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Daily Briefing from the White House; Capitol Police Let Sen. Staffers Leave; Substantial Progress in Boston

Aired April 17, 2013 - 12:30   ET


QUESTION: ... just a clarification that the letter-or the envelope received here, did it have the same return address as...

CARNEY: It was not received here (inaudible).

QUESTION: I'm sorry...


QUESTION: ... received at the facility. But did the envelope sent to the president, did-did it have the same return address as the one...

CARNEY: Again, that's subject of the investigation. I have no information on the nature of the mailing label or the return address. That would be for the FBI to address.

QUESTION: And do you know if there was a letter in this envelope or is it just...


CARNEY: Yeah, I have no-the reason why I opened with a statement about it is to make clear that this is a matter under investigation by the FBI and that they have the lead in both investigating and providing information on that investigation to the public.

QUESTION: OK, let me ask you something you definitely know about. The gun control votes, Capitol Hill today. It certainly looks like it's going down in defeat. What does this say? What happens next? Is the president gonna continue his fight on this?

CARNEY: The president believes very strongly that the Senate should pass the background checks bill. You have heard him speak passionately about this issue. The families of Newtown victims have been in Washington speaking to lawmakers about the need to pass common sense legislation to reduce gun violence.

This was always going to be difficult. We said that from the beginning. The reason why these common sense provisions aren't law already is because they are difficult. And there is no question that the path to 60 in this case is difficult, but it is not unachievable.

And we hope that members of the Senate, after speaking with Newtown families who are on the Capitol Hill right now meeting with lawmakers, consider who they're representing. Ninety percent of the American people support expanded background checks. Majorities in every state where there is data available overwhelmingly support background checks-every state. Republicans, Democrats, gun owners, independents support background checks.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're going to break away briefly from Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.

We're getting some exclusive information from CNN's John King who is working his sources here in Boston.

And John is learning from Boston law enforcement, a Boston law enforcement source -- and I want to be precise in what he's learning -- this source telling John there has now been determined to be, quote, "substantial progress in the criminal investigation into the Boston marathon bombings," and to quote this source, "This is significant."

We don't have more information. We don't know what the substantial progress is, but they're now suggesting that there is a significant development in this investigation, substantial progress.

We're trying to reconnect with John. We'll get him on the phone very soon. He'll get us more information.

But this potentially is a significant development in the investigation into the Boston marathon bombings, three people killed, nearly 200 people injured as a result of that.

Meanwhile, there's other activity going on in Washington right now, including a Capitol Hill police briefing, the evacuation of some Senate office buildings.

Let's listen in.


SHENNELL ANTROBUS, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, CAPITOL HILL POLICE: ... is responding to a suspicious envelope. We're currently conducting an investigation right now, and I plan on coming back with some more information shortly, but please be advised we're currently investigating the situation in both the Dirksen and the Hart buildings.

That's all I can share right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dirksen and Hart? Not Russell?

ANTROBUS: I'm sorry. Excuse me. Russell and Hart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first and third floors of Hart?

ANTROBUS: The only thing I can tell you right now is we're investigating the suspicious envelopes in both areas. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there an individual being held?

ANTROBUS: That's all I can tell you right now.

I will be back with more information as soon as I receive it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give us your name again?

ANTROBUS: Thank you.

We have our -- we have professionals onsite investigating this from the United States Capitol police.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) they need to stay put until indefinitely?

ANTROBUS: We're controlling access to the building right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Envelope or package?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So no movement inside?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Envelope or package?

ANTROBUS: We're controlling access to the building right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Envelope or package?

ANTROBUS: And that's what I can give you. I'll be back to give you more -- I'll give you more updates ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your name again?

ANTROBUS: Officer Shennell Antrobus.





Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, a little statement, not much, from Capitol Hill police, they're investigating suspicious packages in two Senate office buildings, the Russell Senate office building, the Hart Senate office buildings.

People have been told to stay put or to leave as a result of these suspicious materials that are there, that have been found there.

All of this raising enormous questions in the aftermath, the clearly understandably nervous feelings as a result of what happened here in Boston.

Dana Bash is standing by. Dana, I want to recap for our viewers what's going on who may just be tuning in, in the United States or around the world right now.

We all know what happened in Boston, these two bombings at the end of the Boston marathon, three people killed, nearly 200 people injured.

In the aftermath of that, we just got confirmation, once again, from the White House the president will be here in Boston tomorrow attending an interfaith memorial service, a service honoring those who were injured, obviously honoring those who were killed as well.

And we were told that the first lady, Michelle Obama, will be joining the president at this interfaith memorial service.

Meanwhile, there may be connected activities or unconnected activities happening in Washington right now.

We know that there's been a suspicious envelope believed, or at least suspected, to be laced with the poison, ricin, sent to one United States senator, Roger Wicker, a Republican of Mississippi, and that there was a similarly laced letter sent to the president of the United States that has been apprehended at an off-White House-site which reviews all packages and letters that come to the White House for anything suspicious.

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, confirming the existence of this suspicious letter. The FBI also saying it was suspicious.

They're sending it to Fort Detrick, Maryland, the U.S. government's lab, for any poisons, whether it's ricin or anthrax or anything along those lines. The president, obviously, nowhere near that letter.

Let's go to our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's watching all of this.

Dana, Roger Wicker's office gets a letter like this, and now there are indications maybe other letters, and there's someone who was walking around the Hart Senate office building with a backpack delivering suspicious letters.

What's going on?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. And I guess maybe just to sort of -- because there's so much going on, maybe we should clarify and separate the issues for our viewers.

Let's start with what you were just talking about, what we first reported yesterday on the letters that appear to be laced with ricin.

First, one went to Senator Roger Wicker. That, as we speak, is being tested as a lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland. I was told by the Senate sergeant-at-arms, the chief law enforcement official here in the Senate, yesterday, that he felt confident that it was actually ricin, but of course, they're still doing other tests.

Separately, of course, we've been reporting, as we heard from the White House press secretary, a similar kind of letter was addressed to the president, and it went to an offsite facility where the White House gets its mail, so there's testing also being done on that particular letter.

Now, separate from all that, there is activity here on the Capitol complex, starting with where I am right now in the Russell office building. Down the hall from where I am, Senator Richard Shelby's office is effectively in lockdown.

I got an e-mail from his communications director saying that somebody went to the office and gave the person at the front desk a letter that they shouldn't have gotten and that shouldn't have happened because that's not the protocol. The protocol is anything that is sealed needs to start at the offsite facility.

So that's why a hazmat team has been here. That's why that particular, as you can see down the hall right there, that hallway is closed off and we can't go down there.

But, as you see I'm standing here, so they're not that concerned about the safety of others around this building.

Separately, you just heard a little about a spokesman from the Capitol police department, in the Hart building, there also is some activity going on. What they're calling it is they're calling it "safe" -- excuse me -- "sheltering in place." That's the way they're describing what these staffers and even some senators need to do.

Those who are in their offices were asked to stay in their offices. Those who were out cannot go back in, as they look for whatever it is that they have seen there, suspicious packages.

And, in fact our Lisa Desjardins reported that the Capitol police are talking to and questioning somebody with a backpack who might have been the person who delivered these suspicious letters or packages around the Capitol complex. So we're working on that to try to figure out if the Capitol police have more information so we can get more information.

One just little piece of color as to how this is affecting business up here, as our viewers know and we just heard a little bit from the White House spokesman, there's going to be a very big vote in the Senate on background checks for guns in a little bit more than three hours.

One of the chief sponsors of that, Joe Manchin, has an office in the Hart Building, and our producers, Rachel Stripefeld (ph), and others watched him try to get into his office to work the phones and try to get other senators on board because it looks like this is going to fail. He couldn't get into his office.

So they said it was this wild scene where the senator was on his cell phone, looking through the window of his own office, talking to his senators because he couldn't get in, they couldn't get out.

He decided to come to the Capitol and work from a different office, so that just kind of gives you a sense of how frankly bizarre things are here, if nothing else.

And certainly there's no question you can feel the tension here is palpable.

BLITZER: And everybody's going through letters right now. They're all looking at anything that potentially could be suspicious, including Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic senator from Michigan, the chairman of the Senate armed services committee.

What do we know about this particular suspicious letter, Dana?

BASH: That's right. We just got a statement from Senator Carl Levin's office that a staffer in his Saginaw office -- Saginaw, Michigan -- today, earlier today, got a suspicious letter -- you see the pictures there that we're getting from our affiliate in Saginaw, Michigan -- a suspicious letter that just looked a little odd, so this staffer contacted the local authorities and now they're investigating this particular letter.

They don't have any more information than that. I tried to contact the office to see if there's anything at all that could indicate that there's some similarity between that letter and the one that went to Senator Roger Wicker. I haven't heard back yet.

Obviously that is probably one of the key questions, whether or not that's why the staffer said this looks odd because maybe the staffer heard about the kind of markings that Senator Wicker's office got, the fact that there was no return address, the fact that it came from Memphis, Tennessee, so we're on that story as well and we'll try to get more information about that.

BLITZER: I think people are going to be looking at all sorts of letters, suspicious-looking letters that they get, and a lot of us, including you, Dana, vividly remember the anthrax-laced letters that popped up right after 9/11 in 2001.

Just remind our viewers. You were working up on Capitol Hill, and I believe -- and correct me if I'm wrong, Dana -- that as a result of your being near some letters just out of an abundance of precaution you were advised to take Cipro. Is that right?

BASH: That's exactly right. It really is eerie because it was -- I think it was a couple weeks after the attacks of 9/11, which obviously affected the whole country, but really affected people here in the Capitol complex and around Washington.

And we got word that there was a suspicious package, much like what we're hearing today, that went to the office of Senator Tom Daschle who, at the time, was Senate majority leader.

And I and other reporters did what you do, which is you run toward the scene, and because of that, we later found out that it was actually anthrax. The letter was laced with anthrax.

Because of that many, many staffers on Capitol Hill, even senators, had to take the antibiotic Cipro, as did I. And we all remember something very similar happened at the offices of NBC in New York and elsewhere.

It turned out at the end of the day -- we found out much later -- that it was not a related incident to 9/11, but we didn't know that then, and we don't know that -- we don't know now, even though we are hearing -- we saw from the FBI statement that Jessica was just asking Jay Carney about that they don't believe that there is a link between Boston and what we're seeing here.

But they're definitely leaving wiggle room. And so that definitely raises question.

BLITZER: Yes. To this day, there are still plenty of unanswered questions about those anthrax-laced letters that were sent to members of the Senate, members of the news media and others as well.

That investigation never completely 100-percent satisfactory by any means.

Dana, stand by. Joe Johns is our crime and justice correspondent. You're getting more information, Joe, on what's going on. What are you picking up?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Dribs and drabs, quite frankly, right now, Wolf.

First, we're being told that authorities are letting people out of their offices in the Hart Building there on Capitol Hill on the Senate side, but they have not been given the all clear sign yet, so we don't know what all of that means at this time.

We're also hearing from the FBI that, in addition to these two suspected ricin letters in that statement that was released, field tests on the equipment at the mail facility also tested positive and the question, of course, is whether that suggests there was another letter or whether this was a case of the mail equipment being tainted. They're still trying to figure that out.

The FBI also says they expect to get these ricin results back from Fort Detrick in Maryland some time this afternoon. We don't know how long that is.

Now that's very significant, and also the business about the mail equipment is very significant as well because, Wolf, as you know, back in 2001 there were many reports that because no senators got sick and no one in the offices got sick because none of these letters got through to the government offices they were intended for that everything was OK. And it absolutely wasn't the case with anthrax.

We don't know yet whether this was, in fact, ricin. But the real concern right now is about postal workers and people in the chain of the mail wherever it may have ended up. The question, of course, whether those people are being checked and what the authorities are doing for those folks right now.

I've been talking to union officials with the Postal Service and others to try to determine the extent to which precautions have been made. But that is part of the story. And it's important to point that out because in 2001 it was postal workers who got sick with anthrax. So - and as we move forward to try to determine whether this was, in fact, ricin, we also have to keep one eye on those government employees, those nameless government employees who could have handled these letters, Wolf.

BLITZER: And that one -- at least one, I believe, maybe a couple of those postal workers actually died --


BLITZER: Two, I think.

JOHNS: Right.

BLITZER: That's right, Joe.

JOHNS: That's right.

BLITZER: I remember pretty clearly speaking to some surviving family members, postal workers dead as a result of those anthrax-laced letters that occurred near the end of 2001 shortly after 9/11. Apparently no connection, although, as I said before, still lots of unanswered questions about the anthrax-laced letters. And we don't know if there's any connection now between what may be these ricin- laced letters going to members of the United States Senate and maybe even to the president of the United States and what happened here on Boston on Monday at the end of the Boston Marathon. But it's going to raise a lot of questions and people who are already nervous and jittery even more so as a result of this for good reason.

Joe, standby. Brianna Keilar is over at the White House.

Are you getting more information over there on that letter, that suspicious letter that was addressed to the president, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we don't have more information from the White House. We heard from Jay Carney and he really left it at that, that the FBI will be continuing to -- will take the lead on this investigation.

But I think it's important to note that in the briefing Jay Carney would not rule out a connection between the Boston bombings and these letters, these two letters, one to Senator Wicker, one to President Obama. He was not confirming, of course, that there was a connection. But I think the reason why there are these big questions about whether there could be a connection and why this might be different than the anthrax letters that we saw following 9/11, that at first, as Dana mentioned, some people thought were connected directly to 9/11, and then obviously turned out not to be.

But I think there's something that makes this very different and that's that the letters were received on Tuesday, one day after the bombing. So if you do --

BLITZER: Brianna, I just want to interrupt you for a moment. Brianna, hold on for a moment. Dana Bash is getting some more information. I'll come back to you, Brianna.

Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: That's right. We are being told by the Capitol Police, they just released a statement, that the Capitol Police have removed the suspicious packages from both office buildings here in the Senate complex that were in sort of modified lockdown, both in the Hart Building and here where I am in the Russell Building. They say that they've removed the suspicious packages and that the areas on this floor and over in the Hart Building are now open. So that has changed.

Obviously we do not know, based on this very short statement we just got, what the suspicious packages were, whether removing them means that they're going to test them somewhere else or if it turned out to be kind of nothing and that it was a false alarm. So we'll try to get clarification on that. But the incident and the event that has been going on here in the Senate complex appears to be over right now.

BLITZER: People understandably, Dana, are a little jittery. The staffers, the others, people who are working on the Senate side, presumably on the House side as well, but especially on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol.

BASH: Oh, there's no question about it. There is definitely a different feel here. After 9/11, everybody in the country had the jitters. And you especially felt it here in the Capitol where people realized not long after the attacks that one of the planes, the plane that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania, could have been likely headed for this building. And that, combined with the attacks with the anthrax-laced letters that came to two senators, really you had a feeling everybody was looking around constantly.

That subsided here, like it did everywhere else in the country. That kind of feeling of an imminent threat. However, it doesn't mean that the law enforcement officials here in this area let up on things. And for that reason, we often get e-mails on our Blackberries, we get warned not to go down a hallway because there is a suspicious package. I got to tell you, most of us kind of raise our shoulders and say, OK, we'll wait for it to be cleared, assuming it's going to be negative. Today, obviously, that's not the assumption because of the heightened state of -- maybe I shouldn't use the word alert, but anxiety that people are feeling particularly here in the United States Capitol.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you can use the word alert because people are at a heightened state of alert right now. Law enforcement not only here in Boston, but in New York and Washington, in Los Angeles, elsewhere around the country, just out of an abundance of caution, if you will. They want to make sure they don't suffer the kind of tragedy that occurred here on Monday in Boston.

Dana, I just want to update our viewers who may just be tuning in on what's going on with the investigation into the bombings, the terrorist bombings that killed three people, injured nearly 200 other people here in Boston.

Our John King is learning from a law enforcement source here in Boston that there is, in the words of this law enforcement source, quote, "significant progress in the criminal investigation into these two bombings that occurred Monday at the end of the Boston Marathon." And this official saying, quote, "this is significant."

Now, we don't know what that progress is. We don't know all the details. They're only beginning to come in right now. We're -- John is working his sources. We'll check in with him very, very shortly.

But in marked contrast to yesterday when we heard from the FBI agent in charge that this investigation was really at its infancy. Now we're getting word that they must be making some significant progress if this law enforcement source says there's substantial progress and this is a significant development. John will be joining us shortly. We'll get some more information hopefully on what this progress is and hopefully we'll learn who was responsible for these terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Tom Fuentes is joining us.

Tom, you're a former assistant director of the FBI. You're our CNN law enforcement analyst right now. If law enforcement sources are suggesting that there's substantial progress and this is significant, what does that say to you? Do they -- you think they have a breakthrough?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASST. DIRECTOR: Well, I don't know if it's a breakthrough yet, Wolf, but certainly it could be one of several things. You could have a better definitive idea of the bombs that were used in the attack and how they were made and where they were likely put together. That could be part of the information.

Also, you have the fact that the FBI is now finally able to interview many of the victims who had been taken to the hospital, getting surgery, heavily sedated, not able to be talked to in the immediate aftermath, but maybe now, as a result of being able to talk to somebody, they might have a real eyewitness.

You know, in the initial aftermath, everybody claiming to be an eyewitness was someone who was looking in another direction, maybe heard the bomb, heard the screaming, saw the running. They were an eyewitness to the aftermath. They weren't an eyewitness to somebody carrying in a package, acting suspiciously, placing it on the ground. Then the package going up. So you had nobody in the beginning giving a physical description of someone to even be looking for. And some of the descriptions that were put out about people could be almost anybody.

So that could be part of the progress, that they have a better description to work with, they have a better idea of the explosive components that were put together and how they were put together. That, to me, would be where the progress would be as more of a leading toward. And there could be somebody that's come forward to claim credit that we don't know of yet. That, of course, would be substantial if somebody wanted to admit it and claim their 15 minutes of fame for this whole event.

BLITZER: And at some point we assume FBI and local law enforcement, Boston Police, will have a briefing here, a news conference, and we'll get some more information on what's going on. In the meantime, we're working our sources to update you on the criminal investigation into the terrorist bombings that occurred here in Boston on Monday.

We're watching what's happening here in Boston. Also in Washington, D.C., right now, a suspicious letter initially tested positive with the poison ricin addressed to the president of the United States, coming a day after a similarly suspicious letter addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi. And now other suspicious letters emerging at the Hart Senate Office Building, the Russell Senate Office Building.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll continue all of the breaking news conference when we come back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Boston, where we're following breaking news on several fronts.

First of all, here in Boston, our own John King is reporting now, quoting a law enforcement source in Boston saying that there has been "substantial progress" -- the direct quote -- "substantial progress" in the criminal investigation into who may have been responsible for the bombings. The terrorist bombings on Monday at the end of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and injured nearly 200 others. John King will be joining us momentarily. He's getting more information. Substantial progress he's reporting in this criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., very, very nervous folks right now as a result of what they suspect are ricin -- the poison ricin-laced letters sent to a United States senator, Roger Wicker of Mississippi. And now also a similar letter sent to the president of the United States, PRESIDENT OBAMA. The letter never reached the White House. It was intercepted at an offsite screening center as all parcels, all letters sent to the president are. But, once again, they're investigating that initial test positive. But that's just initial. It could change.

There are other letters, suspicious letters and packages, also being investigated right now on Capitol Hill in the Hart Senate Office Building, the Russell Senate Office Building. An individual walking around with a backpack delivering letters and law enforcement now questioning that individual to see if those letters do contain any suspicious powder, any suspicious material. Certainly something as deadly as ricin would be a huge, huge problem. It reminds a lot of us of the anthrax-laced letters that were delivered to U.S. senators, to members of the news media back at the end of 2001, shortly after 9/11, that killed some individuals, including two postal workers who just randomly touched those letters and the anthrax actually wound up killing them, as a lot of us painfully recall.

There's another breaking news story out of Texas we're following and we're going to update you on that. An arrest - an apparent arrest in the murder of that district attorney in Texas and his wife. Very, very dramatic developments on that front. We're watching all of this unfold.

But let's bring in our law enforcement analyst Julia Kiam (ph), right now, who's here with us in Boston.

Come on over here, Julia.


BLITZER: Let's talk, first of all, about John King's reporting.


BLITZER: Substantial progress in the criminal investigation.