are also still waiting on word of a White House Press Secretary and some other positions, including the number two at the State Department.

Donald Trump is at Mar-a-Lago behind me here as you can see here in Palm Beach, not going to be making many announcements today. Largely quiet for the Christmas weekend, but he will be here getting things in order through the New Year, when he takes office, again, 29 days from today, Erica.

HILL: Twenty-nine days to go. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Still to come. We're going to talk a little bit more about what Jeff just mentioned, this possible plan to add a tax to foreign imports. Why it could mean that you may pay more for big ticket items like TVs and computers. That's just ahead.


[09:15:57] HILL: As we just discussed, sources are telling CNN Donald Trump is considering a 5 percent tariff on foreign products sold in the U.S. Now, the goal would be to protect American jobs -- a theme that is at the heart of Donald Trump's plan to keep America first. The fallout, though, would likely be felt in your pocketbook by way of higher prices.

So, how specifically?

Well, to better understand it, we're joined by CNN Money chief business correspondent Christine Romans, the political editor for, Jason Johnson, and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich.

So, Christine, I want to start with you on this. Walk us through what this tariff would really mean for the average American.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it means at the border, there would be -- let me be clear about this. This has been floated. This is one of the ideas we are told that is the army of things that the Trump administration is considering to try to bring American jobs back to the United States.

So, say you put a 5 percent tax or charge on everything coming in. So, what's coming in? From China, its footwear. It's bedding. It's furniture. It's auto parts in some cases. It's washers and driers from Mexico.

So, you would add a 5 percent tax on all of those products for the manufacturers of those products. So, what happens to the companies importing those goods? Do they eat it out of their profit or do they pass it on to consumers?

The first thing probably many economists say this morning, all agree, you would add that 5 percent unto the consumer.

The seconding thing is you could have retaliation. So, China buys from the United States say agriculture products. It buys aircraft. It buys electrical machinery, lots of complicated stuff. Well, then China could say all right we're going to put a 5 percent tax back on you for your soybeans, for your corn, for your Boeing planes.

And then, all of a sudden, you have this tit for tat and that's when you start to have trade wars. So, you know, Mark Zandi from Moody's this morning telling this is just a bad idea to put a 5 percent tax on everything. There's the business community is pushing back sharply, saying this is a sledge hammer for trade. This is not good for trade policy.

And I keep going back to the fact this is floated. This is one of those things that they're probably looking at a range of ideas. So far, the business community and most economists saying, you know, tariff not a good idea.

HILL: It also could impact and, Christine, you and I were talking about this briefly in the break, but, Jason, I want to throw this one to you -- it could directly impact some of the people who were some of Donald Trump's biggest supporters during the election. So, it sounds great for a all right of places in the middle of the country where jobs have gone away and yet to have to pay higher prices, Jason. How could that work out? And again, as Christine said it's being floated, but just the idea of that?

JASON JOHNSON, THEROOT.COM: Well, you know, I don't think it's a good idea. But then again the very same people who were voting for Donald Trump are also probably going to lose their health care when he ends the Affordable Care Act.

Early in the campaign, Donald Trump said he wanted to put a 45 percent tariff on China. Now, he's down to 5 percent. Here's the basic fact, if you go to trade where with other countries, and that's what that is, if you start putting across 5 percent tariffs on everybody, it's going to be perceived as a trade war, they will raise prices, that will in turn affect American jobs, and American prices.

We tried this before. In 2009, President Obama tried to put a tariff on China bringing tires over here and it saved -- if you think about maybe about 1,000 jobs, but it ended up costing American consumers hundreds of thousands of dollars more to just buy tires.

So, it's not a very good idea. I think that's why Trump is floating it right now. He's going to do some sort of tariff and it's going to end up blowing up in his face and hurting the very people who voted for him.

HILL: In terms of China, this is not the first evidence that we've seen the Donald Trump perhaps rewriting this relationship with China, but, Jackie, we're also learning, of course, that this idea being floated on top of everything else comes on the heels of Donald Trump appointing Peter Navarro to White House trade counsel.

When we add all that up, what's the impact on that relationship?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's already sort of started a -- an antagonistic relationship with China. So, it really -- I mean, look what happened with Taiwan. I think he was a nominee for, what, two weeks?

So, no matter what I think that relationship is going to be a lot tougher than it's been.

[09:20:03] And it's already been kind of tough the last couple years. And we'll have to see what the reaction is with all of this is from Congress, because a lot of Republicans are solidly against tariffs and won't be happy with this, to the extent that they speak out. There was an article in "Politico" a couple days ago that there is some fear about speaking out against Trump. We'll have to see if they overcome that when it comes to the economy and some of the economic principles that they have so steadfastly clung to for most of the establishment Republican Party.

HILL: Christine, too, in terms of the economy, we just get the new numbers in the economy.

ROMANS: Right.

HILL: The economy doing pretty well at this point.

ROMANS: Nice tailwind for Team Trump quite frankly, 3.5 percent GDP growth in the third quarter. You know, exports one of the reasons. American exports one of the reasons. Personal spending was good.

GDP, 3.5 percent, the best performance in two years. So, you have the signs the American economy is doing well here.

Another point I would make is that the IBM CEO Ginny Rometty who's been at the table with Donald Trump among other CEOs and manufacturing CEOs as he talks about making manufacturing great again, she keeps making this point while the focus on bringing back traditional or 20th century manufacturing jobs is important, the new collar jobs, the more high tech jobs that maybe are not conveyor belt jobs but more like 3D printing kind of jobs, those -- there is great demand.

There are 300,000 or 400,000 manufacturing jobs open today that could be filled if we could figure out how to get workers who are out of work, manufacturing workers out of work and those employers to get the skill set right. Whether that's training the government pushes it, whether companies are responsible, I'm not sure. But there are 300,000 manufacturing jobs open today.

HILL: That's a significant number, especially when we keep talking about manufacturing jobs.

ROMANS: Highest in nine years. Yeah.

HILL: I do want to ask quickly we also have new numbers on sign ups, of course, for Obamacare and Jason since you brought this up, I'll throw this one to you. We've heard consistently the president-elect has said it is going to be repealed and replaced. We don't have a firm idea of what that replacement looks like.

Do these sign-up numbers in any way impact what that plan might ultimately be? Could they have Republicans taking a second look?

JOHNSON: Oh, definitely. Look. You've got people rushing to buy their guns. You've got people rushing to get married if they're gay couples, and you have people rushing to get the Affordable Care Act because Trump says he's going to dismantle it. But they don't know the idea of what the replacement will look like.

I'll say this, Barack Obama was a very smart person. The Affordable Care Act is like -- it's like Jenga. You can't pull out pieces without this whole thing falling apart. So, I think it's going to take the Republicans a long time to repeal and replace this unless they want to put millions of Americans off of health care in which case that's going to hurt them at the voting booth in 2018. HILL: I have to leave there, but good to talk with all of you.

Christine Romans, Jason Johnson, Jackie Kucinich, thank you.

We did touch on this new report from the government which shows strength in the American economy. The GDP growing 3.5 percent last quarter, it's actually the strongest showing in two years.

So, what could it mean as markets open just moments from now?

Alison Kosik is live at the New York Stock Exchange before the bell.

Alison, good morning.


So, I am watching futures based on how this report came out and yes, it's a positive report. Not enough just yet to turn futures around but we've still got about seven minutes before the opening bell.

So, yes, we found out that the U.S. economy grew at a very healthy 3.5 percent in the third quarter compared to the same time a year ago. And this actually followed the second quarter very anemic 1.4 percent pace. So, you look at the quarter between July and September, the economy actually had its best performance in two years, helped by exports and consumers who spent their money.

It's yet another sign the U.S. economy is doing better, and not far from where President-elect Trump wants GDP to be.

OK, let's first pause here and take chat a little bit about the elephant in the room. The question that's been asked every single day, has the Dow hit 20,000 yet?

No. It hasn't. But stocks have had an amazing run since the day after Election Day. The Dow was up an amazing 1,600 points since November 9th. What's driving it? The Donald Trump effect, essentially a Santa Claus rally kind of dressed up as Donald Trump on expectations his policies will be good for business and good for the economy.

But, investors aren't giving it up that easily, Erica. The Dow is within reach at about 60 points away. However, it looks like the flirtation will be continuing today -- Erica.

HILL: The flirtation will continue and so will our watch.

Alison Kosik, thank you.

KOSIK: Absolutely.

HILL: Still to come a deal to repeal North Carolina's bathroom bill crumbles. We have the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:28:29] HILL: The special session lasted nine hours, but in the end North Carolina's lawmakers failed to repeal that state's controversial bathroom bill. As the gavel came down, the protesters spoke up.


HILL: At issue here is House Bill 2, HB-2, which requires people to use the public rest room that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate. That law, you may recall, led to a wave of backlash, including lawsuits, a major loss of business in the state.

Democratic State Representative Chris Sgro spoke out earlier this morning on CNN's "NEW DAY."


REP. CHRIS SGRO (D), NORTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Every single day of those 275 days since House Bill 2 has been in effect our economy has suffered. We've lost jobs. We've lost performers. We've lost NCAA tournament games. We've lost the NBA all-star game.

Gay and transgender North Carolinians have suffered and been at direct risk for discrimination and violence and we failed yesterday.


HILL: CNN's Nick Valencia has been following this story and joins us this morning from Raleigh.

This is not what was expected earlier in the week, Nick. That's for sure.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was an un -- a very eventful day, an unexpected one, I should say. And piggybacking off Chris Sgro's comments, Republicans, it's not just an economic issue for them, it's also a moral one. They did not want to be told by their Democratic counterparts how to vote and when to vote.

Yesterday, it started out with political fireworks and Republican representatives standing up and saying that the special session was unconstitutional. At the end of the day, you had state Democrats pointing at Republicans saying that they did not stick to their word on a deal that was brokered earlier this week.