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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Fireworks Blast Kills At Least 29 Near Mexico City; Massive Manhunt for Christmas Market Killer; U.S. Stepping Security After Attacks; Seven Detained After Russian Diplomat's Assassination; Turkish Report. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 20, 2016 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:10] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. John Berman here, in for Anderson.
Tonight, breaking news: sights and sounds that traditionally signal happiness and celebration, tonight outside in Mexico City, they mean tragedy. Watch this.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
Mexican authorities say the explosion you're seeing have already claimed at least 29 lives. That is city of 60,000 where pyrotechnics are a major industry. We should tell you the death toll just went up to 29 and you get the sense that it could rise again based on the destruction we're seeing right now.
CNN's Ed Lavandera monitoring developments. He joins us now.
Ed, I know it's early. But any information about what happened?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're still trying to figure out if there is any information on what caused this horrific scene to unfold in the town of Tultepec, which is just north of Mexico City. This is a town that is renowned for its pyrotechnic industry in this open air market where thousands of people gather. This is common sight. This is a huge industry in this town north of Mexico City.
And as you mentioned, the death toll, staggering, 29 people dead -- in the last hour and a half, that has jumped from nine people to 29 people. So, John, as you mentioned, that concern that this toll could be even higher is a very real concern tonight, as well as dozens more injured. Reports of as many as seventy people injured.
As you watch the dramatic images unfold, it really gives you a sense of the chaotic scene there that was unfolding in this market as these explosions just ripped apart the market there out of control.
BERMAN: And goes on and on and on and on, Ed.
You know, what do we know about the market itself? It is known for its fireworks booths and the selling that goes on there? From the aerial video, it looks very, very big and you can see these people running and clustered around you can only assume are folks who are injured.
LAVANDERA: Yes, those are people on the ground injured. And some of the aerial images we've seen showed just torched remnants of what is left behind from these markets vendors where they sell these elaborate fireworks displays and fireworks. As I mentioned, this is a town that is renowned for this kind of industry, especially this time of year, heading into the holiday season, a very popular activity here, setting off fireworks as a way of celebrating the end of -- the Christmas holiday, as well as the end of the New Year, welcoming in the New Year.
So, you can image there is a very popular time of year which explains why there were so many people there this afternoon -- John.
BERMAN: All right. Ed Lavandera for us.
Again, this is an unfolding tragedy. The death toll just rising to 29. We keep on getting new information, new numbers sadly and also, new pictures as well. So, we will keep our eye on this following very, very closely over the next two hours.
We're going to move on right now, though, to the manhunt for a mass murderer who killed twelve people, plowing a truck through a Christmas market in Berlin. Now, he might have been ISIS inspired. He is certainly at large.
He's also not alone, this holiday at all, far from it. Take a look at this. The last few days have seen acts of terror from Western Europe to the southern Arabian Peninsula.
Individually, they're one thing. Collectively, though, they're raising concerns that we are entering a dangerous and vulnerable times in many, many ways, especially during a presidential transition, with Syria falling apart, in Western Europe, facing almost seismic pressure from so many directions.
We're going look at it all tonight, starting with CNN's Frederick Pleitgen, with the latest on the investigation, what is now a manhunt in Germany.
Fred, you know, what details do you have on this investigation?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the investigation right now really has moved into a new phase, John. You know, earlier today, the authorities here had a man in custody actually the better of last night and today.
And at some point, they realized they had the wrong man. And the reason why is after the truck plowed through that Christmas market, they arrested this person and then took a lot of forensics there at the site of where all this happened. And none of the details matched this man that they had in custody. [20:05:03] So, after that, the Berlin authorities came out and said,
look, we believe that the actual person who did this, or people who did this, because they're not sure how many may have been involved, they believe they are still at large and they also believe that they may very well still be armed, because they also found a dead body on the passenger seat with gunshot wounds however. There was never a weapon retrieved from inside the cab of that truck. So, therefore, they say there could have well be people at large and they seem to be armed and they most definitely are dangerous.
Now, you mentioned that ISIS came forward and said that they believed that they inspire all this. Now, they didn't offer very much in way of detail as to who might be behind this. And it really is one of the things troubling for the investigators here, is that they don't know whether or not this was someone who acted individually or whether or not there is a larger network behind this that possibly offer inspiration and more importantly, also, logistical support as well, John.
BERMAN: The fact of the matter at this point, if they don't have, whoever did it, there is a manhunt underway which changes the complexion of what's going on on the ground. What have authorities been telling people in the area?
PLEITGEN: Well, you know, the authorities have been telling people, first of all, keep sending in any sort of videos, any sort of photos that you have from the time of the crime and from the scene of the crime as well. They say that everything helps. They're trying to peace things together, trying to see if they can get images of whoever got out of that truck after it crashed into that Christmas market and also whether or not they might be able to ID someone on those videos.
At the same time, however, they are saying people potentially here at large here in Berlin and also in the greater Berlin area. We also have to keep in mind that the market where this happened, John, is also a major transit hub here in Berlin as well, with a big railway station, a big bus terminal as well. So, pretty easy to get away from here and go pretty far in a short period of time.
And they are saying, look, if you see anything suspicious, call the police, don't try to act on your own. Because again people you are dealing with potentially extremely dangerous obviously being behind killing 12 people here at this very, very important, very large Christmas market and wounding dozens as well.
BERMAN: All right. Frederik Pleitgen for us in Berlin -- thanks so much, Fred.
Let's get a perspective now. From London, CNN terror analyst Paul Cruickshank joins us now.
And, Paul, ISIS is claiming that this attack was carried out by, quote, "a soldier of the Islamic State." This is the language they use to say someone inspired by ISIS. Not directed by ISIS but inspired by ISIS.
So, first of all, do you believe it and second of all, what does it mean for the investigation?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they are making the claim they inspired it, John, but they're not offering any evidence whatsoever to back up that claim of -- and so, they may be just being opportunistic here. They may, of course, know something. They may have had some contact with the perpetrator.
We had a case in Germany in July. An axe attack on a train where there is a very similar worded claim by ISIS. And in that case, the axe attacker had actually been in contact with an ISIS handler overseas and then eventually uploaded a video claimed a responsibility.
So, not clear yet. But what we can say is there's really been no public articulation of any evidence from the German investigatory side of any link between this attack and Islamist terrorism. They just don't have the evidence for that at this point because they don't have a suspect. They don't even have an image of a suspect that they can take to the public at this point. So they are really back at square one, having released this other individual who had nothing to do whatsoever it seems with this terrible attack.
BERMAN: Yes, back at square one, Paul. You have been working your sources inside Germany and across Europe. Is there a sense that the Germans dropped the ball here? They had what apparently was the wrong guy in custody for almost 24 hours where they focused on him, where clearly they should have been focused elsewhere?
CRUICKSHANK: Well, difficult to make that determination, but they were relying on eyewitness reports. It seems there was some confusion as there often is with these kind of reports, and that they ended up talk taking the wrong person into custody.
So, of course, during all of those hours where they really truly did believe that they have the perpetrator of that attack in custody, they are not going to be perhaps at full tilt on the investigation like they would otherwise have been if they had thought that somebody would still be at large. Well, now, we have that reality that somebody is still at large, perhaps even more than one person and as Fred was saying, somebody presumed to be armed and dangerous and somebody's already killed somebody with a fireman and a worry now that this individual could go and hijack another truck somewhere in Germany.
[20:10:04] There'd be nothing really to stop them from doing that as they have got this firearm. And as we've seen these really large trucks are really all for weapons as the Nice attack as well demonstrated in the summer with 86 people killed in that attack.
BERMAN: Yes. And remember, there was that train station nearby. So, the suspect could be anywhere in Germany. Not to mention many places in Western or Eastern Europe right now on the run over this 24-hour period.
Paul, stick around. Hold that thought. We're going to pick up right after the break, along with Michael Weiss and CNN's Peter Bergen. And later with all that is going on in the world, the question is,
just how much does the next president, Donald Trump, know about it? And who is he hearing it from? Yes, the question of presidential briefings is back. We're going take a closer look ahead on 360.
BERMAN: It's been a hectic and frankly horrible 24 hours or so out of Berlin. As each new development comes in and as we bring them you them one by one. But now, though, a coherent picture is taking shape and its worth taking a closer look at what it shows, sometimes moment by moment from the beginning.
So, before we go back to the panel, Tom Foreman joins us with a look at that -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Tom. This is the truck that was used in this attack. It was owned by a Polish shipping firm and it was on what supposed to be a routine delivery of steel, from Italy up to Germany, when authorities believe between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, it was hijacked. The driver killed, his body later found inside the vehicle.
Now, why do we think that this was target period of time? Because that company, the Polish shipping company, told a newspaper that it is a sophisticated truck with a GPS tracking system in it. And during this period of time, they noticed something wrong, someone tried to start the vehicle twice and failed to do so.
[20:15:03] And then they say when it finally got moving again, they say it was driven in an erratic fashion, not the way one of their skilled drivers would have done it, as if the person behind the wheel didn't really know what he was doing.
Nonetheless, by 5:00, it arrived near the Christmas market, according to what this company told the mirror newspaper. They had been trying to call the driver during that period of time. He had never answered.
Now, what happens next is a bit of a mystery because it's dark here by the time it arrives. For a couple of hours, we don't really know anything. And then by 8:00 we know the truck has approached the market from down in this area here. We've highlighted the market in red so you can see where it is. And down at the street level, witnesses say the driver turned off the lights, accelerated up to about 40 miles an hour and right in here is where all the shops and all the people were where the truck jumped the curb and for about 250 feet, plowed through everyone before finally coming to a stop down there, John.
BERMAN: It's a horrifying description, Tom. You know, it looks like it didn't go exactly through the market but as you say, it went down one side of it. So, do we know what eventually made the truck stop?
FOREMAN: We really don't and that's quite a mystery here because there is no indication it hit an insurmountable barrier. We know the police did not challenge it or ram it in some fashion. So, perhaps the driver simply decided he'd done all the damage he could do. Maybe he stalled the vehicle out again because he wasn't that good at running it. Nonetheless, we also don't have any eyewitnesses yet who say they saw someone leave the truck.
So, exactly when, where and how the driver of the vehicle left after doing all the damage, that's one of the big questions for investigators out there and they've got a lot of answers they must find -- John.
BERMAN: Just by looking at that truck, knowing it was filled with steel, you can tell how deadly it was.
Tom Foreman, thanks so much. A vivid look at what happened inside Berlin.
Back now with Paul Cruickshank. And joining us is "Daily Beast" senior editor, Michael Weiss. He's a CNN contributor. Also with us tonight, CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen.
And, Michael, I want to start with you and the claim by ISIS that the person who carried out this attack is a soldier of ISIS, which to them means inspired by ISIS. You know, first of all, how do we know it's authentic? Second of all, is there a downside to them for making a claim that might turn out not to be true?
MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure. I mean, if it turns out this guy was inspired or he's an agent of al Qaeda or if he's some random crazy person, although I think that suspicious is now kind of cast aside a little bit, given the elaborate nature of this, and a hijacking, a murder, driving an hour or two hours with a dead body in a car and also the selection of a vehicle, that it was stacked with 25 tons of steel. He was turning this into a battering ram. So, it seemed like the intention here was to commit mass murder.
Soldier of ISIS can actually mean many things. He could mean that he was an operative, who had been trained up. I mean, remember, ISIS has dispatched hundreds if not maybe thousands of sleeper operatives scattered throughout Europe, right? A lot of them have come in through these refugee waves. There were two supposed to be part of the Paris attack ring who actually got stopped and interned in a refugee camp in Greece for a spell.
So, we don't know how many come back from Raqqah or Mosul are running around the continent. Now, it can easily be the case, you know, the German police spent 24 hours interrogating the wrong man. If you are ISIS and you knew that this attack was taking place, you know, the identity and you trained up this assailant, you are waiting for him to get away clean and make contact with you before you go out and claim responsibility. That is one explanation.
BERMAN: Maybe they waited on purpose.
BERMAN: You know, Peter, let me bring you into the discussion, though. Obviously, ISIS did make this claim within 24 hours. Why was it so important to them to have their name attached to it?
PETER BERGEN, AUTHOR, "UNITED STATES OF JIHAD": Well, because it was a lethal attack that succeeded. And we've seen repeatedly people inspired by ISIS in the West where ISIS does take responsibility, says they are a soldier of the caliphate, which doesn't necessarily mean anything really in terms of direction by ISIS or even certainly training by ISIS.
And so, this is a very typical claim. You know, they may be taking a little bit of a risk here if it turns out that this person was inspired by another group. We saw in the Ohio State University attack where eleven people were injured with a vehicle.
The Somali American who carried out that attack three weeks ago, seemed to have been more inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda cleric born in the United States. But, you know, it's not like ISIS has much reputation at risk here. We're not talking about, you know, the Vatican or some group that is widely regarded as an organization that is doing -- is a force for good.
So, you know, if they had lied about it. They are beheading people routinely. A lie is not a problem.
BERMAN: That's an excellent point. And, again, to be clear though, we don't know who did this. The German officials, German authorities don't know who did it. They had someone in custody. They released him because it does not appear that he was the guy.
And, Paul, when we're talking about the investigation, you know, German authorities, they haven't released any images of the scene.
[20:20:03] It's not like they are asking for social media people to weigh in. It's almost as if they don't want the public to be part of this investigation. In the way at least, we have been through it in the United States. I'm thinking, for instance, about what happened in Boston with the Boston marathon bomber. The officials there basically asked the entire city to join in in the investigation.
CRUICKSHANK: Well, that could be for a simple reason, they just don't have those images. There is much less coverage in Germany than, say, a country like Britain, they are actually asking the members of the public who are around that area before, during and after the attack for any video that they happen to shoot because they are desperately searching for any visuals of which they could then potentially bring to the public.
Obviously, then, that's a judgment call, because if you do put the images out, then the perpetrator or perpetrators can feel sort of desperate. The universe is sort of closing in on them and launch sort of follow-on attacks more quickly. So, it is always a judgment call. It was in Boston for investigators.
But that could be a very powerful tool if only, if only they actually have the images and it is far from clear that they do. Maybe once they have gone through all of this tape that's been submitted by the public, they will find something, just like they were able to do in Boston from all of that security camera footage.
BERMAN: You know, Michael, Paul points out that the German officials he's talking, you ay they are back at square one right now on this investigation. And when you see the people congregated on the streets, you know, at the memorial there, it's jarring because there is still a killer on the loose somewhere and it could very well be in Berlin, and there could be concerns that he will strike again.
But you point out that for instance, in the France investigation after the Bataclan -- yes, a number of the suspects, a number of people have all died there that night, but there were arrests that were made weeks or in some cases months afterwards.
WEISS: Yes, sure. Saleh Abdeslam was caught in Molenbeek in Brussels, which is actually the sort of HQ for that Francophone network of ISIS operatives, right? So, he was in another country.
Again, you know, you are talking about the Schengen visa-free border system in Europe here. This person could have gone to Poland. He could have gone to Austria. We don't know.
And 24 hours is quite a lot time to quit a city like Berlin, right? And if all of the focus of law enforcement was on this one suspect, this Pakistani refugee who for all intents and purposes looks like he didn't do it, they let him go, that's taken your eye off everybody else who might be involved. So, we don't know.
Look, if this was -- there is kind of a misconception that when we talk about this lone wolf and self radical -- actually, a lot of the terror attacks that at first blush look like they're lone wolf attacks, not coordinated, actually they do have a link back to ISIS. They have a link back to an ISIS cell or ISIS apparatus in Raqqah or even elsewhere in the Middle East.
So, again, this could very well be the case that they needed this guy to make a safe exit out of the country and away from the scene of the crime because if he's captured and he is part of an ISIS cell, then suddenly the human intelligence becomes that much more valuable.
BERMAN: And they could roll back.
BERMAN: Guys, stick around. There's a lot more to discuss over the course of the night as developments come in.
The New York City police, by the way, say they have moved teams, including the critical response command to high profile locations around New York. The police monitoring the events in Germany very, very closely and around the world. We're going to take a look at how the U.S. is increasing security. That's next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:26:50] BERMAN: Police departments around the United States are monitoring the events in Germany and around the world and they are increasing security. The NYPD says it has moved teams to high profile locations around the city.
CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now with the very latest.
You know, Evan, what kind of measures are we talking about here to secure what could be soft targets around the country?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, like you mentioned, the critical response teams in New York, the New York police department, as well as the police departments here and around the country have been moved to these public locations, these public markets, these festive Christmas markets and other big public gathering places around the country.
Look, these are very hard places to secure. I took a walk around a Christmas market and noticed there were more police but I didn't -- but you didn't see any additional barricades. These places are located in transit points and places where people are gathering for a reason. So they can attract shoppers and so on. So, it is really hard to secure them.
We keep hearing from law enforcement is, look, we've increased security. We want people to come and enjoy these places but keep an eye for things that are unusual.
BERMAN: You know, and, Evan, obviously, this comes a week before New Year's Eve around the country and especially here in Time Square where it's pack, and a month before the inauguration in Washington, D.C.
BERMAN: These are big, high profile, significant security risk events. Are there concerns in the intelligence community now?
PEREZ: Well, absolutely. And, you know, those things -- as you mention, they are always a major concern, especially the inauguration, which will be the focus here at the capital behind me. It is always a big concern for the intelligence community and law enforcement.
One of the interesting things that I've been talking to people about is the lack of chatter in recent weeks for plots here in the United States. It's not like last year where this time, they saw a lot of chatter or possible plots they were very concerned about. Most of those did not pan out.
But, John, what's interesting is we do hear a lot about intelligence coming in about plots in Europe, in Germany, where they have done round ups of some arrests in recent weeks, as well as in the Balkans. They have been anticipating that you have perhaps some people in the continent who might be getting some direction from people in Syria. Despite the fact that ISIS has done the pressure in Syria and Iraq, it does appears that there is still some capability for command and control to direct attacks in Europe, John.
BERMAN: Yes, maybe not -- maybe not in spite of. Maybe because of the fact ISIS is under pressure in Syria and Iraq.
BERMAN: Evan Perez, thank you so much.
BERMAN: Joining me now, CNN law enforcement analyst and former assistant director of U.S. Marshal Service, Art Roderick, and CNN national security analyst and former U.S. assistant secretary for homeland security, Juliette Kayyem.
And, Juliette, you have been working your contacts inside Homeland Security, and the concern you are getting is not just on one threat, but really three different threat streams.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. So, there's three different threat streams going on now. So, there is the general holiday threat stream, which as Evan was saying it is not specific, but it's just -- it's holidays. People are getting together. Lots of airline travel.
There's been this specific threat stream related to ISIS over the last couple of weeks, and last couple of months. In the last two weeks, we've seen half a dozen attacks, most recently of course in Berlin.
And then you have the historic transition of a presidency and in democracies, transitions are always sort of nerve-racking times because an old team is leaving, a new team is coming in and we've seen it in particular in Spain about a decade ago attacks around elections. So those three streams that are I think causing this rightful increase alert and physical presence probably I would guess through inauguration.
BERMAN: You know, Art, along those lines what do you think security officials and enforcement agencies are doing today that they weren't doing prior to these attacks yesterday?
ART RODERICK, FORMER ASSIST. DIRECTOR OF THE U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE: Well I think -- I'm here in Boston this weekend and I talked to some law enforcement officials earlier today. And specifically was talking about this threat with the activity that the terrorist attack that occurred in Germany and how that's going to effect security here specifically in the Boston area. And, you know, they have first night here, which is a celebration around New Year's. They also have several other activities related to Christmas. And I know Boston P.D. and the Massachusetts State Police are putting more patrols out there. They're a lot more vigilant, a lot more aware of what's going on and they're trying to get the public to also be vigilant and be aware of their surroundings and what's going on especially at these large public events that draw a lot of people in this city.
BERMAN: And Juliette, you know, you can't protect every soft target in the country especially this time of year when so many people are out doing different things. So what do you do?
KAYYEM: Well, you don't think of security as on/off switch that, you know, either I'm safe or I'm not safe. I stay home or I go out. How we think about security is layered defenses, is that you wanted a bunch of different things in place that will minimize the risk to a population. So that includes surveillance, that includes intelligence sharing, barriers. See something, say something. Effective response plans, all of the different layers that go in to try to minimizing the risk of population. But you're never going to get that risk to zero unless you tell everyone to stay home. We're not going to live like that. We shouldn't live like that.
BERMAN: You know, Art, see something, say something Juliette just brought it up, obviously this was in the forefront of our mind after September 11th way back in 2001. Based on the enforcement agencies you talked to, are people still responding and being as helpful across the country?
RODERICK: Yes. And I -- they are being very responsive to the see something, say something. Which in a lot of cases have created some issues on reporting that we've seen in the past specifically regarding active shooter or a loud noises going on in certain facilities that have triggered an active shooter response from law enforcement. So I think people are listening to the see something, say something Homeland Security phrase that has definitely caught on and I think people have becoming a lot more vigilant about what's happening around them. And then when we have these alerts that come out around the holidays, I think everybody's, you know, observations go up another notch and especially when you have what happened in Germany ...
RODERICK: ... occurring just a couple of days ago.
BERMAN: Yeah, sensitivity level very, very high right now.
BERMAN: Juliette Kayyem, Art Roderick, thanks so much for being us.
So we know that the President elect is not a fan of the presidential daily brief. He said earlier this month he doesn't need to be told things every day because he's smart. That is what he said. So we wondered if he's getting the briefs and aftermath of the recent attacks that sprouted up around the world. We'll tell you what we know next. Also, we have new video just in from the deadly blast outside Mexico City. Stay with us.
[20:37:29] BERMAN: All right, we have new video just in detailing the devastation at a fireworks market north of Mexico City. It shows for the first time what it looks like from the ground. My goodness. As you could see, it really is just horrible. At least 29 people have been killed. Explosions just rocked the area, one after another after another. Dozens are injured and the death toll is going up fairly rapidly so we're watching it very, very closely and we're trying to speak to as many officials as we can on the ground there. And also speak to some witnesses as well. Again, this video just in. You can see the devastation on the ground there.
Rescue crews obviously picking through the rubble. You see people very, very concerned. This is a very large fireworks market in a town known for its pyrotechnics, known for the stalls and the fabulous displays that they have there. Again, we're going to go back to this when we get more information and get a new look at the scene there. So stay with us on that.
Back home, a spokesman for President-elect Donald Trump says he is closely monitoring the terror attacks in Germany and Turkey. But the Trump transition team will not say is whether he received his daily classified briefing today. You may remember we learned earlier this month that the President-elect was skipping the vast majority of the daily briefs taking just one a week than last week. His team said he was up to three times a week. CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now with the latest.
So Jeff, it sounds like the Trump camp is sort of playing kind of coy here with the details.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John we simply do not know exactly how he is getting his information. They did say he is closely monitoring this as you said and he is in regular contact with his National Security transition officials. But they would not answer if he received something that only he can receive as a presidential daily briefing. And again that is the document that the president receives every day and the president-elect is entitled to that as well. And that would be something that is given to him to, you know, present the nuances in security changes across the world in the wake certainly of those attacks happening in Germany and elsewhere. But his transition spokesman, Sean Spicer and others simply would not say if he received one today.
But John he is here in Mar-a-Lago. You can see it behind me. Here in Palm Beach, Florida. And it is not a facility. We do not believe that is equipped to deliver this type of sensitive information.
The Vice President-elect Mike Pence did received his briefing we're told in Washington. It's unclear if the President-elect and the Vice President-elect spoke. Or it's unclear if the President-elect spoke to President Obama who as, you know, is vacationing in Hawaii this week.
[20:40:10] BERMAN: So a limited amount of information at best. So if Donald Trump, the President-elect has not been receiving these formal security briefings, do we know what he has been doing?
ZELENY: John he is continuing to fill out his Cabinet. There are two more positions that remain open, the Ag Secretary and the Veterans Administration Secretary. And he did have two interviews today here at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach with potential candidates for the V.A. job. A central part of his campaign message really was to help the veterans. So I am told he is getting closer to filling those spots, as well as other White House spots, other staff positions, press secretary and others. So he has been having meetings. He of course also entertained here over the weekend Carlos Slim, that Mexican billionaire who he railed against during the campaign invited him here tomorrow Mar-a-Lago and Donald Trump tweeted this afternoon that Carlos Slim now is a great man. John?
BERMAN: All right, Jeff Zeleny for us in Palm Beach. Thanks so much, Jeff.
I want to bring in our panel right now. Joining me tonight, "Washington Post" Political Writer Phillip Bump and three of the finest CNN political commentators, Trump Supporter Kayleigh McEnany, Daily Caller Senior Contribution Matt Lewis, and Democratic Strategist Maria Cardona.
You know, Phillip Bump, today is the kind day, you would want a classified security briefing, there were attacks yesterday, you know, in Ankara in Turkey and Berlin. Not to mention the attacks over the weekend. The President-elect by not receiving this if he in fact did not receive it, we're getting sort of murky details from the Trump transition, would be missing key details?
PHILIP BUMP POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yeah, I mean obviously, he's not yet the president. So it is to some extent a different ball game than if he were the president of United States and not receiving briefing, we'll see what happens once he becomes president.
But I think if you look at what happened yesterday and you look he very much quickly took to Twitter and made some statements that were blaming radical Islamic terrorists. It's not clear if that was based on information he had received or if that was his assumption or where that came from in the moment that he was tweeting it and sending out these press releases and it raises the question. If he's not getting this information from intelligence staffers of United States government then where is he getting it from? And is he passing along information that maybe inaccurate? He has in the past obviously tweeted things that are not accurate including a bomb terror attacks. And I think that that in the moment is probably the more pressing concern.
You know, I mean once he's president, the real concern is he gets caught somewhere where he doesn't have his advisors handy and then he has to make a decision based on limited data.
BERMAN: Well, look, Kayleigh, he's not president yet as Philip said, but he's going to be in 30 days. He's got 30 days to study up. And, you know, there's a lot going on in the world right now. There are these attacks. It just seems to me that this would be the exact moment when you would want to get as much information as possible. Even, you know, even if you don't like sitting down. Even if some of it is repetitive and today it wouldn't be repetitive because there are these brand new attacks.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Look, we know it's not for lack of work ethic that he's not receiving these briefings on a daily basis. It is the repetition he had the problem with. So he says, you know, hey Mike Pence, you take this every day. I'll take it three times a week. He is being briefed every single day, sometimes twice a day ...
BERMAN: You know who's not going to be commander in chief in 30 days? Mike Pence.
MCENANY: Of course not. But he is being briefed every day and sometimes twice a day his National Security Adviser Mike Flynn by those around him, the generals around him and his inner circle. He is getting the information he needs and I'm confident that he's taking this seriously. Devin Nunes, the head of the House ...
BERMAN: He's getting briefed by people who are being briefed by other folks we think. You know, we don't know for sure, if Michael Flynn has been told by whom now -- I'm not questioning the military credentials or the security credentials of these folks, but they are not in the intelligence service right now, today, getting the very latest information from the ground in Berlin, the very latest information from the ground in Ankara, talking to diplomats around the world and the people doing the classified briefings are. It just seems to me that you would want this information no matter what.
MCENANY: And he is getting this information and the form he's getting it in is his choice. And let me assure you the people he assembled are the brightest. Mike Flynn was the one when Obama was calling ISIS JV, saying al-Qaeda is on the run, Mike Flynn was the guys sending the alarm. ISIS is a real problem. This is the person who's funneling this information through for Donald Trump.
BERMAN: We don't know what Mike Flynn is telling him. We do know that the classified briefings would be telling him exactly what's going on around the world from the very U.S. Intelligence officials who are on the ground there.
MCENANY: We in the media don't know a lot. What we do know though are those who know far more than us like Devin Nunes, the head of House Intel Committee, assure us that Donald Trump is taking national security very seriously.
BERMAN: Devin Nunes is getting security briefing.
BERMAN: Donald Trump is not doing it every day. We don't know if he did it at all today. You know, Matt Lewis again, I'm not questioning Mike Flynn's security credentials. You know, he's a decorated general. James Mattis, same thing. Although I don't think James Mattis is briefing the President-elect every day just for Michael Flynn is said to be, but no matter who he is, he's a filter. He's a filter between the people who are getting the information directly and the President-elect. Don't you want to on days of extreme importance like today remove that filter?
[20:45:00] MATT LEWIS, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, THE DAILY CALLER: I would prefer that he remove that filter. Althrough I'm not worried about this. I think that he's getting it a couple, two to three times a week. He has surrounded himself -- he's not president yet as we've noted. He is surrounding himself with people like General Flynn, General Mattis. And I also think, do you know who has been getting these briefings, President Obama, who is totally botched the Middle East and really created a vacuum ...
BERMAN: But this isn't about President Obama.
LEWIS: Well, my point though was having all of this information is the end all and be all, it didn't work for President Obama who created really a catastrophe in Syria.
BERMAN: So you go in with less -- the idea would be go in with less information?
LEWIS: No, I'm not saying that.
LEWIS: I'm saying that President Trump obviously needs information, obviously needs to head up, you know, intel. However, you also need to have the right instincts and you also need to have the right foreign policy. And President Obama had information, but he lacked the other ingredient.
BERMAN: Again, I understand what you're saying right there. I know you don't approve of the President's foreign policy. I still don't understand the argument that less information will be ...
LEWIS: I'm not making an argument ...
BERMAN: Maria Cordona, your take on this? I imagine that maybe different.
MARIA CORDONA, 2008 CAMPAIGN ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: Yeah, I think it's incredibly disturbing. And I actually think that President-elect has a tremendous opportunity here to convince the -- frankly more Americans that voted against him than voted for him that he actually is ready to take on the position of commander in chief. Not just ready but interested.
One of the things, one of the narratives that I think Donald Trump not taking the security briefings is really underscoring that was alive and well during the campaign is that he doesn't really care about these security briefings. He doesn't really care about what's going on around the world. Now hang on. But it was something that a lot of people who were voting against him thought about him in terms of his lack of awareness, his lack of details. Because he would say I'm going to surround myself with great people. I don't need to know this myself. He even said this, "I don't need to take the security briefings every day. I'm a smart person." But the fact that three events exploded the day that he was elected by the electors to be commander in chief I think underscores the kind of complicated and nuanced world that he is going to be inheriting. He doesn't do ...
(CROSSTALK) BERMAN: That's the last part. The fact that so many new things had just happened, you'd want to find out that new information. Again just to be clear, we do know he had been receiving one a week, then up to three a week. We don't know if for sure what he received today, but they didn't say, yes, I mean, they didn't say yes, he'd been receiving and again today would be that very type of day when you would want that newest latest.
MCENANY: And he had -- this purely speculation to suggest that he didn't get it.
BERMAN: Again, we don't know for sure.
BUMP: But we do know, we do know he's not getting them ...
Cardona: I think the campaign would say so.
BUMP: I would just point out that Maria said -- used a word, which I think is great word, which is nuance. Donald Trump did not display a lot of nuance around foreign policy on the campaign trail. Sort of prides himself from lack of nuance. There's a lot of nuance that he would be getting from this presidential daily briefings and if he's getting it through Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn is also not known for his nuance.
MCENANY: And by way, Michael Flynn is known for pointing out ISIS when everybody else was under estimating ISIS. And if -- for the last, if you're so worried that Donald Trump is so unknowledgeable and doesn't know the things he needs to know, you should be thrilled ...
CORDONA: Yes, we are worried about that.
MCENANY: ... you should be thrilled that he is getting information through some of our nation's experts.
CORDONA: I'm actually not thrilled by Michael Flynn who by the way, you know, what he did during the campaign, tweeted and retweeted fake news.
BERMAN: Well, OK, that's why he is the National Security Advisor. He is the person who can be giving advice to Donald Trump. The issue is should Donald Trump be getting the information from the official services right now? We will have this discussion probably again over the next 30 days.
Guys, thanks so much for being with us.
Up next, the witness to the assassination here from the photographer who took these images as a gunman shot and killed Russia's ambassador to Turkey what he was thinking as it all unfolded its chilling. Plus, there's new video of the gunman before he opened fire. All that in the latest on the investigation when "360" continues.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:52:02] BERMAN: Tonight, new information about the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey, a new video showing the gunman behind his victim before he opened fire. You can see right there, the ambassador was speaking at the art gallery in Ankara. Witnesses thought the man, who you see highlighted, was part of the ambassador's security detail. He certainly looks like he was. As we now know, though -- now know, it was the exact opposite. The Associated Press photographer who was there, Burhan Ozbilici, he took these images of the killer in action. He says he partially hid behind the wall while he was doing it. He also said it took him a few seconds to realize that the ambassador was dead. We spoke to him just after the attack. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: How did you find the courage to take the photos right in the middle of this horror?
BURHAN OZBILICI, ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER: I remember that I'm a journalist. I have a responsibility to record, to cover and to inform people and so I belong to a generation of journalists who sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan and lastly in Syria. So I feel always like a journalist, whatever I am, wherever I go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Remarkable and chilling images, a journalist doing his job, even when his life was very much in danger. Now an update on the investigation into the gunman, CNN's Nic Robertson joins us now from Turkey.
And Nic, the man behind this attack, what more are you learning about him and do you have any better sense of -- was he working alone or not?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Really, at the moment, a lot of unanswered questions, John. I mean what we've got from the government so far, he is a 22-year-old policeman. He had been for the last two and a half years with the riot police. The authorities have brought in for questioning his mother, his father, his sister, a couple of uncles, some other close relatives and one of his friends, but at the moment, there's no evidence coming from the government of precisely what they're finding. They say they have found books in his apartment relating to al-Qaeda. They say they have found books in his apartment relating to the group that the government accused it as being behind the coup here last summer, the government also going to his hometown talking to friends who he was at high school with, going to his high school talking to some of his college mates as well.
So, you know, the government is looking into his background, the foreign minister told John Kerry that in fact, that he was connected with the -- the gunman was connected with the group that was behind the coup last year. And of course that, big picture wise, is really, you know, a bit of a putdown for the United States, because the Turkish authorities continue to ask the United States to hand over the man they say was responsible for the coup. So by saying this gunman was part of that same thing puts a distance between them and the United States, at the same time as Turkey is getting much closer to Russia. John?
[20:55:02] BERMAN: And about that relationship, Nic, you know, we know before this attack, Russia had been scheduled to sit down with Turkey and also Iran to talk about the situation in Syria. Did this meeting go on as planned?
ROBERTSON: Sure. It went on in Moscow, the Foreign Minister -- Russian Foreign Minister, Iranian Foreign Minister, Turkish Foreign Minister. Look, these are the guys who believe that they hold all the principle cards in Syria. Now, Turkey on the one hand has been supporting the opposition to Assad, one of the rebel groups, some of the moderate and the conservative rebel groups. They've been supporting Russia, of course, supporting Assad, backed by Iran, backed by Shia Militias from Iraq, from Lebanon, from other places, as well.
So, you know, effectively, what they believe, they have at the table is the big powers behind the players on the battlefield in Syria and therefore they think they can work out at peace here. But there was a message from the Russians as well for the United States, but John Kerry during all of this big meeting, the message was the United States hasn't been doing enough. We, Russia, and our allies can fix this. United States hasn't been playing a good and positive role here, John, that was the message.
BERMAN: And the United States not even at the table for those meetings. Nic Robertson, thank you very, very much.
In the next hour of "360", an update on our breaking news out of Mexico, a deadly explosion at a fireworks market at least 29 people killed. A huge search and rescue effort now underway.