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German Chancellor about to Discuss Attack; Cybersecurity Firm: Russia Military Behind DNC Hack; Obamacare Enrollment Surges. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 22, 2016 - 10:00   ET



[10:00:16] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill in today for Carol Costello. Thanks for being with us. Any moment now, we will hear from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and we're going to bring that to you live. We'll continue to monitor this shot for you. This, as we are learning new details about Monday's horrifying truck attack in Berlin as well as the suspect. Just moments ago, we learned police found fingerprints of the main suspect on the door of the truck. This, as new questions surface about just what authorities knew about him prior to this attack.

According to investigators' files which were 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. An informant told police that members discussed turning the truck into a giant bomb before plowing it into the crowd and also, talked about how to have Amri flee the country afterwards.

All this information coming of course as the manhunt for him intensifies across Europe. Want to go now to CNN's Erin McLaughlin in Berlin who has more on these developments for us at this hour. Erin, good morning again.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. That's right, we are learning new information about 24-year-old Tunisian national Anis Amri, the main suspect behind the German market attack, and his links to the pro-ISIS recruitment network known as Abu Walaa here in Germany. Now, we understand that five senior members of that recruitment network were arrested back in November. CNN had a chance to view the case files, some 345 pages long, in relation to those arrests. The men arrested and charged with terrorism related offenses.

According to the file, Amri's name came up several times as someone who was interested in launching attacks, ideas that members of this network were, according to the file, supportive of. They offered at one point to hide him. We are also learning that the group discussed launching a truck attack, loading the truck with a bomb as well as gasoline and driving it into the crowd, so really, some chilling details there.

Also, according to the file, we're hearing that at least one senior member of that network allegedly tried to organize the logistics for Amri to leave the country in 2015 and 2016. And of course, we know in August, according to German officials, he was actually arrested and detained for trying to cross illegally into Italy on forged documents. For some reason in that case, the judge taking the decision to release him. Now, there's this Europe-wide manhunt according to the federal prosecutor here in Germany, several cities, there were several raids across several cities overnight including a refugee center that he once is believed to have called home. We also understand that there were raids on a port in Denmark as well. Situation still very much fluid. Erica?

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

Want to do take you now live to this press conference that's happening in Berlin. Let's take a listen in.

We just lost our translation. So, if like myself, you do not speak German, you likely have a tough time knowing what they are saying. We're going to try to get that translation back. You can see Chancellor Merkel, of course, is standing there at the microphones as well. So, we'll continue to monitor this for you and I believe we do have that translation back. Let's try to listen in again.


THOMAS DE MAIZIERE, GERMAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): The work between the office and also between the federal police office is very good and it is. We have somebody from that office here all the time. Exchange of information is really quickly and whatever has to be done is being done in order to have a successful manhunt. That's what we want to do and this is the most important task we have. So we all focus our work on

[10:05:16] efficient ways in order to arrest the perpetrator. Consequences, conclusions we can draw from the incidents are to be analyzed afterwards.

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): I would like to thank the president of the federal police office and all the staff of the authorities. Today, I'm here with Interior Minister and also the Minister of Justice, in order to get information about the work in connection with the perpetrator and to get information about his arrest. The work is highly professional of all officers of the federal criminal police office and they work together with the federal state and also other federal authorities. It is a smoothness operation. They work at full speed.

We all know, that we people, hope that we can inform you about the results and that we also find the perpetrator. 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 Breitsheidplatz (ph), there is something else. So, in every hour we are -- 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. We have a seamless operation and we also have that with the authorities of other countries. There have been several attacks in other countries as well and they are very much familiar with the challenges of terrorist attacks. I can say that in the last or in the previous years, we have done all efforts in order to work for counter terrorism. And also, we have observations of the Internet and this is why I am confident that during this test we are going through, we will persevere because we have professional staff, professional forces who clarify this situation and we have the values of our state, of the rule of law, democracy on our side and this is why I'm sure we will have good connection within the society of free democratic life.

I must say I have been very proud how calm the majority of people responded and I wish everyone best of success to all of them who work on it. Thank you very much.


HILL: So we just heard there from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was saying she believes this is a test. That they are going to pull through. One thing that really stood out, in her comments there saying, that we have known for some time we are a target for in his words, "Islamist terrorists," that this is something that of course they have been monitoring, something that has in many ways been expected. She did note that there are seamless operations working with the different agencies within Germany. She also stressed the relationship with other countries as well, as they work to combat terrorism. She said they have been "monitoring the Internet" and again, that she's confident they will "persevere in this test," in her words, that they are going through, noting that in her words, "democracy is on her side." She went on to say she was proud of the response. Not surprisingly offering her thoughts as well for the victims and for their relatives, so again, Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking there.

We do want to continue to stay on these attacks in Berlin, what we are learning today, because there's a lot to unpack about what we are learning about the suspect as well. Let's bring in our guest now. David Rohde is a CNN global affairs analyst and a national security investigations editor for "Reuters." James Jeffrey is a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey and Eric Schmitt is a "New York Times" senior writer who focuses on terrorism and national security.

From what we've learned in just the last 24 hours or so, there's a question, David, about whether or not

[10:10:16] German investigators may have botched part of this. Because of what we knew, what Erin McLaughlin just laid out for us, what they knew of this suspect, Anis Amri, before Monday. Was it botched?

DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST AND NATIONAL SECURITY INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR "REUTERS": It sounds like there was definitely a huge mistake. It's not clear if a judge made this mistake. He was held in an immigration court. There was an issue about who he actually was and whether they had correct identification for him and he was released. I don't know if the law enforcement -- the police bear blame for that as well as the judge but that was in August and he was out of custody. And there's just new reports Eric, from "The New York Times" might know more about this. In the times that he was also known to American officials, to having looked up online how to, you know, create explosives and other things. So he was clearly very dangerous.

HILL: And Eric, I do want to bring you in on that point. Some of the reporting that we did see in "The New York Times" this morning about looking up explosives and talking about the no-fly list. What more do we know about that?

ERIC SCHMITT, SENIOR WRITER "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, this is all part of the increased cooperation between American law enforcement and intelligence officials and their European counterparts since the attacks in Paris and in Brussels. And what sources tell me was, as David mentioned, that American officials and German officials were aware that Amri was researching online how to make bombs, how to make makeshift bombs. He had been in contact with ISIS over telegram messenger at least once. And he was on an American no-fly list. So, the American officials were clearly worried about him enough, that they didn't want him coming here to the United States.

To David's point, I mean, it's one of these things we are now seeing in other countries, we've seen in French and Belgian cases where law enforcement authorities are frankly overwhelmed by many of these cases. Even though they have deep suspicions about some of these people, including Amri, apparently they do not have enough manpower really to kind of continue monitoring. They had him -- they were monitoring him for several months but apparently the evidence didn't rise to the point where they could do more about it. That's going to be obviously, the focus of investigations going forward.

HILL: Well, -- we are also learning more about, Sir Jeffrey, about them -- trying to deport him and not for the first time either. We are learning about him having been in jail, trying to be deported and they just said look, he doesn't have the right documentation, we're not going to take them. How are those situations handled and how --moving forward, how important is this going to be, to see how other countries handle this when there may be someone who is not wanted within the borders of one country. But no one else is willing to take this person. Until then, they'll just say, all right, -- we will see you later effectively and off he goes?

JAMES JEFFREY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ AND TURKEY: Erica, that's the tragedy here. I disagree a bit with my two colleagues. This wasn't a set of screw-ups or blunders and it isn't even primarily a problem of resources. It's simply the way the laws and procedures are set out in Germany. Unless you are caught red-handed, you cannot be incarcerated unless you can overcome dozens of bureaucratic and legal hurdles. You really can't be deported even though there's a red flashing light that you are a danger to this society. This is a basic problem in the German society that gives priority, absolute priority. I know that country well, to not being like the Nazis, rather than protecting itself from terrible attacks like this. And if that doesn't change, they're going to have a huge internal problem.

HILL: So to your point, saying how well you do know Germany, how often does something like this happen?

JEFFREY: The German police and the authorities are actually very good and they share intelligence very well. So a number of attacks as Merkel just said have been stopped. People have been monitored. The problem is their ability to act when they have a very dangerous situation, as this guy was in multiple ways as we just heard from Eric, since the summer, their hands are tied.

HILL: What changes, David Rohde, moving forward, because there is this delicate balance. There's obviously the history in Germany to which the country is very sensitive but there's also, we heard Chancellor Merkel say this, just moments ago, there are these freedoms, too, that people need and want and that they of course want to continue. But does something change in the immediate future?

ROHDE: Well, there's a very critical election coming up. You know, Chancellor Merkel is trying to go for another term in office. The sort of more nationalist right wing new party there has gained in local elections so this will play out politically. She gave that statement. I thought was a very traditional statement. It wasn't any bold statement for a crackdown. Donald trump made bold statements about crackdown and it seemed to help him politically here. So I think you will see ramifications immediately in this election in terms of how she fares and how her party fares.

HILL: Eric, in terms of what we are learning about this recruitment network within Germany, that there was talk of you know, planning

[10:15:16] a prior attack, there was also talk about helping Amri be spirited away, should this attack take place. How deep are the tentacles within this organization, do we know, and how far are they reaching if at all beyond Germany at this point?

SCHMITT: Well, that's one of the big questions right now, Erica, is exactly that, because this -- preacher was making inroads in the German community, in the communities such as the Tunisians, which unfortunately, has produced some of the largest number of foreign terrorist fighters that are fighting in Syria and Iraq and which is of course, become an increasing concern. As they lose ground over there, it's going to be putting more pressure on some of those fighters to return home.

Now, there's no indication here that Amri traveled to Syria, but this is the -- kind of concern that you will have not only in Germany but throughout Europe, is that you will have these cells that have been operating in parallel to the campaign that ISIS has conducted in Iraq and Syria that will continue to try to carry out these attacks. But in addition to that, you will also see some of these fighters trying to return to their home countries both in Europe and in North Africa. These countries are now bracing for this. And this is the kind of -- I think both American officials are watching closely here in Washington, as well as officials in Europe now, sadly, as we have seen with this latest tragedy.

HILL: Eric Schmitt, Ambassador James Jeffrey, David Rohde, appreciate you all being with us today. Thank you. Still to come, enrollment for Obamacare is surging just as Donald Trump prepares to take office. For months, he campaigned against it. What could that mean? Up next.


[10:20:26] HILL: We are back with breaking news on the investigation into Russian hackers potentially meddling in the U.S. election. The cybersecurity firm, Crowdstrike, now says the breach of the Democratic National Committee has been traced to Russian military intelligence. CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with more details for us. Barbara, good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. Why is this so significant? Well, this cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, had also worked for the Democrats looking into this hacking and it is a company that has some familiarity with Russian patterns of cyber activity. They have now concluded based on everything they know that indeed, that it is most likely Russian military intelligence was behind the hack into the Democrats. What they are also saying is that it is a very similar pattern of activity that was seen previously with Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine military forces, allowing the Russians to learn a great deal about where Ukrainian forces were moving around and what they were up to.

So, where we are is this firm Crowdstrike now says there is this pattern that they are able to tie to Russian military intelligence being behind the hack into the Democrats. It goes along with everything that the U.S. government is indicating. U.S. Intelligence officials have been saying for some time now they can trace the activity to the highest levels of the Russian government, if not Vladimir Putin himself. And U.S. officials have also said the pattern of activity against the Democrats appears to be so sophisticated, it is really only two entities in the Russian government working for Russian intelligence that would be capable of doing this kind of thing. It's on par with the U.S. National Security Agency, the most sophisticated in the U.S. government in cyber activity. So all indications are, all roads are pointing to Moscow. Erica?

HILL: Barbara Starr with the latest on that for us. Barbara, thank you.

There is just a little over a month left to sign up for Obamacare. Despite Donald Trump's vow to repeal that law, the White House says enrollment this year is surging. 6.4 million people have signed up for health insurance, 400,000 more than at a similar point last year. It's unclear, though, what will happen if and when Republicans do repeal the Affordable Care Act. Here's what Donald Trump said on CBS last month.


LESLEY STAHL, CBS "60 MINUTES": There's going to be a period if you repeal it and before you replace it when millions of people could lose - DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL-ELECT: No, we're going to do it simultaneously. It will be just fine. We are not going to have, like, a two-day period. We're not going to have a two-year period where there's nothing. It will be repealed and replaced.


HILL: To discuss, we are joined by Heidi Przybyla, senior politics editor for "USA Today" and Julian Zelizer, CNN contributor as well as a historian and professor at Princeton University. Last hour, one of our guests compared the Obamacare to Jenga. It's not the kind of thing that you can take apart. If you pull out one piece, the rest of it falls apart, Heidi. And that, I know is the concern, especially if you are going to repeal it and as we heard from Donald Trump, have something in place ready to go right away. Is there a sense that Republicans are taking a second look now at how this would need to be done?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER "USA TODAY": Possibly. I saw a news report even that some Republicans are talking now potentially about not removing that funding stream because that is the one thing that's easiest to do, is just to get rid of the taxes and the funding stream for Obamacare. But if you do that, that's where the Jenga comparison comes in. Because there is really not -- this is really not hard to understand the way that this system works to cover more people, you have to have more people in the system paying into it. So, once you remove that funding stream by definition, a lot of people are going to lose their health care.

And you know, we look at the popularity of Obamacare, it is very much along partisan lines in terms of, you know, whether you like it or you don't like it. But when you ask the question about some of the core principles, the core pillars of Obamacare like nondiscrimination for pre-existing conditions, covering your adult children, those things are very popular. So again, you are talking about the public wanting to maintain the things that are costliest, but then the easiest thing for Republicans to do is to remove the funding stream and you can't square that.

HILL: There's also the issue, a Gallup Poll, Julian, found several different groups of Trump supporters are actually disproportionately Obama enrollees. How much of that do you think is a consideration for the president-elect?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR PRINCETON UNIVERSITY AND CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's going to be very important. Some of the biggest enrollments are coming in states that Donald Trump just won such as Florida and Pennsylvania. And one of the things Republicans have learned

[10:25:16] since the 1950s that when they try to take away government programs, real ones rather than just attacking government, there's often a blowback. So I think this could be a big issue, not just for voters, but for the legislators who represent them. It's different to say I want to get rid of ACA and repeal it than it is to say I'm taking away the benefits of 6.4 million people. HILL: Well, on to that point, Julian, who has more to lose here? There's a lot of talk about the legacy of the Affordable Care Act for President Obama, but then for those who are leading the charge to repeal it, and hopefully replace it with something else, who has more to lose in this equation?

ZELIZER: Well, politically, I still think President Obama has more to lose. This is his signature piece of legislation. The threat to this legislation is paramount concern to him and to many Democrats and if it's eliminated successfully, that would be a huge blow to him and even if there's political payback for the Republicans because of that, I think in some ways he would suffer the greatest as well as those who lose their benefits, of course.

HILL: Part of the issue, Heidi, for all Americans whether they are buying their insurance through the Affordable Care Act or not, is the fact that health care costs are rising across the board. Has there been any discussion, could there perhaps be a bipartisan effort to look at ways to bring those costs down rather than looking at separate systems?

PRZYBYLA: Well, you would hope that this would give way to some kind of a third way because Republicans have been trying to repeal and replace Obamacare for years now, ever since it was essentially put into effect. And the fact that here we are now where they control all the levers of power and we still don't have a replacement would lead to some kind of a third way. But I have to disagree a little bit with Julian just because I think even though short-term, yes, Obama takes the biggest political hit. If they -- peal this back without a comparable measure that also has broad coverage, if you look at the non-GOP Trump voters in these states, who are the voters, who really the white working class voters who carried Trump over the finish line. These are the people who are going to be most hurt and I really do think there will be hell to pay for Republicans across the board in 2018 when these folks wake up and realize that they are actually losing their health care and that there's not something there to replace it or that whatever replaces it is prohibitively expensive. So I do think that hopefully this will lead to some kind of discussion about a third way.

HILL: We can cross our fingers, right? We can all hope for a Christmas miracle that there could just be a lovely bipartisan effort to have that discussion. We'll see if it happens. Heidi Przybyla, Julian Zelizer, nice to have you both with us. Thank you.

Still to come, after a nine-hour special session, North Carolina lawmakers do not repeal that controversial bathroom bill. Why some in the community are furious.