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Russian Ambassador To Turkey Assassinated; Electoral College Voting Underway To Seal Trump Win; China's State-Run Media: Trump Looks Nothing Presidential. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:20] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Our breaking news is out of the Turkish capital of Ankara where we just learned that the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov is dead. He was shot a little more than an hour ago. He was speaking at an art gallery inside the Turkish capital, shot several times. He was rushed to the hospital. And, again, we did just get word that Andrei Karlov has passed away.

Now, CNN just obtained video of the shooting itself. And I do want to warn you, this is very disturbing, very graphic video. We do want to play it so you get a sense of exactly what happened inside that art gallery and the horror that took place just a short time ago. But, again, be warned. It is graphic. Let's watch.




BERMAN: All right. The Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov is dead after that incident you just saw. Shot multiple times while speaking at an art gallery in Ankara just a short time ago. He was rushed to the hospital but succumbed to his wounds.

I'm joined now by Clarissa Ward in Moscow. Clarissa, again, we are getting word from Russian officials of the death. We're also getting some word from Turkish officials about the investigation saying that the suspect has been neutralized. We don't know if that means that the shooter has been killed or is in custody. These details just coming in.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Basically, we just heard a short time ago from the Russian Foreign Ministry confirming that, indeed, the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was killed in this attack tonight. We also know from the Russian Foreign Ministry that President Putin is aware that he is expected to have emergency meetings later this evening both with the Foreign Ministry and with his security apparatus. As you saw from the video, which is as you said chilling, very difficult to watch in places. It does appear that this was somehow connected to Syria and to what is going on in Syria. And just to explain that to our viewers, of course, the Russian military has been working very closely with the regime of Bashar al-Assad and supporting them in the war on Syria, whereas the Turkish government has been supporting the rebels on the ground, who are opposing president Bashar al-Assad.

Now, that said the relationship, John, between Russia and Turkey had really come along leaps and bounds, particularly in the last six months. There was a very high point of tension between the two countries after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane which it claimed had incurred into its airspace. But since then and particularly in the wake of the failed coup attempt against President Erdogan this summer, the relationship had been a lot stronger.

So far we haven't seen anything concrete in terms of a response from the Kremlin, from President Putin in terms of how they plan to react to this essentially. It's very awkward giving the timing. It complicates a summit that is due to take place here tomorrow in which the Iranian foreign minister and the Turkish foreign minister were meeting with the Russian foreign minister and Russian defense minister to discuss the situation in Syria.

This of course could potentially have a very destabilizing effect on those efforts. But at this stage as I mentioned, John, we just don't know yet who was responsible. It appeared that the attacker was speaking Turkish. We don't yet know enough about exactly what was said, what group he may have been involved with, if he is a lone wolf attacker. All of these factors and all of this information will need to be carefully parched through before the Russians formulate any official response. John?

[12:35:07] BERMAN: All right, Clarissa, forgive me. I just saw that video for the very first time along with you and I'm going to tap in the fact that you speak many languages. It was not clear to me whether the man we saw in the video along with the ambassador was security or if that was maybe the shooter. There was a man on the video. And we saw some still photos after waving a gun. It looked to me like he was security. But I could not understand what he was saying. Did you?

WARD: And there -- No, I did not. I do not speak Turkish and there are a lot of mixed reports on social media because as you said, he was wearing a suit, he appeared to be standing behind and to the side of the ambassador that might possibly indicate that indeed he could have been part of the ambassador's security detail or it's possible that that just a disguise that he was wearing in order to gain access to the exhibition.

We know that this was a kind of diplomatic event, with lots of people from the arts. It was a gallery exhibition of photographs of Turkey's history with Russia. So you can assume there would have been lots of different members of Turkey's elite and diplomatic circles there. But at this stage, John, we just don't know who exactly this gunman was, whether indeed he was part of the ambassador security detail or part of security services or whether he was lone wolf or whether perhaps more sinisterly he was in fact part of ISIS or some kind of militant extremist group like that.

One thing I think we can all acknowledge that we heard in his screed if you will were the words of course Allahu Akbar which simply means, "God is the greatest."

And we did appear to hear some kind of a reference to Aleppo as well. And I just want to emphasize for our viewers that for a lot of Sunni Muslims who are watching the situation playing out in Eastern Aleppo and they're being bombarded with images, horrifying images of civilians being slaughtered, of children being killed, of homes being bombed, of people freezing and starving, and all of these unimaginable atrocities. And that has served as a very powerful galvanizing force across the Muslim world. It's a big part why we have seen this huge optic in Jihadist activity when people not just from Syria, not just from Turkey but from all corners of the earth essentially flooding into or trying to flood in to Syria, because they have been so emotionally disturbed and moved by the Syrian conflict and what they see taking place.

Not clear, of course. It could have been something as simple as mental illness that inspire this man to commit this horrifying act, John.

BERMAN: Let me tell you that we do have people who listened to that more carefully, Clarissa. And as you said, clearly heard was Allahu Akbar. But also the transition now we're hearing, do not forget Aleppo, do not forget Syria, do not forget Aleppo, do not forget Syria.

Obviously, Russia intimately involved in what is happening inside Syria right now Turkey as well. And there are forces inside Syria, inside Turkey not at all in line with what's going on. So, again, we do not know exactly the identity of who carried out this attack. That person said to be neutralized. Whether he was shot and killed or in custody, we do not know that either. What we do know, is that the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov is dead after being shot at that art gallery.

Clarissa Ward, stand by. We'll come back to you in a little bit. We're going to have more on our special breaking news coverage, next.


[12:41:56] BERMAN: All right. Happening right now in state capitals across the country, 538 electors casting their ballots for president and vice president. You're looking at our republic democracy in progress right now. That's Raleigh, North Carolina. Where these electors are certifying, it's a sign six documents, I think three for president, three for vice president in North Carolina. They are deciding that Donald Trump, he is getting all of the electoral votes in North Carolina. Again, you're seeing it live in action in right now.

Now, one of the 538 electors in this country is Texas Republican elector Alexander Kim. Alexander joins us right now. And Alex, one of the things that's been happening as we've heard from a lot of electors who've said that they've reserved death threats or threats or menacing letters and contacts from people who want them to vote their conscience and not vote for Donald Trump. But you say, you've say actually heard from a lot of Republicans including some people close to Donald Trump who want to keep you in line?

ALEXANDER KIM, TEXAS GOP ELECTOR: Oh, absolutely. You know, you hear people from all sides, the vast majority of the people that have been contacting me in. This is over 200,000 e-mails, are people from outside of Texas. Less than 1 percent are from within Texas, and those are the people that I truly represent.

BERMAN: And it is a Texas elector who has come out and said that he is going to, what he says, vote his conscience, and not vote for Donald Trump. That's not what you're going to do? You intend to cast your ballot for Donald Trump?

KIM: Right. Donald trump has consistently been the same person after November 8th as he was before. I see nothing that Donald Trump has done to violate the compact he has made with not only Republicans but America as a whole. We all went to our polls in our own individual states and we voted for Trump. And Trump was the winner of the elections, and so that's the way the votes going to go. If Trump had done something completely in violation of what he had said or campaigned on, then yes, I would question my vote. But at this point, in the 12th hour, everything looks good here in Texas.

BERMAN: We should say a couple of things off the bat here. Number one, Donald Trump is going to be elected president, he will receive majority of 270-plus electoral votes he needs to be president. Number one, that is true.

Number two, tradition in this country absolutely has been that electors of each state vote for the candidate who wins that state. Both of those things are very, very true. But I'm curious about what your opinion is about the constitution of the United States and the 12th Amendment. This is where, you know, the Electoral College system was set up, although it doesn't actually use the word college. Is it your opinion electors could if they wanted, vote for someone other than the person who won their state?

KIM: I think that's it's absolutely what our founding fathers wanted. I think they wanted electors to be independent. Back then at the time of the constitution, we did not have a two-party system. I think they wanted electors to come in and vote for who they thought was best. And that's what happened in the early parts of our country. An elector would vote for their state's favorite son. And then they would vote for their -- the person they thought morally that was the best candidate for the election.

And then when it went to the Senate, of course the votes were tallied up there. So I think it's imperative for electors to be able vote for who they think is the best person. At this point, you know, in the system that we're in here in Texas as a Republican nominated by the Republican Party, I have a strong duty to my constituents and my congressional district. And they have spoken and they have spoken loudly that they want Donald Trump and I have seen nothing for me to violate the will of my constituents.

[12:45:17] BERMAN: Alexander Kim, Republican elector from the State of Texas who will vote for Donald Trump to be president. And in fact, Donald Trump will receive the votes he needs to be president. And that will happen later today.

Alexander Kim, thanks so much. We should know, we're looking at pictures right now, you just saw live pictures from Albany, New York. That is the capital of the state. Andrew Cuomo, right n ow the governor of New York speaking. But we just saw Bill Clinton, former president of the United States, who is a Democratic elector from the State of New York who will be casting his ballot if he hasn't already for Hillary Clinton to be president. She will not win. But he is there casting his ballot today.

We're going to have much more on our breaking news. The Russian ambassador to Turkey, he was shot and killed, assassinated at an art exhibition. Stay with us.


BERMAN: All right. New developments right now with some growing tensions between the U.S. and China, this comes after the seizure of a U.S. drone in international waters. The incident led to a series of statements from President-elect Donald Trump. He wrote them down on Twitter. He said, "The first said China had stolen the drone." And then at second statement he said that, "China should keep it."

Joining us now to discuss is Gordon Chang. He's a columnist for the Daily Beast and author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On The World." Gordon, thanks so much for being with us.

President-elect Donald Trump says at this point, well, he admits that the Chinese seizure of the drone he says is unprecedented. He said at this point, they should just keep it. You disagree?

GORDON CHANG, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Yeah, I disagree because this was a sovereign U.S. vessel. We cannot allow Chinese piracy. And also was an act of war. I mean this is a drone or an aircraft carrier. But principle is the same. I think what Trump was trying to do was, he knows that the Chinese are using the drone as a bargaining chip. He wants to take away their leverage. So I think that's the basis of the tweet. But nonetheless, we need to get this back.

[12:50:12] BERMAN: You get a sense that China is trying to take advantage of this presidential transition period. Do you think this was more of a challenge to President-elect Trump or more of a challenge to President Obama or both?

CHANG: Yeah. It was probably both. We really don't know. But we've got a very important hint on Saturday, because for the first time ever, in Beijing, they had a conference on the use of drones.

And so, you know, I don't believe in coincidences in China. And so I think that this was planned. They planned it for a period when they knew that the president was leaving. And they knew that Donald Trump really has not been able to assume the reins of power. So it is a vacuum. And they can make some advantage by taking the drone.

BERMAN: So Donald Trump obviously, he received that phone call from the leader of Taiwan, China objected strenuously to it. There is this incident with the drone right now.

In general, Gordon, how does China respond to sabre rattling? If Donald Trump go in there with a tougher policy what does history tell us China's response would be?

CHANG: Well, China will challenge the new president. You know, they challenged George W. Bush in April 2001. They challenged President Obama in March and May 2009, and basically the first months of their terms in office.

And so they were going to do that with Trump. What Trump did with a call from Taiwan was he challenged the Chinese even before he took the oath of office. So they're scrambling things up. And basically what Trump is saying is that the U.S. will take the initiative. It's a subtle message. But the Chinese nonetheless got it.

BERMAN: And you write extensively on North Korea. And obviously North Korea is an area of great concern with the current administration and the next administration. And President-elect Trump is sort of hinted that one of the areas of President Obama has spoken to him most about has been concerns about North Korea. And I know I've spoken to you. And you said the U.S. should be putting more pressure on China to intervene there?

CHANG: Yes. You know, we've had this policy since the beginning of the administration of George W. Bush to put China front and center in the negotiations because obviously Beijing does have leverage over Pyongyang. But China has used that to support the North Koreans, not to disarm them. And so what we need to do is put pressure on the Chinese. On September 26th, the Obama administration levied secondary sanctions on a small fried Chinese company. But they didn't go after the Chinese banks that were involved in illicit North Korean commerce. That's what we need to do. Because the Chinese aren't going to get serious about North Korea until we tell them and show them that we are.

BERMAN: Very interesting to see how President-elect Trump acts once he is in office on January 20th where he can actually pull the levers of power.

Gordon Chang, great to have with us, really appreciate it.

CHANG: Thank you.

BERMAN: Our right our breaking news now is out of Turkey where the Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov to Turkey was assassinated just a couple hours ago. He was speaking at an art gallery. He was gunned down by a man who appeared to be shout "Remember Aleppo. Remember what's happening in Syria."

I want to go right now to Muhammad Lali our correspondent who was on the border between Turkey and Syria right now for the very latest on this incident which has major international implications.

MUHAMMAD LALI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's not just that it has major international implications. We're also getting an idea now of a possible motive for the gunman. You talked about how he said, "Remember Aleppo. Remember Syria." But we have more from the video where he was caught speaking to camera as he was shooting the ambassador, the video actually quite chilling. You can see him standing behind the ambassador opening fire from quite a distance away it raises questions about whether he may have had some military or firearm training because it wasn't a case of walking directly behind the ambassador. He was standing several yards away.

But as part of what he was saying after the shooting took place, he said, "Get back. Get back." Referring to the crowds that were there to watch the speech from the ambassador, but then, this is key and this will play a part in the investigation, John. He says, "Only death will remove me from here. Everyone who has taken part in this oppression will one day pay for it." So that says a couple of things. One, it says it's closely tied in, apparently, to what was happening and what is happening in Syria. And number two, it shows the gunman by saying, that only death would take him away from there. That gunman knew that he wasn't leaving that building alive.

BERMAN: No. And again, we have heard from Turkish officials that he has been neutralized. That wasn't official word whether he's in custody or whether this gunman you're at picture of him right now was killed. The language he was speaking we believe was Turkish indicating, you know, either if he is Turkish, whether is he, you know, ethnically Turkish or Kurdish not yet known. And that is significant, because the Kurds obviously, some Kurdish groups intimately involved in what's happening inside Syria, Muhammad.

LALI: Well, of course. And look at all of the different groups that are in place right now in Syria. And look at all of the different grievances they would have with the Russian government. Russia has been a staunch ally of Syria's President Assad since this conflict began providing weapons, providing air strikes basically bolstering him and keeping him in power through the Russian military.

[12:55:14] And of course, how many hundreds and thousands of people have died in Syria as a result of this conflict? Any number of people would have a grievance against Russia because of this. And the fact that the gunman himself in carrying out what Russia state media is saying was a premeditated terror attack. The fact that the gunman himself has came out and said that this has to do with Aleppo saying "Remember Aleppo" and "Remember Syria." This comes actually as Aleppo has now more or less officially been retaken by government forces, by the Assad regime.

So the people that are being forced out of Aleppo now have really no hope in some cases of returning home and life going back to normal. So it's quite easy to see how somebody would are very upset and decide to take matters into their own hands.

John, what we don't know just yet, is an official claim of responsibility. That's going to be the next step in the investigation. Was this person a lone wolf or was this person part of a much more organized cell? And that's the next step investigators will be looking at.

BERMAN: And how does this person we saw in camera get so close to the ambassador at this incredibly critical, intense time involving Russia, Turkey and Syria, just a few of the questions that need answering in the coming minutes and hours.

Muhammad Lila, thank you so much for your reporting.

We're going to have much more on the breaking news right after a quick break.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Wolf Blitzer. We are beginning with breaking news.

Right now electors across the country are meeting to cast their votes for president and vice president. Well, some of those meetings are being met with protests.

[12:59:59] This hour, states like Iowa, Alabama and Wisconsin are getting their chance. Already we've seen electors gather in major battle ground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina to make their choices. And there's been a push by protesters and other groups encouraging electors to not vote for Donald Trump ...