Return to Transcripts main page


Security Files: Christmas Market Suspect Previously Discussed Attacks; Trump Tweeting on Boosting Nukes. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired December 22, 2016 - 19:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: "Outfront" next, breaking news, new video showing the final seconds as the truck bears down on shoppers at a Christmas market. And tonight, the family of one of the American victims is "Outfront."

Also, Putin and Trump both calling for beefed up nuclear arsenals. Are we headed for a new arms race?

And Ivanka Trump harassed on a Jet Blue flight while she was sitting with her family, heading for a holiday vacation -- what went on -- I'll speak with a passenger who was sitting right in front of her. Let's go "Outfront."

Good evening. I'm Poppy Harlow in tonight for Erin Burnett. "Outfront" tonight, breaking news, stunning video just in -- the moment a truck carrying 25 tons of steel crashed into a crowd of shoppers at a Berlin Christmas market, the video shot by a nearby cab driver as the truck climbed the sidewalk, leaving 12 people dead and injuring 48 more.

This, as German authorities tonight press on in the manhunt for this Tunisian-born man, Anis Amri, his fingerprints found both outside and inside of the truck, leading investigators to point to Amri as the man at the wheel during this attack. And we're learning more about what German authorities knew about Amri in the months before the attack, all these warning signs.

According to an investigative file shared with CNN, a police informant told investigators that Amri discussed committing attacks in Germany. And he trained in Germany, taking a 10-mile hike to and with others, their goal to get in shape to go to Syria to join ISIS.

And American intelligence was also aware of him, his name on a U.S. no-fly list. Erin McLaughlin is "Outfront" tonight in Berlin.

And Erin, what is the latest on the investigation?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, police conducted raids in areas across Germany today. They raided a migrant shelter.

They raided a bus. They even raided a port in Denmark. So no arrests so far as it seems likely that authorities are considering the possibility that members of a pro-ISIS recruitment network are helping Anis Amri hide.


MCLAUGHLIN: Chilling new video of the moment a 25-metric-ton truck plowed in to a Berlin Christmas market Monday night. This, as we're learning German authorities knew in advance that Anis Amri, the prime suspect in the Berlin Christmas market attack was a potentially dangerous man.

Amri spoke several times about committing attacks in Germany according to investigative records shared with CNN. German officials today issuing a formal arrest warrant for Europe's most wanted man as new evidence points to the 24-year-old Tunisian as the man behind the wheel of the truck.


FRAUKE KOEHLER, SPOKESPERSON, GERMANY'S FEDERAL PROSECUTOR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We were able to find fingerprints outside of the door of the truck and inside. And our investigation make us assume that Anis Amri did drive the truck.


MCLAUGHLIN: A desperate manhunt for Amri and possibly even more suspects has led investigators on raids across Germany and as far north as coastal Denmark. Intelligence revelations increasing the political pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany now joining France and Belgium, whose intelligence services failed to stop known security risks from carrying out attacks, this, as we're learning more about the suspect.

In an Tunisian Radio interview, Amri's father said it's been years since he's seen his son.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It has been about seven years since he left home. I have not spoken to him directly for that long. I do not even have his cellphone.


MCLAUGHLIN: But he has contract (ph) of Amri, revealing that his son was imprisoned in 2011, convicted of assault and arson. He was released in May 2015.

Italian authorities tried to deport him. But Tunisia turned him away. Two months later, Amri crossed the border to Germany.

But in Amri's Tunisian hometown, a man claiming to be a friend says, he can't believe Amri is a terrorist.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): He's a normal guy who fled despair in search of a better life.



MCLAUGHLIN: This morning, the Christmas market, the scene of the attack, which is just behind me, reopened. And as you can see, even at this late hour, Poppy, it's about 1:00 in the morning, people are still gathering there to lay flowers, to light candles, to remember the victims, to honor the dead -- an incredible show of resilience amidst so much uncertainty.

HARLOW: Erin McLaughlin, "Outfront" for us tonight. Thank you so much. Among the 48 people who were injured in that attack on Monday in Berlin, where two Americans, including 62-year-old Richard Ramirez, the Texas native, has lived in Germany for the past 18 years with his German partner, Peter Volker.


Peter was killed in the attack. Joining me now on the phone is Richard's brother, Armando.

Armando, thank you so much for being with us tonight. Can you tell us how your brother is doing?

ARMANDO RAMIREZ: Well, currently, he is still in ICU. He is recovering from his surgery that he had. He had to have part of his colon removed. His ACL is pretty torn up.

But he's being heavily sedated because of the loss of his partner of 18 years. So he's very, very, very emotional. He's having panic attacks.

So to help him calm him down, they're giving him some sedation, tranquilizers. But--

HARLOW: What -- what can you -- I'm so sorry -- what can you tell us about his partner, Peter?

RAMIREZ: Peter was a -- was a wonderful, wonderful person. He was part of our family. You know, he -- they loved to travel, he and Richard, went everywhere together.

They -- they were here for my -- in South Texas for my 60th birthday. And we were all together. It was wonderful having Peter and Richard of course here.

And he loved to go to the island. He -- he loved to -- you know, they were very adventurous. He loved the island.

He loved to swim and loved the sun and just loved to be outdoors and very athletic and very outgoing.

HARLOW: Yes, just looking at these -- these beautiful pictures of their beaming smiles and everyone together, family and friends and the two of them, I mean, it really brings it home for people. When -- when you heard about this attack and you knew, you know, your brother had obviously lived there in Berlin in Germany for 18 years, did you even think my brother could have been there?

RAMIREZ: Yes, yes. When I first heard about it on the news, I was at work. I had the T.V. going and I said oh, dear lord, I hope and pray that Richard and Peter were nowhere near that market attack, you know.

And so I just said a prayer and kept them in my prayers. And then the U.S. embassy called my sister at 6:00 in the morning on Wednesday.

And then my sister called me to let me know. And then the embassy also called me and to -- to let us know that my brother was in ICU and that Peter had lost his life and--

HARLOW: We are all thinking about him. Obviously, Peter, and your brother in intensive care tonight, wishing for the best. Our thoughts with all of you.

Armando Rodriguez (sic), thank you very much.

All right, let's talk more about this investigation. Let's bring in CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. He joins me along with Phil Mudd, former CIA counterterrorism official.

Aki Peritz is also with us, former CIA counterterrorism analyst and Chris Swecker, former assistant FBI director for the criminal investigative division.

And Paul, let me begin with you because you've got new details tonight. You're learning new information about an Anis Amri, the key suspect here. What is the latest?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, the new information coming from these investigative files that -- that CNN has been going through all day and that's that back in December of 2015, Amri was preparing to try and go and join ISIS, actually going on long 20-mile treks in order to shape up for -- for the journey. But he -- he wasn't able to travel.

He appears to have become frustrated by that and then started talking about launching attacks inside Germany, all of that being picked up by a police informant inside this network in Germany and then transmitted to German security officials.

This recruitment network -- ISIS recruitment network inside Germany, according to analysts, believe to have been responsible for as many as 20 people going off and joining ISIS, and so that's a rather large number of people. Now, one of them, according to -- to information in these investigative files rose to a senior level within the security services and the -- the Praetorian Guard of ISIS.

So there's some strong kind of connections from Germany within this network back to the ISIS' high command. And -- and of course, we -- we also know that there was communications going on between members of this network and the external operations wing of ISIS. HARLOW: I mean, and Phil, what's so stunning, given this reporting

from Paul tonight, how many connections there were, how long this was going on, how much they'd already caught with surveillance on top of the fact that both Italy and Germany tried to deport Amri. He still remained in the country.

Last night, you said to me, you do not think that this was necessarily a German intelligence failure. Knowing what we know now, do you still maintain that view?


PHIL MUDD, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL, CIA: Well, Poppy, this one is making me squirm. Look, there is an informal brotherhood and sisterhood of intelligence professionals around the world, especially close allies like the Western Europeans and the Americans.

But any intelligence professional looking at this one has to scratch their head and say, what happened here. Look at this case, characteristics, somebody who stated intent to conduct an attack, somebody who was in direct connectivity with not only known ISIS -- ISIS affiliates but people arrested by the Germans, somebody who'd indicated an interest and willingness to acquire a weapon.

You put those characteristics into a mix. And that, in most security services, rises to the top. There is one question that remains, Poppy.

If you choose not to pursue this person with all your intelligence assets, the explanation has to be there were other priorities that you had that drew assets away, that drew, for example, your telephone taps away. And I've got to hear an answer to that question before I make a judgment.

HARLOW: Yes. And we know they arrested four people in his circle--

MUDD: Yes.

HARLOW: --in this ring (ph) back in November.

Chris, to you, we have learned tonight that Amri communicated with this -- this terror cell (ph) in Germany using an encryption app known as Telegram. And that might ring a bell to our viewers because this is the same app that was widely used by the Paris attackers?

How hard does that make it for these investigators to intercept all of the communications? Perhaps he knew he was talking about an attack but that it was imminent if it was on this encrypted app.

How tough does that make it?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION, FBI: Well, extremely tough. I mean, all these different ways of communicating, there is social ways and encrypted ways and phones that are encrypted that the manufacturers won't unlock. Law enforcement has probably never had a greater challenge in terms of

the technical surveillance aspect of what's going on here. So I -- we have done a lot here in the United States with outreach.

But we're still not quite there. There are still blind spots in the U.S.

HARLOW: You know, Aki, one of the alleged Paris attackers, as you well know, was hiding out for months in Molenbeek, in this neighborhood in Brussels, you know, basically, in safe harbor from, you know, friends and others. He was only caught frankly by -- by chance.

I mean, it is likely, right, that -- that Amri could be doing the same. The question becomes as the hours pass, it's now 72 hours, plus since the attack, how much more difficult does it make it for authorities to find him if indeed, he has people helping him hide?

AKI PERITZ, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST, CIA: That's very true, Poppy. One of the things is that about Salah Abdeslam is -- is the -- he actually was caught in his own neighborhood. And unbeknownst to a lot of folks, somebody in his neighborhood actually dimed him out within 72 hours, 96 hours of -- of the Paris attack.

And yet local police did not push that intelligence up the chain so they could actually action (ph) it. And so that's one of the -- the difficult parts about this whole puzzle is that you actually have multiple law enforcement, multiple intelligence agencies, all working together trying to sort of sort out all these pieces, looking for this 24-year-old man across Europe.

HARLOW: You know -- and -- and Phil to you, isn't one of the big challenges -- we talked about this, I mean, I was in Paris covering this, the lack of communication and some of the in-fighting (ph) between intelligence agencies across borders between European countries, they have said that that had been getting better, especially in the wake of the Paris attack. But could that be a challenge?

Could that create a real obstacle here for authorities in Europe?

MUDD: Look, you've got to look at this at two levels. Look, day-to- day cooperation across Europe, we've seen the Brexit vote in Great Britain.

People are talking more and more about raising walls. I think cooperation is questionable across European countries.

You want to protect the activities of their own citizens before those citizens commit a criminal act. But one lesson of the counterterrorism and intelligence business -- dead people bring services together.

And when you have dead people in a city like this after a horrific event across T.V. screen in Europe, I think at least for the short term, that forces cooperation among security services who can't afford to be embarrassed right now.

HARLOW: And one of the key questions is why were four people in his network arrested in November, he wasn't, even though they knew--

MUDD: Yes.

HARLOW: --he was talking several times about committing attacks in Germany. I have to leave it there. Thank you all -- Phil Mudd, Aki Peritz, Chris Swecker, Paul Cruickshank.

Appreciate the reporting tonight.

"Outfront" next, why the suspect was on the radar of U.S. officials for months before the balloon (ph) attack. A member of the House intel committee joins us next.

Also, preparing for war with Donald Trump, why the state of California is ready to take on the president-elect. And Ivanka Trump harassed by a passenger on a commercial flight today.

What happened -- we will ask someone who is sitting right in front of her.



HARLOW: Breaking news, new information tonight about what U.S. intelligence knew about the man suspected of killing 12 people and injuring dozens more when he rammed a truck into a Berlin Christmas market. Anis Amri was known to U.S. intelligence before this attack.

That is according to officials recent (ph) investigation. Our Evan Perez has been working his sources tonight in Washington.

Evan, so glad you're with us. What are you learning specifically about what U.S. officials knew and when?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, months ago apparently, German intelligence provided information on this suspect to the United States. And the United States added him to the no-fly list.

Now, we're told the German -- German authorities identified him as part of this group of jihadist supporters that were operating in Central Europe. This is a network that was helping to recruit fighters to join ISIS in Syria.

And intelligence agencies in Europe and the United States found that some of them were communicating with suspected members of ISIS in Syria.

HARLOW: (AUDIO GAP) kind of assistance, you know, at this point in time, Evan, is the FBI giving, is the intelligence community here giving to their German counterparts to try to find this guy because frankly, I mean, they didn't know his identity-- PEREZ: Right.

HARLOW: --for the first 24 hours. He could have gotten on a plane.

PEREZ: Right. I mean, he -- well, he could -- probably not on a plane, but he definitely could have gone through several countries by now. You're right, Poppy.

The FBI has a legal attache in Berlin who's in touch with the Germans. And he -- they're offering U.S. assistance.

But there's a lot they can do to help. We saw in the attacks in France and in Belgium that the NSA and the FBI were able to provide key assistance to help find some of those suspects.

And the German services are very capable. But they're also having to work with the NSA, which is a very controversial issue in that country, perhaps with this attack and the manhunt that's ongoing.

Perhaps we'll see them welcome some of that help. But the fact is, that intelligence agencies here in the United States and in Europe are very concerned that ISIS still has some command and control capabilities in Syria. They're still able to communicate and direct attacks in Europe.

So despite the pressure that ISIS is under in Syria and Iraq and perhaps even because of that pressure, more attacks are expected, Poppy.

HARLOW: Evan Perez, thank you.

"Outfront" tonight, Democratic Congressman, Andre Carson -- he is the first Muslim lawmaker to serve on the House Intelligence Committee.

Appreciate you joining us tonight, sir. Thank you. Given Evan's reporting--


HARLOW: --look, we know the suspect was on the radar of U.S. intelligence for months as he said, on the no-fly list, et cetera. He's now been on the loose more than 72 hours.

Plenty of time to get far especially in -- in -- especially in Europe, where you -- you know, you have these, of course (ph), borders, where he can drive from country-to-country. Do you see this as an intelligence failure by the Germans?

CARSON: I don't. I think that our intelligence community has been working overtime and -- and -- and not only capturing this one individual, but dismantling copycat operations from occurring. During the holiday season, we know that the risk is heightened.


We know that there are targets where there are huge population centers and where people go shopping. And so what is important is we're encouraging people that if you see something, say something, not out of stereotypes, but based off of suspicious activities.

HARLOW: But German intelligence did see something. They -- they third multiple times discussion about an attack within Germany.

They knew that a year prior around Christmastime last year that he had been training with others in this suspected terror cell, taking 10- mile hikes to prepare to join ISIS in Syria. I mean, all the warning signs were there.

Some of his fellow, you know, suspected bad actors were arrested back in November. How is this not a breakdown of intelligence?

CARSON: Well, I think whenever you have intelligence at play working with local law enforcement, there will always be flaws in the system. It's an ongoing process with the intelligence community along with law enforcement that's trying to perfect.

I -- I remember working in Indiana's Department of Homeland Security and counterterrorism and counter-intelligence. And oftentimes, we'd get information.

A lot of it was very helpful and some of it was not very helpful. And so we're constantly trying to make corrections as we work to keep people safe.

HARLOW: The president-elect, as you know, previously in the -- in the campaign, called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. He later changed that a bit, called it a ban on immigration from certain countries that he didn't name, but countries he said were, quote, "compromised by terrorism."

He talked about the use of extreme vetting. Let's listen to what he said yesterday where he was asked if the attack in Germany caused him to reevaluate his positions.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: You've known my plans. All along it's (ph) -- I've proven to be right, 100 percent correct.


HARLOW: In case -- I know you couldn't see that, he said, "You know my plans all along. I've been proven to be right 100 percent." Do you agree?

Has he been proven to be right?

CARSON: Well, I think it's unfortunate. I think if you look at the program from -- from 9/11, 2001, it -- it has not yielded much benefit. The program and -- and the concept is simply un-American. It's unpatriotic.

What we don't want to do is single out Muslims, in particular. It will effectively discourage a lot of talent from coming to our country, a lot of folks who have, during our economic downturn, started businesses -- very prosperous businesses.

They've hired Americans. They've kept Americans at work. And they've -- they've helped to make our country the great country that it is.

And so my concern is that we will fuel the flames of Islamophobia with this kind of approach. It -- it -- it was a horrible tragedy for us politically.

And it was bad on our image when we did it with the Japanese intermittent (ph) camps. And so targeting a particular faith -- and it's difficult to target someone's faith because people convert.

People drop out of the faith. So it's very difficult to determine. It's one thing to -- to do it based on race, which (ph) is still unacceptable to -- to base it on a person's belief, I mean, we know that there are billions of Muslims who are black, white, Arab, south (ph), Asian, African, European.

They spanned (ph) the range. Where do you stop at this? And I think we're setting a president for -- for a downturn in this country unfortunately.

HARLOW: Yes. As a lawmaker who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, how do you feel tonight, sir, ahead of the holidays seeing what happened in -- in Berlin about a potential attack here in the United States of -- of a similar sort?

CARSON: Well, I think I commend our local law enforcement, state law enforcement, federal law enforcement and our intelligence community for having brave men and women who serve in this capacity. There are brave men and women who are of faith.

There are brave men and women who are agnostic and even atheist, who want to make the world a better place and keep Americans safe.

HARLOW: But are you -- are you concerned about an attack in--

CARSON: I'm very concerned. I'm always concerned. I was concerned when I worked for the intelligence fusion center in Indiana.

I've always been concerned because you have people who use the -- the holiday season as a way to make a political statement. These people are cowards.

And these people don't represent Islam or any other faith that they -- that they pretend to represent.

HARLOW: Congressman Andre Carson, I appreciate you joining me tonight. Thank you.

CARSON: Thank you.

HARLOW: "Outfront" next, Vladimir Putin calling for Russia to strengthen its nuclear arsenal. And the president-elect tweeting that the United States perhaps should as well.

Is this the start of a new nuclear arms race? And California lawmaker is getting ready to go to war with Trump over his immigration agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not looking for a fight. But if necessary, we will fight to protect the values of California.




HARLOW: Breaking news, President-elect Trump's aides quick to clarify what they say he meant when he tweeted about boosting the U.S.' nuclear arsenal, Trump's tweet saying today, quote, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such a time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." This came just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin made similar comments, sparking concerns of a new nuclear arms race.

Our Barbara Starr is "Outfront" from the Pentagon tonight.

And Barbara, Trump's communication team now clarifying, they say, his tweet. But what they're saying is really a totally different message from the one that Trump tweeted.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is indeed. Good evening, Poppy. Think of it this way. Both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin put their nuclear cards on the table today.

But neither of them turned the card over. We really don't know with clarity what either of them meant.

Now, late today, the Trump transition team said, when Mr. Trump said he wanted to strength the nuclear arsenal of the United States, he wasn't -- he was only talking about trying to fight against proliferation of nuclear weapons to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue nations and terrorist groups, and to modernize the nuclear fleet. But that is not what Mr. Trump said in that tweet.

Let's go back to that. He said, "the U.S. must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability." He has talked about modernizing some of that force -- this hours after Vladimir Putin in Moscow also talked about a very similar message, Mr. Putin saying, quoting the Russian leader, "We need to strengthen the military potential of strategic nuclear forces."

Mr. Putin again mentioning missile defense in Europe, something the U.S. want, something the Russians see as a threat. So again, both of them today, within hours of each other, talking about strengthening nuclear weapons capabilities and forces.


And still at the end of the day, what we don't know is if either of them are really talking about adding to their nuclear arsenal.


STARR: Poppy?

HARLOW: Yes. And really diametrically opposed to what President Obama said and committed to when he took office eight years ago, a world eventually without nuclear weapons. We'll watch. We'll wait for more.

Barbara Starr, thank you very much, from the Pentagon tonight.

STARR: Sure.

HARLOW: Also tonight, the country's largest state getting toward battle with the president-elect.

Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.



KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California's most powerful lawmaker is preparing for the looming war against Trump's agenda.

DE LEON: We don't want to fight. We're not looking for a fight. But if necessary, we will fight to protect the values of California.

LAH: What Kevin de Leon is fighting to protect --

DE LEON: You got her selling her breads, and then this hipster selling their bread.

LAH: -- he sees in his Los Angeles district, a far cry from Trump's America.

DE LEON: I'm really confused when he says make America great again. Is he talking about going back to the '50s?

LAH: California refuses to turn back the clock, says De Leon.

DE LEON: Given what I've seen so far with regards to the cabinet selections, there will probably be a fight around the corner very, very soon.

LAH (on camera): Are you up for the fight?

DE LEON: Of course, we're up to the fight.

LAH: Are you up for the fight?

DE LEON: I'm up for the fight. There's no doubt.

LAH (voice-over): De Leon leveraging the power of America's largest state against Trump. California is 13 percent of the U.S. economy with a GDP bigger than Brazil. While Trump won the country, California 40 percent Latino, went more left, voting in a super majority of Democrats to the statehouse, growing more progressive on issues like the environment, minimum wage, gay rights and immigration.

DE LEON: We will not let you down by backing down.

LAH: Opening his final term as Senate leader, De Leon led the charge on state bills protecting undocumented immigrants, sending a message to Washington.

DE LEON: We can't prohibit them doing what they want to do, if in fact they want to move forward with massive deportations. But we surely don't have to help them.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: We block the funding. No more funding.

LAH: Trump has pledged to take away federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities that protect undocumented immigrants.

TRUMP: Cities that refuse to corporate with federal authorities will not receive taxpayer dollars.

LAH: With all major California cities declaring themselves sanctuaries, De Leon knows hundreds of millions of dollars are on the table.

DE LEON: It's my hope that there won't be political retribution.

ROBIN HVIDSTON, WE THE PEOPLE RISING: They are creating a hysteria in our state.

LAH: Robin Hvidston, head of a conservative grassroots group in California, says state lawmakers are ignoring the 4 million Californians who voted for Trump.

HVIDSTON: We should be a state that holds and respects the law. That's what our lawmakers should be focused upon in Sacramento.

LAH: The Senate leader says is this more about California, it is about setting an alternate agenda, protecting the other Americans who did not vote for Trump.

DE LEON: They can look towards California to lead the way.

LAH (on camera): In the battle with Trump?

DE LEON: In the battle for the values that we hold dearly. So, the answer is yes.


LAH: De Leon has a unique perspective on immigration. His mother was an undocumented immigrant, a single mother struggling to raise three kids on her own. It is that upbringing that he says informs him as a lawmaker and it's not, Poppy, just De Leon who's a powerful politician here in California. It's the head of the assembly here, as well as the incoming attorney general, Xavier Becerra, who are also Latino -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Kyung Lah, thank you so much for that tonight.

OUTFRONT tonight, conservative radio host Ben Ferguson, host of "The Ben Ferguson Radio Show", and Keith Boykin, a Democratic strategist who served as a White House aide to President Clinton.

Nice to have you both here, gentlemen.

Keith, let me begin but. The California lawmaker who you just heard from, De Leon, really preparing for war against Trump. You heard it in his last sound bite there. He said, yes, if that's what it takes, yes. Is that the right move?

KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Well, I think Democrats have a responsibility to hold Republicans, especially Donald Trump accountable. Remember that Donald Trump spent five years delegitimizing Barack Obama by questioning his birth certificate. Mitch McConnell came into office in 2008 and 2009. He said his top priority was to make Barack Obama one term president.

We had Republicans who voted 60 times to repeal Obamacare. Republicans who voted to shut down the government, who tried to default on the federal credit, who decided that they wanted do whatever they could to be obstructionists, and they're continuing to do that even in states like North Carolina where Republicans lost the governorships, but they're trying to prevent the new incoming governor from having the powers that work for the previous governor.

So, we see a pattern of obstructionism on the part of the Republican Party that Democrats have to fight back.

HOWELL: To be clear, though, you're supporting obstructions that you and fellow Democrats complained about when McConnell said that when President Obama was first elected, we'll make him a first -- you know, a one term president. OK, that's --

BOYKIN: Not supporting obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism.

[19:35:01] I'm supporting accountability. And I think --


BOYKIN: The Republicans were being obstructionists for no reasons. Democrats -- remember, Donald Trump --

HARLOW: But Republicans have plenty of reason for that because of their beliefs, they saw reason for it.

Ben, to you, why shouldn't lawmaker, though, listen to the will of the people in their state, a state that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton 62 percent to 32 percent for Trump? Why shouldn't lawmakers in that state say we are hearing and voicing for our people? BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, this is a huge mistake to start out this way. And I understand why he's doing it. A lot of this is political posturing to act like you're somehow standing up to Donald Trump before he's everyone sworn into office, which if you look at the constituency in California, it's a smart play.

It's also putting at risk many of the people in California who need federal governmental assistance by putting them at risk over your own political posturing and losing out on federal funding.

Now, look, if California wants to not have federal funds coming in -- that's fine with me. That's more money that's going to be kept out there for other states that are willing to comply with the actual laws of the land.

The second thing is this, you're willfully walking out there and advocating for law breaking because you're not going to enforce the laws of the federal government. And what Democrats seem to not understand here is this, they lost the election with the same talking points that you just heard. They lost the election making the argument that was just made.

So I hope that they keep doing this. I hope they keep picking battles with Donald Trump when he hasn't even been sworn in yet, because it's only going to allow them to continue to lose elections moving forward.

And people in California, when those federal funds stop coming in on these major issues, they're going to now have to answer for the consequences for their political actions that they're making.

HARLOW: And, Keith, you just heard in Kyung's piece, the leader of the conservative group in the state say, look, California should be a state that respects the law. Donald Trump won, he won the Electoral College. Does California need to accept that?

BOYKIN: First of all, Donald Trump lost the state of California and lost the national popular vote.

HARLOW: He won the U.S. presidential election in the system that we have.

BOYKIN: I understand that, but don't tell me that he has a mandate when the majority of American people --

HARLOW: The word mandate did not come out of my mouth.

BOYKIN: I'm not talking to you, Poppy, I'm responding to the idea that Ben is communicating. Don't tell me this --


FERGUSON: Are you ever going to stop undermining the president-elect and the fact that he's elected?

BOYKIN: Are you going to stop defending the corruption that comes out of the administration, Ben? That's the question. FERGUSON: The question just asked you have nothing to do with corruption.


BOYKIN: The state of California actually contributes a lot more to the federal treasury than just states like Kentucky, and Alabama and Mississippi which are greater recipient of federal dollars --

FERGUSON: Again, keep attack fly overstates. Good job. It works well in the election.

BOYKIN: No, I'm not attacking --

FERGUSON: Sure you are.


BOYKIN: Donald Trump is the one attacking the states. He said that California and New York essentially don't count. That's why Republicans --


FERGUSON: That's not what he said at all.


HARLOW: So, Ben, let me ask you this because the message from Donald Trump recently, he's been tweeting around saying that, he has said, look, I'm going to be the president for all, this is a message of unity. But yet he's saying, his threat is, all right, California, you want to do that, no federal funding for any of these municipalities. Is that the best strategy when you're saying I'm the president for all unity to say fine, no funding, or to say, let's get to the table, let's figure something out? Is this a best strategy to start a fight with the largest state of the country?

FERGUSON: OK. First of all, the fight wasn't started by Donald Trump.

HARLOW: To engage.

FERGUSON: The fight was obviously been started by California virtually saying, hey, Mr. President, here is what California and the middle finger, and we're not going to do what the federal law says because we didn't get our way in this election. So, therefore, we're not going to comply with federal rules.

BOYKIN: That's what the Republicans did with Obamacare.

FERGUSON: Let me finish.


BOYKIN: They went to the Supreme Court to fight it. They went state after state.

FERGUSON: Right, and we lost in the Supreme Court.

BOYKIN: And they said that they weren't going to enforce Obamacare. They weren't going to expand Medicaid to the people who were poor.

FERGUSON: How many governors did that?


BOYKIN: Republican governors chose to do that because they were more interested in the political --


FERGUSON: And there was a national exchange for that.

BOYKIN: So, don't give me any lectures about the people in California when you see that the governors in the red states are doing the same kind of --


FERGUSON: Sir, sir, when you didn't set up an exchange, maybe you don't understand how laws work. When you didn't set up an exchange --

BOYKIN: Yes, I understand how laws work because I happen to be a lawyer.

FERGUSON: Obviously, you don't.

BOYKIN: Maybe you should go back and figure out they work, Ben.


FERGUSON: I know how it works very well on this because I was one of those talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare.

BOYKIN: And what do you got to replace it with?

FERGUSON: As a governor, you had the right to have a federal law that allowed for there to be a federal registry. I got mine through the exchange this time. I went to and signed up because it was --

[19:40:00] BOYKIN: And we saw it was obstructionism.

FERGUSON: It worked just fine.


HARLOW: Guys, we have to leave it there.

Ben Ferguson, Keith Boykin, thank you both, as always.

FERGUSON: Thanks, Poppy. HARLOW: OUTFRONT next, Carl Icahn, the billionaire Wall Street investor now special adviser to Donald Trump, will he use his influence to make even more money? Questions about potential conflicts of interest tonight.

Also, what happened on this flight when a passenger harassed Ivanka Trump and her family today? My next guest was sitting in the row right in front of her.


HARLOW: Tonight, President-elect Donald Trump's team floating the idea of imposing a 10 percent tariff on imports to the United States, critics fearing that could spark a trade war. But the Trump team hopes it will be a boon to U.S. business.

To that end, Trump today also naming billionaire investor Carl Icahn to a key advisory position, that though also not without its own controversy.

Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump's pick of fellow billionaire Carl Icahn to advise him on government regulations appears aimed at getting rid of many of them. Just listen to what Icahn said about some Environmental Protection Agency rules only this month.

CARL ICAHN, BILLIONAIRE INVESTOR: Some people make a living studying artificial intelligence. I make it studying natural stupidity, and what the EPA is doing is natural stupidity. What they are doing is ruining companies for no reason.

FOREMAN: Trump's assessment? Icahn's help on the strangling regulations that our country is faced with will be invaluable.

But here's the problem: Icahn won't be forced to give up his massive personal portfolio built upon some key industries -- investment, automotive, energy, gaming, rail car, mining, food packaging, metals, real estate and home fashion, all of that could be affected by his regulatory reforms, possibly putting millions into his own pocket. So, Democrats are howling about a fox in the hen house, suggesting that the position is pay back for past business deals in which Icahn helped Trump and for Icahn's political support, too, which clearly delighted the candidate.

TRUMP: Carl Icahn endorsed me. You heard that. And that's a good endorsement.

FOREMAN: Even Republican ethicist like Howard Schweitzer who think Icahn might do a good job are urging caution.

HOWARD SCHWEITZER, COZEN O'CONNOR PUBLIC STRATEGIES: He's going to be watched by people in Congress and by the watchdog organizations out there, and he's got to tread very carefully where he's close to something that impacts his own financial interests.

FOREMAN: He wouldn't have to be confirmed by the Senate nor would there be any congressional oversight. Still, the Trump transition team says don't worry.

JASON MILLER, TRUMP TRANSITION TEAM SPOKESPERSON: Obviously, there are proper oversights and plenty of transparency when it comes to how this all ultimately comes together.

FOREMAN: And Icahn? He told CNBC he will be an unpaid adviser, sharing his knowledge helping choose a staff, nothing nefarious in that.

ICAHN: I'm not making any policy. I'm just --

INTERVIEWER: You're helping pick some of the people who are --

ICAHN: Well, I give my opinion on that.


FOREMAN: Still, as word of Icahn's new position leaked out, the value of an oil refinery he owns shot up by double digits. That is not his fault, but it does play to his favor and it also is the very thing that has excited these critics who are simply saying they fear the idea of such a big player in the financial world also being a referee -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Tom Foreman, thank you for the reporting tonight.

OUTFRONT now, David Gergen. He served as an advisor to four presidents, including Reagan and Clinton.

All right. David, so here is Carl Icahn's argument. And he's made it to me in our interviews. He says it's crazy to say that he should sell all his holdings to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. He says, look, I'm not making policy. I'm just advising.

He interviewed the man tapped to be the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt four times. I mean, he was critical in that and he does own the controlling stake in CBR Energy, this big refinery, that will benefit financially from less regulation. The stock shot up today some 10 percent.

How do you see it?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Listen, Poppy, you can be a very successful businessman or you can work in the White House. You can't do both at the same time. That's been very clear for a long time. And not only did we see some serious increase in his values -- in the value of his oil business, but you look at his overall enterprise today, the stock price went up about 6.9 percent, that is one of the biggest gains of the year basically on this story.

So, I do think that they have to move ---it is perfectly OK and kosher to have Mr. Icahn working for Mr. Trump in the White House, but he can't run his businesses the same way. He cannot be there, you know, advising on who the next SEC chairman should be, replacing -- succeeding Mary Jo White.

HARLOW: He will be. I mean, the way this is playing out, we know that he has Trump's ear. His argument is that less regulation doesn't just benefit perhaps this oil refinery which he says is a small part of his portfolio, he says, look, this helps the middle class, this helps create more jobs. This helps, you know, potentially hundreds of thousands of people. It doesn't just make him richer.

Here's how he put to me recently.


ICAHN: When you say I own a refinery, it's a small part of my portfolio. I'm not telling you I'm doing it for charity, but it also helps hundreds thousands of shareholders when we get in and clean up a company or make them do certain things.


HARLOW: To that, you say?

GERGEN: To that I say, listen, Poppy, you know this so well -- running government regulations, changing regulatory framework in Washington takes a lot of work within the White House. So, it starts days before regulation may come out. So, he's going to be right in the center of that the way this is being portrayed at least at this moment. He will be in the center of that conversation, the decisions to make these regulatory things.

And then he can move his stock portfolio around. That is called insider trading, you know? And there have serious laws about that.

Now, whether it applies to somebody in the White House, per se, we'll have to sort out. We have to go through a lot of laywering all those issues, but on the surface, on just the plain surface of it, you can't be in two positions at the same time.

[19:50:00] It's a serious conflict of interest. And the Trump people are doing a -- you can give them a lot of credit for doing a lot of things to lift the prospects for economic growth. You know, the stock market is doing better today. But they can't do with such a cavalier attitude not only toward to Mr. Icahn and Trumps and themselves and everybody else. It's really asking for trouble.

HARLOW: Something he's going to have to address, the president-elect, when he does eventually hold that press conference explaining his own business ties and separation there.

David Gergen, we'll keep on the story. Thank you so much.

OUTFRONT next, Ivanka Trump and her family headed for a Hawaiian vacation when an angry passenger confronted her today. We'll talk to the man sitting right nearby.


HARLOW: Tonight, Ivanka Trump harassed on board a flight with her family. Witnesses say the president-elect's daughter was seated on this JetBlue today when a male passenger saw her and her husband Jared Kushner and said, quote, "They ruined the country, now, they ruined our flight."

JetBlue telling CNN they removed that man from the plane to avoid the potential of the situation escalating. That passenger's husband had tweeted he intended to harass Ivanka and Jared.

The couple were flying to San Francisco with their three children, on a stop in the way to Hawaii, for a family vacation. Trump Organization spokesman tonight telling CNN it is an incredibly unfortunate situation.

OUTFRONT tonight, Marc Scheff. He was sitting right in front of Ivanka and Jared on that plane.

Thank you for being with me and joining us after all of these. Let's take a look at the picture, because we see you right there sitting in front of Ivanka. I mean, walk us through what happened? How did this start? What was said?

MARC SCHEFF, WITNESSED ALTERCATION ON FLIGHT: You know, the man got on the plane and when he saw Ivanka. And there were a lot of family members there. When he saw her, he was visibly upset.

And he said, you know, he said what he said. He said, oh, this is a nightmare. And he was visibly shaking. And I think, you know, if I was the security person, I would have made the same call. I wouldn't have taken a chance.

But I'm less concerned about attacks on famous people than the attacks that we're seeing on our civil liberties on Twitter right now from Donald Trump.

[19:55:05] He's talking about the nuclear proliferation and I think this story is really just a distraction from that.

HARLOW: Something obviously we covered on the show tonight.

You do note though, despite your very different political views from the president-elect, that you believe that Ivanka handled herself, you say, like a class act you say. Tell me more.

SCHEFF: Yes. Well, I mean, you know, this guy was visibly upset. He -- it was a tense interaction. She handled it like -- basically, she met expectations. She handled it like any famous person should. You know, if you are Ivanka Trump or anybody with that high profile, and you expect this when you're in public.

I question why she was flying coach. Maybe it was intended to instigate something like that and she got it.

HARLOW: After the man left the plane. You sat in front, obviously, you know, five, six-hour flight, in front of her and Jared Kushner and their children. Did other passengers approach them? Did they try to bring up the incident? What was the rest of the flight like?

SCHEFF: Not that I saw. I think everyone else was fairly calm. I don't know another way it could have gone honestly. Everyone -- it was a normal flight.

HARLOW: Marc Scheff, I appreciate you joining me. I hope you are going home, going somewhere nice for the holidays. Thanks for being with us tonight.

SCHEFF: Thanks so much.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.


HARLOW: Thanks for joining us.

"AC360" starts now.