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Obama Works on Key Legacy Issues; Berlin Truck Attack Suspect on the Lose; Russians Investigators Arrive in Ankara; New Report: MH370 Searchers Looking in Wrong Place; U.N. Official Wants Philippines President Investigated for Murder. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 20, 2016 - 13:30   ET



[13:31:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: With just over a month left go before he leaves office, President Obama has been busy in the last 24 hours working on key legacy issues. The president is planning to block sales of new offshore drilling leases in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic, and he's working on transferring prisoners out of Guantanamo Bay as he works to empty the facility by the end of his term, and he granted pardons and clemencies to hundreds of prisoners convicted of non-violent offense.

I want to bring in Athena Jones, traveling with President Obama in Hawaii. And we have CNN senior political reporter, Manu Raju, as well.

So, Athena, is this President Obama's way of trying to cement his legacy on these issues, but it's also very last minute here?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. Exactly what he's trying to do. We've heard the president talk how he wants to run through the tape on his presidency, to work up until the very last minute to get as much of his agenda done as he can, and he's doing this in the face of someone that we know has campaign and promises to undo much of that agenda. So, he's working on two fronts. Implementing some of these policies, some of which will be difficult for a President Trump to reverse, but also using his conversations, the White House calls them consultations, with the president-elect, to try to, to nudge him on some of these issue, explain the thinking behind some of his policies in the hopes that a President Trump could keep some of those policies. We saw that a couple days after the election when the two sat in the Oval Office 90 minutes and understand a few days later we heard President-elect Trump, he may be open to keeping, for instance, some of the popular provisions of Obamacare. Like keeping kids on their parents' plans until the age of 26. The president is working on two fronts here. A two-pronged effort to protect his legacy, making these moves and also influencing the president-elect -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Manu, as he tries, not reverse, trying to ban some of the drilling here in the Atlantic, in the Arctic, makes you wonder, how is it not that Donald Trump will just come into power and scrap whatever he's done here? MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's the big question.

But what's challenging for Trump is actually, this is a little different than the other executive actions that President Obama has taken. This is not something you can simply come in and revoke and wipe away on day one, because what President Obama is doing here, invoking a seldom used 1953 law giving him wide latitude to certainly, essentially, deny oil and gas leases in offshore waters. So, that law actually does not have any provision saying you can rescind what the previous administration has done meaning it could be wrapped up in court going forward and could take years and years and years to undo. This is not simply come in and just wipe it all away on day one, like Trump could do on other executive actions, like on immigration, for instance. This is much more difficult, which is why it's such a significant move to make with just a month to go in office.

KEILAR: It's the 11th hour, and trying to deal with Gitmo, and move, and he has for years. This one of the thing he's wanted to do from the jump, close down Guantanamo Bay. Can he get all of these detainees out of Gitmo?

RAJU: It doesn't seem he all of them, but expectation several dozen who are left significantly dwindling down that population much bigger at the time he was in office. A deadline passed Monday for President Obama to notify Congress for any further detainee transfers, and it sounds like there probably will be some more in the final days in office and it will certainly get a lot of attention from Republican whose believe what he's doing is dangerous and Donald Trump suggests he will ramp up the population in Guantanamo. One reason the president is in office here.

KEILAR: Athena, in his final days in office, to be clear, this is a working vacation. Yes, he's working, but he is also busy doing other things. What's been on his agenda and what's ahead in the coming days?

[13:35:07] JONES: We know, for instance, yes, it's a working vacation. The White House travels with him everywhere p/e he goes. He gets a daily presidential briefing. The only thing actually on the president's public schedule. Interesting, of course, to note that, because we're talking about a new president, a president coming in, who has -- not emphasized these intelligence briefings not getting them every day. We know he's working on and keeping abreast all that got on around the world.

KEILAR: Athena, you're working hard, but Manu Raju and I are very jealous of your vitamin D you're getting there. Keep working hard as you travel with the president.


Thank you guys so much.

JONES: It is warm.


KEILAR: Sure looks like it.

All right. We have live pictures now coming from Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. The German flag is being projected there in this beautiful showing of support of the victims in Monday's attack on the Christmas market.

Now, this, as we are learning that the terrorists responsible for killing 12 people at this Berlin market is on the run. A suspect, someone thought to be a suspect, now has been released, ruled out, officials believe. We're going to discuss the latest on Germany with former CIA Director James Woolsey.


[13:39:47] KEILAR: An update on our top stories. In Germany, the suspect arrested after a truck crashed into the Berlin Christmas market has been released. The general prosecutor says there was a lack of evidence in the case. And a source tells CNN there was no forensic evidence that would tie that suspect to the truck. So, the actual perpetrator may still be at large. 12 people were killed, dozens wounded in this awful terror attack.

And a team of Russian investigators is now in Ankara, after the assassination of their ambassador to Turkey. A separate incident there. He was gunned down by a Turkish police officer at an art gallery on Monday, all of it caught on tape.

I want to discuss this with my next guest. I'm joined by former CIA director and former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, James Woolsey.

Mr. Woolsey, as you look specifically at what is going on in Berlin, and we've learned there wasn't, according to officials, forensic evidence to tie that suspect to the attack, are you pretty confident that that means this is someone that wasn't responsible?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER DIA DIRECTOR & FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: It's hard to say. It may mean, if the Germans have a standard similar to ours, it could, by the preponderance of the evidence, be guilty, but not beyond a reasonable doubt. I don't know the German standard for that sort of thing. As long as we play defense, as long as we just --


KEILAR: Here in the U.S.?

WOOLSEY: Here in the U.S., or in Europe. And just stay in place until somebody comes after us or try to blow up or kill with trucks or whatever, we will stop some of those sorts of attacks, just before they're effective, and we will stop some as they get going, and some will get through. But it's -- it's not going to be successful over the long run.

KEILAR: I want to point out that we're looking at live pictures coming to us from Berlin. This is the memorial a beautiful memorial there in honor of the 12 people who died in this awful attack, someone driving a truck into a Christmas market there in Berlin.

So, we've talked a little about the U.S. and the vulnerability compared to Europe. But you actually think that we could be as vulnerable or more vulnerable here? What do you think?

WOOLSEY: Well, we have an electric grid that was designed in the 19th century.

KEILAR: You're talking sort of broadly?

WOOLSEY: The country as a whole. The country as a whole. And it's reasonably easily attacked, either with rifles, with armor-penetrating munitions on them or with a small booster launched from a, let's say, a container ship off the coast of New York or San Francisco, into orbit. That's easily done, putting something into orbit.

KEILAR: The effect of it would be what?

WOOLSEY: If you detonate it in orbit over the center of the country, it could knock out most, in some cases, all of country's electric grid.

KEILAR: You have defended President-elect Trump for not getting the security briefing daily. This is something he said he wants to get on a need-to-know basis. He wants to know if things change, and he is always available. I wonder, in light of what we're seeing here, these attacks, just a series of them, does he need to get that briefing more often?

WOOLSEY: There's more ways to get information than there are people practically. President Clinton, when I was director, didn't want to sit there and be briefed. He's a speed reader and liked to read. He would take the briefing, take it away and read it. I would go over it in some detail with national security adviser, Tony Lake, but Bill Clinton never sat there and read briefs.

KEILAR: It's widely documented Donald Trump doesn't like to read large briefs. The briefing is a more palatable way for him to absorb this information.

WOOLSEY: The president's daily brief is not a huge document. For anybody, practically. It's a reasonable thing to go through. Most of us can read faster than we can listen. So, I don't really think this is a major issue, frankly.

KEILAR: I've heard some people say -- so you can speak to this -- that it's not just about getting information. It's not just a one-way process. It's a two-way process. That, as someone who is briefed, whether that is through reading or that is through, being briefed in person, that you then direct policy. So, it's this back and forth that's going on. How important is that part of the process?

WOOLSEY: It's helpful. I would have liked to have had a relationship with President Clinton such that every day we were going back and forth, but that's not the way he wanted to work. He would write me notes back, "Jim, this reads like a chapter from Kaplan's new book. Seen it yet?" I'd write a note back. We interacted in different ways. I was at all the National Security Council meetings and I'd stay around afterwards a minute or two chat with him about someone that was really sensitive and important. There's lots of ways to do this. One doesn't have to sit there and be briefed every day.

KEILAR: Sounds like you would have preferred that.

WOOLSEY: I would have liked it.

KEILAR: That you think that would have been more effective.

WOOLSEY: When that little airplane crashed into the White House fall of '94, the White House staff joke was --

KEILAR: A lot of people remember that. Incredible, South Lawn. Yes.

WOOLSEY: White House staff joke, Woolsey still trying to get an appointment with Clinton. But I would have preferred it, but we got the information the way he wanted it, which was to speed read.

[13:45:15] KEILAR: OK. So yesterday -- I will say this, this attack, this assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey in Turkey, we've learned now from state-run media or it's state-run media only that is reporting there was propaganda from al Qaeda found in this man's home. We now know that. But before that, Donald Trump tweeted this, basically attributed this to radical Islamic terrorists, or a terrorist. The White House didn't go that far. Why the White House wouldn't go that far condemning it, as Donald Trump did, wouldn't go that far, and if that's appropriate for Trump to get out ahead of his skis on something like this?

WOOLSEY: This White House, this administration has not wanted to admit we are at war. They have not even used words about jihadis, which the jihadis use themselves. They've talked about violent extremism.


KEILAR: Which is all fair, but when he -- my question is, when he tweets that, does that mean he knows something definitively or is he extrapolating?

WOOLSEY: I think it's common sense. I think he's extrapolating. But when 13 soldiers were killed by an Islamic major in the Army at Fort Bliss, the White House called this workplace violence, as if it's -- they were ridiculous. And --

KEILAR: Become very clear, inspired by a terrorist. So, it's become very clear, indeed.

WOOLSEY: So you know, Trump may have jumped the gun by a little bit, but if he was guessing, his guess looks very much right, if the guy's carrying around al Qaeda material in his backpack or whatever.

KEILAR: All right.

Thank you so much, former Director Woolsey. We appreciate it.

WOOLSEY: Good to be with you.

KEILAR: And they've been searching for missing flight MH370 for nearly three years now. Could they have been looking in the wrong place this entire time? We'll tell what you a new report has to say, just ahead.


[13:50:21] KEILAR: That two-year long search for a missing Malaysian airliner may have been conducted in the wrong area. A new report by the Australian government says search crews are unlikely to find the plane in the part of the Indian Ocean where they have been looking the entire time. This report follows a November meeting of international experts where satellite and ocean current data was analyzed.

I want to bring in David Soucie, a CNN safety analyst, and a former FDA safety inspector, and he's the author of the book, "Malaysia Airlines Flight 370."

So, this, David, was the head of Australia's transport agency almost exactly a year ago, let's listen.


MARTIN DOLAN, CHIEF COMMISSIONER, AUSTRALIA TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: We're still optimistic we'll find the aircraft in the current search zone. There's still nearly 35,000 square kilometers still to cover.


KEILAR: Different tune now. What's going on?

DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Commissioner Dolan is using a scientific principle called "It's not there so it must be here."


They make it scientific, it's not. They've looked in the area they most thought it would be in, and it wasn't there. So now it's the discussion around how do we get to the next spot and should we look in the next area.

KEILAR: That's the thing, should they? It's expensive. It's cost hundreds of millions of dollars at this point. If they go on, if they go to this new grid, who pays for that?

SOUCIE: That's a very good question. And this is the first step, who's going to, but more philosophically is, why should we? What's to be gained? Is it more pain and suffering for the loved ones of those that were lost or do we spend that time and effort making it not happen again. What is it we can do with money instead of continuing the search. KEILAR: This report we've seen doesn't address the possible cause of

the crash. Certainly, there's satellite information about what may have happened. But are we closer to finding out what happened when the plane went down in the first place?

SOUCIE: The clues we have so far are pieces of the aircraft which I feel have been discounted because they were hopeful that they would find the aircraft and those answers would rest at the bottom of the ocean. Now I believe what will happen is they'll turn that search over to those parts and pieces and try to gain information from that. And there is information from that still needs yet to be examined.

KEILAR: What does it tell you, the pieces and where they have been found? A lot have turned up on African islands and the coast. Can you extrapolate much from that?

SOUCIE: You'll learn something from how much time it took to get there, but you can't, because it could have been sitting on the beach for a long time. So, the information you gather, the types of things that attach themselves to those parts as they float, and that will tell you where that part came from in some degrees. So, that's part of it. Another thing is fractional separation of metal can give you a lot of clues. Was it sudden and accidental? Was it over time? Those kinds of things will give you information about what happened, but not really how it happened, so that's where the rub is.

KEILAR: David Soucie, we appreciate it.

It also makes me think that at the bottom of all of this is families of these passengers who are just - they just want answers, right? And so, that's really at the heart of this, that's really the human toll in all of this.

David Soucie, thank you so much for being with us.

Up next, the deadly war against drugs in the Philippines, we are live inside of Manila with police as they investigate what has become a slew of drug-related homicides.


[13:57:18] KEILAR: The United Nations human rights chief has asked authorities in the Philippines to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte for murder. This was sparked by recent comments made by Duterte. He claimed he killed "about three people" during his term as mayor.

International correspondent, Will Ripley, is in Manila. He is working an overnight shift at a police station now.

Will, and you are waiting for a signal from police. Tell us what's going on.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're told a drug raid is imminent. We'll be heading to one of the poorest slums in metro Manila about a mile from where I'm standing right now. This is one of many of the police stations that are conducting these operations around the clock. They are going to these areas, which are heavily invested with drugs and drug trafficking, and police have been told by President Rodrigo Duterte they have a license to kill if suspects resist in any way. So, you can see all over these Christmas decorations decorating these neighborhoods. And it's ominous when you see the juxtaposition with dead bodies on the ground as a result of these shootouts with police. In addition to the police opening fire, vigilantes have also been authorized to shoot drug suspects as they see fit. And so, in just the last six months, there have been more than 3,000 people killed in the last six months.

KEILAR: That's how this connects with Duterte's comment because he was talking about killing drug dealers, right?

RIPLEY: That's right. This is a war on drugs that began when the current president was the mayor of a city in southern Philippines, the city of Davao. He was the mayor there for 20 years. He launched this war on drugs. And he told me at a press conference on Friday that he pulled out his M-16 in front of his other officers and opened fire, killing at least three suspects. He said, to show his officers how it's done.

There's a lot of concern among the president's political opponents here that this example, encouraging these kinds of violence, it causing the number of people who have been killed to skyrocket. And a lot of people actually now feel unsafe. There's a new public opinion that shows eight out of 10 people in the Philippines are afraid somebody they know will fall victim to this war on drugs. And yet, the president's popularity ratings remain so high, almost 80 percent, because people say they're desperate to clear drug crime out of their neighborhoods.

So, it's dividing this country with a lot of people being killed and a lot of orphans as we approach Christmas here.

KEILAR: That is terrible.

All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much. A very important report for us from Manila.

That's it for me. I'll be back at 5:00 eastern on "The Situation Room." I'll see you then.

NEWSROOM starts right now.

[14:00:05] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Brianna, thank you so much.

Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

We are following news out of Berlin where police now say they arrested the wrong suspect.