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EARLY START

Search for Berlin Attacker; Who's Behind the Assassination?; Trump Looking to Fill Remaining Posts; 29 People Killed in Mexico Fireworks Blast. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2016 - 05:00   ET

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


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: A manhunt for the Berlin truck attacker. ISIS claims one of its soldiers carried the assault.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: So, who behind the assassination of a Russian ambassador? Turkey points a finger at the U.S. We'll explain.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: And I'm Miguel Marquez. Very nice to see you. Merry Christmas.

It is Wednesday, December 21st, 5:00 a.m. here on the East Coast.

German authorities are scrambling for new leads this morning in the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people and injured 48 more. Police released a man they had earlier described as a suspect, saying forensic analysis failed to tie the man to the truck itself. However, whoever committed the deadly, ISIS is now claiming that it was the inspiration for it.

[05:00:00] For the latest on the investigation and manhunt, we turn to CNN's Max Foster live for us in Berlin this morning.

Max, how are Berliners, how is Germany reacting to this attack?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting because there's a head of one of police unions going around on local media saying they're very close to finding the next suspect. You talk there about the forensics that were gathered from the scene behind me. There's a lot there. There's blood samples and there's also the GPS data that they can use from the cabin as well.

Police very tight lipped at this point, but certainly, as far as the police union is concerned, he's confident that an arrest will be made soon. People are focused on that because, of course, there's a terrorist at large in Berlin, potentially and maybe farther afield. There's huge concern. Also some concern and frustration that they had the wrong man for several hours and the police operations slowed massively and perhaps but everyone on a back foot. So, some concern there as well. Yes, the market, they're hoping to reopen it soon and that's an act of

defiance against what is wants to do in cities like this around the world and western cities to try to disrupt normal life, and they really want to show that normal life can get back to normal. ISIS claiming that the attacker was one of its soldiers. We'll wait to see who the ultimate perpetrator was, perhaps being opportunistic, perhaps they think that this person was inspired by them so they can claim it.

But of the moment, no evidence provided them or anyone else that this was an ISIS attacker, certainly that is framing the investigation I'm sure.

MARQUEZ: Interesting how convinced that certain officials are in telegraphing, that they'll soon have an arrest in this. Max Foster for us in Berlin -- thank you.

ROMANS: All right. The crucial evidence in the Berlin truck attack and the biggest lead in every sense is the semi truck itself, abandoned by its driver after mowing down dozens of victims and still carrying 25 tons of steel.

Let's break down what investigators are learning from the truck, about the time line of that attack. Tom Foreman's got that for us in the CNN virtual studio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the truck used in the attack owned by a Polish shipping company. It was on what should have been a routine run delivering steel from Italy up into Germany when authorities believe it was hijacked in the outskirts of Berlin between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. The driver killed. His body later found inside that cab.

How did they know it was this period of time? The shipping company back in Poland says its truck was outfitted with a sophisticated GPS system. They told "The Mirror" newspaper that, basically, they saw odd behavior in this period of time, someone trying to start the truck twice and failing. And then when it got rolling again, erratic driving up toward Berlin, as if somebody else was behind the wheel, not the regular driver.

By 5:00, they say, nonetheless, it had reached the Christmas market up here near Berlin. They tried to call the driver numerous times, no answer. What happens next is also a mystery. For a few hours, it simply goes missing as it gets darker here, the foot traffic gets bigger.

And then the truck reappears down in here. Holiday markets highlighted here in red. And according to eyewitnesses, it begins accelerating, up to 40 less an hour, jumping the curb. This is where all of those stalls and people would have been, and plowing through people for about 250 feet before finally coming to a stop down there.

Why did it stop? We don't know. It didn't hit any kind of major barrier we don't think. The police don't seem to have challenged or to have rammed it. And there were no witnesses saying that they saw somebody get out and ran away, as far as we know at this point, only the murder victim found inside the cab and an awful lot of questions for the investigators.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Thanks to Tom Foreman.

Tensions rising between the United States and Turkey over claims the U.S. bears some of the blame for the assassination of Russia's ambassador of Turkey. Secretary of State John Kerry calling Turkey's foreign minister following the murder to offer his condolences. The foreign minister telling Kerry that that his country believes U.S.- based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the attack by the Turkish police officer. Gulen is a reclusive Turkish opposition figure who lives in rural Pennsylvania. Turkey claims he was also find the failed coup attempt in July and has been trying without success to get the U.S. to extradite him.

Kerry's spokesman says the secretary raised concerns on his call with Turkey's minister about rhetoric claiming -- blaming the U.S. for the Russian ambassador assassination. The spokesman called those claims absolutely ridiculous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: With respect to American involvement/support, tacit or otherwise, for this unspeakable assassination yesterday, because of the presence of Mr. Gulen here in the United States, and it is -- it's a ludicrous claim.

[05:05:11] Absolutely false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: Now, for the latest on the assassination and Russian reaction, let's bring in CNN's Matthew Chance live in Moscow.

Matthew, this is such a shocking incident. The politics aside, the concerns that officials have. How are ordinary Russians reacting to what happened in Ankara?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's absolutely horrified and shocked, to see that the ambassador to Turkey was gunned down in such a cold-blooded way and so publicly. Those images that we've seen that are so shocking about the gunman standing there coolly and drawing his weapon and firing. I think it was nine shots into Ambassador Karlov as he dropped to the floor in front of his wife and in front of all of the guests at that photographic exhibition in Ankara where he was giving a speech. I mean, absolutely appalling.

And up until now, really with a few exceptions this has been a conflict in Syria, or a Russian intervention in Syria that has been relatively low cost. Russians haven't really felt that it's had much of an impact on him. It's all been positive from their point of view in terms of the progress that's been made in supporting of Bashar al Assad, but with this kind of killing, with the consequences of is that Russian intervention spilling over into Russia's actual word and across the border physically into Turkey really rams home that this is a dangerous military conflict with all sorts of unpredictable consequences.

And in terms of that tension you mentioned between Russians (INAUDIBLE) United States and Turkey, and the blame that Ankara is putting on Fethullah Gulen for this. The Russians have stepped back from that. We spoke to Kremlin a few minutes ago and they're saying, look, we're not going to make any allegations at this point, we're going to wait for the outcome of the joint investigation with Turkey before we try to apportion blame to any particular group or any government or any individual.

MARQEUZ: Well, that's hopeful development. Matthew Chance for us in Moscow -- thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right. So, how often is Donald Trump being briefed on security situations? The frequency of those high-level briefings back in the spotlight now following attacks around the world. The president-elect is also working to fill remaining top jobs in his administration.

CNN senior Washington reporter Jeff Zeleny is at Trump's estate in Palm Beach for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, Donald Trump is beginning another day of vacation here in Palm Beach, Florida. It is a working vacation, though. He's meeting with business leaders and others as he puts together his cabinets, gets ready for his administration which now starts 30 days from today.

He still has two members of his cabinet yet to fill. The Veterans Administration secretary, as well as agricultural secretary. Other key post in the White House as well, White House press secretary, some other advisers could come this week.

Now, Donald Trump is hosting a series of meetings here in Mar-a-Lago, his resort here in Palm Beach, including Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire that Donald Trump railed against during the campaign. He invited him to dinner over the weekend.

Now, Donald Trump confirmed that in a tweet yesterday, calling him a great man, clearly a sign that things will be different in some respects when Donald Trump becomes president, taking a softer tone in some areas, not in others.

One key question, though, is Donald Trump receiving his daily intelligence briefing? He has said before that he does not need to receive it every day. He does not need to see the same information every day. Mike Pence, the vice president-elect is receiving one.

But in the wake of these attacks in Germany, his advisers would not answer our questions whether he received one directly yesterday or simply receive information from his transition team. That is something we'll be asking again today, as Donald Trump begins another day here in Palm Beach -- Miguel and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Terror attacks already putting Donald Trump on the spot. He's not even in the White House yet.

Joining us to discuss the president-elect and the early challenges he's facing, CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott.

Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning.

MARQUEZ: How is everything?

SCOTT: Well.

MARQUEZ: So, we know in the report, he's not receiving the daily briefings every day. How -- if Pence is getting them and he's getting them on occasion, a lot of the information is the same, he says. How big an issue is this? I mean, are they communicating in that transition?

SCOTT: Well, they certainly say they are communicating, but this is a huge issue because as we know and what we've seen this week, what could be happening internationally in the world of terror could change by the day. Most recently, we're having reports that he's getting three a week. That's not enough to people on the ground in national security issues. We need to see some type of engagement on a daily braces to make knowledgeable decisions about how best to respond to things.

ROMANS: Both of these people, President Obama and President-elect Trump are in warm weather right now. It is the holidays, but they're both very busy, working on filling up the administration, from Mar-a- Lago and from Hawaii.

[05:10:01] We're hearing new developments from the president that he's going to try to draw down Gitmo.

SCOTT: Right.

ROMANS: We know that there are 59 prisoners there, 22 I think are eligible for transfer. And it looks like he's going to try to really drain this down as much as he can. Donald Trump said he wants to load it up.

SCOTT: Right. ROMANS: New protections. At the same time, President Obama signing

new protections in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Is this is the president, as we've heard him say before, the game can be the most exciting in the final moments? I mean, he's not going to allow any time on the field, if you will, around the court, pass him by without trying to get his legacies cemented here?

SCOTT: I think that's certainly what we're seeing and what we've also seen people remind us that we have one president at a time. President Obama is still president. And there are quite a few things he would like to get done before he leaves office.

He's a president like many presidents who is very concerned about his legacy and talks about it often. And one of areas we saw that most recently is his pressing that there'd be the investigation into Russia's involvement in the election. I think that's another example him not really embracing a lame duck phase in this final month.

MARQUEZ: So, on a generic level, because they are both on vacation right now, particularly, the president-elect on a working vacation.

SCOTT: Vacation.

MARQUEZ: I mean, it's my sense that things have calmed down from the supercharged sensibility that we've had just after his election in the last several weeks. Does it seem that we're moving into a somewhat more normal phase of activity for the transition leading up to the 20th?

SCOTT: Well, this election is so abnormal, that our sense of what is normal is off. We certainly have seen things slow down, but as we've been reporting this morning, there is really a lot going on and I don't know that we've seen this much activity happen so quickly after the election.

ROMANS: Right.

SCOTT: But both of them are very much on the front lines in addressing the issues.

ROMANS: I want to play a little sound for Sean Spicer, yesterday. You know, he's advising the president. He's working for the president. He was on FOX.

I want to play this sound. This has been a remarkable week in terms of different, but very concerning attacks around the world. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, CHIEF STRATEGIST AND COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, RNC: I think it's going to be swift and fierce. Mr. Trump has made it very, very clear, he understands the threat that radical Islamic terrorist poses to our nation and, frankly, to our friends and neighbors around the globe. And we've got to be able to call it what it is and then root it out by the bottom. We cannot be -- being politically correct. We've got to understand the threat that we face and attack it straight on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: And swift and fierce meaning this administration's reaction to terror attacks around the world. But still thin on the details.

SCOTT: Sure.

ROMANS: Fierce and swift how? We don't know.

SCOTT: Well, not quite clear, swift and fierce without being swift and fierce and knowledgeable and insightful is concerning to some critics who said some of the responses to what we saw happen this week, came before we had all the facts. And we're still trying to figure out many of the facts and the details. And that can have some serious ramifications on us internationally.

ROMANS: All right. Eugene Scott.

MARQUEZ: Thank you very much. Thanks for getting up early. Great to see you.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

All right. Let's talk money.

MARQUEZ: Money, yes.

ROMANS: Twenty-six points is all that stand between the Dow and 20,000. The Dow came within 13 points of that on yesterday's session. It couldn't quite get there. Futures are pointing higher. We could see history at the open.

That this year. What about next year? Come on. We want to look forward.

There are a few factors lurking next year that could derail the Trump rally. Up first, the Trump's stimulus, if it fails to stimulates, investors are giddy right now about tax cuts and infrastructure spending. What if it doesn't trickle down and boost economic growth? And what is it the series of workers impede the infrastructure spending?

Second, possible tough trade war. Trump's tough campaign talk about imposing tariff seems to have faded to just a negotiating tactic. But as president, he will have the power to act on trade.

Third, global tensions and terrorism, we saw it this week. Markets, though, took it in stride. How will that change under a Trump presidency? He will likely be tested early and often. But this has been a phenomenal stock market rally so far. And it gives Donald Trump a real -- a real tailwind, I think, heading into next year as working with Congress on tax reforms and other things.

MARQUEZ: But the tax reforms are so big, the stimulus package is so big. These are giant things that could spook the market and companies.

ROMANS: You know, I would tell you, though, Congress has been kind of inactive so long. I mean, there is a pent-up desire to get stuff done and take credit for it. So, you've got hundreds of people finally wanting to do something for the American people.

MARQUEZ: All right.

Last chance in Aleppo. Evacuations from the war-torn Syrian city could end today. We're live just ahead.

ROMANS: And later, deadly explosions in Mexico. These blasts rocked that very spot just a few years ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:18:02] ROMANS: All right. Russia has come up with a road map that it claims will lead to a peace deal in Syria. The deal does not include the U.S. but Russia's defense minister has convinced Iran and Turkey to sign on. This as Turkish officials say the dramatic evacuation of Aleppo could end today.

Turkey's foreign minister says nearly 40,000 people have now fled the war-torn city.

For more on that, we want to go live to CNN's Muhammad Lila on the Turkish/Syrian border. He's been following this for us for days now.

A peace deal, a peace deal in Syria, after years, years of war. What does, I guess, the composition of the players tell us about what a peaceful Syria would look like?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, those words peace, deal and Syria haven't been said some in the same sentence for such a long time. But what we do know is this: Russia, Turkey and Iran are opening a joint declaration. We're going to be getting some details of the specifics of that peace plan moving forward.

And a key part of that arrangement, Christine, is that all three countries say they will provide guarantees that the groups on ground don't violate that cease-fire. Now, that's important because Iran has its proxies on the ground. Turkey has its groups that it supports on the ground. Of course, Russia is directly backing Syria's President Assad.

So, if all three of those are able to rein in their groups on the ground and make sure that none of the people under our control violate that cease-fire, it could be the building block for something better. But in terms of humanitarian toll of all this, Christine, there's another important development today, 20 U.N. observers are going to be arriving in Aleppo to observe this process that's now dragged on for two days. But we're finally getting some information from both sides, both the armed fighter in Aleppo, as well as the military, that the evacuations could be complete by the end of the day. So, certainly a very positive step there.

[05:20:01] ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that. We know you are on it for us. Thank you so much, Muhammad Lila.

MARQUEZ: Now, the dramatic moments, seriously dramatic just before the crashing of a cargo plane caught on video. The story just ahead on EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUEZ: A deadly plane crash caught on video in eastern Colombia. The cargo plane can be seen tilting to one side and veering off the runway, just three minutes after it attempted to take off. We'll show you another angle here that is just frightening. It comes skimming along the road. Five crew members were killed.

Look at those people down there just missing them. And a flight technician was sent to the hospital with unknown injuries. At this point, it is unclear what caused that crash.

ROMANS: More dramatic video for you. At least 29 people are dead, 72 people injured after an explosion ripped through this fireworks market. This is north of Mexico City. You can see thick smoke. You can hear the explosions tearing through that market. Now, investigators are trying to determine what went wrong.

We've got CNN's Ed Lavandera on the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, the video images emerging from the town of Tultepec, Mexico, which is just north of Mexico City, are simply staggering and horrifying to watch. The explosions went on and on as thousands of people gathered inside this open market.

In this town that is basically known as the fireworks capital of Mexico, it was a horrifying scene. More than 70 people injured. Nearly three dozen people killed. That death toll could continue to rise. We do know, we've been told by officials in Mexico that three young victims will be brought to a hospital in Texas to be treated for their extreme burns.

[05:25:08] So you can imagine just the horrifying scene that rescue teams, as well as just bystanders who were rushing into the scene to help whoever they could.

This is a scene that unfolded Tuesday afternoon. The images from the ground revealed the scorched fireworks stands. This is a place where elaborate fireworks displays are sold. Very popular, especially this time of the year as we head into the holiday season and the New Year's festivities.

This isn't the first time that this has actually happened in this open air market. It happened again in 2005. There were no deaths in those series of explosions, but it did cost a great deal of damage and injuries to many people as well. So, once again, the small town basically known as the fireworks capital of Mexico rocked by his horrifying incident -- Christine and Miguel. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, Ed. Thanks for that.

MARQUEZ: And a frantic all-hands search for the new suspect in the Berlin truck attack, after a huge setback for the investigation. We'll have that live, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: The Berlin truck attacker still on the loose. A manhunt under way. It turns out police yesterday had the wrong guy in custody.

MARQUEZ: And the assassination of a Russian diplomat. Why Turkey claims the U.S. should bear some of the blame.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Miguel Marquez.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. So nice to see you.

MARQUEZ: And you.

ROMANS: It's almost 30 minutes past the hour.

Let's start in Germany where authorities are scrambling for new lead this morning in the truck attack on Berlin Christmas market, an attack that killed 12 people and injured 48 more. A big manhunt underway. Police released a man they had earlier described as a suspect, saying that forensic analysis failed to tie the man to the truck. Whoever committed the deadly attack, ISIS is now claiming that it, ISIS, was the inspiration.

Let's get to the very latest on the investigation and the manhunt. We turn to CNN's Max Foster.