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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
FBI Issues Warning On ISIS Threats In U.S.; Suspect Killed In Shootout With Italian Police; U.S. Abstains As U.N. Votes To End Israeli Settlements. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired December 23, 2016 - 16:00 ET
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- reach out, to donate when they can, food, money, clothing for the girls, and they tried to help me, too, but I don't want anything. My babies are OK and I have a roof over my head. I'm fine.
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BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for being with me today. "THE LEAD" starts now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news, the FBI is warning U.S. churches of ISIS threats this holy weekend. THE LEAD starts right now.
A new terror warning in the United States as the Christmas market terrorist has stumbled upon and shot dead and ISIS releases a video proving he was one of them.
More breaking news, President Obama shocking the nation and the world in taking a parting shot at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Donald Trump by failing to stop a United Nations Security Council vote calling for an end to Israeli settlements. What might this mean for one of the most critical audiences in the world?
Plus, season's greetings from Vlad. President-elect Donald Trump receiving a warm letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin just hours after the man who will soon have the nuclear codes declares let it be an arms race.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We begin this Friday afternoon with a critical warning from U.S. intelligence officials right before this Christmas and Hanukkah weekend. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security releasing a joint bulletin this afternoon regarding possible ISIS threats.
CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez joins me now. Evan, what specifically is the warning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, this is a bulletin that the FBI and the Homeland Security Department have now sent to law enforcement in the last couple hours, and to private security cameras around the country.
It reads in part, quote, "ISIS sympathizers continue aspirational calls for attacks on holiday gatherings including targeting churches."
Now we have Christmas and Hanukkah observances beginning tomorrow and law enforcement agencies are being told to be vigilant and to look for suspicious activity.
We should note that officials tell us that this bulletin was sent out of an abundance of caution. There is no credible specific threat here in the United States.
The U.S. military in Europe also, Jake, issued its own warning to troops and to families there. They suggest taking precautions, such as going to shopping malls in off-peak times and to avoid less secure public areas.
TAPPER: Well, Evan, if there isn't any specific credible intelligence suggesting there's going to be an actual attack, what would prompt a warning like this?
PEREZ: Well, we had in the last couple of days some pro-ISIS websites publishing threats specifically calling for attacks on churches. They published a list of thousands of churches in the United States, including the addresses. This is a publicly available listing.
ISIS simply wants its supporters to go out and carry out attacks on their own. In the past we've mostly seen ISIS calls for attacks on the military and law enforcement targets.
Obviously, churches and Christmas gatherings are the ultimate in soft targets. Officials tell me that in the last few days, following the attack in the Christmas market in Berlin, they've noticed an increase in threat chatter.
This is the time of year that they typically see that. So nothing really out of ordinary. The FBI right now is looking for its list of people, who they know are ISIS supporters. They want to check to make sure they're still just to make sure that nobody is trying to do something in the next couple of days.
TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much.
Turning now to the suspected terrorist behind the Monday's Christmas market attack in Berlin, he was shot and killed by Italian police outside a train station near Milan early this morning.
Italian authorities say Anis Amri opened fire when he was approached by law enforcement during a routine stopped and asked to show his I.D. Hours later ISIS released a video of the 24-year-old Tunisian pledging allegiance to the terror group leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Twelve people were killed in the truck attack and 48 others were wounded including two Americans, among them, 62-year-old Richard Ramirez, the Texas native has lived in Germany for the last 18 years with his partner, Peter, who was tragically killed on Monday.
Let's get right to CNN's Erin McLaughlin. She is in Berlin, Germany. Erin, we know now that Amri was on Germany's most dangerous terror list?
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And tonight in Berlin there's extreme relief, but they are also extremely concerned. Authorities say they are worried this isn't over. That Amri may have had accomplices who are planning more attacks.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Tonight new video released by ISIS shows Anis Amri, the man police believed attacked the Berlin Christmas market pledging his allegiance to the terror group's leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi -- and threatening the west.
ANIS AMRI (through translator): By God's will we will slaughter you pigs. I swear, we will slaughter you.
MCLAUGHLIN: It is unclear when the tape was made or where it was recorded. The 24-year-old Tunisian man was killed overnight in a shoot-out with police outside the train station near Milan.
[16:05:03]The Italian government said it was not tracking Amri and didn't even know he was in the country. Officers on regular patrol approached him around 3:00 in the morning because he was acting suspiciously.
MARCO MINNITI, ITALIAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): The suspect immediately drew out a gun and shot at the police officers, who asked him to show identification documents.
MCLAUGHLIN: With Amri dead, police across Europe are now frantically trying to find any accomplices who may have helped him. The fact ISIS had tape of the alleged terrorist ready to release, combined with Amri's train route from Germany to France and on to Italy suggest he may not have acted alone.
BILL BRANIFF, NATIONAL CONSORTIUM FOR THE STUDY OF TERRORISM: The death of attacker from Berlin certainly doesn't mean the end of the investigation or the end of the threat. He was unfortunately embedded in a much larger network.
MCLAUGHLIN: CNN has learned authorities were not just aware of Amri. It appears they were concerned he might turn to terror. Two German intelligence officials tell CNN this spring Amri was put on a list of what they called dangerous Islamists, one of about 550 people considered to be on a, quote, "terror spectrum."
Sources tell CNN say Amri was on the list because of his connections to a known ISIS recruitment network in Germany. Raising fears, his death could accelerate plans for other attacks by those with whom he was in contact.
BRANIFF: Clearly, whatever reticence the German authorities to disrupting this network prior to now, that is gone. So these individuals know they're operating on finite thought.
MCLAUGLIN: And German Chancellor Angela Merkel today saying that they are going to be analyzing each and every aspect of this case starting with this country's surveillance policies. Why they weren't watching Amri more closely.
They're also going to be looking at Germany's deportation practices after all they tried and failed to deport him back in June. They are also going to be looking at ways they can more efficiently share information both inside this country and with other countries across Europe -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Erin McLaughlin in Berlin for us, thank you so much. Joining me now to discuss this all is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, of California, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
So the FBI and Department of Homeland Security issuing this bulletin warning about new ISIS threats potentially against churches and holiday events. What more can you tell us about that? Is there any specific threat to the homeland you know about?
REPRESENTATIVE ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks for having me back on, Jake. We've been here before especially during the holiday season and this comes from a specifically listing churches and their addresses. And you can imagine that was done to terrify us.
But there is no plot or specific plot that we believe is in place. So this is the land of the brave and we will be just that this weekend. But I think this will move people to be more vigilant as we go shopping and to our churches.
TAPPER: So you were just briefed about the probe into the Berlin Christmas market attack on Monday. What is the latest that you can share with us?
SWALWELL: Right. Well, what bothers me is that, you know, we have a responsibility to be compassionate to refugees. That's very important. We also have a responsibility to protect the public and use common sense.
The fact that this terrorist was arrested and served time for arson in Italy and then was rejected as a refugee in Germany, and then again arrested for having false documents, shows that something went wrong.
He should have been sent back to Tunisia and he wasn't and I think everyone in this fight has an interest in making sure we stop more incidents like this.
TAPPER: ISIS put out this video of Anis Amri pledging allegiance to the terror group. In it he does not mention the truck attacks specifically, but does this video released as it was by ISIS, does it change at all the significance of what happened Monday night? SWALWELL: It looks like this video was recorded before the attacks, uploaded before the attacks, and that ISIS is calling him a soldier of the caliphate and this is a term they used when they did not direct or coordinate the attack.
Now there is more information to learn about who he talked to. He was a man on the move through many countries. That's a big part of the problem here. But right now what we believe is that it was not a directed attack. It was something that he carried out on his own, but there is still more to learn.
TAPPER: As you know, he traveled a great distance, about 500 miles through France, into Italy, where he once lived. Is the suspicion that did he receive some help along the way from those who were in on this with him in one way or another?
SWALWELL: When you go to so many places, you meet a lot of people. That's a big concern right now is who was he talking to? Were there others that were plotting? Those are the questions I've asked our intelligence community and with our German, French and Italian partners, we'll get to the bottom of it. And most importantly, we want to make sure someone like this can't make their way over to the United States.
TAPPER: I want to ask about the action at the United Nations just a few minutes ago. The Obama administration, contrary to their own longstanding policy, allowed a vote the pass, condemning Israel for its settlements.
[16:10:08]What is your take on this? Obviously, a lot of Democrats and Republicans criticizing the Obama administration for allowing this criticism, this international rebuke of Israel on the day when the U.N. couldn't even muster anything really about Syria or the genocide going on in Sudan.
SWALWELL: I wish the president would have vetoed the resolution like he and prior administrations have done in the past to similar resolutions. I think the best way to find peace in the Middle East is for both parties to come to the table on their own without these outside resolutions that I don't think help much.
But I am also, Jake, concerned about the settlements and you know, they have also been a problem and a barricade to peace. So I think it is time that both parties get to the table and find true peace in our time.
TAPPER: Well, the Obama administration, their argument is that the peace process isn't working. That's because of the settlements and that's why they allowed this to pass. You don't buy that?
SWALWELL: I don't believe that. I believe that the best way for those two parties to find peace is to talk directly to each other. I think a strong statement condemning settlements, which Republican and Democratic presidents have done in the past, would have been enough.
TAPPER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you so much. Merry Christmas to you and your family.
SWALWELL: Thanks, Jake. Merry Christmas. Thank you. You too.
TAPPER: An Israeli official is calling it's shameful President Obama throwing out precedent when it comes to the United States' closest ally in the Middle East and sending a message to our next president, the fallout here at Trump Tower, and around the world is next.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
We have some breaking news in our world lead. A critical and controversial vote in the United Nations Security Council this afternoon.
[16:15:01] A resolution condemning the building of Israeli settlements in the disputed territories of the West Bank and stunningly, the Obama administration went against its own precedent regarded these one-sided resolutions. They are perceived as being against the United States' closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.
Historically, President Obama has had the U.S. veto resolutions to which Israel objects. Today's abstention by U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power allowed the resolution to pass.
CNN's global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is here.
Elise, it's a pretty tough, and some might say hostile move from Obama to Prime Minister Netanyahu on President Obama's way out the door.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's a brutal for a parting shot, Jake, and it's also kind of caps this high drama. This dispute over peace politics and the role of the U.S. presidency came to a head at the United Nations, sending shock waves through Israel and raising questions about a critical U.S. alliance.
LABOTT (voice-over): In total defiance of Israel, the incoming president and even members of his own party, President Obama refused to veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements, allowing to it pass the Security Council resoundingly, a rare abandonment of a long held U.S. tenet to have the Israel's back at the U.N.
SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: It is because this resolution reflects the facts on the ground and is consistent with U.S. policy across Republican and Democratic administrations throughout the history of the state of Israel that the United States did not veto it.
LABOTT: President Obama has held the settlements were an obstacle to peace, a huge source of conflict with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel's U.N. ambassador said in a statement, he had expected his country's, quote, "greatest ally" to "act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution."
The vote brings to a head a stand-off between the current and future U.S. presidents over Mideast peace. And Israel's representative at the U.N. said he hopes the Trump administration will be more sympathetic.
Trump himself tweeted tersely, "As to the U.N., things will be different after January 20th."
The vote was initially delayed Thursday after a diplomatic scramble by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reached out to President-elect Trump to intervene. When Trump sent out a statement calling for U.S. veto, the Egyptian President Sisi, whose country sponsored the resolution, put the vote on hold and it wasn't President Obama he called to discuss the future of Mideast peace but the president-elect.
Behind the scenes, U.S. officials are grumbling that Trump's interference runs afoul of an unspoken custom, that there can be only one commander in chief at a time. But publicly, the State Department appeared unfazed.
JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Nobody here felt boxed in by a tweet from the president-elect. And he is perfectly entitled to express his views on these kinds of things.
LABOTT: It's hard to know to what extent Trump's involvement affected the outcome. But his spokesman made clear, this president-elect won't be staying on the sidelines until he takes office next month.
SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Obama and his team have been unbelievably gracious to the president-elect and his team. But at the end of the day, he's not someone that's going to will sit back and wait.
LABOTT: We just had a conference call with Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, who is speaking about Trump's criticism, said that there's one president at a time. This was a decision by President Obama and he is the current president. He is -- this is his prerogative.
TAPPER: All right. Stay right there.
Israeli government officials and Palestinian officials are already responding to this move in the United Nations Security council.
Let's go to Oren Liebermann, CNN's correspondent in Jerusalem.
Oren, what's been the reaction in the region from the Israeli government, from the Palestinians?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prime Minister Netanyahu was furious about this resolution and he is still furious about this. Here's the statement his office put out just a short time ago. It says, "Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution at the
U.N. and will not abide by its terms. At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and calls the Western Wall, quote, 'occupied territory'. The Obama administration not only failed on protect Israel against the gang-up at the U.N., it colluded with it behind the scenes. Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Trump, with all our friends in congress, Republicans and Democrats alike to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution."
There, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making it very clear. He is done working with Obama and is already ready to start working with Trump, already giving a hint as to what his reaction to the resolution might be when he says it will not abide by its terms. Perhaps we can expect the Israel government to continue building in settlements, in the West Bank, as well as building in East Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, as can be expected, Palestinians celebrating this resolution. They worked on it for a long time. They tried to introduce in it 2011. Obama vetoed it then. He abstained now, allowing it to go through. Celebrations among the Palestinians.
Here is the statement from the Palestinian president's office and his spokesman.
[16:20:02] It says, "The U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and claim to stop is it a big slap in the face for the Israeli policies and a strong support to the two-state solution."
Perhaps predictable, these reactions we've seen. Israelis condemning this in the strongest terms that we've seen, the strongest criticism of the Obama administration, the Palestinians hailing it as a major step towards peace.
TAPPER: All right. Oren Liebermann, in Jerusalem, thank you so much.
Let's add a couple of voices to the conversation here at our panel, along with Elise. We had CNN political analyst and columnist for "The Washington Post", Josh Rogin, and chief White House correspondent for Yahoo News, Olivier Knox.
Thanks for being here.
Josh, quickly, might this actually end up drawing more of a wedge between the Israelis and the Palestinians if, for example, this means now that one party or the other withdraws from the Oslo Peace accords or any others that have them at the same table at the same time?
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's possible. I think it's unpredictable what the effect will be because this happens amid a time of transition, amid a time of chaos. You know, there was already another crisis going on in the sense that the Trump transition team said they were going to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. That was already creating a crisis. So this is a crisis on top of a crisis. Now, the best case scenario was that, this is short lived, that it is a parting shot between -- to end a very bad relationship between Obama administration and Netanyahu administration. And then we reset when Trump takes office.
TAPPER: I mean, it's interesting, but I wonder, has anybody heard, Olivier, any voice of support for the Obama move from Capitol Hill?
OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: I did a brief scan before I came on, to see if any lawmakers had come out and said, Democrats or Republicans had come out and said, you know, this is -- this is a decent move. We support this. I couldn't find one.
And we're not talking about just Democrats like Chuck Schumer who has always been a stalwart ally of Israel. We're talking about some of the more liberal members of the Democratic delegation to the Congress. They don't like this at all. People like Steny Hoyer argued against this forcefully in the past few days. And Democrats are not happy about the total radio silence they got from the White House in the hours leading up to this abstention.
TAPPER: Yes, they didn't even know what was going to happen.
ROGIN: Yes. I mean, I don't think this is a big surprise. We -- as far back as a year ago, the Obama administration has been signaling they might do this. There was a policy memo that they prepared with a list of options of things they might do on the Israel issue. Some of them were even more harsh than this, including raising the recognition of the Palestinian state, you know, changing the U.S. tax code to disadvantaged charities that work in West Bank settlements.
This was seen by the Obama team as the least objectionable thing they could do on their way out to make a statement about Obama's policy towards the Mideast crisis. Even though it's the least objectionable, it's still pretty --
TAPPER: And, Elise, you know, it's interesting. This is the first resolution that passed the U.N. Security Council condemning the settlements in 36 years.
But when it comes to previous presidents allowing resolutions critical of Israel, this is not the first one. This is just the first one that Obama has permitted. Take a look at this chart. Carter permitted 14. Reagan, 21. Bush, the older Bush, nine. Clinton, three. Bush Jr., George W. Bush, six resolutions.
So, why so much virulence about this one resolution that Obama allowed?
LABOTT: Well, because Obama has said, you know, this longstanding thing, that he was protecting Israel at the United Nations. Even through all the tensions over the Iran deal and such, they were always signaling that out.
But this is an issue about settlement that President Obama has felt very strongly about over the last eight years. This has been real source of tension. This is the administration felt this was an impediment to Secretary of State Kerry's efforts.
And you saw Secretary Kerry was preparing this speech on the way out. He was left scrambling. He didn't know what to do when this was taken off the table by the Egyptians.
But I think also, the reason that you saw President Trump get involved is because he feels and the Israelis certainly feel, that the U.S. and that Kerry, Secretary Kerry and President Obama kind of concocted this together to give this parting shot to the Israelis. That this could undermine what a President Trump will want to do with the peace process.
I think that this will only harden his positions on things like the embassy, on settlements, on trying to overcompensate for the relationship with Israel now.
TAPPER: And, Olivier, why do you think, given the fact that other presidents have allowed other critical measures of Israel to go forward? Why such anger about this one?
KNOX: Josh alluded to it before, which is the incredibly toxic relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Barack Obama. Netanyahu actually -- the settlements has been an important a part of his modus operandi in Israel. It's been an important part of his time in office.
So, you have this terribly toxic relationship going back to the very start of the Obama administration. And so, part of it is that. It only got worse when Netanyahu came to speak to Congress to argue against the Iran deal. You know, in this latest go-around, Israeli anonymous, Israeli diplomats were bragging about bringing in Donald Trump to kill this resolution.
[16:25:05] I think the Obama folks were still going to abstain no matter what. But that didn't help.
TAPPER: Sure it didn't.
All right. Elise, thank you so much.
Josh and Olivier, stick around. We're going to discuss much of the president-elect releasing a personal letter from Vladimir Putin offering his warmest Christmas greetings, just hours after Putin reportedly said, let there be an arms race. Are relations warming or are they cooling now?
Plus, what is the greatest Christmas movie of all time? The definitive holiday viewing guide for when you're roasting your chest nuts on that open fire.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Our politics lead now. Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently believes in the lost art of letter writing. President Trump revealing today that he received a long form holiday card of sorts from his Russian counterpart and perpetual U.S. antagonist. In the letter, Putin implores the incoming U.S. president to, quote, "restore the framework of bilateral cooperation."
Now, for his part, President-elect Trump called the dispatch, quote, "very nice", adding, quote, "his thoughts are so correct."
CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash is here with me now in Washington.
And, Dana, I have to say, this is a little confusing for me, because in addition to this nice rapprochement, we also have this suggestion that there will be a new arms race between Russia and the United States.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is totally confusing and that really seems to be the point, right? It's very Trumpesque, because he wants to keep the upper hand, maintaining leverage. This is one way to do it, negotiations. It worked for Trump in "The Art of the Deal" in business. But now, when it's about nuclear weapons, this seems practically to be uncharted territory.
BASH (voice-over): A late morning transition e-mail unveiling a "Dear Mr. Trump" letter from Vladimir Putin which said in part, "I hope that after you assume the position of the president of the United States of America, we will be able by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation."