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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With California Congressman Darrell Issa; President Obama's Last Moves; German Terror Investigation; Turkey Assassination Probe; At Least Nine Dead in Fireworks Market Explosion. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: New York and other major cities are ramping up security, fearing that holiday events may be vulnerable to terrorists. We're getting new information about potential threats.

Russian roundup. After the assassination of Moscow's ambassador to Turkey, Vladimir Putin is putting terrorists on notice. The gunman's relatives have been detained, as new evidence of a terror connection is uncovered.

And under the wire. President Obama is racing to advance his agenda before his time in office runs out. Can he stop Donald Trump from undoing his legacy or at least slow him down?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We're following breaking news.

ISIS takes credit for the Christmas market attack, claiming it inspired the driver who plowed into a Berlin square, killing 12 people. Tonight, the attacker is still at large and the terrorist manhunt is intensifying after German authorities apparently arrested the wrong man. He has now been released.

Police say they didn't find any forensic evidence that he drove that truck. And tonight big cities across Europe and also here in the United States are stepping up security at Christmas markets and other holiday gatherings.

In New York, police have moved critical response teams to high-profile locations around the city.

And we're also following the terror investigation in Turkey after the assassination of the Russian ambassador, new video showing the gunman standing right behind the ambassador before opening fire. State-run media in Turkey reporting now that a search of the shooter's home turned up books on al Qaeda and other extremist -- another extremist group. Seven people have been detained at this point for questioning. That

includes the gunman's parents, as well as other relatives.

And tonight a spokesman says president-elect Trump is closely monitoring the aftermath of the attacks in Germany and Turkey, but transition officials won't say exactly how Mr. Trump is getting information or whether he received his official classified daily intelligence briefing today.

I will ask House Foreign Affairs Committee member Darrell Issa about the terror attacks, as well as Donald Trump's response.

And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by as we bring you full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, though, to CNN international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen. He is in Berlin for us.

Give us the latest on this investigation, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hi, Brianna.

And the German authorities had a man in custody very quickly after this attack took place, a 23-year-old Pakistani who had come to German as a refugee. But then they uncovered a lot of forensic evidence inside the cab of that truck that plowed through the Christmas market and found out that none of it linked this man to that specific attack.

So, now it appears as though they're starting back from square one. They say they're not sure where or not it was an individual who perpetrated the attack or whether there might be a larger organization behind all this.

At the same time, as you mentioned, ISIS now coming forward and saying at the very least they feel responsible for the attack because of some of the propaganda that they put out in the past. Here's what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN (voice-over): ISIS now says it was the inspiration behind a deadly attack in Berlin, where this large black truck plowed through a holiday market, killing at least a dozen people and injuring nearly 50 more on Monday.

Now German officials say the driver and others could still be on the loose, possibly armed and willing to kill.

HOLGER MUNCH, GERMAN FEDERAL CRIMINAL POLICE OFFICE (through translator): We do not know if there was one perpetrator or several perpetrators yet. We do not know if there was support given to the perpetrator. We possibly need to assume that we have not arrested the right one, but we have not fully clarified this.

PLEITGEN: Police had detained a foreign national who entered the country as a refugee last summer. But according to the prosecutor, that man has now been released because the investigations -- quote -- "have not produced imminent suspicion against him."

With no one in custody, clues inside the truck raise even more questions. The body of a Polish man was found shot in the passenger seat. The truck company's owner fears it is his cousin, the truck's regular driver.

ARIEL ZURAWSKI, TRUCK COMPANY OWNER (through translator): They did something to him, God forbid, so it looks. My wife spoke to his wife. She could not get through to him. Something was wrong.

PLEITGEN: The gun is nowhere to be found. Investigators are interviewing witnesses for more leads.

The scene is reminiscent of the deadly ISIS attack in Nice, France, last July; 86 were killed there when a truck plowed through the promenade. Just last month, the U.S. State Department warned travelers of an ISIS threat in Europe, writing -- quote -- "U.S. citizens should exercise caution at holiday festivals, events and outdoor markets."

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): You must as things stand now assume it was a terrorist attack.

PLEITGEN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a visit to the silenced holiday market today. She is facing increased criticism since the attack for Germany's wide acceptance of refugees. More than 890,000 asylum seekers have been accepted into German in the past year.

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MERKEL (through translator): We don't want to live with the fear of evil paralyzing us. Even if that's difficult right now, we will find the force to live the life we want to live in Germany, free, together and open.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PLEITGEN: And, Brianna, many people that we have been speaking to here around the scene throughout the course of the day say they feel vulnerable after this attack took place.

They say, look, there are so many people who to go Christmas markets. It is a huge gathering. They feel like it is an area where they feel like a soft target. At the same time, of course, the authorities here giving out a public warning, saying, look, the people who are behind this, or the person behind this possibly still at large, very probably still armed.

They say at this point in time people should be very vigilant and if they see anything, don't try to act on their own, but definitely contact police as fast as possible -- Brianna

KEILAR: All right, Frederik Pleitgen, thank you so much reporting for us from a very windy Berlin there. There is growing concern tonight about security at holiday gatherings,

other big events here in the United States. You heard Frederik talk about it. It is also a concern domestically after what happened in Berlin.

I want to bring in now our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

What precautions are we seeing being made in the U.S.?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, you have already seen the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies are increasing security as we're getting ready for Christmas and New Year's celebrations, and here in Washington the upcoming presidential inauguration one month from now.

But what's interesting is that the intelligence and law enforcement agencies we talked to, they are not seeing the spike in threats and chatter and possible plots as we have seen around this time. For instance, last year, there were a number of threats that had authorities very, very concerned during the holiday festivities, but none of those ended up panning out.

The inauguration is always a big concern, and this one in particular because of the divisive rhetoric during the 2016 campaign.

KEILAR: What about abroad? Are there terror concerns there, worries that there could be more terror attacks?

PEREZ: Absolutely.

There's tremendous concern about the European countries in particular and intelligence showing plots, including some that have direction from Syria. We often hear that ISIS is losing territory and under pressure in Iraq and Syria. But U.S. intelligence officials say that that hasn't completely shut down some of their command-and-control capabilities.

Now, there's still some communications between organizers and Syria and foot soldiers in Europe. And in the past month, we have seen plots thwarted in the Balkans and Germany and there's also major concern about possible threats in France and elsewhere in the continent.

KEILAR: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much. We do appreciate it.

I want to talk more about all of this with Republican Congressman Darrell Issa. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. And he is lovely enough to join us right now.

So, Congressman, talk to us about this, specifically the threat in the U.S., not just globally, this holiday season. What are the concerns?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: The concern is that ISIS has become better at what they do, that, in fact, their network may be diminished in some regions, but it has become a more capable worldwide organization, particularly one that does comparatively minor, but easy-to-set-up, easy-to-execute assassinations, whether it is one individual such as in Turkey or a truck such as in Berlin.

These so-called lone, sometimes lone wolves in fact are very effective in setting terror on a random basis. It is part of reason that in fact what we have not done for the last eight years needs to be reversed in the Trump administration.

KEILAR: New York has heightened security in the wake of the attack. Should other cities followed suit?

ISSA: Well, I think it is important that we look at homeland security as not hardening one target, but looking at broadly as you can for any opportunity and then focusing on those whenever they can find a shred of evidence.

If you think about it, Brianna, over the last number of years, the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the last eight years have in fact always had some indications, some misstep where it could have been spotted, some mistake that was made.

And so to a great extent, if you're sitting in New York City, you're just a cop on the beat looking for someone pulling a gun or driving a truck. However, if you're at the intelligence level, these agencies, you can re-comb through and look for new indicators, particularly in light of these last several attacks around the world.

KEILAR: You said it before. You were a critic obviously of the Obama administration and how it has handled this issue domestically.

What do you expect is going to be different about the results of Donald Trump's domestic counterterrorism efforts compared to the Obama administration's, the results, not just the approach, but the results?

ISSA: Absolutely.

Well, I think we have to look at approach as part of the results. First of all, president-elect Trump has vowed to take fight to ISIS around the world, which makes the domestic job inherently easier.

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Second of all, he's nominated a general because he thinks there needs to be an organizational reform of the Department of Homeland Security. And I couldn't agree with him more. As much as there are good men and women at for example, TSA, it is a large organization, often found to be poorly organized and certainly not having the kind of discipline that allows them to predictably catch what should be caught and get people through in an expeditious basis.

So, I see those as domestic command-and-control. And, by the way, I'm not coming on this show to talk about domestic work having been poorly done. I think it could be done better. The real failure of the Obama administration is the failure of the State Department to take serious the growth of terrorism. It is a failure of our military to be deployed in an efficient

fashion. And those two areas, the State Department and the Department of Defense, will be the major areas of taking fight to ISIS, both individually, as our military, and coordinating with allies that we can find in this war on terror.

And we are going to be calling it again a war on terror. We're going to be talking about Islamic terrorism, so that we can define the enemy not as every Muslim, but as every Muslim terrorist.

And that's going to be a big change.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: What did you make of his statement then yesterday as he talked about this? Because he did seem to walk, some have said, dangerously close to making this look like a religious war in a way, which some say is exactly what ISIS wants. They want to draw the U.S. into disparaging all of Islam, so that there can be this division between the Islamic world and the U.S. and allies.

ISSA: Well, when president-elect Trump made one of the most important meetings before the election, the last one before the election with President El-Sisi when he was in New York, he dealt with a man who is a Muslim, a man who is a leader of the largest Arab state, and who in fact is dealing with Islamic terrorism, several varieties, ISIS in the Sinai and the Muslim Brotherhood.

And I think it was very clear that president-elect Trump wants to work with Islamic leaders around the world. He doesn't blame the religion, but he does blame how the religion has been distorted and in fact has recruited people to commit terrible crimes.

And, by the way, that puts him perfectly aligned with President El- Sisi and other leaders in the region that we are going to have to count on to work with us.

KEILAR: You talk about Donald Trump is going to take the fight to ISIS and that's something that will differentiate him from how President Obama has approached this.

How is he going to be different about that? Is this an expanded military effort?

ISSA: Well, certainly, this is asymmetric warfare.

It is one of the reasons that tapping retired Marine General "Mad Dog" Mattis makes a lot of sense. This is somebody who saw how ineffective mass troops can be and how effective small units properly prepared to go in...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: But President Obama is doing that now. We're seeing -- we have got special forces over in the region. And that's the pivot that has already been made. So, how is what Donald Trump planning to do going to be any different

than that? There are not mass forces in Iraq and Syria.

ISSA: Well, there aren't enough forces in Iraq and Syria.

This administration that pulled all the forces out of Iraq has now made it clear that we need to leave forces in Iraq. But they haven't yet made the changes in the treatment of Sunni and Kurds in Iraq that are going to cause those people to truly rally behind fixing what's wrong in Iraq.

So, when I said earlier, Brianna, that there is a diplomatic component that has to be reinvigorated at the State Department, in addition to the military, they need to go hand in hand.

There's no question it is a big job. We are behind where we were eight years ago. I think anyone would admit that in fact we are. But we do know one thing. We know we can defeat these organizations. What we need to do is defeat them and keep them defeated.

And that's where I think that important meeting with President El-Sisi went on, a man who is fighting both ISIS in the Sinai and the Muslim Brotherhood that showed their hand when they had control of the government in Egypt.

And that's one of many examples. Obviously, you and I don't have enough time on this show to talk about Syria and the complexity of fixing something that has been a failure to fix, if you will, under two administrations.

We have dealt with Bashar Assad now for 16 years and failed to find a way either to get rid of him or reform him to where he doesn't abuse his people.

[18:15:00]

KEILAR: I know you said we don't have time to deal with it, but actually I'm going to get a quick break in, and we're going to take some time on the other side of the break to talk about the complexity of solving the Syria problem.

We will be right back with Congressman Darrell Issa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We have some breaking news.

We're getting some dramatic video just in. I want you to listen to this. You can hear these explosions at a fireworks market north of Mexico City.

It's almost surreal, but we know now that dozens of people have been injured by this explosion. Emergency responders are there on the scene. Of course, this is developing, so we will bring you more details as we get them. That's a story coming to us out of Mexico City. House Foreign Affairs Committee member Darrell Issa is back with us

now.

Congressman, we're going to talk more in just a moment. Hang tight with me there.

Right now, though, we have an update on the terror investigation unfolding right now in Turkey after the assassination of the Russian ambassador in the capital.

And CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joining us live now from Ankara.

So, tell us, Nic, what you're learning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Brianna, the Russian investigation team is here.

They have been working with their Turkish counterparts. They went into the building a few hours ago, the building behind me where the murder took place. They didn't seem to spend too long there.

But we know from Turkish authorities that they say the attacker was a 22-year-old policeman, that he had been trained as a riot policeman in the past couple of years. They have arrested or detained his parents, his mother, his father, his sister, a couple other close relatives, a roommate and another friend.

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Usual. That's usual here in Turkey in situations like this that family members will be brought up. It doesn't mean to say that they're actually guilty of anything at this stage.

but what we're learning from, from government media outlets is that the investigation is going back to this young policeman's hometown. They're going to his high school. They're going to his high school friends. They're trying to learn more about his college friends as well to build a picture of him.

One of the narratives that is emerging -- this is coming from the foreign minister -- is saying they believe, the government now believes he was connected with this large group of alleged coup plotters last summer. Just big picture on that, what this does, when the foreign minister says that, it drives a wedge between Turkey and the United States and puts Turkey much closer, as we have been hearing, to Russia at this time -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that update in Turkey. We do appreciate it.

And we're back now with Congressman Darrell Issa. He's a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

And I want to see what you think, Congressman, about how these two key players, Turkey and Russia, when you're talking about ISIS and you're talking about Syria, how they move forward from here. It seems like they're saying we are not going to let this attack affect relations.

But there is also a lot of anger here. Is this going to change any of the dynamics when it comes to the fight against ISIS and the conflict in Syria?

ISSA: Well, you mentioned before the break Syria and getting into it.

Turkey has been critical to that. Turkey was a problem in 2003 when we went into Iraq. And we have continued to have a challenging relationship with this NATO ally.

Certainly, Turkey even before the Russian engagement had, if you will, bright lines that they kept putting down about what they would or wouldn't cooperate with us on in the engagement in Syria.

And part of the reason is that the fact is that they take a huge amount of refugees and that they are a moderate Islamic government. Some would debate how moderate it is. But, clearly, that's one of their challenges is that that government finds itself in a precarious position to maintain power and balance in an increasingly difficult Islamic world, particularly in that region.

KEILAR: Yesterday, we saw the president-elect really quick to point the finger of blame at Islamic terrorists, both in Berlin and in the incident in Turkey, before there was any information that had been released.

I have talked to a lot of people, Congressman, who said, well, he was probably right. But there is also a possibility he could have been wrong and that's really the point. So, is this a responsible thing for the president-elect to do?

ISSA: I think the important to look at the pivot that president-elect Trump has taken since the election.

In so many areas, he has made changes as he goes through putting together a Cabinet, putting together a national security team and so on. And so he has made that one step. Obviously, he is still not the president. And every time he does something that is presidential, people tend to say, well, is that his right before January 20 at noon?

And they have a point. In this case, he is not the president. He is still to a certain extent dealing with the reality of sending a message about how he will deal with things.

I think, to your point, on January 20, after noon, there will have to be some changes in a message put out by the president. And I'm confident that president-elect Trump will make that pivot, just as he has made the pivot to choosing an extremely good Cabinet thus far.

KEILAR: Specifically, what do you look at that says to you he has really made a pivot, he has made changes that more people should have faith in?

ISSA: Well, I think, again, when you look at both his national security team and now his Cabinet appointments, he has made a decision on a superb manager to go in and deal with the State Department, which has been dysfunctional in its basic missions.

He certainly has made a great selection for the secretary of defense. And we could go through each of them. Each of them has been carefully chosen after a fairly exhaustive...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: You didn't mention his national security adviser there.

ISSA: Well, General Flynn and K.T. are -- these are very, very respected individuals.

And they're part, they will be part of a larger team he's putting together. He still has yet to get a DNI and some other positions. And part of reason is, is that if he doesn't think he has got, as did he with secretary of state, he had some very good examples.

But he reshuffled the deck and asked to go again and again until he found somebody that he really wanted that could be a real change agent.

[18:25:03]

That is part of what he's been doing in the short period of time., focusing on that. Does he still tweet in an almost campaign mode? Absolutely. Will there be some changes on January 20 and beyond? Of course.

But I think you have to understand this is somebody who is still putting in, even as he sits in Florida, more than 15 hours a day of presidential-type work in putting together his Cabinet, getting briefed and so on.

But he's also somebody who has sought to get independent information. He probably watches you and this show more than any president in history because he in fact watches and takes his material in, in his very long days. This is a 20-hour-a-day president.

I have served with the two previous presidents during their entire term. And I don't think anybody would say that they were as businesslike for 20 hours a day with very little sleep as this president will be.

KEILAR: But you cite him watching news, and yet he has access to the presidential daily briefing and isn't taking that on the regular basis that we have seen it before.

How does watching cable news substitute for an incredible amount of detailed information that he could be getting?

ISSA: Well, he and a number of members of his team are being briefed up.

But let's remember, this is an administration who has politicized national intelligence and we're dealing with that. We're dealing with, if you will, an administration that, if you believe the administration...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Congressman, I just have to stop you there. Do you think Donald Trump has not politicized intel? You're saying this administration has.

But Donald Trump has cast doubt on the intelligence that is agreed by -- across all of the intelligence agencies about Russia being behind these hackings that we have seen recently. How is he not politicizing intelligence?

ISSA: Brianna, I appreciate what you're saying. Unfortunately, what you're saying simply isn't supported by direct statements. The press is making these statements. But let's put it in perspective.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: You're the press is saying, but the FBI and the CIA are not being clear in any way about who they believe is behind the hackings?

ISSA: The agencies, and we will take all 17 for a moment, plus the FBI, apparently had information for months or before about Russia's activities. They have had eight years almost to the day of running the show under this president.

This president now wants to blame Donald Trump, who has not yet taken any authority over those agencies, they want to blame him for the Russian hacking.

The fact is...

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: I don't think they're blaming -- I don't think they're blaming him for the hacking. But he is not even admitting that Russia was behind the hacking.

And point taken. I think a lot of people agree with you. They say this wasn't emphasized before and it has been after the election by the administration. But there was an intelligence community assessment that talked about this, obviously the hacking. And I just -- I don't see how the facts are lining up with what you're asserting.

ISSA: Brianna, a good example would be Devin Nunes, who is the chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee, is outraged that what they're being told after the election bears little resemblance to I believe it was an October 7 briefing.

And he is calling for the reforms to make sure that Congress, especially gang at the top, in fact get a level of briefing, because there is a real question. If the administration's position today is accurate, then there was a huge failure to lead and do their job leading up to it.

And that's an important item. But let's remember -- and you have heard this before. Nobody told Hillary Clinton to be lazy and not go to Wisconsin, to in fact conspire with members of the Democratic National Committee to disenfranchise Bernie Sanders.

Those were mistakes made that have very little to do with Russia and nothing to do with Donald Trump.

KEILAR: Certainly. But he is still -- and I think that's a point well made and many have said that.

But Donald Trump is asserting that you have no idea if Russia is behind this. And yet that briefing you talk about on October 7 talks about the responsibility of Russia. He is saying, who knows who it is? Maybe it is Russia, maybe it is China, maybe it is somebody at home.

How is that not politicizing intelligence? And how is that leadership?

ISSA: Well, I think-- I think you have to look at it on balance. Obviously, WikiLeaks has said that much of the information they leaked came from a disgruntled Democratic staff member. That has as much credibility, quite frankly, as indirect statements from the intelligence community.

[18:30:17] KEILAR: But you've read -- you've read the well-reported "New York Times" story where it talks specifically about Russian hackers identified by very odd monikers, Fuzzy Bear, Fancy Bear. But these are hackers. And they are described very well and in detail. I mean, are you saying that all of that is rubbish? That that is not true?

ISSA: Not at all. What I'm saying is that "The New York Times" is not a source. They are an opinion. The fact is the president can and should get together the intelligence community, declassify such information as is necessary to both inform the American people and confront the Russians.

And even though he's in his waning days, he should have a real plan to confront these people he has worked and trusted to keep an Iran nuclear free. To deal with Assad and actually fight ISIS, rather than fighting those who would not be happy with Bashar Assad maintaining power.

So, you know, it's very late in the process for the president to say, "I'm shocked that the evil empire is still evil." They have been hacking on us. They have been spying on us. That is a known. The real -- the real surprise is that the president waited until after the election to accuse Russia, effectively, of not having his chosen replacement be elected, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Hillary Clinton lost an election because she lost an election. And I'm -- by the way, I am not briefed to a level where I'm going to have an opinion on everything that Russia did. But I have been briefed for many years in the past, and I would say that it is no surprise to me that Russia is continuing to undermine our process at every possibility. And certainly takes advantage in Turkey, in Syria, in Iraq, in Iran, and anywhere they can to have their very small economies, smaller than Italy's look big by making us look bad. It's one of the problems we have in our relationship, and it's one that has to be fixed.

Because as we said before the break, if we're going on fix Syria, we have to figure out a way to have Syria respect its minorities and have, in fact, have the majority have a say in their government. That's a very delicate piece of diplomacy that we haven't been working on for the last, at least, eight years and maybe some beyond, that we need to reengage on. It's very clear that Russia is not a good partner in that at this time. And if we're going to have a partner in Russia, we're going to have to change the rules of our relationship.

KEILAR: All right. Congressman Darrel Issa, thank you so much. You've been incredibly generous with your time.

I will just say it is possible, and we'll continual this conversation in the future, that Hillary Clinton lost the election on her merits, and also that Russia did meddle, did a very bad thing, which is proven, which Donald Trump is not acknowledging, in fact. So we'll continue that conversation ahead, and I look forward to it. Darrell Issa, thank you so much.

ISSA: I do, too.

KEILAR: All right. And just ahead, our terrorism experts on the Christmas market rampage and the danger of a copycat attack here in the United States.

And then more on President-elect Donald Trump's response to the new wave of terror. Where is he getting his information?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:37:11] KEILAR: We're back now with the breaking news, ISIS claiming that it inspired the deadly attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. The driver of the truck that plowed into a crowded square is still at large tonight.

I want to bring in our experts. We have CNN national security commentator Mike Rogers. He's the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And we also have Evelyn Farkas with us. She is the former deputy assistant defense secretary.

OK. So we look at this attack, Chairman, and I think the first thing everyone thinks is, this is so easy for someone to pull off. And this could happen anywhere.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Yes, unfortunately. And we saw back in 2015, Adnani, who is one of the leading spokesmen for ISIS, came out with a long litany of things that he wanted his followers to do. He said, if you can't get an IED, if you can't get a bullet, he listed a whole bunch of horrible things, including using vehicles, to do this.

And so we saw a pattern in 2014 where they actually used it. Then they doubled down in 2015 and said, yes, we want people to do it. I think what you're seeing here is a result of that conversation.

KEILAR: We have General Mark Hertling joining us. He's one of our CNN military analysts. And General, I know you lived in Germany for 12 years. You've actually been to this Christmas market. I know a lot of people are wondering, how did this guy escape with so many people around?

GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's a very constricted space, Brianna, this platz (ph). When you put the stalls up during the Christmas market, it becomes even more restricted. And they had quite a few barriers around there as they do around most of these markets.

So, you know, with the chaos of the situation, for a guy to drive a large truck through, and then have a lot of damage after it and jump out while the trauma is still going on and escape is pretty good.

But what -- but I'd also like to make a comment, too, that I had a lot of dealings with the various intelligence agencies in Germany -- the BND, which is their equivalent of the CIA; the BFB, which is their equivalent of the FBI; and even their MAD, which is their -- their counterintelligence force in the military. They are very good. They've gotten better over the last several years. and I think they've been doing quite a few things to avoid these kind of attacks. And this is one of those kind of things. As Phil Mudd said earlier, it's just really tough to avoid all of them.

KEILAR: You just -- you can't. That's what we hear over and over, Evelyn, from people. And I wonder, do you worry? Is there a concern that this will inspire others, that there's going to be copycats?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: Yes, I mean, I think this is why it's really important for to us find out exactly what the president-elect has planned when he talks about his terrorism policy. And, you know, he said he has this great idea, and it's a secret plan. There's one element, of course, that's international. You know, he said he's going to bomb ISIS. That's great. But what else is he going to do to make sure that we don't get Americans who are radicalized, so that people are not susceptible to the messages they're receiving from overseas? Because unfortunately, the climate could shift very quickly, if he's not careful.

[18:40:11] KEILAR: Chairman, there was a State Department warning that we saw a while back. Americans traveling in Europe during the holiday season. Is this attack, is there any link between that? Or is this just in general a threat, where something like this happening in Berlin is -- becomes, unfortunately, expected, although unexpected?

ROGERS: Well, no. There was a link. So they knew at the time there's a lot of chatter going on. Meaning they were picking up lots of signs from other terrorist groups and cells saying about activities that would step up around November, December. That's why the State Department came out and made a pretty -- pretty pointed warning.

And when you do that, that tells you that they've got a level of information that concerns them enough that might scare people away from going to these areas, right? You say be careful about traveling to markets. Well, and this obviously was a targeted market. That tells me that the State Department, through the intelligence agencies, had information. Didn't know exactly when, didn't know exactly where; but they were planning activities just like this.

KEILAR: ISIS now, General Hertling, has in a way, claimed responsibility. They called whoever did this a soldier of ISIS. Now we know, right, that that doesn't necessarily mean this is ISIS- organized, but this just reinforces that possibility that so many people may be inspired by ISIS to carry out an attack like this.

HERTLING: Well, they are inspired by it. We can't connect the dots just yet. They will when they eventually, hopefully, catch the person who was driving the truck.

But Brianna, ISIS is the kind of organization that is going to claim responsibility any time they get a chance. This is just another one.

And to comment on what Congressman Rogers just said, there are markets like this in every large community and every small village throughout Europe.

So the State Department probably had the chatter, but boy, once again, it's hard to nail it down. And ISIS, with any kind of action like this, will say, "Hey, it's another success. We didn't know it was going to take place. We didn't know where it was going to take place or who was going to do it," but they can certainly claim that they inspired it.

KEILAR: What do we do, just as folks who are going about our business during the holidays? And I know -- I hear, and it's depressing, over and over, there's only so much you can do. But there has to be something, right?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, it's all personal awareness. I would not stop what you're doing.

KEILAR: So vigilance.

ROGERS: And personal -- but your own personal awareness. You need to -- just as you would give any of your children the good caution speech about being aware of your surroundings anywhere you go if you're at the mall or you're off to college, or you're off to school, you have to -- every day you get up, you just need to have that personal awareness space to understand, you know, if I'm going to get stuck in a crowded space, where do I go if something bad happens? And really, it's a sad part to say that, but most people would be better off if they think that problem through before they get to where they're going.

KEILAR: All right. We will take our own advice. Evelyn, Chairman, General, do appreciate all of you joining us today.

And just ahead, did the president-elect make a rush to judgment? Tonight the Trump camp is defending his claim that radical terrorists are behind the new terror attacks overseas, even before information revealing that.

And we'll have an update on this. A stunning explosion at a fireworks market. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:47:10] KEILAR: We're getting new information on a breaking story. Explosions tearing through a crowded fireworks market.

Police say at least nine people have been killed in this blast north of Mexico City. That death count just in and, of course, still developing. At least 70 people have been injured at this point.

This is an emergency that is still unfolding right now. There are first responders at the scene. So, those numbers can possibly change and they're fearing, authorities are, that the number of dead and injured is going to continue to rise. We'll have more details on this and we'll bring them to you as we get them.

And we're also following breaking news on the terror attacks in Germany and Turkey. This includes a claim by ISIS that it inspired the truck rampage at a Christmas market in Berlin. Tonight, a Trump spokesman says the president-elect is closely monitoring the situation from his home in Florida.

We have CNN's Jessica Schneider with more on this.

And, Jessica, Trump has not spoken out publicly in person, certainly. He has been tweeting. Tell us about that.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna. Trump has been tweeting a stern condemnation of those attacks. He tweeted it right after they happened. But Trump's transition team declined to say whether he is receiving those daily classified briefings, only saying that he is briefed every day by his pick for national security adviser, retired General Mike Flynn. Now, meanwhile, Trump also taking to Twitter to lash out at former President Bill Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The president-elect spending the week in Palm Beach, but taking to Twitter to condemn the attacks in Europe and Ankara, Turkey. "Today, there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking."

Trump calling it all terror before European officials had tied the attacks to any terror groups. Trump's team says he's conferred with his national security advisers.

SEAN SPICER, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He's closely monitoring and being briefed on this rapidly unfolding event.

SCHNEIDER: But transition officials have not answered repeated inquiries from CNN on whether he received a daily classified briefing since the attacks. Just hours after the violence, the incoming president involved Islamic terror, saying in a statement, "ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad."

Trump's team says describing the threat in those terms is necessary.

SPICER: Mr. Trump has made it very clear, he understands the threat that radical Islamic terrorism poses to our nation and frankly to our friends and neighbors around the globe and that we've got to be able to call it what it is and root it out. We cannot be politically correct.

SCHNEIDER: Trump's tweets also turning on Bill Clinton after the 42nd president's comments to locals near his Chappaqua, New York home were published by a local paper. "He doesn't know much. One thing he does know is how to get angry white men to vote for him."

Trump retorting. "Bill Clinton stated that I called him after the election. Wrong.

[18:50:00] He called me, with a very nice congratulations. He doesn't know much, especially how to get people, even with an unlimited budget, out to vote in vital swing states and more. They focused on the wrong states."

Clinton conceding one point to Trump, tweeting, "Here is one thing @real Donald Trump and I can agree on. I called him after the election."

Even as he laments the outcome --

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: In the end, we had the Russians and the FBI deal, and she couldn't prevail against that. She did everything else and still won by 2.8 million votes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And more tweets from the president elect tonight, the latest about an unlikely meeting at Mar-a-Lago. Donald Trump confirms he sat down with Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, a man who had previously cut ties with the president-elect because of Trump's inflammatory comments about Mexicans during the campaign. That meeting, of course, with Slim raising the question, has Trump's harsh stance on Mexico softened at all? Brianna?

KEILAR: Maybe he doesn't hold a grudge. We'll see.

All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you.

And tonight, President Obama is taking some new steps on the environment, exactly one month before Donald Trump takes his job.

CNN's Athena Jones is traveling with President Obama in Hawaii.

And, Athena, he's moving on several fronts before time runs out.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna. That's right.

These new moves are part of the president's plans to run through the tape, as he puts it, to accomplish as much of his agenda as he can in these final days. Of course, we know that President-elect Trump has vowed to undo many of those policies. The president hopes to make that difficult for him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): President Obama moving to secure his legacy on the environment and beyond before he hands the presidency to Donald Trump. Tonight, new measures to bar off shore drilling indefinitely, in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, in part to prevent environmental disasters like the BP oil spill.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I share people's concerns about offshore drilling. I remember the BP spill and the Gulf of Mexico all too well.

JONES: It's an issue that has been front and center for president, who sees climate change as the greatest threat facing future generations and believes the U.S. and the world must do more to combat it.

OBAMA: We're not moving fast enough. And for the sake of our kids, we've got to keep going. America has to lead the world in transitioning to a clean energy economy.

JONES: President Obama's last-minute move is based on a 64-year-old year law. Not an easily reversible executive order. Creating a legal hurdle for the incoming president, a climate change skeptic who has vowed to pull out of the Paris climate accord and to increase energy production.

TRUMP: Every dollar of energy that isn't harvested here in America is harvested instead in a foreign country -- often foreign countries not very friendly to us.

JONES: And the president isn't just taking action on the environment. He's also preparing to transfer an additional 17 or 18 inmates from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to other countries, according to the "New York Times," slashing the remaining population there by nearly a third, though stopping short of fulfilling his 2008 campaign promise to close the prison.

OBAMA: It will be judged harshly by history and I'll continue to do all I can to remove this blot on our national honor.

JONES: President-elect Trump has promised to not only keep the prison open, but to fill it up with, quote, "some bad dudes".

Obama also this week granting clemency to 231 people, mostly drug offenders, the most ever in one day, bringing the total record to a new record for any presidency.

The White House signaling there are more acts of clemency to come, all part of a broader criminal justice reform effort. These final moves aimed at solidifying his agenda.

JULIAN ZELIZER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: They're all issues that he's talked about a lot, and that he's attempted to get action on. But all three are issue where he's been extraordinarily frustrated and unable to really move Congress.

JONES: The president running through tape and presenting a series of direct challenges to Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: And even as he works until the last minute to implement his agenda, the president is also taking another approach to protecting his legacy, using the consultations he's been having with their president elect to try to nudge him to preserve some of his key policies -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Athena Jones in Honolulu, thank you so much for that report.

Let's talk more now about the transition from President Obama to President-elect Trump with our political team now.

And, Rebecca Berg, to you first, because this has been we've seen over the last two days, just terrible stories where you have had the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, the killing of so many people by a truck attack at a Berlin Christmas market, and Donald Trump won't say whether he's received the presidential daily briefing today. We know that Mike Pence has.

What kind of concerns is this raising for people that at a time like this, if you can't be guaranteed that he's taking the PDB, maybe there's an issue?

[18:55:07] REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, Donald Trump has defended his decision so far not to take it every day, Brianna, saying that he is a smart guy. He doesn't need the same information every day and he isn't president yet. So, he might be right at this stage that he doesn't need it every single day.

But the reason the presidential daily briefing is so important is that you don't necessarily need that information on the data you are given it. But if there is some sort of crisis that occurs or some sort of national emergency that you have to deal with and you don't have time in that moment to get up to speed on whatever is happening, whatever issue you are dealing with, that's where the presidential daily briefing becomes very valuable.

And so, if there is a situation where Donald Trump needs to respond to some sort of crisis at a moment's notice, he needs to know as much as possible to be able to make those decisions in real time. And that's why it does become important once you are sworn in as president.

KEILAR: David Swerdlick, you hear the team not answering that question, which you could take one of two ways. One maybe he hasn't had the briefing today, or maybe his folks who are speaking to that don't know, which is also another issue.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, we don't know for sure. But really at this point in the transition, it should be easier question to answer. When my "Washington Post" colleagues first reported on this last month, it was easier for the Trump team to defend not taking the briefing every day, right? They had just started the transition. There were a couple of months to go until Inauguration Day.

Now, we're a month from inauguration and we're in the midst of all these crises, and for him as Rebecca said not to be able to confidently state him, being President-elect Trump, that he's up to speed on all of the nuances of these issues does raise questions. No question about it.

KEILAR: Donald Trump's spokesman Sean Spicer, Manu, saying that the terror response by the president-elect once he comes into the White House is going to be, quote, "swift and fierce". I just spoke to Congressman Darrell Issa, who's supporting Donald Trump and he talked about that as well and he said that he is going to take the fight to ISIS.

But you try to get in to particulars and there is nothing there.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, I don't think the Trump team really knows what the strategy is. They have talked in generalities and you can't just go and carpet bomb a city in the Middle East and hope to deal with the ISIS issue. It is a much more complex, complicated war, strategic war that needs to actually happen.

I think it is actually speaks to the problem with Donald Trump not having a press conference since late July. He's not explaining in detail to the press, to the American public exactly what he would do on such a critical issue of importance to the national security of this country. And while he may have a few interviews here and there, he's not detailed that.

And so, his own party has a difficult time responding because they don't really know.

KEILAR: They are trying to extrapolate it and keep it vague it seems.

SWERDLICK: Bri, all the way back to April when President-elect Trump gave that first major foreign policy address. He said three things that didn't all mesh together. He said he didn't want to tip his hand. He said he was going to get rid of ISIS very, very quickly, and he also said that he knew more than the generals in that speech.

So, these things are now sort of working together or not working together in a way that has people asking questions.

RAJU: Well, one place where we can make find that out as confirmation hearings on the Capitol Hill, when General James Mattis for one testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, they better have answers or the senators will not be satisfied.

KEILAR: I want to talk about potential conflicts of interest with Donald Trump.

We're seeing an example of one. This report that the Trump family now distancing themselves from a fundraising event happening in January. This is supposed to be the day after, after press, the press was reporting that attendees could get a meeting with President Donald Trump for a million dollars.

This was a group, a charity called Opening Day, and it is associated with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. They are now distancing themselves.

But this is the very thing and you pointed this out to me that he railed against Hillary Clinton for.

BERG: Exactly. So, Donald Trump attacked her for pay-to-play in his words with the Clinton Foundation and now, this isn't even the first problem that he and his family have had with potential conflicts of interest or blatant conflicts of interest. Just a week or two ago, Ivanka Trump was participating in a fundraiser for charity, giving access to her with a luncheon offering that up as the award. And they had to take down that charitable contest because of concerns about pay-to-play, pay-for-access.

And now, of course, there are questions about their business deals, how those will fit in with the new administration. Those have not been fully answered or even answered in short by the transition team yet. So, we're still really waiting for them to work out these issues.

KEILAR: All right. I'm going to have to leave it there. Thank you guys so much, Rebecca, David and Manu. Do appreciate it.

I'm Brianna Keilar and I thank you so much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.