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Russia Promises Response To U.S. Measures; Reports Of Clashes Amid Syrian Ceasefire; Obama Slaps New Sanctions On Russia; Trump On Russia Sanctions: "Time To Move On"; Russia and Turkey Brokered Ceasefire Deal; Obama Retaliates against Russia Hacking; Trump: Israel Treated Unfairly; Closing in on ISIS Leader; Philippines President Accused of Running Death Squad; Famous N.Y. Deli to Close. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired December 30, 2016 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] CYRIL VANIER, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: A vow to retaliate. Russia promises to respond to new measures imposed by the U.S. for election hacking. Syria wakes up from the first night of a nationwide ceasefire after reports of sporadic violence. And in a CNN exclusive, a man now in hiding, explains how he killed around 50 people for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta and your CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

Well, we'll have more in the ceasefire in Syria in just a moment. But first, Russian diplomats are calling this Cold War deja vu, unprecedented new sanctions on Russia, punishment for its alleged interference in the U.S. election. Among the measures announced, nearly three dozen Russian diplomats are being asked to leave the U.S. within 72 hours.

President-elect Donald Trump seemed anxious to get past the incident however, saying "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation." CNN's Athena Jones has details on what other punishments the U.S. has in store.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a statement, the treasury department named nine entities and individuals now subject to expanded sanctions including Russia's military intelligence unit and its head, as well as the domestic security service. The State Department following suit, declaring 35 Russian intelligence operatives persona non grata and giving these spies just 72 hours to leave the country.

The government also shutting down two Russian government owned compounds, one in New York and this one, on the eastern shore of Maryland. In a White House statement, the president said, "All Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions." And repeated that the activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. These moves come as President-elect Donald Trump continues to dismiss the U.S. intelligence assessment of Russian interference in the Presidential Election.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we need to get on with our lives. I think the computers have complicated lives very greatly. And all, you know, age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what's going on.

JONES: While Trump has resisted blaming Russia, members of his own party are standing behind the Obama administration, promising to impose additional sanctions in congress. Senator Lindsey Graham on a congressional delegation to Russia's neighbouring states took on Trump's comments.

LINDSEY GRAHAM, REPUBLICAN UNITED STATES SENATOR: I think most of us, democrats and republicans, really believe that Russia's up to no good all over the world. They're trying to break the back of democracies and if we don't push back against Putin, Iran, and China, they could hack into our systems.

JONES: Intelligence officials have publicly attributed the cyber- attacks on U.S. political groups and individuals including the Democratic National Committee to Russia. Even before the announcement of the U.S. retaliation, Russia promised a response. A spokeswoman for the foreign ministry saying in a statement, "Frankly speaking, we are tired of lies about Russian hackers that continue to be spread in the United States from the very top, and we can only add that if Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer." The White House is ready to respond whatever actions Russia takes.

ERIC SCHULTZ, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We can anticipate a response of some kind, but the truth is that we enjoy the greatest capabilities of any country on earth, that's offensive and defensive. That applies to cyberspace but it also applies to diplomatic resources, intelligence resources and tools we have in our toolbox to hold countries accountable like sanctions.

JONES: And that Russian response is coming soon. Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman saying in a statement on Facebook that Russia will announce retaliation measures on Friday, saying, "Tomorrow will be the official statements, countermeasures and a lot of other things." Back to you.


VANIER: All right. Let's continue to talk about this. Joining me now from Thousand Oaks, California, is Richard Anderson, Jr., a professor of political science at UCLA. U.S. President Barack Obama had announced that he would carry out sanctions proportional to Russia's alleged election interference. Do you feel that he's hit the mark?

[01:05:00] RICHARD ANDERSON JR., PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT UCLA: Well, I don't think that the Russian election interference made much difference. I think these sanctions are going to make practically no difference. They can't very well be very effective. And --

VANIER: Why is that?

ANDERSON: So, in the sense that their actions weren't effective and ours aren't going to be either and that's (INAUDIBLE) that's proportional.

VANIER: OK. This is surprising to me. Why -- First of all, why do you say that that's not going to be effective? And secondly, you seemed to be saying, basically both countries, both superpowers are being totally ineffective in attacking each other.

ANDERSON: Yes, because neither one of them is really attacking each other, foreign policy is really about affecting domestic politics and domestic public opinion. And so, the Russians interfered with our election because they accused Hillary Clinton of interfering with theirs. They knew that accusation was false. But you look like a liar to the Russian public, unless you retaliate. That was the purpose of this hacking the democratic committee.

VANIER: So you're saying all of this is political theater?

ANDERSON: All of this is political theater. That's a good quick way to say it, yes.

VANIER: No, there's going to be no impact on Washington-Moscow relations and we have all sort of been taken in by this theater for the last few weeks. Is that what you're saying?

ANDERSON: Well, I didn't say that because Washington-Moscow relations are part of the political theater. And so, you know, they retaliated against us, we retaliated against them, they retaliate some more, we retaliate some more relations, just keep getting worse and worse. And in that sense, it makes some difference to both sides, but on the other hand, obviously, we're going to have a new president in January.

That president has said he wants to work with Vladimir Putin. And so, I suspect that these things, most of them, can be relatively rapidly reversed. You know, they closed down two Russian sites which, I believe they've closed them. I wouldn't know myself, but I believe they closed them because the Russians were using them for covert intelligence collection. My guess is that at least it will be strong resistance from General Flynn and the new Trump administration to reopening those sites for the simple reason that he is an intelligence officer and no intelligence officer likes to have foreign spies spying on him. But on the other hand, the Russians are going to retaliate by expelling some of our spies operating under diplomatic cover and we won't get to replace them either.

VANIER: All right. Thank you very much for your analysis, Richard Anderson, joining me for that. Appreciate your insights.

ANDERSON: You're welcome.

VANIER: Let's talk about the political fallout here in the U.S. now. Joining me for that, and from Los Angeles, is Political Strategist Mac Zilber and Republican Consultant John Thomas. John, I have to ask you, as a Republican, what do you make of Donald Trump's reaction to all of these and his reaction has been to say, let's move on.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Yeah, I think, you know, it's funny, for all the accusations that Trump makes rash decisions is unhinged could get us into an unintentional foreign conflict. Trump is actually being measured and it's actually Obama who's getting us into some trouble internationally. But I think what Trump is doing here is, we don't have all the facts and Trump is waiting until he's president-elect and in charge of those very intelligence agencies and the investigations to really figure out what's going on and in control to decide what relations with Russia should be going forward.

MAC ZILBER, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Well, but the thing is, we do have all the facts. And they have intelligence briefings for a reason.

THOMAS: We don't.

ZILBER: And what I find fascinating is that Donald Trump is saying that he's not going to take his intelligence briefing until next week on this. This is a matter of vital national security, and Donald Trump thinks that it shouldn't be interrupting whatever his weekend plans are. It's unbelievable.

VANIER: But, John, my question is, I mean, just if you look at the language here, and I know that, you know, you have to be careful when you look at the specific words that Donald Trump uses. He doesn't always stick to them, and he doesn't use them in perhaps, in ways that other more traditional politicians make statements, but he says, "Let's move on." Given how important this issue has been and how important it is likely to be in the future, the relations of Russia versus the U.S., do you feel that's adequate for somebody who's about to become President of the United States?

[01:10:03] THOMAS: I think what he means - what Trump means -- and again, it is sometimes difficult to decipher because you can't quite take it literally 100 percent of the time, but I think what he means here is, let's not talk about the election being hacked today. We've got larger problems. We know Russia isn't the only one hacking. And in fact, you know, Russia allegedly has hacked the White House. China hacked the United States. This is a larger problem is not just related to elections but espionage altogether. I think that that's what Trump is trying to say here, is that we need to look at espionage and hacking in a more comprehensive manner. The election is over, let's move on.

ZILBER: I think that's reading a lot into it to say that's what he was trying to say. When he says, let's move on, I mean, he's not saying because espionage is a big problem, he's saying because I don't want you to pay attention to the espionage that I may have benefitted from.

VANIER: John, do you think there's going to be a political price to pay for Donald Trump? Because he is rubbing some senior republicans the wrong way, I'm thinking, of course, of John McCain, Lindsey Graham. And do you think he's going to have to pay for this, sort of, almost light-hearted approach to this issue? THOMAS: I don't think so. I don't think anyone thinks that Donald Trump is going to be light-hearted when it comes to foreign policy. I mean, he put "Mad Dog" Mattis in charge. These are not people that Putin really likes. So, look, I think Trump is getting his bearings. And I think he's --Trump -- my guess is, privately, is quite upset that the President Obama handed him this bombshell with 20 days to go and says, "Here, it's your responsibility now." Where was the president for the last eight years with dealing with this threat?

VANIER: Right, and the Trump camp says that they are just -- Obama is trying to box them in and essentially, you know, tie their hands. Mac Zilber, what do you make of that claim?

ZILBER: Well, I think the Obama administration should try to box Donald Trump in because Donald Trump has signaled a dangerous either lack of interest or lack of prudence when it comes to the Russia issue. When there are concerns that he is appointing a guy like Tillerson, who is on Putin's order of friendship to be Secretary of State. And we forget a few months ago Donald Trump called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton during the campaign. I mean, this is not someone who has shown any sense of prudence on this issue. And so, we should box him in as much as we can, while we still can.

THOMAS: I mean, look, the Obama administration hasn't been tough on Russia or understood them. They tried to reset button the relationship, that didn't work. Obama threatened Putin to cut it out. That was a joke. And now, Russia's embassy is making fun of Obama's administration as a lame duck. I mean, they're just not taking him seriously at this point.


ZILBER: An Obama reset is weak and feckless but a Trump reset is kind of a symbol of American strength?

THOMAS: I think people take Trump more seriously than they do with Barack Obama.

VANIER: And let me jump in with this tweet by the Russian embassy in the U.K., they -- this is what they said on Twitter. They posted this picture of a lame duck and this statement, "President Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, including American people will be glad to see the last of this hapless administration." Mac, are you concerned about this idea that the Obama administration has weak and weakened the U.S.? I mean, in this context, it's often said about Russia but it is also said the same thing about Syria and other countries.

ZILBER: Well, look, I mean, first I add that it's funny that Donald Trump's tweet-based diplomacy is rubbing off on his friends in Moscow. But I absolutely think it is a legitimate criticism on certain issues. On the red line in Syria, I think that the United States shouldn't have drawn a red line and then backed away and I think that there are certain issues where that's a fair criticism.

That being said, there is a difference between being strong and being reckless and too often when Donald Trump attempts to project strength, he frightens people when he talks about ramping up an arm's race, when he talks about bombing the hell out of people as he did repeatedly during the campaign. And so, there's a difference between being hawkish and having a form of smart power.

VANIER: All right. Before we wrap this up, John Thomas, Republican Consultant, your thoughts, are there any concerns about how Donald Trump might handle U.S. policy vis-a-vis Russia given everything he said during the campaign and that included calling on Russia to continue hacking, this was during the campaign.

THOMAS: Yeah, I think one thing we've learned about Donald Trump is that the campaigner Trump and the governing Trump are two different people. So I think - I think he is going to toe a tough line with Russia.

VANIER: So you give him a pass on that?

THOMAS: Yeah, I do. I think we have to look for the Trump pivot. And time will tell on this.

VANIER: All right. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for joining us.

THOMAS: Thank you.

[01:14:58] VANIER: A pleasure to speak to you both.

Now, the Syrian ceasefire enters its first full day, but even the key players admit it's fragile. What has to happen to make this deal stick, coming up after the break.


KATE RILEY, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: I'm Kate Riley with your CNN WORLD SPORT headlines. Carlos Tevez has become the latest big name player. Packing his bags for China after joining Shanghai Shenhua from his (INAUDIBLE) head club Boca Juniors. The 32-year-old has become the second big name arrival in China this week after Brazilian midfielder Oscar agreed a deal to join Shanghai's other club, PSIPG just a few days ago. No financial details of the deal are being released but it's being reported that the Chinese club paid $87.65 million for Tevez, which will make him the world's sixth most expensive player.

And we head to the slopes where American Slalom queen, Mikaela Shiffrin, is one victory closer to history after winning her third race and as many days in Austria. The 21-year old won her 7th successive specialist event on Thursday to set her up for a shot matching the wind streak record of eight slalom races in a row. Shiffrin's latest win gives her at 26 on the World Cup Circuit.

And while Serena Williams will be planning to reclaim her world number one ranking, she'll also have some wedding planning to do. That's right. The 35-year-old is engaged to Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of the website Reddit. Williams announced it today through a poem that she posted on his website but did not reveal a wedding date. Congratulations to them. That is a look at all your sports headlines, I'm Kate Riley.


VANIER: Welcome back. The violence has mostly stopped in Syria as a new ceasefire enters its first full day. Russia and Turkey helped broker a peace deal on Thursday but not all the rebel groups were part of those arrangements. It seems there has been some fighting since that ceasefire came into effect. Let's try and find out more with our Ian Lee who is monitoring the ceasefire from Istanbul in neighboring Turkey. He joins me live.

Ian, I know it's still very early to try and really draw out an accurate diagnosis of where the ceasefire stands right now, but what can you tell us?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And there have been some minor violations but by and large, the ceasefire appears to be holding. There are a lot of big questions, though, about it, mainly including what is the territory that's going to be designated for the ceasefire? Obviously, ISIS is not a part of it, so the territory they control which is fairly clear cut, is not a part of this, but in other parts, other rebel territory, you have different rebel groups mixing together.

[01:20:06] Now, Turkey is the one in charge of bringing these rebel groups in line, but you do have one rebel group in particular, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham which is the Al-Qaeda-linked rebel group and they are not part of this ceasefire but there are other rebel groups who are part of this ceasefire operating in the same area. So there's a lot of questions going forward about where these areas will be. But so far, it seems like there is a ceasefire holding.

VANIER: Ian, one of the key differences between this ceasefire and previous ones which didn't hold, didn't last very long is that this one has been brokered by Turkey and Russia. What does that change?

LEE: That's right. And the Turks really are -- you do have a lot of rebel groups under their influence and then on Russia on the other side, you have the Syrian government, you have Hezbollah from Lebanon, that fighting force and as well as the Iranians. And so, you do have these two major players coming together and brokering the ceasefire which we really haven't seen before.

But there are a lot of moving parts to this that could make this fall apart. You have other rebel groups, you have other factions, you have the gulf, Saudi Arabia and Qatar who have skin in this game. You also have the question about President Assad. Now in the past, Turkey has said that he must go. Well, of course, he is backed by the Russians and the Russians don't want to see him go. So that will be a negotiating point.

But right now, there's really a three-step process; first, getting the ceasefire in place; second, to have the lines of communication, which in case there is any violations they can be dealt with; and then third, if all this holds, they will be negotiating next month in Kazakhstan to try to bring a final solution to this almost six-year civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Another thing to note, too, which is important, is that the Turks right now, are fighting ISIS in al-Bab.

And this is a city that is about 30 kilometers from Aleppo, where the Syrian government has forces and the Russians are there as well. So this ceasefire, this mechanism, could also be a way that when those two sides, the Turks and the Syrian forces are looking across at each other, that there isn't any sort of conflict between the two sides. So there's still a lot of moving parts and still very early, but so far, again, it is holding.

VANIER: All right. Ian Lee reporting there live, on a complex, fluid situation. Thank you so much. And of course, he's going to continue to monitor this ceasefire as we try and find out whether we may or may not be at a turning point in a Syrian civil war. Thanks a lot, Ian. And Syria's civil war has ravaged the country beyond recognition. The world has seen the violence but peace has eluded its many victims. Our Phil Black looks back on where the conflict started and where it may be headed.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Political graffiti, that's how it all started in the Syrian city of Daraa. Children were arrested for the crime and the street responded. Huge peaceful demonstrations demanded change. The Syrian government's response wasn't peaceful. That crackdown began driving people from their homes, from their own country.

These were among the first in what was to become a wave of refugees, seeking safety beyond Syria's borders. Eventually, demonstrators and activists became rebels. They picked up weapons and fought back. Civil war has torn Syria apart for almost six years, as the world watched and talked. U.N. Security Council resolutions were vetoed by Russia and China. International negotiations floundered, ceasefires were ignored.

All while seemingly endless images have documented suffering on a scale difficult to comprehend. We've seen the faces of whole communities enduring bombardment and starvation, like here at Yarmouk, in Damascus. Stories of Syria's children repeatedly damned the world's impotent like those gasping for breath after a chemical weapons attack. President Obama said this would be a red line, it wasn't.

The body of Aylan Kurdi, faced down on a Turkish beach after his family's failed attempt to reach Europe. And a stunned little boy, dusty and bleeding after being pulled from the rubble in Aleppo. Syria's uninterrupted chaos allowed ISIS to evolve into a powerful force. The world had a frontline view as it took the might of American air power to drive ISIS fighters away from Kobani, a city right on Turkish border.

[01:25:08] The group proved its brutality with violent propaganda videos, including the executions of foreign hostages, and with the attacks in Paris and Brussels, ISIS showed it could project terror far beyond its Syrian base. The west's limited intervention in Syria, also provided opportunity for Russia. In September 2015, its air force began striking the enemies of Syria's regime with devastating effect.

That campaign recently broke the opposition's desperate resistance in the City of Aleppo, while inspiring western critics to accuse Russia of war crimes. Now, only weeks later, Russia and Turkey say they finally found a diplomatic way forward in a war that's devastated the country and destabilized the region. More than 11 million people, around half of Syria's population have been forced from their homes, 400,000 have been killed. For almost six years, intense hatreds have been deepened through blood and loss. The heart-breaking realities of Syria's war, leave little space to optimism despite this latest effort of diplomacy. Phil Black, CNN, London.


[01:30:00] CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: A warm welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. We have a very busy news agenda.

Let's look at the headlines.


VANIER: U.S. President Barack Obama is retaliating against Russia for alleged election meddling. He's ordered sanctions against six Russian individuals and five Russian entities. In addition, 35 Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the U.S.

And Russia says it will respond to any hostile steps that the U.S. takes. A spokesman for Vladimir Putin says the Russian president is in no rush to make a decision.

President-elect Trump issued a statement late Thursday saying it is time to move on to bigger and better things.

This all stems from Russia's alleged hacking of e-mails related to the Democratic Party's campaign. The White House says that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election and erode faith in U.S. democracy. Moscow has brushed off those claims.

Here's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moscow says the hacking allegations against Russia are groundless. Vladimir Putin's spokesman challenging America to prove them. But U.S. officials tell CNN the Russian hacks continue around the clock. Phishing attempts targeting private e-mail accounts associated with Hillary Clinton's campaign as recently as December 6th.

ADAM MEYERS, VICE PRESIDENT OF INTELLIGENCE, CROWDSTRIKE: It's a continuing effort to collect intelligence. TODD: Adam Meyers specializes in cyber intelligence with the firm

CrowdStrike, which investigated the Russian hacks for the Democratic Party. He and other experts have new information on operations in Putin's hacking teams, which they say are as talented as they come.

UNIDENTIFIED CYBER SECURITY EXPERT: When it comes to espionage and offense they are fantastic. They are close to the best in the world, probably right after our own here in the United States.

TODD: CrowdStrike discovered a Russian hacking team called Cozy Bear first penetrated the DNC in the summer of 2015. CrowdStrike says that team, also known as the Dukes or APT29, for advanced persistent threat, is tied to Russian intelligence.

In March of this year, CrowdStrike says, another Russian hacking team, Fancy Bear, started to target the Democratic Party. Fancy Bear is believed to be demanded by the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.

TODD (on camera): What are the tools they use?

MEYERS: What the tools allow them to do is access the computer, to download and upload files and execute commands and take pictures of what is going on the screen.

TODD (voice-over): This is the bogus e-mail that opened Pandora's Box at the Clinton campaign, quote, "Someone has your password," says an e-mail to campaign chair, John Podesta, in March, posted online by WikiLeaks. It says to click on the link to reset the password.

MEYERS: Once they go the that link, it will take them to what looks like Google log-in and they will be asked for their user name and password. When they provide that, it will forward it to Google but the attacker now has a copy of the user name and password.

TODD (voice-over): A technique used by what's believed to be an army of at least 4,000 Russian cyberagents.

(on camera): Are these the hackers in military uniforms? Who are they?

MEYERS: I think there are people in military uniforms and people who are business focused and a technical cadre that may be more informal and more casual.

TODD: A key question now, who are the next targets of the Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear hacking teams? CrowdStrike says NATO should have its guard up. Any company with deals going in Russia and political leaders in France and Germany should have their defenses ready. Those are countries having political elections next year, countries where Russia cares a lot about the outcome of the elections.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: So that's for U.S./Russia relations.

Let's look now at what may be in the works for U.S./Israel relations. Washington as long presented itself as an impartial broker in Mideast peace negotiations. However, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is making clear that he thinks that Israel has been treated unfairly.

Oren Liebermann is in Jerusalem where Israel is counting down the days until Trump takes office - Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear he is done working with President Obama and is looking forward to President-elect Trump. Trump has made it one of his goals, he says, to close the ultimate deal, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, a two-state solution. Can he do it? Is it possible in his four years in office with what he has stated? We take a look.


(voice-over): A new political day dawns in the Middle East on January 20th.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very, very strong on Israel. I think Israel has been treated unfairly by a lot of different people.


LIEBERMANN: President-elect Donald Trump says he can do what no president has done in half a century, solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, calling it the ultimate deal, and suggesting his Jewish son- in-law, Jared Kushner, may be a part of the plan.

[01:35:07] Trump tweeting the recent U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements was a big loss for Israel and will make it harder to negotiate peace, but he'll do it anyway. The president-elect promised to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize it as the capital of Israel. The move, welcomes by Israel, condemned by the Palestinian as the death of a two-state solution.

The intervention from the president-elect coming as relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are as bad as ever.

The Obama administration led talks between Israelis and Palestinians in 2010 and again in 2013. The last round of negotiations, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, broke down with both sides blaming each other. Two months later, Israel and Gaza were at war.

Tensions have worsened since then as the region descended into violence last year. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last shook hands at the funeral of Shimon Perez, who shared a Nobel Prize for forging a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. It was the closest Abbas and Netanyahu had come to talk publicly in years.

In time, we'll find out if President-elect Trump can change that.


President-elect Trump will obviously bring an outsiders perspective to the conflict. For decades, it has been politicians and ambassadors who have worked between the two sides to make some kind of progress. Trump will bring a businessman's perspective, not a politician's.

Cyril, one of the hallmarks of trying to work in the conflict is dealing with the sensitivity on both sides. It looks like Trump will have to use more sensitivity if he wants to make progress here.

VANIER: Oren Liebermann reporting from Jerusalem where the president- elect has said he will put the U.S. embassy. Thank you for your reporting.

We're going the take a break. When we come back, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has bragged about killing people and now, in a CNN exclusive, this man says he ran a death squad. The grisly details ahead.


[01:40:21] VANIER: Welcome back. Iraq's prime minister predicts the northern city of Mosul will be liberated from ISIS in three months. He offered the up-beat assessment as they began a new phase of military operations. They are backed up with U.S. air power and Iraqi forces are advancing deeper into eastern and western sections of the city.

The hunt for the leader of ISIS may be closer to a conclusion. After months of no known sightings, the U.S. now says that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi may be on the move.

Barbara Starr has more from the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fresh intelligence has emerged about ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, just days before President Obama leaves office. A U.S. official tells CNN, quote, "In the last few weeks, we've been aware of some of Baghdadi's movements." The official would not offer additional details due to the sensitivity of the intelligence.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If there's a trail, it is at least possible to begin to begin to pick up certain things and when you pick up those certain indications of where a person has been it becomes far more likely you can find him.

STARR: No one is saying if the terrorist leader is in Iraq or in Raqqa, Syria.

But several efforts are underway. U.S. officials tell CNN there are a number of buildings in central Raqqa under observation. The U.S. is looking for movement of any senior ISIS leaders. Communications are being interpreted. From raids in Mosul, Iraq, documents and data seized and reviewed for fresh tips. U.S. Special Operations forces on the ground talking to whomever may know something.

Last month, a rare audio recording encouraging the fighters to stand strong in Mosul.

The U.S. just raised to $25 million the reward for his capture.

The goal has been to take away his layers of protection and security.

LEIGHTON: These people have to communicate. Even if they don't communicate via the internet or via phone, they have to communicate in one way or the other.

STARR: U.S. intelligence is focused on isolating Baghdadi by killing those close to him, nearly a dozen senior operatives so far.

ASH CARTER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We took out three of ISIL's key leaders in the last couple weeks.

STARR: One of the most important ISIS leaders, Abu Mohammad al Adnani (ph), chief of external plotting, was killed in an air strike in Syria. And this Kuwaiti-born operative killed just this week.

(on camera): So what if the U.S. was able to capture or kill Baghdadi, would it change the course of the war possibly in the opening weeks of a Trump administration? U.S. officials say they believe the ISIS ideology will live on for some time, possibly long after Baghdadi meets his fate.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


VANIER: Now to a CNN exclusive, a man who says he was an assassin has come forward with explosive claims. He says that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte once ran a secret death squad, and as mayor of Davao City, ordered him to commit unthinkable acts. This comes as Mr. Duterte continues to carry out a drug war and threatens to jeopardize his country's military alliance with the U.S.

For more on this, CNN's Will Ripley joins us now from Manila -- Will?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Cyril. President Rodrigo Duterte, whenever anyone criticizes his human rights record, is outraged and that includes a threat made to CNN Philippines to pull out of the visiting forces agreement, which allows U.S. troops to operate here in the Philippines.

But when you look at the greater drug war, which has entered its sixth month as of today, more than 6,000 people killed, we need to look at where the story began, in Davao City in the Philippines. That's where the mayor first declared the war on drugs and where this self- proclaimed former hitman says he was acting on orders from the man who is now president committing murders after murders, sometimes innocent people. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


RIPLEY: Edgar Matobato says he and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have something in common, they both have blood on their hands.

"I want him to pay for what he did, for the many killings he ordered," he says. "If we bring back the death penalty, I hope Duterte is the first to hang and then I will follow."

Decades before the president took his bloody war on drugs nationwide, Matobato says he was part of a group known as the Davao Death Squad. A 2008 U.N. investigation found the band of assassins was committing hundreds of murders in Davao, targeting street children and criminals, all during Duterte's decades-long run as the southern city's gun- toting, crime-fighting mayor beginning in 1988.

[01:45:29] "I personally killed around 50 people," Matobato says.

He shows us a journal with names and dates of some of his victims, written by his wife because he can't read or write. Matobato also showed his Davao City I.D. He says he was a ghost employee earning $100 a Monday to murder on command.

(on camera): Who was ordering the death squad to kill people?

(voice-over): "We got the orders from Mayor Duterte," he says.

CNN cannot verify his story but his graphic testimony in September before a Senate hearing on vigilante killings shocked the Philippines. The country's human rights commission is investigating.

The president's office says he changed some details in his story.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMUNICATIONS SECRETARY: Very inconsistent. If you go through the transcript in the Senate, you will see for yourself that Matobato is lying through his teeth.

RIPLEY: The president's communications secretary says if the testimony was credible police would have built a case.

UNIDENTIFIED COMMUNICATIONS SECETARY: The Davao death squad, this is all legend. It's all legend. There's no death squad.

RODRIGO DUTERTE, PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT: I did kill. I was only three months mayor.

RIPLEY: Duterte told me he personally gunned down three people while mayor of Davao to set an example for his officers. But in media interviews, he said he doesn't remember Matobato and denies ordering vigilante killings.

For several years, Matobato was in official witness protection. Now that Duterte is president, he is just in hiding. We meet at a safe house several hours from Manilla. He's moved at least 10 times in the last year and is currently facing charges of kidnapping and illegal firearms possession.

"I was told to cut the body parts into pieces," he says.

Matobato claims they dumped bodies in crocodile farms, in the streets, and even in mass graves. But those graves have never been found.

(on camera): Why are you the only one who has come forward?

(voice-over): He says, "Many of them are scared. If we try to change, we're killed."

(on camera): So you think if they find you, they'll kill you?

(voice-over): "They will kill me," he says. "Because now their secrets have been revealed."

Matobato says he's eager to confess his sins to shine a light on the dark reality behind the president's deadly drug war.


RIPLEY: Supporters of President Duterte would argue that Matobato is only coming forward now to undermine the president, who remains popular here. However, there are many people who do believe his story. And he says the reason he is coming forward after 25 years is because he had a change of heart over the years, including one incident in the last few years or so when there were two teenaged girls, drug users, taken in by the death squad. He says they were first raped and tortured before they were killed. He thought at that point that nobody, whether a drug suspect or not, deserves to be treated like that. And that's when he decided to give his life to Catholicism. And he says, Cyril, is prepared to die, and believes he should die for what he did, but that President Duterte deserves the same fate.

VANIER: Will Ripley, who has been reporting live from Manilla, will continue to report on this story for us. Thank you, Will.

We're going the take a short break. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us. We'll be right back after this.




[01:53:04] VANIER: Hi, everyone. It's time to talk sandwiches now. Not just any sandwich. A New York institution, the pastrami sandwich, at the Carnegie Deli is about to disappear after the New Year, the sandwich, the deli, the whole thing.

CNN's Elanie Jocas (ph) reports.


ELANIE JOCAS (ph), CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These people are waiting in line to be part of history. They're saying their last good-byes to a New York dining institution.

(on camera): What is that?


JOCAS (ph) (voice-over): And enjoying one last gut-busting meal while they're at it.

(on camera): Two pounds of corned beef and pastrami. This is the Woody Allen.

Over the last few decades, one of the most iconic things you could do is try to chow down one of these sandwiches.

The motto of the restaurants has been, if you can finish it, we've done something wrong.

(voice-over): People have taken up the challenge since 1937, including entertainment and political figures, including Woody Allen, himself --


JOCAS (ph): -- who featured the Carnegie in one of his films.


JOCAS (ph): Restaurant owner, Marian Harper, says it's not an easy decision to close the Carnegie.

HARPER: Very heartbreaking. It's like a second home. It's meant so much to so many people they have been telling me so many stories of how they come here every year. People have met each other here.

JOCAS (ph): Harper says it's simply time to move on.

Customers call it the end of an era.

(on camera): Are you sad it's closing down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very sad and that's the reason why I'm here. I'm very disappointed. That's the last big deli in New York City.

JOCAS (ph): Do you feel like it's the end of an era?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely, it is. But nothing lasts. So, we're enjoying it.

JOCAS (ph) (voice-over): The Carnegie Deli's name will live on. You can buy the food online and at other U.S. locations. In the future, Harper hopes to make it a global brand.

HARPER: There could be a Carnegie near anybody right now. I want to spread the love as much as I can, wherever I can.

JOCAS (ph): One thing is certain, this small corner of New York City --

(on camera): Are you going the try to finish that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe not. I would like to try the cheesecake as well.

JOCAS (ph) (voice-over): -- will be a lot less delicious.

Elanie Jocas, CNN Money, New York.


[01:55:21] VANIER: And one final thing, a superstar in tennis has a love match with the bright light of the Internet. Serena William is engaged to Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of social news site, Reddit. His spokesman says he popped the question while the two were on vacation in Rome. Williams posted her answer on Reddit with a cartoon proclaiming, "I said yes." They've dated since the fall of 2015. There is no word on a wedding date as of yet.

All right, and that wraps up this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier.

The news continues with George Howell and Natalie Allen right after the break. You'll be in good hands.



Ahead this hour --