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Trump Has Security Briefing; Trump Meets with National Security Advisor Pick; Trump Tweets About Election Win; Trump Said to be Monitoring Terror Attacks. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired December 21, 2016 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: -- Tunisian as the suspect. His name is Anis Amri. Investigators are offering a six-figure reward for information leading to his capture. They're also, though, warning the public that he's, quote, "violent and armed."
Government officials are also now admitting that they knew the suspect before Monday's attack and had already considered him a threat.
Our Chris Burns is live in Berlin right now for us. We also have CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank in London with us.
So, Chris, what more do we know about the suspect and these efforts by police to find him?
CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anis Amri entered Germany about a year ago and he applied for asylum. He's from Tunisia. He has gone through the asylum process. He was denied asylum. He was -- he got a stay on his deportation though.
He also had trouble with the law where he was -- he had an assault charge and didn't show up in court.
Now, when they tried to deport him, he had to -- the authorities had so many names and so many I.D.s on him that they couldn't get clear exactly how they would -- under what name they would deport him.
So, because of the rules, they couldn't let him go. They couldn't let him -- send him back to Tunisia. They had to let him go here. And that's where it stands now.
There's a six-figure reward, as you say. Up to 100,000 euros, more than $100,000 reward to find him. He is believed to be armed and dangerous. He -- if he is the one who was in that truck, he beat and shot to death the Polish driver after he highjacked that truck and crashed it into the market that's just right near us.
KEILAR: And, Paul, I know that you've learned the attacker was part of a network in Germany. What can you tell us about that?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: A gentleman security official saying that the perpetrator, suspected perpetrator, part of an ISIS recruitment network funneling wannabe Jihadists from northern Germany to Syria and Iraq. A recruitment network that they partially dismantled just a few weeks ago in November when they made five arrests, five leading figures in that network, including the leader of a Jihadi by the name of Abu Walla.
And the warriors that because he has these ties that network could help hide him or could help smuggle him out of the country. You'll recall after the Paris attacks, it was Abdulsalami (ph) who docked out of those attacks. Though he was provided shelter and a safe house by the rest of the network for months and months after those Paris attacks, until the Belgiums eventually got ahold of him.
And so, the worry now is the people Pogus (ph) network could be hiding him somewhere in Germany and that could really complicate the task of investigators here. This is a race against time, because the other possibility is that he feels cornered now that his picture is out there, that his name is out there.
He's got nowhere else to run and he may decide to accelerate any other attacks that he might want to launch. And given the fact that he appears to be somebody animated by an extraordinarily radical ideology, this is somebody that is going to want to launch some kind of monodon (ph) operation likely to go to paradise, in their view.
KEILAR: Chris, tell me about some of the political fallout that we're seeing. Because, obviously, there are ramifications for Chancellor Angela Merkel, because of her being so open to refugees coming into the country. And, unfortunately, actually, I think I see Chris touching his ear. I think he doesn't hear me right now.
OK, Paul, we're going to try to re-establish that with Chris, but I want to ask you about this. You're saying that he was part of a recruitment network that had been dismantled. But what about ISIS proper? Is there any evidence that the attack was directed or planned by them?
CRUICKSHANK: Not yet. But the fact that he was part of this recruitment network, which was only partially dismantled, said, actually, he would have had ample opportunity to connect with ISIS operatives, perhaps through encrypted apps in Syria and Iraq.
We don't know if the -- if he did that. But that the kind of people he was mixing with in Germany had all sorts of contacts back to Syria and Iraq.
And the leader of this network was, actually, a 32-year-old Iraqi, himself. And so, it may well be that ISIS had more than an inspirational role in this attack. There may have actually been some communication.
But we don't have any evidence of that yet and we'll have to see whether this perpetrator perhaps tries to upload some kind of video back to ISIS claiming responsibility.
One of the fears is going to be that he filmed this, Brianna. That he filmed this as he was doing it and that he's going to upload this footage back to ISIS H.Q. in Syria and Iraq to put on the Internet. [13:05:02] KEILAR: Paul, when we see some of the opportunities for
officials to certainly have exposure to this individual. They were aware of him. They thought he was a threat. You heard Chris' report. He wasn't deported because of so many potential names that they couldn't do it.
I mean, it's stunning when you look at that. What -- how is that being received and what's your read on that? That there were so many opportunities, certainly for him to be on the radar or deported?
CRUICKSHANK: It's hard to see this as anything other than a failure by the security services in Germany, given that he was on their radar screen as a person who was considered dangerous, a risk. The fact that they had him in custody just a few weeks ago during the -- during the summer and were not able to then keep him in custody because they were not able to, sort of, complete these deportation plans because they couldn't establish his identity.
Some of the blame appears to be -- being apportioned to the Tunisians by the Germans for not being cooperative enough in that process tonight. So, there's a lot of blame being sort of shared around.
That all being said, there are just huge challenges the Germans and other European security services have right now given this is an unprecedented threat, given the number of people that they're worried about across Europe. And we're talking about 10s of thousands of people who have sympathy with this ISIS or Al Qaeda ideology in Europe.
And if you did compare that to the United States where the FBI has identified about 1,000 people of concern in counterterrorism investigations, you've give a -- you've got a sense of the idea of the greater scale of the threat in Europe, and also with those very large travel flows to Syria and Iraq and back.
And it just costs millions and millions and millions of dollars to follow people 24-7 around the clock. And you can't just put people in prison unless you can actually prove in a court that they've committed a crime.
KEILAR: Sure. And if you can figure exactly who they are, it seems to be in this case. All right. Paul Cruickshank, thank you so much. Chris Burns, thank you to him as well.
I want to talk more now about this Berlin attack and the suspect. And here with me is Peter Vittig. He is the German ambassador to the United States.
Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us.
PETER VITTIG, GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Good to be here.
KEILAR: And, of course, our sympathies are with your country, at this time. How is -- how is your country healing as they move forward from this attack? VITTIG: Well, Brianna, let me, first of all, say how overwhelmed and
moved we were to see such an outpour of solidarity and support by our American friends, by citizens, by officials. It was really heartwarming and it's good to have friends in difficult times. We were very grateful for that.
Now, this really, this attack, has touched, you know, a very sensitive point. The Christmas tradition in Germany is a long-standing family tradition. You know, we all go out to the Christmas markets and celebrate with our kids, the season, enjoy the food and the wine.
So, this has hit, you know, a very vulnerable point. And it happened all in an iconic church in Berlin, the Gedachniskirche church. And I went with my family, very often, to this place.
So, it is, really, an attack on our traditions. And that's why not only because, you know, people died and 49 injured, still struggling with their lives. But it went at the heart of a cherished tradition there.
KEILAR: You heard our Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank who was talking about some of the -- he described it as failures, security failures. This idea that this individual was known to German authorities, that, according to a German security official, he'd been arrested in August. He had forged documents on his way to Italy but then he was released by a judge.
He had so many different names that he was using. It was hard to determine exactly, you know, who he was or it seems odd that, then, the answer was to release him. What do you make of what's being described by some as failures here?
VITTIG: Well, I would be hesitant to jump to conclusions. The situation is still developing. Indeed, it's right, the search operation, and there's a major search operation going on, is focusing on this Tunisian national. He, apparently, had links to radical Islamist groups.
KEILAR: But you don't take issue with the facts that he had been arrested. That he had forged documents. That he was in the deportation process. But that he had been released by the courts?
VITTIG: This is, indeed, what is being reported.
[17:10:00] I can only say to deport, to repatriate people is not an easy operation. And, in this case, apparently, there was a roadblock on the way back to Tunisia. And this is what we are focusing on in the future to have a better cooperation with those recipient countries. That's not an easy task.
KEILAR: Sure, and we see that here. What is -- what are especially as Germany has taken in so many refugees, so many immigrants. What are the challenges that you have, where you have so many people who you are deciding exactly, can they come in? Do they need to go back to their home countries? Where someone could be deemed a risk and refused asylum, and yet still be allowed to go about and not report to the court, as they are called to do so. Talk about those issues.
VITTIG: Well, first of all, let's not confound refugees and terrorists. I think most of the refugees that came, 99 percent are peaceful and not troublemakers. And they -- ISIL and related groups, of course, want to drive a wedge between us, the population, and Muslims. And this is their game and we should not fall into that trap. Most of the Muslims in Germany are very peaceful.
By the way, I mean, I was impressed by the outpour of Muslim Germans that joined everybody in deploring this event. So, we should not fall into trap and mixing two things. I'm not belittling, you know, the challenges that our security organizations have.
By the way, it's very important that our two, the German and American security services, cooperate better. Some of the attacks that were in the planning were foiled because of American help. We are very grateful for that support and we will increase it. We will increase our intelligence cooperation and we're vigilant for those cases.
KEILAR: But the fear is very real. And we're even seeing the chancellor now in a way being a bit of an apologist for her approach in promising that it's not going to happen again. That there won't be this influx. So -- and we hear you. We know that. We know that, you know, refugees come in and, by and large, they are peaceful. But many critics say, you open yourself up to a risk.
So, how do you deal with that, when the fear is so real that even the chancellor, herself, the architect of this move, has voiced concerns?
VITTIG: Well, the situation in 2015 was extraordinary. A lot of refugees came in. The sheer number and speed was overwhelming. Now the numbers are down dramatically. The numbers are contained. We are in a more regular situation. We have vetted them. We have housed them. It's a much different situation.
But the risk of ISIL-inspired attacks is real all over Europe. And we have now been hit by one. The first major attack of this scale. And we have to just be very vigilant. Step up our security services and step up the cooperation, especially also with the Americans.
KEILAR: And, certainly, we are not immune to those attacks either.
Thank you so much, Ambassador Peter Vittig, the German ambassador to the U.S. We appreciate you being here.
And coming up, President-elect Donald Trump is under heavy criticism for frequently skipping intelligence briefings in the wake of a stream of global terror attacks. What his team is saying today.
Plus, Russia says its dialogue with the U.S. is, quote, "frozen." Can the president-elect fix that?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:17:07] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We're told President-elect Donald Trump has been briefed following terror attacks in Germany and Turkey. His transition team says the president-elect received a daily briefing this morning and previously officials wouldn't say whether Trump was taking his daily briefs following the attacks.
This update comes as Donald Trump prepares to meet with his pick for national security adviser, General Michael Flynn. Flynn is scheduled to meet with Donald Trump in Florida today, where the president-elect is spending his Christmas holiday.
And that is where CNN's Jeff Zeleny is. He is outside of Trump's Mar- a-Lago Resort.
So, Jeff, tell us, do we know any other details about this briefing, besides the fact that it happened?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we do not know, of course, specific details of this classified intelligence briefing. But the fact that it did happen is, in fact news, because we do know that Donald Trump has said he is not going to follow the lead of other president-elects, of other presidents, and receive this presidential daily brief, the PDB, every day, as it's called. He says his advisors will. But today is a different day, of course. We are two days after that rampage on the Christmas market in Berlin and Donald Trump was facing some questions earlier this week if he had received that briefing. So his transition officials went out of their way to say, yes, indeed, he got that briefing today and he is meeting with General Flynn as well today here at Mar-a-Lago, as well as Reince Priebus, the outgoing chairman of the RNC and the soon-to-be chief of staff here in one month's time.
So Donald Trump is really wrapping up several meetings here today at Mar-a-Lago. Still trying to finish rounding out his picks for cabinet, as well as some other internal meetings. No announcements expected today. But today the focus on intelligence at least for the first part of the day, Brianna.
KEILAR: We're told, Jeff, that he talks to either Flynn or to his other national security team members every day, but do we know why General Flynn traveled to Florida to see Trump in person today?
ZELENY: We are told it is because they are having these internal meetings, really trying to round out the rest of their White House staff. And General Flynn, clearly, is a key part of that.
But, Brianna, you have to wonder if it's also related to optics here. We are two days after the attacks in Germany, and other attacks happening around the world here. And as Donald Trump was often a, you know, he often raised questions of President Obama being on vacation and other things. So you can tell, we are here at Mar-a-Lago, a very windy Palm Beach today, and clearly they want to show that they are on top of this. And, in fact, the transition team this morning in a daily conference call with reporters said he is ready to be commander in chief. He is getting this information from his national security experts every day, but they wanted to show us a picture of that today, Brianna.
KEILAR: Certainly. All right, Jeff Zeleny outside of Mar-a-Lago, thank you so much.
And for more on this, I want to bring in someone inside of the ongoing transition process. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn is a member of Donald Trump's transition team.
[13:20:06] Thank you so much for joining us. We certainly do appreciate it.
I want to talk to you about something that stood out to me, which is a number of tweets that Donald Trump sent out this morning, and that was because they really didn't have much to do with what we see as the really pressing issues right now. He said, "I would have done even better in the election, if that is possible, if the winner was based on popular vote, but would campaign differently." He also said, "I have not heard any of the pundits or commentators discussing the fact that I spent far less money on the win than Hillary Clinton on the loss."
He won. Why is he wasting time talking about this instead of these pressing issues of national security?
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: I think Mr. Trump is doing what many of us do as we do a look-back after a race, and especially a competitive race. And you look at the press that has been the follow- on and everyone's assessment and analysis and then you kind of weigh in on it. And what many of us would just privately do, Mr. Trump is continuing, as he has done so well, taking his thoughts and those ideas to the American people, and he utilizes Twitter for that.
KEILAR: It doesn't project necessarily security. The idea that he is really secure in his win and can just let this go. What message does that send to foreign countries, be that allies, be that foes, when leaders there are thinking about how they're going to be dealing with Donald Trump, how they might be trying to get under his skin?
BLACKBURN: I think what it does show people is that he goes back and he analyzes what he has done. How could I have done it differently or better, or if the rules of the game were differently, what steps would I have made? I don't necessarily see that as a negative. I have to tell you, I think many people, not only Americans, but those around the globe, are really intrigued with Mr. Trump and his approach to analysis, his approach to problem-solving, and probably are looking forward to their opportunity to engage with him in the United States once he takes the helm as president of the United States.
KEILAR: You've won many an election, so maybe you can answer this question from that perspective. I mean once you win, don't you say, I won. That's great. I'm moving on. What is my focus ahead? I can't imagine, congresswoman, that you have made excuses for why you won when you've won an election.
BLACKBURN: I wouldn't look at it like that. I think that someone like me who has run campaigns and been a campaign chair and a party chairman, things of that nature, you always take time to go back and you look at vote totals, and you see where you were strong, and you see where you were less strong. At the same time, what you're doing is putting your focus on your next steps. What you're going to accomplish with the opportunity that you are, that you've given.
You know, my team and I are already hard at work on the legislation that we're going to be filing on January 3rd. We're already hard at work looking at our committee work for next year. Looking at what the House is going to do as we move forward to repeal and put in place affordable patient-centered health care and message that to the American people every single step of the way.
So, yes, you conduct your analysis. You think out loud with people that are close to you. And then you also are planning those next steps. And I, quite frankly, think that's a very healthy and holistic way to approach it.
KEILAR: We have been told today, congresswoman, that Donald Trump received his presidential daily briefing.
KEILAR: You know that he's gotten a lot of guff for not getting that every day and just for getting information through some of his advisers. He's met in person with his national security adviser Michael Flynn. That's significant because he went down to Florida to do this. You look at those things and you've heard this criticism about him not getting enough briefings. What do you make of these developments today?
BLACKBURN: I'm pleased to see the focus on our nation's security. The two tough issues in this election cycle were the nation's security and jobs and economic security. And, Brianna, one of the things that I'm hearing from women especially is their deep concern over public safety and making certain that we are dealing with the terrorist cells that are now located in the United States. Their concern about what is happening with refugees, and the realization by many people that our governors and our mayors do not know when refugee populations are coming into communities and also the awareness that indeed many of these individuals are not vetted. And you have heard from terrorist leaders that they plan to infiltrate these refugee populations.
[13:20:18] KEILAR: Can I stop you on that really -- really quick, congresswoman?
BLACKBURN: Sure. Absolutely.
KEILAR: Just because you said many of them are not vetted. And I know certainly there are concerns --
KEILAR: The vast majority of refugees are peaceful. There are many people who argue that there are risks when you open yourself up to people coming into the country. But you say they're not vetted, and yet I've gone through the process and it's pretty extensive, the vetting process, for how many different government agencies, the Department of Homeland Security, and you're saying, what, is that being sidestepped?
BLACKBURN: Yes. Brianna, let me -- let me ask you a question. Have you ever been inside one of the reception centers along our southern border?
KEILAR: I have not.
BLACKBURN: Or have you ever been -- OK. Have you ever been to one of the office of refugee resettlement reception centers in housing areas?
KEILAR: No, I -- I have not, but I've certainly talked to our --
BLACKBURN: You have not. OK. Then --
KEILAR: I've talked to our reporters about it and it sounds --
BLACKBURN: No. No, no, no, no, let me -- let me interject here. I think that if you were to take the time to make those visits and talk to those caseworkers and see firsthand what you would learn is the individuals that many times those that are entering into the country are released to, they don't know who they are. Many times these individuals themselves are not in the country legally. And then there is no way to keep track of those that are coming in.
Now, when you have an area such as we have many of the areas in the Middle East where you do not have the appropriate government structure that can vouch for an individual to say that they are who they really are, or where they're from, or properly vet them, that is --
KEILAR: But there's actually -- but I do -- I do know this because as a news organization we've looked into this process. And when there is someone and they don't know who they are or where they are coming from, they don't let them in. There's a process to make sure.
BLACKBURN: Not always.
KEILAR: We've covered a number of -- we've covered a number of immigrant stories. But their -- but you have --
KEILAR: You have to admit, there is this --
BLACKBURN: There is not certainty and there's not specificity into that process. That is one of the reasons with the --
KEILAR: Where -- I mean where -- where are you seeing that? Where are you seeing that specifically being -- being a problem?
BLACKBURN: When you go --
KEILAR: Because we've reported it out. We haven't seen that.
BLACKBURN: Well, I would encourage you to visit, to go in and look at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to look at the lack of reporting that they have done back to Congress on their agency. I would encourage you to go to one of the reception centers along the southern border.
KEILAR: But they go through DHS. They go through the FBI.
BLACKBURN: And --
KEILAR: They go through a number of these agencies.
BLACKBURN: And they can only deal with what they are given with. They cannot tell you that that individual is who they claim to be many times. And that is why, until we have a little bit more specificity and some certainty in this process, this is why we're hearing from mayors and governors and it's not a partisan issue and then you look at what has happened --
KEILAR: But do you know of specific cases, congresswoman? I want to understand because I think a lot of people are very fearful of this.
BLACKBURN: Yes, they are.
KEILAR: Do you know of specific -- do you know of specific instances where people are completely bypassing what is actually a quite labyrinth process for getting into the country? I mean are you aware of specific incidents?
BLACKBURN: I would encourage you to look -- I would encourage you to look at the Office Of Refugee Resettlement.
KEILAR: Well, look, I certainly will, but I'm asking -- I'm asking --
KEILAR: You're talking about. So I'm asking you --
BLACKBURN: And then I would encourage you -- I would encourage you to go and look at some of the reception centers and talk with some of the caseworkers, and I think that that would probably broaden your -- broaden your --
KEILAR: But that's not my question. But that's not my question. My question is, are you aware of -- I mean I can -- I can go to these centers and look at this --
KEILAR: But are you aware of instances where people are just being allowed right into the U.S., even though they can't make it through what is quite a complicated --
BLACKBURN: I --
KEILAR: There is a vetting system. There is a strong vetting system. And every time I've asked someone associated with the -- with -- and because this is a real fear for so many Americans. BLACKBURN: Yes. Sure. Rightfully so.
KEILAR: I've asked people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump transition and I've asked them, OK, well, what's going to change? And they don't describe any change from what we already have. They just make it sound like there isn't any sort of vetting process when there actually is.
BLACKBURN: The things that need to change and what needs to be done, until there is a vetting process where you know the individuals or who they claim to be, then what we should do --
KEILAR: But we have that.
BLACKBURN: No, we don't. And you need to have the DHS secretary and the president be able to confirm to Congress. You also need to be able to say, tell me what this is going to cost.
KEILAR: You have Syrian refugee whose have to jump through hoops for two years before they come into the country.
[13:30:05] BLACKBURN: Tell me what it's going to cost. And look at what the cost has been, look at what the cost will continue to be.