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Deadly Explosion at a Fireworks Market in Mexico; Berlin Christmas Market Attacker Escaped;. War of Words; Trump Family in Government. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired December 20, 2016 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: That does it for us. CNN TONIGHT with Don Lemon starts now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news, a spectacular explosion at a fireworks market in Mexico. The death toll is rising.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
In Germany, the manhunt is on for the Berlin Christmas market attacker. ISIS now claimed it inspired the deadly assault.
The German investigators lose valuable time in tracking down whoever is responsible. One man initially detained released for lack of evidence.
And stunning new video of Russia's ambassador to Turkey in the moments before he was assassinated. The police officer who fired multiple shots standing directly behind him.
Turkish state media reporting the gunman had books on Al Qaeda.
And we begin, though, with the breaking news a deadly explosion at the farmer's market in Mexico. Let's go straight to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He joins us now by phone. Ed, good evening to you. This is a massive explosion at a firework's market and so many killed. What happened?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, investigators there on the ground in Mexico are still trying to determine the exact cause of what set off this series of what seemed like endless explosions of the video images emerging from the town of Tultepec, Mexico, which is just north of Mexico City, are staggering and horrifying to see this massive explosion that started ripping apart this open air market in this town that is known for its pyrotechnic industry.
Tultepec is basically known as the fireworks capital of Mexico. This is an open air market with open stands full of elaborate fireworks displays and fireworks systems for sale, and obviously very popular this time of year.
But it seemed, you can tell from the video images, just how uncon -- how out of control this explosion was.
The governor of the state where this town is tells CNN that three minors, three young children, will be transported to a hospital in Texas for treatment for their extreme burns. More than 70 people injured. At this point we have, the latest information we have is that 29 people have been killed. That death toll could continue to rise in the overnight hours.
But in those video images, you see how people were scrambling after the explosion had finally quieted down to try to get into the scene. The scorched stands, fireworks stands, just the remnants of what was left behind after this massive explosion, Don.
LEMON: Ed Lavandera reporting to us about this Mexico explosion. Thank you, Ed. I appreciate that.
I want to turn now to the Christmas market attack in Germany. ISIS claiming it inspired the deadly assault.
CN's Max Foster joins us from Berlin. Max, hello to you. ISIS they're claiming that the Berlin attacker was a soldier from of the Islamic state. What more can you tell us?
MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST: (AUDIO GAP) ... and officials that we've spoken to. They haven't had any direct connection or communication with ISIS. So that's the crucial thing that they'll be looking for at this point. Or he may be or they may be ISIS inspired.
We've seen that, of course, across the continent in the past. So, actually, a bit on the back foot, obviously, because they thought they had their man in this case. But they released that man without charge and now we've got a situation where potential killers are on the loose here in Berlin or they may have gone further. But certainly, a very serious situation here, Don.
LEMON: So, Max, there is a manhunt you said underway for the killer, what do police know about him at this point and what are they doing specifically to capture him?
FOSTER: They're being very quiet about any information they have, simply because they're trying to make what connections they have. I think they certainly feel somewhat awkward about the fact that they were giving information about a potential asylum seeker from Pakistan before they realized that he had nothing at all to do with this. That was the initial suspect, of course.
We have from the U.S. embassy they are asking people to be vigilant, maintain a low profile in Berlin at this time.
The police being very careful to try not to sort of fall for ISIS' doctrine and warn people to stay away from events. They're encouraging people to go to events. There is security there but they're trying to keep a low profile as well.
So they're trying not to have a big police presence to freak everyone out. They want people to go about their business, but they want people to be cautious, they want people to be their eyes and ears as much as anything else.
LEMON: Do we know anything more about the passenger found dead in the truck?
FOSTER: All we know is that he was Polish. We know that the truck was Polish. We know that the driver, the original driver of the truck, had a Polish boss who spoke to local media suggesting that he didn't think that pole had anything to do with this whatsoever.
So, still no information on him even. The police really looking down on this because I think they feel as if they gave too much information early on.
[22:05:00] LEMON: So, Max, obviously, you know, there is a danger of another attack. Are Christmas markets still open? What are authorities doing to secure these potential targets?
FOSTER: The markets are open. In other parts of Europe when you've had sort of public events like that, they put concrete blocks around them. They haven't done that here yet. So we're just going to see whether they'll start doing that.
They want to get that market open as quick as possible as a sign of defiance. That's now a part of the system really that European security agencies put in place after these attacks. They want to get the events back up and running as quickly as possible to avoid any sort of disruption.
I saw that earlier in Nice with the promenade. They were really working very hard to gather the evidence they needed before allowing the local authorities to open up the event.
Again, they're trying to do that again here. A Christmas market is really part of German and Berlin culture. If they allow that to stop, then they really are giving a nod to ISIS suggesting that they are having an attack on western culture and it's working.
LEMON: All right. Max Foster with the investigation for us in Berlin. Max, thank you very much for that. I want to bring in now CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, and terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.
Good evening, gentlemen. Peter, to you first. There is a manhunt tonight. Could the killer have escaped the country?
PETER BERGEN, CNN'S NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Maybe.
LEMON: Go on. Do you want to elaborate on that?
BERGEN: We just don't know.
LEMON: We just don't know.
BERGEN: I mean, Germany is not a large country compared to the United States, and he's, you know, not far from the Polish border, and, you know, he could be anywhere at this point.
LEMON: Yes. What are your sources telling you about the investigation?
BERGEN: I don't think there are -- there's nothing to say. I mean, they don't know who this person is, and they're not saying anything about him.
LEMON: Yes. Paul, to you now. ISIS is taking credit, calling the killer a soldier of the Islamic state. Do authorities agree it's ISIS, and what are your sources telling you?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: No, they don't know whether it's ISIS at all or even if it's an Islamist motivation as far as evidence that's been publicly articulated by German authorities. ISIS is making this claim that they've inspired this attack, but they've offered no evidence to back that up whatsoever.
It really seems that they're back at square one in this investigation. They really did think for hours and hours and hours that they had the perpetrator in custody. There is a real sense of deflation amongst German security officials when it turned out that this was not the perpetrator.
The forensic analysis on the truck cabin indicated that he had not been there at all, and so now they are really desperate to find any clues about who could have been responsible for this attack.
They're doing all that forensics on the truck cabin. They are hoping perhaps to find a match of some of those forensics, fingerprints with databases they have that are disposable.
Of course, they probably may not be in those databases. They're also asking the general public to hand over as much video as possible of people shooting video on their smartphones before, during and after the attack. Perhaps there could be some clues there.
And of course, in the Boston bombings investigation a few years ago, that video from security cameras, other sources, was absolutely crucial, and they put in just huge amounts of man hours in that Boston investigation to try to identify, and they actually were then able to get grainy images of the attackers which they're able to hand out to the public.
We'll see if that happens in this case. So far nothing has been provided to the public in terms of crowd sourcing the investigation by German investigators, Don.
LEMON: Peter, I want to dig in a little deeper on where this killer might be hiding, where he might be. The attack it seemed to be planned. How likely is it that the attacker had help?
BERGEN: I think it's hard to tell from what we know. I mean, he's obviously murdered somebody, and murdering people is not something that, you know, is very natural. You know, so, that might imply that he had some kind of training, although you know, we've also seen people who have been inspired by these groups who go out and murder people without training. But that's one aspect that we do know. He obviously had a fairly
sensible plan, unfortunately, which was to hijack a very large truck that was full of tons of steel that would, you know, act as a much more lethal weapon.
So, there was a lot of -- I mean, he thought about this fairly carefully. Did he do it by himself? You know, we just -- we really don't -- we know very little at this point, unfortunately, to make any kind of judgment.
LEMON: Yes. So let's, again, put this into context for us. Europe has been reeling from terror attacks for some time now. How vulnerable are they to more and why haven't they been able to stop them?
[22:10:10] BERGEN: You know, I think it's really about volume. I mean, we've had 7,000 Europeans go to Syria for training. We've had thousands of them come back. You know, the security services are simply overwhelmed.
And then you add to that, you know, in France there are 15,000 suspected extremists, some of whom, you know, many of whom haven't gone to Syria but are just radicalizing in place. And you know, it's really a math problem.
If you compare it to the United States where we've had, you know, a handful of people travel to Syria for training with ISIS, almost none of them have come back. Many of them have been killed over there.
In fact, the total number of Americans, Don, who have traveled to Syria for training by either Al Qaeda or ISIS is seven. So, I mean, you're looking at, you know, orders of magnitude, different numbers. When I say seven, that have come back to the United States. One of them is now dead and six of them are in prison.
So, you know, very few Americans have gone, very few have come back. The situation in Europe is quite the reverse.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, Paul, Peter had a very short answer. He said I asked him if he could have escaped the country. He said, yes. We just don't know right now. If the attacker did escape the country, how will authorities track him down? It's going to be very difficult.
CRUICKSHANK: Well, if he did escape the country, they'll be relying on their international partners across Europe. There is a close cooperation to a certain degree between the intelligence services, security services in those various countries.
Even though there have been quite a lot of problems with information sharing, especially quick information sharing within Europe. But it would be very easy for him to very quickly get beyond Germany, the border, with Poland an hour or so away.
That he could travel almost anywhere within the Shanghai zone which doesn't have border security postings. So, that all complicates that the task here. But it's not clear whether this was a lone attacker or somebody part of a network who perhaps may have some logistical support structure to help him go to ground.
We still have the Paris attacks with Salah Abdeslam who ducked out of the attack there, that he was able to go to ground for months and months and months because he had a logistical support structure in Brussels that was able to hide him.
If this individual doesn't have that kind of structure around him and he is identified, then you know, he may be arrested much more quickly than otherwise would be the case, Don.
LEMON: Paul Cruickshank, thank you very much. Peter, stay with me.
Just ahead, using vehicles to spread terrorism. We'll see how U.S. law enforcement officials are working to stop the type of attack that happened in Berlin from happening in America's cities.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: How did the Berlin attacker carry out his deadly assault, killing 12 people? What happened step by step? What is the timeline for the killer's trail?
CNN's Tom Foreman has the details. Tom?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Don. This is the truck that was used in the attack. It's owned by a Polish shipping company, and it was on a routine run from Italy to Germany to deliver a load of steel, when authorities believe between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, it was hijacked and the driver was killed.
His body was later found inside that cab. Why do they think it happened at this period of time? Because the owners of the truck back in Poland had a sophisticated GPS tracking device on this vehicle, and they told the Mirror newspaper that during this period of time, twice someone tried to start the truck and failed to do so.
And then when it did get rolling again, it moved in an erratic fashion, not like one of their drivers was behind the wheel, but as if somebody who really didn't know how to operate it was there.
Nonetheless, by 5 o'clock, they told the Mirror newspaper the truck was somewhere near the Christmas market down here. Even though they had tried to call it numerous times and hadn't been able to get an answer.
What happens in the next few hours a bit of a mystery. We don't really know where the truck was. It was fully dark when it arrived, even darker when it came back at 8 o'clock, and that's when it appears to have lined up down here somewhere. This is the market highlighted in red. And then down at the street level, witnesses say the truck driver turned off the lights and accelerated purposely forward about 40 miles an hour.
Right here is where all those stalls and all those people were. It jumped the curb, plowed through them for about 250 feet before finally coming to a stop. Why did it stop? Nobody knows right now. It didn't seem to hit a barrier at that point. Police didn't confront
it or ram it. And so far, we haven't heard of any eyewitnesses who can definitively say they saw somebody leave the cab and run away.
Nonetheless, when police got there, they found the murder victim but no driver. And a lot of questions. Don?
LEMON: Tom Foreman, thank you very much. Peter Bergen is back with me to talk about that. And I want to bring in national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, the author of "Security Mom," and Philip Mudd is here as well, CNN counterterrorism analyst and the former CIA counterterrorism official.
Welcome to the panel, Juliette and Phil. Phil, I'm going to start with you. Take us behind the scenes of the hunt for the Berlin killer. What are investigators doing right now?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is a frustrating moment. Typically you've got an image or name and you can blow out the investigation over the course of hours.
Remember what we witnessed in New York at the Chelsea bombings a month or two ago when we had a cell phone, and immediately within hours you had a suspect. In this case there is a lot of things you can do, though, in the interim. That is, you've got to talk to the people who were at the scene. Did anybody take cell phone photographs?
Typically in the 21st century, there should be surveillance cameras somewhere in the neighborhood. I've got to ask questions about what people outside the neighborhood saw, whether they saw this truck in advance of the event.
You're looking at DNA and fingerprint information inside the truck. As was just mentioned, I'm looking at the GPS tracking information as the truck drove into Berlin. Did it stop? Did it stop at a gas station that might have surveillance cameras?
But until, Don, I have a photo or a name, the ability to blow out the investigation is limited, and that guy who has already committed -- presumably it's a guy -- an act of murder is a ticking time bomb. He knows he's going to get caught. Is he going to do something else in the short term?
[22:20:02] LEMON: Yes. That photo and a name thing, that's very important, Juliette, because do you remember when the Boston bombers, they put up pictures asking, do you know anything about these guys?
But they were asking for the public's help. There is no picture and there is no indication that they have any clue about this killer or killers' whereabouts.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Right. Except do you remember in the Boston marathon, the attack happened on Monday. The pictures were not disclosed until I think over, at least over something like 60 hours later. So there may be images that they're trying to figure out, is this
actually the person, before they go public and essentially crowd source it.
There is another issue that is coming up in the investigation and people that I am talking to on this side of the investigation, on the U.S. side, at least, people involved with counterterrorism, and that is one that the Germans have to be thinking about, which is that the terrorist was actually not in the truck when it happened.
This is consistent with what Tom was just reporting. It stops, no one knows quite why, no one was making it stop, and there was no witnesses showing someone getting out of the truck. Which may mean he sent it on its way to plow through a crowd and then stopped.
That's got to be a theory as well, which means there is likely no pictures. We're just picking up on what Phil said, it's the worst kind of investigation possible at that stage.
LEMON: Peter, I see you're shaking your head. Do you have anything to add?
BERGEN: No. I mean, I was just agreeing. I mean, you know, we're all in agreement. There is nothing -- there's nothing -- there is not much to say because the most simple facts about this thing are not known in terms of the identity of this person.
LEMON: Yes. Peter, let's talk about Angela Merkel. Angela Merkel has led the way in terms of taking in Syrian refugees. More than 900,000 are in Germany. A lot of people are now questioning the wisdom of letting them in. Are terrorists trying to infiltrate the refugee populations? Is that serious? Is that a danger?
BERGEN: Well, it's certainly a danger in Europe. I mean, we saw in the Paris attacks at least two of the people involved posed as refugees. And when you've got a million people coming into the country, I mean, just by the law of averages, you know, some of them are not going to be good people.
And, of course, you know, Angela Merkel has paid a huge political cost for the very generous approach to refugees which is in marked a contrast to the United States' extremely stingy approach. I mean, we've taken, you know, something like 10,000 so far, refugees. They've taken a million. So, you know, it's a very different kind of situation.
But, you know, she's up for election. She's going to run for her fourth term, she announced relatively recently, and you know, she could lose on this -- on this -- on this issue of the ultra- nationalist, the right in Germany, is you know, couldn't do as well as they did in various other countries around Europe.
I mean, we've seen hostility to refugees as being a very important part of the political process in Poland, in Hungary, in France, in Germany, in the United Kingdom to some degree. Certainly, hostility to immigrants in general. And this is a wave that is across Europe. And Angela Merkel could be a victim of this kind of ultra nationalist resurgence that we're really seeing right now.
LEMON: Phil, I want to move on and talk about the assassination of the Russian ambassador. The assassination screamed -- the assassin, I should say, screamed, "Don't forget Aleppo, don't forget Syria," and before that, "Allahu Akbar." Does it seem like an ISIS inspired plot or retribution for Russia's bombing of Syria?
MUDD: Much the latter. I think you could be quick in interpreting this as in the same basket of what we've just seen in Germany, that is someone screamed "Allahu Akbar" that is God is great. Therefore, he must be ISIS inspired, especially because he is from a country that is Turkey that borders Syria.
I think both the incidents in Turkey and Germany, though, are fundamentally different. I think we will probably find, I'm not certain, but that Germany had some inspirational connection to ISIS.
I think Turkey is a flip side of that. That is, you have somebody who is looking at a humanitarian disaster in Aleppo across the border is saying our government, that is the Turkish government, is increasingly close to Russia.
That individual is protesting Russian activity that's killing civilians. He is not aligning with ISIS in my judgment. He's aligning with the Syrian people saying, I've got to do something to tell the Russians, get out, we don't want you here anymore.
LEMON: Peter, some Putin allies in Russia are starting to blame the west for inspiring the assassination. Here's what the State Department spokesman John Kirby said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KIRBY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN OF THE UNITED STATES: Any claim that the United States or the west was involved in this or supported it or encouraged it or was in any way at all engaged in such a despicable act or murder and assassination is ludicrous. It's obviously ridiculous and not true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Peter, are the Russians worried their involvement in Syria could turn out to be a quagmire for Putin? Are they -- are they looking for someone to blame?
[22:24:57] BERGEN: Don, if you go back to when the Russians first intervene there was a lot of U.S. officials privately saying to reporters you know, it's going to be a quagmire for the Russians, and it's going to be a disaster. Well, it hasn't turned out that way. I mean, they got exactly what they wanted.
Their client Assad has basically regained control of the second most important city in the country. I'm sure they're feeling pretty good about it. They've done it, you know, you claim that they've withdrawn a lot of their forces. That's not true. But I want to go back to what Phil said because I completely agree
about this attack. The fact that he said "Allahu akbar" at the beginning of the attack doesn't really -- doesn't identify him with ISIS necessarily at all.
This may be just a concern Sunni Muslim who's horrified by what he's seen next door in Aleppo, that's a, you know, a very likely kind of explanation of what we just saw.
LEMON: Thank you, panel. I appreciate it.
We'll be right back.
LEMON: A new wave of refugees is pouring out of war-torn Syria even while fear of terror attacks in Europe heightened tensions over immigration.
I want to bring in New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof now. Nicholas, thank you for coming in, especially on a holiday week.
Let's talk about the tensions over the possibility that this Berlin attacker could have been a recent immigrant.
Germany has more refugees than any other country, nearly 900,000. How do you think Germany and others should balance national security and the humanitarian crisis that we're seeing with these refugees?
NICHOLAS KRISTOF, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Well, I mean, I must say I really admire Angela Merkel for her humanitarianism in welcoming these refugees, but I do think that it was not handled very well by Europe, and there is clearly a huge backlash politically.
[22:30:01] I mean, she is paying a political price.
LEMON: Not handled well. How so, the vetting of it or what, just the...
KRISTOF: The, you know, there was no real coordination among European countries, no consensus about how to handle it. There wasn't adequate security vetting.
It also created, unfortunately, this incentive for everybody in Eritrea, in every, in so many different countries to feel that this is their moment to lunge toward Europe.
KRISTOF: And it created this race we're seeing that in West Africa where people were rushing to the Mediterranean taking this dangerous voyage just across the Mediterranean.
LEMON: And you said a political backlash of her. Is she is having now to sort of, re...
KRISTOF: We're, yes, I mean, we've already seen that with her position on the hijab changing, for example. And she's, you know, she is already -- I mean, the immediate responses to this were her opponents were -- geared filters from Holland was describing her a blood-spattered clothing.
KRISTOF: This kind of thing, and a lot Germans are profoundly unhappy with her. She's coming up toward an election. I think it's going to be pretty tough for her, and there's certainly going to be much less appetite on the part of Europe and the U.S. to accept some of these desperate refugees.
LEMON: But the more articulate part of my question is, that she's now having to shift. But will that save her because for reelection?
KRISTOF: After our election here, I think journalists should be pretty humble about predicting election results, whether in the U.S. or in Germany.
LEMON: Let's speak -- let's speak of the election here, because this is what Donald Trump has said both about the Berlin and the Turkey attacks. He blamed radical Islamic terrorist group on it. He said in Berlin attacks.
He said, "ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continue to slaughter Christians in the communities -- in their communities and places of worship as part of their global Jihad."
It's not yet clear what context Trump is being, you know, briefed on with U.S. intelligence. But is it too soon, do you think, to make this link with so many unknowns?
KRISTOF: I think that it certainly does seem that, you know, that Berlin was very likely in that category. Much less clear about Turkey. And of course, we had the Zurich attack which seems to have been, you know, by a Christian.
And also, even to the extent that it's by an Islamist, it's not clear that it's by a refugee. One of the big problems for Europe has been Muslims living in Europe who go off to Syria to join the Islamic state and then come back, but you know, possibly with European passports.
And I guess the larger point is that, you know, are there risks? Absolutely. And terrorists are not only murdering individuals, they're also attacking the social fabric. But we also have to have some kind of perspective.
I mean, in the U.S., for example, on average of the last 10 years, a typical year about four or five people are killed by Jihadists on American soil. And 40 or 50 are killed by lightning in this country every year.
So their threat is real, the casualties are real, but there are a lot of other things that are happening, and there are also a lot of people in tremendous need.
LEMON: Yes. We want to put it in perspective. Also in a statement by Trump, he also follows up by saying he mentions eradicating terrorists from the face of the earth. Do you say this reaction play right into the Jihad area, why is that?
KRISTOF: You know, this summer we were seeing the Islamic stage chortling at the idea that Trump might be elected. Because they thought if he were elected that he would solidify their narrative of it being Islam against the world and that he would take actions such as, perhaps, barring Muslims that would help their recruitment.
And, you know, in Germany just, what, two months ago, you had an incident where the German authorities were desperately searching for a terrorist, and it was other Syrian refugees who found that person, called the police, the police couldn't understand their broken German, and so they took a picture -- they tied him up and took a picture and then walked him down to the police station and showed him who they had, you know, in their apartment.
So, the risks are real but the potential allies in dealing with terrorists are also some of these same folks who it's very important to work with.
LEMON: The response from the president-elect and the president has been different. The president-elect -- I mean, the president has been you know, a little bit more reserved and measured in his comments.
KRISTOF: A little bit?
LEMON: Yes. Well, and so, here's what Peter Beinart writes about that in the Atlantic. "Team Obama defines the struggle against terrorism as a conflict putting countries of all religious and ideological types against a stateless foe. While Trump -- while team Trump defines it has a conflict between Christendom and Islam."
KRISTOF: Which is exactly the narrative that ISIS is pursuing.
[22:34:58] And there is a danger that in our rhetoric and our response, we end up empowering that ISIS narrative. And you know, there are 1.7 billion Muslims around the world. Certainly there is a terrorist threat in there that is a real risk that has to be confronted.
But we have to be careful not to stereotype Muslims or anybody else. Especially at a time when you have more people displaced by war than any time ever. As the son of a refugee, I think about that.
When you know, Trump -- his family described themselves as Swedes because they were embarrassed and afraid to describe themselves as Germans. Because at one point, Germans in this country were an enemy.
LEMON: Yes. But you know Sean Spicer who is the spokesperson for the RNC now works for team Trump. He say -- he says we're being too politically correct. Does he have a point? Because, I mean, many Americans are concerned about this. KRISTOF: I think that it is fair to say that sometimes we are
reluctant to acknowledge that there disproportionately has been terrorism, you know, that terrorism disproportionately has come from the Muslim community.
This is something Muslims acknowledge, but one can acknowledge that without stereotyping and taking -- making in videos calculations about an entire faith and you know, also recognizing that these risks, while real, you know, that in the U.S. you were 10 times more likely to be killed by lightning than you are by a Jihadi.
And we have to do everything we can to guard against that risk through intelligence collection, through working with Muslim communities, through vetting, but let's also keep it in perspective.
LEMON: Thank you, sir. Thank you for coming in.
KRISTOF: Good to be with you.
LEMON: Thank you.
Coming up, Donald Trump's response to the attacks around the world calling them radical Islamic terror, and he's calling for the civilized world to change its ways. We'll talk more about his choice of words, next.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: All right, joining me now is Phillip Bump, Washington Post political reporter, CNN's political commentator Matt Lewis, CNN contributor to the Daily Caller, and David Swerdlick, assistant editor to the Washington Post.
So, lots to get to, but I want to start with this story. Phillip, you first. The Trump family distancing itself from a January 21 fundraising event after press reports that attendees could get a meeting with President Donald Trump for a million dollars. What's your reaction?
PHILIP BUMP, WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL REPORTER: There's a gamut of reactions.
LEMON: That's your reaction?
BUMP: Yes, I mean, so, I think that the issue here -- this is -- this is something that's alarming. I think it's worth noting that President Obama had a non-profit political organization that he, you know, gave speeches to and also that people could give a certain amount of money and they got to meet President Obama.
This is something that has done to some extent before, but it's problematic in part because of the broader context of Donald Trump's apparent conflicts, right, particularly the conflicts with his businesses.
We don't know how Donald Trump is separating out Eric and Donald Jr. who are supposed to be running the business, according to a Trump tweet, which is all the information we have to go on. But who are also on the transition team.
Ivanka Trump is on the transition team. She's calling members of Congress. She was also supposed to have this coffee where you could pay $60,000 to meet with her. They're all these overlapping places where there is the Trump organization and there are these charities and there is the Trump family, and it is probably intentionally still murky.
LEMON: And what do you mean?
BUMP: Well, I just mean that they have plenty of opportunities.
LEMON: On the part of the Trumps?
BUMP: Yes, they've had plenty of opportunities to clarify what is exactly is going on, including a schedule of press conference on December 15, and there has not been any clarity.
LEMON: OK. So, let's be more specific here, Matt. It seemed he first reported this story last Friday, right. It obtained a draft of an invitation. It advertised a private reception with Donald Trump as well as a multi-day hunting trip with Donald Jr. and Eric Trump for sponsors who picked the $500,000 grizzly bear package, the $1 million bald eagle package.
In a statement Tuesday, the Trump transition said the details about the event that had been reported are, quote, "merely initial concepts that had not been approved or pursue -- or purchased -- excuse me, pursued, sorry -- by the Trump family. Eric and Donald Jr. is supposed to be handling the business to avoid conflicts of interest here."
Does this look like a pay to play or that they're just sort of ignorant of...
MATT LEWIS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I think -- I think it's the latter. And I mean, so first of all, they're disputing that this is even -- that they were even involved in this. So, it could be that their friends, without their knowledge or consent, said that this was going to happen.
But, you know, look, I think Philip's primary concern is a legitimate one, but it's about the business, right? So, if people go and stay at Trump hotel in order to curry favor with them, that is lining Donald Trump's pocket. And that, I think, is problematic.
This doesn't bother me really that much at all. I mean, what you're talking about is it's hypocrisy because Donald Trump talked about draining the swamp, and talked about, you know, that the Clinton Foundation. But the truth is this is what politicians do all the time, is they
sell access. I mean, if you go to a political fundraiser and you donate a lot of money to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, and you get to meet President Obama, maybe you're meeting him because you care deeply about the issues that he cares about, or maybe you want to...
LEMON: Because you're giving money to him.
LEWIS: ... whisper something into his ear. But this is -- this is actually politics as usual, which is part of -- it's what Donald Trump ran against, but it's not surprising.
LEMON: But drain the swamp, right? Before I get to Dave, is it a little early? Like, you know, after a while once you settle in, you sort of figure it out?
LEMON: And shouldn't some of these things have been -- have been figured out -- have been figured out before you become president of the United States? If this does happen, we're going to have to be very careful about this, kids.
LEMON: We can't do this, Mr. Trump and we can't -- shouldn't that have been figured out already?
BUMP: I mean, one would assume so. I mean, it's not -- not an accident that this event was supposed to be held on January 21st, the first day that Donald Trump was President of the United States.
BUMP: Yes, they should have figured this stuff out, but there are indicators that it didn't happen.
LEMON: Go ahead, David. What we see, you said right.
DAVID SWERDLICK, WASHINGTON POST ASSISTANT EDITOR: No. It's already laid out there better than Phillip and Matt. I would just add, right.
If this is a one off type of situation, you could sort of say, OK, this is politics as usual, this is not quite draining the swamp, they've distanced themselves from it.
[22:45:01] But there are all these overlapping of things that have already accrued just this far into the transition that have raised flags...
LEMON: And speaking of -- just to add to your point and I'll let you finish.
LEMON: Friday, the Trump organization canceled an auction for a private meeting with Ivanka Trump after the New York Times raised questions about whether it appeared to offer bidders a special opportunity to meet with the first daughter.
LEMON: So, you're saying there are a lot of murky things. Are the sons becoming a political problem already before he's even president or maybe even the daughter?
SWERDLICK: Taking a step back, Don, I think the thing is that this is a family that has been successful in branding themselves around their name, in running this business that revolves around the Trump brand and the Trump image, and I think they need to take a quicker turn towards realizing that now their family is in public service.
They were chosen by the electorate to be in public service and not to continue to brand themselves for personal gain.
Again, you know, nothing nefarious has been shown by these incidences yet, but if you look at, for instance, last month Ivanka Trump being on calls with her father and President Mauricio Macri of Argentina and Prime Minister of Japan when the Trump organizations has business dealings in both of those countries.
Those are the kinds of things. The other examples you brought up are the things that they are going to have to build a wall between themselves and this if, a, president -- as long as President Trump is president, and b, if his grown children are not going to just be running the business but be part of his administration or at least advising him on public policy issues. There's got to be some separation.
LEMON: I want to ask this question to make sure I ask it in a way that -- because I don't know if there's exact parody here. If the Clintons had done this, would there be as much scrutiny and as much criticism, or do you think they would have done it because they have -- they're a little bit or lot more politically savvy? That's for you, David.
SWERDLICK: Well, I think the Clintons have been scrutinized, and certainly, in the most recent campaign is not early in their career. But the Clintons, Don, were scrutinized for any number of things including the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton global initiative.
But, you know, and rightfully so. But they're no longer on the stage. President-elect Trump is on the stage and I think that's where the focus should be.
BUMP: And they were scrutinized very heavily by President-elect Donald Trump.
LEMON: Very good answers. More to come. We'll be right back.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: And we're back. Donald Trump did battle with Hillary Clinton during the election. Now he's in the war of words with the former President Bill Clinton.
Back with me now, Philip Bump, Matt Lewis, and David Swerdlick.
So, Matt, you first. Last week, Bill Clinton told a local newspaper that Trump had called him the day after the election and that he quote, said, "He doesn't know much. One thing he does know is how to get angry white men to vote for him."
Trump fired back on Twitter this morning tweeting, "Bill Clinton stated that I called him after the election, wrong. He called me with a very nice congratulations. He doesn't know much."
So, he won. He's the president-elect. Should he focusing on either things. He didn't deny the...
LEWIS: Yes. This is like so high school amateur. He called me. I didn't call -- he called me. I called him.
LEMON: No. You hang up, no, you hang up.
LEWIS: Yes. And look, I mean, let's see where you wrestle with the pig in the mud and you get dirt. Everything that -- I think that, look. This is what Donald Trump does. He trolls people. He trolls people on Twitter.
And I think it's a mistake for President Clinton to get in the mud with him because he does have a legacy. Now I understand, his wife lost an election. So there's an emotional connection. But I think that, look, I'm not surprised Trump did this. I'm a little surprised that Bill Clinton engage.
LEMON: Will revealed the conversation, you mean, to a reporter?
BUMP: Yes. Yes, come on, man, you just lost. Like, you just lost. Now it's not like don't have these sour grapes and the second tweet actually Trump had totally owned Bill Clinton. Because he's like what I do know is how to win key important states, which is absolutely true.
BUMP: Unlike Bill Clinton all he is doing is making it look like the Clintons are better and getting embarrassed by Donald Trump on Twitter it is a bad look. LEMON: Yes. Why do you think though, he get -- David, what's the
laugh for, do you agree?
SWERDLICK: No. It's a bad look. You can't sum it up any better than that. Yes.
LEMON: It's like, don't do it former president.
SWERDLICK: No, don't go there.
LEMON: Yes. Just don't go there. Why do you think though he gets to Trump so much that Clinton gets to him so much, David?
SWERDLICK: Well, look, a couple of things. Trump is thin-skinned. He's demonstrated this. I don't think it's a, as Phillip said it's not a good look for a future president of the United States, but it's also not a good look for a former president of the United States.
Bill Clinton was not an effective surrogate for Hillary Clinton during this campaign. I think he knows that. Now I think he's trying to get some last licks in and it's really not working.
SWERDLICK: I will say though, with regard to Matt's point, that I do think that there is a certain degree to which the next democrat is going to have to resolve themselves to getting down in the mud with Donald Trump.
No matter how low you go, Donald Trump will go one lower. He proved that in the campaign. But the one democrat, who was really willing to go toe to toe with him on Twitter was Elizabeth Warren. And she never backed down from him. She traded, you know, cheap insult for cheap insult and I think she came out on top in a couple of those exchanges.
I don't know if she is going to be the democratic candidate in 2020, but democrats are going to have to start thinking about that. Donald Trump is not going to change and just capitulate to some new candidate two years from now or four years from now.
LEMON: Was that sarcasm?
BUMP: That was sarcasm.
LEMON: So, we have all these going on. We, you know, you've been on, we've been on talking about Berlin, we've been talking about Turkey.
Donald Trump tweeted eight times in the last 24 hours. One has been about the attacks, the terror attacks. Others have focused on him winning the Electoral College, about meeting Carlos Slim and attacking Bill Clinton. Do you think the timing is misplaced or insensitive given what's happening overseas?
LEWIS: No. I think this is what Donald Trump...
(CROSSTALK) LEMON: What he does.
LEWIS: ... this is what he does. I think it's now baked into the cake. And I think we're not really going to be outraged by it anymore.
Bill Clinton shouldn't have been outraged by it. And I do think there is a potential -- look, there's obviously a potential for Donald Trump to, you know, ruin markets and to mess up diplomacy, and to engage in gaps and scandal on twitter.
I think also there is an opportunity for him to use Twitter in a way.
[22:54:58] So, for example, when he is trying to pass some legislation to use it to lobby members of Congress to go over the heads of the media and politicians to their constituents.
So, you know, on one hand I wish he would give up Twitter, on the other hand, I think it would be giving away a really powerful resource.
LEMON: Yes. Hey, David, I need to move on because I think this is important to discuss now.
LEMON: Relying on 63-year-old law and not an executive action, President Obama protected his environmental legacy today by barring offshore drilling in areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Ocean indefinitely.
The president-elect who has promise a policy allowing more U.S. energy production...
LEMON: ... will face legal challenges if he attempt to reverse Obama's order.
Washington Post has been reporting that the Trump transition team has asked State Department officials to disclose how much it provides each year to environmental international groups.
LEMON: What can you tell us about it?
SWERDLICK: So that report by our colleagues, Juliette, Efren, and Karen Morello (Ph) really insightful in the sense that look, you are looking at an administration that's weeks into their transition and already focused in on what money is being spent by the State Department on environmental initiatives.
With all of the other hot spots in the world, with all of the other things on the State Department's plate this is being zeroed in on. It doesn't mean that something, you know, nefarious is going on or that they don't have the right to do it or take stock of how much money is being spent.
But when you add that to all of the, you know, sort of energy industry folks that are sort of migrating toward the Trump administration, I think it at least raises an eyebrow about what the priorities are in the incoming administration.
LEMON: Quickly, was this a reaction do you think to Tillerson, to Rick Perry and to Scott Pruitt...
LEMON: ... someone who is climate change denier, as one ran a huge oil company Exxon chemical.
LEWIS: But I think they can walk in -- you know, I think that the Trump administration...
LEMON: Walk in to save the environment at the same time.
LEWIS: Yes. And I think there is a lot of scrutiny on this president and I think it's healthy and good. I just wonder -- I don't know that we had the same amount of scrutiny toward the early days of the Obama administration. But this is good. We should hold politicians accountable.
LEMON: All right.
LEWIS: Keep an eye on them.
LEMON: Thank you, everyone. Straight ahead in the next hour, a manhunt from Germany for whoever is responsible for the terror attack in Berlin's Christian market. ISIS now claiming it inspired the deadly attack.