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Protesters Attack The U.S. Embassy In Baghdad; Disturbing New Details About Suspect Who Stabbed Five People At Hanukkah Celebration; Bernie Sanders Provides Doctor's Note Saying He Is In Good Health; Countdown To 2020. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 31, 2019 - 13:00   ET



NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST: We'll see where this goes.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Happy New Year. Brianna Keilar starts Right Now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters. Welcome to this holiday edition of CNN RIGHT NOW.

We have breaking news out of Iraq. Protesters attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, setting fires and smashing windows in response to U.S. airstrikes. The Trump administration vowing to, quote, protect and defend its people.

And disturbing new details about the man who stabbed five people at Hanukkah celebration, the FBI pointing to anti-Semitic statements in his journal and his numerous internet searches for Hitler.

Plus, three months after suffering a heart attack, Bernie Sanders provides a doctor's note saying he is in good health, breaking his promise to release a comprehensive health report bythe end of the year.

And the countdown is on to 2020. More than a million people packed in Times Square to usher in the New Year. We'll take you there live.

And we begin with breaking news. The U.S. is now sending additional forces to protect embassy personnel in Baghdad. The embassy has been under siege as crowds of angry pro-Iranian demonstrators tried to storm the compound, setting fires and smashing windows.

The fierce backlash followed U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed militia groups who had been attacking U.S. targets in Iraq. President Trump is accusing Iran of organizing the protests and warning that it will be held fully responsible.

The embassy right now is on lockdown. There are no plans to evacuate, however, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Iraqi prime minister, telling him the U.S. expects Iraq to guarantee the safety of Americans in the compound and made clear the U.S. will protect and defend its people. Senior International Correspondent, Arwa Damon and Pentagon Correspondent Ryan Browne are following all of these developments.

Arwa, to you first. This U.S. compound, it's is in the green zone. It's normally a pretty secure part of the city. How did this happen?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it happened because you have to look at who are these protesters. They're not your ordinary protesters, Brianna. They are mostly members of what is known as the PMF, the Popular Mobilization Force.

The PMF is this, basically, paramilitary unit that is made up of former members from a variety of different groups of mostly pro- Iranian Shia militias. The top commanders, three of the top commanders within the PMF were also down there when the protesters first managed to, quite simply, it would seem, walk through all of the checkpoints leading up to the U.S. embassy. And some will tell you who is actually going to stop them given who they are.

And among this paramilitary force is, of course, the Kata'ib Hezbollah. That is the militia that the U.S. launched the strikes against on Sunday. They were demanding that America leave Iraq. They were saying this protest is going to continue until the U.S. does.

The embassy, as far as we're aware right now, still has some areas of it, just on the outside of it, that are on fire. There are a smaller number of protesters that are still out there but they're still there. Some of them built on a camp a few hundred feet away. So it seems like this might be the beginning of something.

Kata'ib Hezbollah did release a statement saying that this was to send a message to the Americans, that they weren't basically, perhaps, as powerful as they thought they were. And the message was quite clear that at the very least in Iraq, this force can march right up to the gates of the United States.

KEILAR: Yes, it's stunning. And, Ryan, how is the U.S. dealing with this? How are they beefing up the military presence around the embassy?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Brianna, the U.S. is taking several steps. In fact, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a statement saying that the U.S. was adding additional forces to help safeguard the embassy, and officials are telling us that those additional forces will include a small contingent of marines, about a hundred or so, that will be deploying from elsewhere in Kuwait, a a crisis response force that will come and help bolster security at the embassy, joining some of the marines and security contact personnel that are already there.

And we're also being told that the U.S. military sent in two apache attack helicopters. In fact, the U.S. military spokesman, just moments ago, posting video of those apaches, releasing flares, chaff. These are defensive flares. They're not lethal.

[13:05:00] They're usually used to defend the helicopters from attack. But they can also be used as a warning signal, and so so clearly a show of force here by the U.S. military to underscore the fact that the U.S. will defend its personnel and its facilities there in a diplomatic post.

And, again, the U.S. calling on Iraq to do more to also help safeguard U.S. personnel and the facilities there.

KEILAR: All right. Ryan, thank you so much. Arwa Damon, thank you for the report.

I want to discuss this right now with Bob Baer. He's a former CIA operative who served in Iraq.

And, Bob, you can't help but see these images and think of the Iran hostage crisis. We're talking about different actors here, but it's protesters who are taking or at least trying to take over the embassy here. They took over the embassy in Tehran in 1979. Do you worry that this could escalate, or do you see something entirely different despite these images?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Brianna, I'm very pessimistic. The Iranians know that in Iraq they have us hostage. We have about 5,500 troops there. They are not enough to defend themselves against these Shia militias, which do answer to Tehran. And for me, it looks like the Iranians are sending the Trump administration a message, which is, we've got you guys. We're going to shell you when we want to. It's time to lift the sanctions. It's time to deal with us.

And right now, we simply do not have enough troops and (INAUDIBLE) to defend that embassy or our bases, and that's just the facts.

KEILAR: And the president, he's accused Iran of organizing these protests. You see Iran is sending this message. What should the administration be doing? What can they do?

BAER: They have to change their strategic policy in the area. You just simply cannot put our troops and our diplomats in harm's way and hope for the best. This is what Jimmy Carter did in '79 when he took the Shah out. And that administration essentially fell because of the same sort of situation. And I don't know if Trump understands this, but this is what he's facing. You can pull everybody out, give up Iraq completely and Syria as well, but you can't continue as you are.

KEILAR: Iran promised retaliation because of these strikes on this Iran-backed militia. Is this that retaliation or are you expecting more?

BAER: I think it's just the beginning. They'll escalate. They will continue to escalate. They've got the upper hand in Iraq and, again, in Syria and Lebanon, and they're not going to let this go.

And, by the way, this is great news for the Iranians, this demonstration, because it takes off attention from all the protests against Iran that can change the subject. So this is completely in line with their interests.

KEILAR: And you heard what Arwa reported. She said there is a camp that is setting up not far from the U.S. embassy. I think she said a few hundred meters. So that obviously tells you that folks are going to be there for the long haul. What is this going to look like?

BAER: Well, Brianna, let's go back. The government in Iraq answers to Tehran. The prime minister we now know from leaked intercepts is under Tehran's control, almost complete control. And the only people who can really defend our embassy and our bases there is the Iraqi government, but we clearly cannot depend upon its loyalties.

This situation to me, and I always look at the worst possible scenario, is the logic of war here or the Trump administration has to back down completely, which I don't see that happening either.

KEILAR: Do you think the U.S. is ready for this?

BAER: Absolutely not. If we go to war, we're going to have to bring back the draft, we're going to have to send hundreds of thousands of troops to the area. Bombing Iran, bombing Iraqi forces is not going to do it in a war. This is a worst case scenario.

And don't forget, it's probably very likely the Iranians also were responsible for the attack on Abqaiq, which is the Saudi oil reserves are in question now.

So the stakes in this conflict, we cannot exaggerate then.

KEILAR: Bob Baer, thank you so much. We really appreciate that reality check.

Anti-Semitic ramblings, searches for Nazis, police piecing together a disturbing picture of the man who allegedly attacked a Hanukkah celebration in New York.

Plus, Joe Biden says he's willing to pull out all the stops to win the election, including the possibility of choosing a Republican running mate.

And out with the old, in with the new decade, the sights and sounds of the biggest celebrations around the globe ahead of tonight's the big ball drop in Times Square.



KEILAR: In New York, a community is in mourning as we're now learning more about the man who allegedly stabbed five people attending a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi's house. According to the Department of Defense, the suspect served in the U.S. Marine Corps for a little over a month in 2002, and he's since been charged with federal hate crimes after investigators say they discovered a trail of online searches and journal entries where the suspect searched and wrote about Hitler, synagogues and American companies founded by Jews. Brynn Gingras is in Monsey, New York. And, Brynn, what else do we know about the suspect and also his briefs in the military?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. Well, what we're learning really about the suspect is from his family's attorney who gave us a news conference and really painted a picture of this suspect having a mental illness history that he had hospitalizations over the past few years, he's on medication. He did mention that he served in the Marines and we did confirm that there was someone of a similar name who did served for a time in the Marines.


But, certainly, they're saying that kind of paints a picture of possibly how this happened, because that he has this history of mental illness.

Now, the evidence that you sort of laid out for your viewers in regards to social -- I'm sorry, online searches and sort of those writings that were found in his home, that's only part of a criminal complaint that was filed in relation to those five hate crime charges that we saw yesterday.

And we're also learning now that the FBI has actually seized his mother's car as part of their evidence. This was a car that we're learning from an auto body shop owner that was brought into his shop, that was banged up by this suspect, Thomas, and he took a rental car, which was the actual car he was arrested in in New York City.

So we're learning, really, just a lot about the evidence investigators say they have at this point against Thomas. Of course, there is probably more. But, again, we have those handwritings that were found in a journal with sort of Nazi sentiments, Hitler sentiments, pictures of a swastika and the Star of David and also those social media searches, one even done on the day that this attack happened, according to investigators. He searched the increased police presence at synagogues in New York City.

So really painting two different pictures, the family and also what police are really saying might have fueled this horrific attack.

Now, from this community, we have learned two of the victims of this attack are still in the hospital, one with a very serious head injury. As far as Thomas though, he's in federal custody right now, but he's going to be back in court this Friday on those state attempted murder charges. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Brynn, thanks for that report. We know you'll continue to monitor this story and also these two folks who are still in the hospital.

I want to head to Texas now where the community there is coming together following a church shooting where two people were killed.

Last night, the congregation held a vigil at West Freeway Church of Christ to pray for their fallen church members, 67-year-old Richard White and 64-year-old Anton Wallace. And this comes as we're learning some new details about the shooter, who police say could have killed more if it weren't for this man.

In just six seconds, authorities say, volunteer security guard Jack Wilson was able to save dozens of lives after he took out the gunman with a single shot.

Lucy Kafanov is in White Settlement, Texas with more. And, Lucy, part of the reason that Wilson appears to have been so adept at this is he's also a firearms instructor.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He actually owns a local shooting range, the On Target Firearms Academy, and had spent time training many members of this congregation to learn how to shoot, to learn how to defend themselves should the worst ever happen. I don't think anyone thought that day would come, but remember, Texas suffered a mass shooting at a church in 2017 in which 26 people lost their lives, and so a lot of the houses of worship here had been preparing for the worst case scenario.

Now, Jack Wilson, this heroic man, has said that his alarm bells inside his head went off as soon as a stranger walked into the church wearing a fake beard and a wig. When that gunman pulled out his weapon and opened fire, he reacted. Take a listen.


JACK WILSON, CHURCH SHOOTING HERO: My training says that if I see a weapon, especially in that scenario, because that's my job. You train but you hope you never have to go to that extreme. If you do, your training will kick in, and that was it yesterday.


KAFANOV: Now, Brianna, we're also getting more details about the shooter, Keith Thomas Kinnunen, 43-year-old man who was homeless. His sister tells CNN he's been living on the streets for years. He has a long list of arrests and convictions in Texas, as well as other states, including for assault with a deadly weapon, as well as theft.

The pastor here says that Kinnunen has been to the church before. He's been welcomed into the church, he's been fed at the church, so he has been to this location before the shooting took place.

We don't know anything about the motive, but relatives say he had struggled with, quote, demons in the past. We know from his sister Kinnunen was very close to their younger sibling who took his life in 2019, and Sunday, the day of this deadly attack, was the anniversary of that deceased brother's birthday. Perhaps that had something to do with it. We simply don't know.

But as you mentioned in the intro, there was the vigil yesterday evening. The community right now is focusing on moving forward, gathering together. Take a listen to what the pastor had to say last night.


REV. BRITT FARMER, SENIOR MINISTER, WEST FREEWAY CHURCH OF CHRIST: We're choosing to step over the line of death, whether it's physical, spiritual, sinful. And we proclaim Christ's name to a fallen world.


We will not be swayed by evil speech or evil acts and we will stay strong in the midst of the adversity that we know came on us because we know that God is with us.


KAFANOV: A message of unity in the wake of tragedy. Brianna?

KEILAR: An important message. Lucy, thank you so much for that report.

As New Years is being celebrated around the world, thousands are already packing into Times Square to celebrate, and Bernie Sanders is out to prove that he is fit for presidency.



KEILAR: For many on the other side of the globe, 2020 is already here.

That's Hong Kong showing an enhanced version of the symphony of lights over Victoria Harbor. The city canceled its traditional firework display because of safety concerns.

And then in Singapore, 2020 came in with synchronized fireworks, pyrotechnics, 3D surround sound over Marina Bay. This show was titled 2019, A Space Odyssey.

And in an unusual move, North Korea aired live pictures of their New Year's Eve countdown from Kim Il-sung Square.

And then on Australia, Sydney went ahead with its iconic fireworks display over the harbor. Many called for its cancellation because of the bushfire crisis.

There was a massive fireworks display from the Sky Tower launched in New Zealand, launching them into a new decade. Auckland is the first major city in the world to welcome the New Year and the new decade.

And as those celebrations wind down, there are cities across the U.S. that are gearing up to ring in the New Year. Of course, one of the biggest parties is going to be in New York's Times Square. There are millions expected to fill the streets to watch that ball drop. Security is going to be tight, so tight that New York City Police say it will be the safest place on earth tonight.

Let's bring in CNN National Correspondent, Miguel Marquez. He is there in Times Square. It's going to be the safest place in the world tonight? What kind of new security measures are they using?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the promise, and they are massive security measures. Police are already getting people into these pens here, where they will have to stay for the entire time. Thousands of people are already pouring in here. They expect as many as a million to these few blocks around Times Square, all for this area right up here. That's where the ball will come down, where you can see that 2020 up on top of the V.W. ad there.

They have everything, from the land, from the sea, from the rivers around here and from the air. They'll have helicopters up as well as drones up, if the weather permits. They'll also have a team that is looking out for rogue drones. So if someone is flying a drone and they're not supposed to, they have a way to mitigate that.

We have people all over the place here. Where you from?


MARQUEZ: Are you excited?


MARQUEZ: Puerto Rico here?


MARQUEZ: Kansas was over here, the Bronx. There was a woman that we just met who's from the Bronx. She's been here four times. I thought New Yorkers were supposed to actually come to this event, it was all tourists, but there are a lot of New Yorkers here as well. People in good spirits, police getting people in here, and they keep moving them down this way to crush more and more in. So it is going to be a long night for these folks and they seem up for it. Brianna?

KEILAR: Miguel, where do they use the bathroom? This is a pressing issue for them, I'm sure.

MARQUEZ: It's a pressing issue for all of us. It's the biggest concern. Look, I have spoken to people who are already wearing adult diapers, others have no plan whatsoever. Others have various containers that will be put into use at certain points of the night. Many people just don't eat, they don't drink for a day or so before this thing so they don't have to go. I don't know how they do it, I don't know why they do it, and I will be happy at home by the time it's all happening.

KEILAR: You satisfied my curiosity there. That is the dark underbelly of going to Times Square for New Year's. Miguel Marquez, thank you.

MARQUEZ: Literally.

KEILAR: Totally.

Okay. So what can revelers expect as they're waiting outdoors there? Let's check in with CNN Meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. She has a look at the weather in New York City.

And Last year, Jennifer, it was wet and cold, so hopefully tonight is a little better.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's going to be so much better this year. And I love that you asked that question because that's what everyone is dying to know and no one ever asked yet about the bathroom.

But, yes, we are going to have so much better weather this year. 41 degrees right now in New York City with everyone packed so tight, it's going to feel much warmer than that, I'm sure. 39 degrees in Boston, 53 in D.C. right now, 37 in Cincinnati.

This is the radar and you can see we do have snow making its way to the east, so places like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit getting some snow now. This is all going to fall apart by the time we get into the late evening hours.


You can see going forward in time, it does start to break up by around the 8:00, 9:00 hour. It doesn't even make it to New York City.