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FBI Is Issuing A New Warning About Possible Threat, Possible Isis Threats Days Before Christmas And Chanukah; Greetings From Russian President Vladimir Putin In A Christmas Letter Directed To President-Elect Donald Trump. Aired 2:00-2:30p ET

Aired December 23, 2016 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:05] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Thank you so much for being with me on this Friday.

We are following several major headline this is afternoon, including U.S. president-elect Donald Trump today ramping up his language over nuclear weapons, telling NBC News quote "let it be an arms race" and quote "we will outlast them all."

Just a short time later Mr. Trump sharing with the world a rather personal and interesting to say the least letter that he received last week from the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. We will get to that momentarily.

But we want to begin the hour in Germany. Back to our breaking news here. This deadly ending to a frantic manhunt, the man who German officials believe plowed a speeding truck into a crowded Christmas market is now dead. He turned up just before dawn during what was a routine police patrol in Milan, Italy. More than 600 miles from the scene of that terror attack in Berlin. We are told there was gunfire and 24-year-old Anise Amri from Tunisia was shot dead.

Just hours after his death, ISIS released this, a video which appears to show Amri pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. There is no mention of the truck attack and it's not clear when or where this video was shot.

CNN's Nina Dos Santos is live for us in Milan. Erin McLaughlin is live in Berlin. But in Italy, that's where I want to begin, Nina, with you. You know, when he was caught, the Italians were saying this was kind of an accident at the time. Walk me through how they got him.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It was kind of a bit of a random situation, really, Brooke, because what I'm standing outside is the spot where he was gunned down just behind me. In fact, there's still blood on the pavement if you get to the tarmac close enough to have a look.

They stopped him as a routine security check here. We are not actually inside Milan, we're in a non-descript industrial working class suburb of what is effectively the financial capital of Italy here. And it's not known whether he had any links to this particular areas. So the fact that he turned up here raise many, many more Questions than it answered even though now this dramatic manhunt has come to an end for this point.

As you pointed out there, he was stopped by police. They said show us your papers. Instead, he pulled out a gun, a 0.22-caliber pistol and immediately began firing at them. Struck one of them who still remains in hospital but the other one managed to fire back and it was upon his second bullet that he struck Amri dead.

They managed to confirm his identity by checking his fingerprints. When they cross checked them with fingerprints that they found on the steering wheel of the truck in Berlin, that was when they knew that that was the man in question that they had managed to kill.

Now also ISIS, as you pointed out, saying that he was, indeed, the person who was killed here at 3:00 a.m. in the morning yesterday evening. And, as you were saying there, releasing that video in which he appeared to be pledging allegiance to ISIS' self-declared leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The big question from here is why did he turn up in this particular location? That will be the focus for investigators. A team from Germany has arrived to make sure both intelligence services have communicated with each other. He also arrived here via France so there will be questions about how he evaded security in no fewer than three countries through the train network. They will be looking at CCTV footage, too.

BALDWIN: We will look back with that with my panel. Nina, thank you.

Erin, to you in Germany. There was this, you know, obviously real fear that he had help evading law enforcement and making his way all the way through France then to Milan. What are authorities there saying now that he has been killed?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the key concern here in Berlin, Brooke, the idea that he could have had accomplices that helped him perpetrate this horrific attack. We know that he had connections to a pro-ISIS recruitment network here in Germany. The senior members of that network having been arrested back in November. Documents that CNN has seen, investigative documents, show that he was named multiple times as someone who wanted to carry out attacks. Members of that network offering to help him do that so authorities trying to ascertain. They know they have five members of that network arrested. Are there any other members out there that could have helped him carry this out?

There's also the timing of the video, the ISIS video that released on the internet timed perfectly to coincide with his death. The question, is of course, who posted it. German authorities trying now to trace his footsteps, to figure out how the most-wanted man in Europe was able to make his way from the Christmas market having killed 12 people here through France and then to Italy. German chancellor Angela Merkel today saying they are going to be looking at every single aspect of this case to figure out how a man who was on the terror watch list here in Germany, a man they tried to deport, was able to carry out this attack. A real source of embarrassment for authorities here.

[14:00:21] BALDWIN: Massive question how that happened. Erin, thank you very much.

Let's bring in Michael Weiss, CNN contributor and co-author of "ISIS, inside the army of terror." and Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst and former U.S. assistant secretary for homeland security.

Thank you both for being with me. And we will get to the how the heck he got to Milan in a moment.

But Juliette, I mean, you and I have been talking each and every day about this, you know, manhunt ever since this sick individual plowed a truck into this market in Berlin. How did you respond to learning that they -- by happenstance law enforcement stumbled upon him because of an I.D. stop?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right, so happenstance is actually quite common in these cases. As far back as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Tim McVeigh was captured by a traffic violation. We have seen other cases, most recently in the New York/New Jersey attack case. The outside of a bar a New Jersey police officer just approaches him and then realizes he has got his man. So these are common in these cases. But -- and also good news. So let's not forget it even though there's a manhunt for him.

I think the other thing is we had talked about, you know, over the last week he was going to go places familiar. That would have been either Germany or Italy. It ends up now being Italy. That whether he had networks there specifically or just was going to go back to familiar terrain, we don't know. But while there is a significant focus on what Germany did wrong, we have to make it clear every time we are on air, this is still a very active investigation. And so, while we might be wringing our hands about what happened, you know, the most important thing is that nothing happens in the next couple days in Europe.

BALDWIN: The other big question, Michael Weiss, and we talked about this in the wake of, you know, Paris, Europe's open borders, right. The fact that he can go all the way from Berlin, we see the map, through France, on to Milan. I don't know how much help he might have had but what kind of questions do you have about that?

MICHAEL WEISS, SENIOR EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, don't forget, Brooke, this guy was arrested in Italy four years ago and he spent, I think, three to four years in prison for --

BALDWIN: Torching a refugee center.

WEISS: A refugee center, right. Went to Lampedusa and then it was - I mean, got up to no good, thrown in jail. And then once he got out of jail, he was somehow able to travel all the way to Germany.

Look, I find it very hard to believe that he acted alone and that he made it all the way to Milan unhindered by himself. He was part of a network in Germany. It was run by a guy called Abu Walaa who was arrested in early November. Abu Walaa is the number one ISIS recruiter in all of Germany.

According to a man who Abu Walaa sent to Syria, who then joined ISIS and who then defected from ISIS and came back and fingered him as the basically den mother or the ringleader of the entire network in all of Germany. And Abu Walaa's network consisted of another guy, a Serb (ph) German out of his apartment in north Westphalia, again, which is one of the low cost (ph) ISIS recruitment and terminate, was running a sort of ad hoc Islamic center. And we don't know how many tens or hundreds of people migrated through that apartment, you know, center or were radicalized and indoctrinated with Salafi Jihadism.

And we also know that Serb German offered Amri a choice, either you can make immigration and go to ISIS and fight with ISIS on the battlefields in the Middle East or you can conduct a terror operation on German soil. And obviously, he chose the latter. And that decision was personally signed off by Abu Walaa's.

So this was - you know, we have a tendency in the media to say, this looks like a lone wolf or ISIS-inspired attack. No, I don't think so. This is ISIS that released his last will and testament, that means he was in touch with ISIS HQ in Raqqah and the media apparatus there. That means that somebody, probably this network in Germany if not also in Italy, knew where he was going and what he was planning to do.

And also, to do a last will and testament means he was on a martyrdom operation. And why did he engage in a shootout with Italian police? Well, for ISIS taking out law enforcement in Europe or North America, that is the creme de la creme of victims. If he managed to kill Italian cops, then he would have gone down as more of a hero, according to the ISIS world view, than what he achieved in Berlin several days ago.

BALDWIN: I'm taking all of this in and we are talking about Europe. But we did just get some breaking news. I want to ask you all to stand by. I want to get Evan to report on this first here as it pertains to the U.S. now.

Apparently the FBI is issuing a new warning about possible threat, possible ISIS threats days before Christmas and Chanukah here.

So Evan Perez is our justice correspondent who has been in touch with his law enforcement sources. What's the warning, Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this all comes after ISIS supporters apparently posted on the internet a list of U.S. churches calling for attacks during the holiday season. And as a result of this, the FBI and Homeland security department have now issued this bulletin to law enforcement agencies as well as to private security companies that secure some of these places of worship warning about this publicly-posted list of churches and the threats that have been mad made.

I will read you a part of the bulletin. It says that ISIS sympathizers continue aspirational calls for attacks on holiday gatherings including targeting of churches. And so that's what the FBI is concerned about. They want to make sure that law enforcement around the country is on guard, is vigilant about this possibility out there. Obviously, this is the time of year where we see these types of threats. And in the past we have seen a lot of ISIS threats that are mostly focused on law enforcement, on the military. We have seen more recently focusing on churches and gatherings kind of like what happened in Berlin, obviously, as well as the attack in Nice and in Columbus, Ohio.

[14:11:08] BALDWIN: Is this directly related to Berlin, Evan, just quickly, or just an entirely separate warning?

PEREZ: Absolutely. It's definitely in light of what happened in Berlin. Definitely influenced what the FBI did here. And it's mostly, again, the fact that they don't have any specific credible threats in this country. They still out of an abundance of caution have to issue these warnings.

BALDWIN: OK. Evan, thank you.

Juliette Kayyem. So again, abundance of caution, but so churches, holiday events as targets. What's your response?

KAYYEM: So a couple things just having been part of the department's process of doing this. So what's interesting just for viewers is that this is a bulletin not an advisory. That may just seem like words, but really, what this is just a statement to law enforcement, to private law enforcement, to malls, churches, wherever else, to really be vigilant. This is not a raising of the threat level. There's no specific threat.

So what's -- as Evan said, what's animating this is essentially three different threat streams all merging in this week. Essentially you have the specific ISIS threat that Michael and I have been on about for the last week. You have the general holiday threat because holidays always are times because of people moving, because of airline travel that there's increased threat. And then the third, which is just a reality, is that historic threat, that Democratic threat of a transition in government. You have people leaving and people coming. That's always a worrisome time. So that's sort of how to interpret what the FBI and DHS are doing right now. And to sort of remind law enforcement and first responders that this is real. That in the sense that they really do need to be vigilant even though there's no specific threat.

BALDWIN: Michael, how should Americans interpret this? A lot of people going to church Christmas Eve days away?

WEISS: Yes. I mean, look. This is, as Juliette was saying, this is a vague warning. I think people are on guard this time of year. They are on guard any major holiday given what's happening in the world and ISIS' continued vow to try and strike in the United States. I mean, that is the number one target thinking we are leading the coalition against ISIS. And, I mean, look. A church is the ultimate soft target. You don't

have to be an Islamic terrorist to shoot up a church as we have seen in recent years with the Dylann Roof massacre, you know. So I think this is just, look -- this is -- they're still losing terrain in Syria and Iraq. They obviously have trained up operatives and people that have been recruited through intermediaries in Europe.

In North America the goal is radicalization by -- remotely or by proxy, you know. Set up recruitment centers here but staffed with people who haven't necessarily been to the Middle East and come back. And we have already seen attacks like that, Orlando, San Bernardino, there was one in St. Cloud from a Somali diaspora community member.

This is where I'm told actually ISIS is putting an emphasis on the United States, in the Somali diaspora communities of Ohio and Minnesota. Communities that have been problems with radicalization but tending to be more loyal to al-Shabab, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia. Now they are being lured into ISIS fold.

BALDWIN: Michael and Juliette, thank you so much. We are going to stay on top of this in the next two hours, of course, here on CNN.

But coming up, another major headline we are following today. President-elect Donald Trump reveals a personal intriguing letter that he received about a week ago from the president of Russia. We will read between the lines of this correspondence which was released just as Mr. Trump tells NBC News, and I'm quoting, "let it be an arms race and we will outlast them all."

Lots to discuss. We're back in a moment.


[14:17:59] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Sound health, happiness, and success. Some warm greetings from Russian president Vladimir Putin in a Christmas letter directed to president-elect Donald Trump. The letter arrived about a week ago before the Kremlin criticized the strained U.S./Russia relationship and said nearly all levels of dialogue between the two countries are frozen.

Mr. Trump released a holiday note calling it quote/unquote "a very nice letter from Vladimir Putin. His thoughts are so correct. I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts and we do not have to travel an alternate path."

Let's begin with Boris Sanchez. He is live down at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and home in Palm Beach, Florida.

Boris, tell me more about Putin's words specifically.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The timing of them are very interesting, Brooke. As you know overnight Vladimir Putin held his annual state of the union press conference with reporters from all over Russia. And he said specifically in that press conference when he was asked about relations with the United States that relations between the two countries could not be at their worst and now we are seeing this interesting letter from Vladimir Putin where he uses very warm language in talking to Donald Trump.

He also goes on to say that relations between the two countries quote "remain an important factor in ensuring stability and security of the modern world." He then goes on to write quote "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 in different areas as well as bringing our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level."

It's interesting that we're getting these two letters, the one from Vladimir Putin and the one from Donald Trump today on the heels of so much controversial rhetoric. First, that tweet from Donald Trump just 24 hours ago saying that the U.S. has to expand its nuclear capability and comments from Vladimir Putin that Russia has to enhance its own.

We have heard differing statements from the Trump camp specifically about that tweet. Yesterday Jason Miller saying that Trump was talking about non-proliferation, about controlling nuclear weapons and keeping them out of the hands of rogue actors or terrorist organizations. Later on earlier today, we actually heard from Sean Spicer who is now spokesman for the RNC, soon to be Donald Trump's press secretary, in which he said that the United States has to expand its military capability in order to stand against any potential enemy.

In turn, back at that state of the union press conference that Vladimir Putin gave on his own end he said that he wanted to clarify a comment he made earlier this week saying that Russia would stand up to any aggressor. That Russia was more prepared than any potential aggressor when it came to military conflict. And he specified the word "aggressor." The question, of course, now is whether or not he sees the United States and a Trump presidency as a potential aggressor or challenger to Russian power in that part of the world moving forward, Brooke.

[14:21:12] BALDWIN: Yes. This opens up a lot of questions.

Boris Sanchez with the perfect set up, thank you so much down in Palm Beach.

But let me just underscores some of the points just made here. This, you know, Trump's words, "very nice" Christmas letter which comes on the heels of what it can feel like the re-dux of a very cold war.

Both Trump and Putin double down on their nuclear rhetoric today. The president-elect this morning telling NBC, and, again, to quote him, "let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all." This as Putin addressed reporters at his annual news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces, especially with missile complexes that can reliably penetrate any existing and perspective missile defense systems.


BALDWIN: Let me bring in David Andelman, the editor of "World Policy Journal" and Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Constitution and author of "Bending history, Barack Obama's foreign policies."

So Gentlemen, there is so much to get into. Let me just begin, Michael, with you. I want to get back, obviously, to this letter and Trump's statement in a moment. But on the nukes specifically and Boris mentioned this, So Sean Spicer was on TV today and he denied that these words were any escalation. This is what he told Alysin on "New Day."


SEAN SPICER, INCOMING TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is going to do what it takes to protect this country. And if another country or countries want to threaten our safety or sovereignty he'll doll what it takes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure. But he is not waiting until another country threatens us. He's making --

SPICER: He is making it very clear - right. But he is making it very clear that other countries and other companies, you have seen with carriers and others, he's going to make it clear that he will be an active president that will get things done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Meaning he will use nuclear weapons if need be?

SPICER: Well, he won't take anything off the table. What it means is that he is not going to sit back and let another country act. He needs to send a clear and concise message, which he has done, that he is going to be a president that defends America's interests and defends the American people.


BALDWIN: Michael, I don't have to tell you that words matter, right, especially when you're talking about the nation's nuclear capabilities. Does the language here from Mr. Trump specifically concern you?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, it concerns me a little. But I was almost amused by the clip you just played because it seems like one is reading a whole lot of advanced nuclear doctrine and theology into 140 character tweet.

I think Trump is just being Trump. I mean, I would prefer that he not do it over nuclear weapons issues but I am not overly chagrinned. This is not a specific plan for a nuclear buildup. There's no promise to pull out of an arms control treaty. There's no language that's just downright silly to the effect of --

BALDWIN: But is that clear to Americans? Is that clear?

O'HANLON: Well, Americans, you know, just voted for Trump. I mean, just to be clear, I didn't but Americans did. They don't seem sometimes as bothered by these tweets as some of us in Washington or the media and maybe they take it more with a grain of salt. That's how I think it should be interpreted for the moment.

Now, certainly, this opens up the conversation, what are our nuclear weapons for and the broader U.S.-Russia relationship as your earlier clips accurately underscored should be on the table. We should think of how we try to de-conflict that. But I am not going to over interpret this one tweet.

BALDWIN: OK. David to you, let's move on to this letter from Putin to Trump. For Christmas, letter was signed "sincerely, V Putin." Isn't this all really just about posturing looking ahead?

DAVID ANDELMAN, EDITOR, WORLD POLICY JOURNAL: Well, there is a lot of posturing. But there's also a lot of history behind this. And we have to understand that.

I'll give you an example. I was in Vienna in 1979 when Carter and Brezhnev signed salt two. At that point, each side had as many as 30,000 nuclear weapons. We now each side have about 7,000. That's come down dramatically over the years. And steadily downward and all with the treaties that have drawn them down. We have about 1700 that are on, shall we say, fast deployment. Hair-trigger, it's called. Hair-trigger deployment where the president could launch them on four minutes' notice.

We need to get those down further and we will under the current treaties if they're still observed going forward within the next two years. We will get them down to about 1500. But mind you, that compares with the next-largest country is France with 300. Even China has only about 260 on deployment so we are way, way over any inconceivable limits of being able to wipe out probably the entire earth if we had to. What do we need these for and why should any president or president-elect be considering even going back to anything like the time that it was in the '70s, the '80s or even the '90s.

[14:25:53] BALDWIN: So then what does - Michael, what does Putin want?

O'HANLON: Well, first of all, I thought David's point was very good about giving a little bit of historical perspective. I would just add one more detail which David knows well which is that under the new start treaty our long-range warheads will come down to about 1550. We will still have another 3,000 or so each which just makes David's point more strongly. We still have huge overkill on both sides. About both sides are also modernizing their forces because the submarines and the bombers and the ICBMs in the long range missiles are wearing out. And Vladimir Putin has been trying to use nuclear weapons to create a little bit of fear and bluster in Europe in these last two or three years during the Ukraine and Crimea crisis.

BALDWIN: And by the way, to your modernization point, though, that is on underway, that's been well underway under the Obama administration, right. That's been being worked on. This is just potentially adding to that. And from what I understand, modernizing this sort of thing, even though this may be something that Mr. Trump is bringing up. But it's not like a two-day thing. This could take years, correct?

ANDELMAN: Yes, no doubt about that. And I'm all for modernizing, don't get me wrong. Part of this modernizing should also be the question of what is necessary to launch these weapons. And that's what's very, very important I think going forward.

BALDWIN: Yes. Michael, continue.

O'HANLON: Well, I think just naturally Mr. Trump, if he simply implements the Obama plan he will wind up spending more money on nuclear weapons, modernization than Obama because Obama was at the early stage of these programs. For example, the next ballistic missile submarine. We have been researching it, we have been developing it. Under a Trump presidency is when we would start to do the advance development and then potentially build it. And so, the budgets are going to just if we keep on the path that President Obama has put us on. So you can almost have a nuclear buildup without even making any effort, without changing any plan. So there's a lot of room for interpretation, for maneuver. That's why I'm not excited by the one tweet.

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure. So then, David back to you. You know, beyond -- looking into specific U.S.-Russian relations as we will have a president Trump. You know, when you look at Putin's language in his letter, what does it indicate to you? You know, does it indicate that yes he wants to work with Trump but maybe he is questioning whether or not Trump will deliver? How do you interpret it?

ANDELMAN: I this think he is hedging his bets, if you will. And I think Putin is very, very good at that. That he is an opportunist. That Putin has always been an opportunist. He seizes the moment. What he wants to is he want to leave the moment open perhaps to some kind of modernization if not a buildup. A buildup that can be disguised as modernization, if you will. But he doesn't want to give up Russia's apparent parallel leadership in the world in this very important field which is nuclear weapons. And that's something that is always been at the very top mind of every soviet leader. They want to have a Russian leader I should say no. They want to be at equal parity with the United States in this critical area because they want to be perceived still as a superpower. This is the one area where they still can be.

BALDWIN: And not to mention as we've heard over and over, we know Putin wants the sanctions lifted. I know it's crippled his economy as well.

David and Michael, thank you so much. Very smart conversation. But I have to pull away because we have got some breaking news here.

Let's go straight to the U.N. ambassador to the U.S., Samantha Power, speaking at the United Nations.

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama. Indeed since 1967, the only president who had not have at least one Israeli Palestinian related Security Council resolution pass during his tenure is Barack Obama. So our vote today is fully in line with the bipartisan history of how American presidents have approached both the issue and the role of this body. Given the consistency of this position across U.S. administration, one would think that it would be a routine vote for the U.S. to allow the passage of a resolution with the elements in this one. We affirming the longstanding U.S. position of settlements, condemning violence and incitement, and calling for the parties to start taking --