Return to Transcripts main page


Gun Legislation Fails In Senate Today; Officials: No Arrest Made In Bombings; Prosecuting A Terror Case

Aired April 17, 2013 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And Dana, I'm wondering how much of this was because of principled opposition to the Manchin/Toomey amendment, and how much an issue of risk/reward? In other words, there really was very little potential reward because it was probably never going to pass the House of Representatives, even if it was going to be voted on in the House. For some senators, it might not even have been worth the risk of voting for it since it wouldn't have become law.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question. I think it is hard to know how many senators really decided not to vote for it for that reason. Because what tends to happen is as you get close to the magic number of 60. Then all of a sudden, you can potentially get a whole bunch of other senators because the senators who are voting for it realize that, you know what, I might as well get on the side of a winning issue here.

To your point, that is exactly what did not happen here. You had Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly of course who had been really pushing for new gun laws. They are here actually as we speak. You had Newtown families going around, and they just couldn't convince enough of these senators to go along with it. You talk to some of them, and they argue they were too worried about, as you put it, the risk particularly the backlash from the NRA.

TAPPER: All right. Dana Bash, thanks.

I want to turn back now to the investigation into the terrorist attacks here. This is the pressure cooker type situation -- this is the kind of pressure cooker the law enforcement is looking into. This was filled with all sorts of instruments of death that were used to kill three people and wound many others. Common items in that pressure cooker used to unleash unspeakable violence in downtown Boston.

Now joining me from Washington, D.C., Tom Fuentes, former assistant director for the FBI. And Michael Bouchard, former assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Authorities, gentlemen, are poring over these items to try to find any sort of clues. Tom, what was your first thought when you heard of the materials used to create the bomb?

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Well, Jake, it sounded like a fairly simple bomb. Using a pressure cooker is like creating a pipe bomb in essence. You put the explosive material inside the cooker, you close the lid, you lock the lid. And as the explosive material burns and burns very quickly, the gases expand, and at a certain point it is too much pressure for the lid and the pan blows up. You can insert in that debris and shrapnel and other items.

But it is essentially not any different than taking a long pipe and capping both ends of it with explosive in the middle. It is just a little bit easier. It is a store-bought thing that seals up and works very well.

TAPPER: And Michael, how hard would it be to transport one of these pressure cooker bombs through a crowd as big as the one around the finish line off the Boston Marathon? Obviously, it is physically not that cumbersome but is it, is there a risk of it not being stable as you are walking it through?

MICHAEL BOUCHARD, FORMER ATF ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: It is relatively easy to transport an item like this. It might weigh 10 to 15 pounds, depending on what they put inside the pot. But again, it is relatively stable. If you use the low explosives such as black powder, smokeless powder, something along those lines, it would be relatively stable to transport. Not much of a risk for the person carrying it.

TAPPER: And, Michael, staying with you, as deadly as the device was, it does sound pretty crude. How difficult is it to put something together like this?

BOUCHARD: These are very easy to put together. You don't see bombs in pressure cookers very often. However, for more than 20 years, I've seen this kind of information on the Internet about how to use one. You just don't see it used very often.

So again, it doesn't take much experience. You just need an oxidizer or fuel power source. And if you use a timer or some other type of action command to detonate it, it is relatively easy. All available on the Internet.

TAPPER: Tom, these sorts of bombs have been used by everyone from the would-be Times Square bomber to the terrorists on the frontiers of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Anecdotally, I've heard from many troops over there that there are lots of pressure cooker bombers. How difficult would it be for anyone to build this kind of thing?

FUENTES: Well, you don't have to build it. You just go to the local retail store and buy it. Wait till you get a coupon and you can save money doing it. Also, when you're going through a checkpoint, if somebody looks inside the bag, you could tell them you're on your way to open a soup kitchen or something. It doesn't have the appearance of a pipe bomb necessarily. You know, so it looks like a harmless device.

The main reason I've been aware of for the use overseas is maybe as land mines that you can put that in the ground -- and with the pressure, you know, with it sealed -- it avoids environmental contamination. It keeps the contents dry and ready to explode and protects the inner workings of the bomb. That's been the more common reason for doing it in the past. But now, with all the publicity this week of this particular technique, it may gain popularity here as well, unfortunately.

TAPPER: Michael Bouchard, Tom Fuentes, thank you so much.

FUENTES: You're welcome.

BOUCHARD: Thank you.

TAPPER: From Iraq to Afghanistan to peaceful downtown Boston, the marathon terror attack is underscoring the danger of these IEDs within our own shores. Cheap to make, hard to find, able to cause mass casualties in a large crowd and kill in shocking fashion.


TAPPER: It's a legacy of the war on terror. Improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, have wreaked havoc on U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tearing through armored vehicles and in Afghanistan, amounting to half of all U.S. troop deaths. And with the devastating bombing at the Boston Marathon, the threat that forces face overseas has come home.

LT. GEN. MICHAEL BARBARRO, DOD COUNTER IED OPERATIONS: It is an enduring threat. And I think operationally to our forces and domestically, will be here for decades.

TAPPER: Lieutenant General Michael Barbarro runs the Defense Department's counter IED operations. Last year he said, quote, "We're dreaming if we think this threat will leave us after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan." Since 2011 there have been more than 10,000 IED attacks in over a hundred countries. Forty different terror networks were responsible. And experts now worry that in the future, homemade bombs will become the weapon of choice in the U.S.

ROBERT LISCOUSKI, FORMER ASSITANT SECRETARY FOR INFRASTRUTURE PROTECTION: IEDs are, I'd say, the sing biggest single threat we have to our security here in the nation.

TAPPER: Robert Liscouski ran the Homeland Security Department's bomb prevention unit.

LISCOUSKI: The capacity it takes to build and construct an IED is really very small in terms of the level of any kind engineering or technical background. And the materials are widely available.

TAPPER: A research center at the University of Maryland says there have been 44 IED attacks in the U.S. since 2001. In 2011, a white supremacist crafted one with layers of shrapnel and rat poison, a nasty bomb which would have caused those who survived the attack to bleed to death. His target? A parade marking the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in Spokane, Washington. Luckily, the bomb was discovered 40 minutes before the event, and tragedy was averted.

In 2010, a plot by a homegrown Muslim terrorist to detonate a car bomb in Times Square was also thwarted. The cost to counter the threat of makeshift bombs is in the billions, but most of the money goes toward protecting troops, leaving many civilians gathered in large groups exposed.

LISCOUSKI: Our budget here in the United States comparatively is miniscule. When I was the assistant secretary back at DHS, we created an office of bombing prevention. Annual budget of $20 million a year when we started off. Today it's about $11 million a year. And it's probably going to be cut further.

TAPPER: It would not even be enough to triple the budget, he says. A high price for an explosive that costs only a few dollars to make.


TAPPER: We continue to get new information on the investigation into the Boston terrorist attacks including specific details on one man that authorities want to talk to and what he was wearing the day of the bombings. We'll have that just up next.


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper live in Boston. You're looking at live pictures of the crime scene with investigators going around the area. Just recently, President Obama addressed the Boston terrorist bombings on the South Lawn during an event with the Wounded Warrior Project. Let's take a listen to that.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, we obviously meet at a time when our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston. Our hearts are with the families of the victims. And now we send our support and encouragement to people who never expected that they would need it: the wounded civilians who are just beginning what will be I'm sure for some of them a long road to recovery. It is a road that the remarkable warriors and athletes here know all too well. And as a consequences are going to serve for all of the families as well as all Americans' continued inspiration.


TAPPER: President Obama will visit Boston tomorrow. CNN will have full coverage of his arrival and the interfaith ceremony that he'll participate in.

I now want to talk to CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend, who's on the phone. She has been following leads all day. Fran, thanks for joining us. All the agencies involved in this investigation at the local level, at the federal level, how does that complicate an investigation, or is there seamless cooperation?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (on the phone): Well, Jake, I can tell you in all the terrorism investigations I've worked, what you hope for, what you work toward is seamless coordination and a single investigative plan. And that never happens, right? Different investigators following different leads give different weight and credibility to it. And so they have to work through what are their highest priorities? How valuable is the information, and what are the next steps?

That they're working through that doesn't mean there is conflict. There is sort of a natural process by which they're kind of -- their elbows are up, and they're working through the details. Because these are smart people working way long hours and sometimes come at it from a different point of view, particularly between the feds and the locals.

TAPPER: Now Fran, we know there is an individual that law enforcement has spotted in surveillance video taken at Lord & Taylor, another video possibly from a local television station. Perhaps also other video and images from people in the crowd. There's been a lot of efforts at crowd sourcing by law enforcement. What do we know about this individual?

TOWNSEND: Look, this is somebody that all the law enforcement sources that we talked to indicate they are very interested in. They've looked at these videos. They have indicated to us that they see this individual as a suspect that it is something they want to talk to that they've seen in the images. The person placing a package before the bombing takes place. And so of course this is a person of high interest. But we shouldn't view the pictures and the videos in isolation.

What they're trying to do was remember when we reported early this morning that they found the cover on the pressure -- the lid from pressure cooker on the roof of a nearby building. They're going over that to see what forensic information they can find. Is there a latent fingerprint, what sort of bomb and technical information?

They're going to try and put that all together to identify that individual and determine his importance. Is that the bomber? Is that a suspect? Is that a victim? That is the kind of information they're going through now and they want to do it.

I mean, it's a very chaotic environment is the impression I have. But they want to do this in a deliberate way and build the best possible case.

TAPPER: All right, Fran Townsend, CNN national security analyst. Thank you so much.

Just what goes into making a pressure cooker bomb and how could that information provide clues on who is behind the attack? We'll take a closer look next.

Plus, of course, we're still waiting on that news conference on the latest into the investigation. Stay with us. We'll bring you that live as soon as it starts.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Boston, Massachusetts. They are looking for the virtual fingerprints of a terrorist. Right now, agents at the FBI's lab in Quantico, Virginia are trying to rebuild the bombs that killed three and maimed so many innocents at the Boston marathon.

As we reported investigators have found the twisted top of a pressure cooker on a roof of a local building, shredded pieces of what could be a backpack and metal ball bearings. But whatever is missing could be key.

Tom Foreman is in the virtual studio with a look at the police work that could crack the case wide open hopefully at least -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly, Jake. What they're really looking for, what is missing right now is a link between that and activity in this crowd. So today tremendous emphasis on images like this one from a local TV station showing that pack sitting in front of a railing with people behind it, we've had a lot of talk about that.

Much of the focus today on another set of images or video captured by a security camera on a Lord & Taylor store across the street. This is the nearest camera to the scene of that second explosion where that package was.

Let me bring in my model here and show you what I'm talking about. This is the model. I'll rotate it so you can see. The Lord & Taylor is actually right down here, this yellow building. You can see the two explosions. Look at the detail here.

If you come in, that camera we've been talking about all day is that it right there. That little blue marker shows where it is. There is the explosion right across the street. So they would have a very clear line of sight if that is the camera we're talking about.

Then you can see down to the other end where the other explosion occurred. The simple truth is, Jake, if they have a link that shows a human being at this site they can use that video to see if they can hook into the other site and all of that will lead not only to the explosion that we talked about so much, but that physical evidence you were just talking about.

Yes, they found a lot of things right now. They have what they believe to be the backpack that was carried in. They have some of the pressure cooker and you were correct, some of it was found on a roof top as we predicted it might be yesterday and even some of the ignition devices.

The simple truth is, Jake, if you take all of the activity on that map and what might have happened there and you can connect it to this then you have not only visual evidence, but physical evidence that can lead to an arrest and maybe a solid case -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Tom foreman in our virtual studio. It is unclear at this point if and when a suspect or suspects will be arrested and brought to court. But lots of questions remain about how that process would work.

Let's bring in former U.S. Attorney David Kelly, he prosecuted the 1993 World Trade Center bomber and acted as co-lead prosecutor of American Taliban John Walker Lind. Mr. Kelly, thanks for joining us. This would obviously be a very high profile case. What are the difficulties in prosecuting a case like this?

DAVID KELLEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You've been hearing today from Fran Townsend and some others about the collection of evidence. It sounds very interesting on TV, but trying to translate that and convert that into admissible evidence in a courtroom can be quite challenging.

So while it sounds fairly easy to put together and something like a CSI show, it is much different when you get into the called on of the courtroom and having to actually use the rules of evidence to get that material in front of a jury to be considered as evidence.

TAPPER: Of course, it's possible that the suspect or suspects might not be American citizens and in that instance what changes?

KELLEY: It doesn't really change. If the person is apprehended here whether a U.S. citizen or not, they're going to be treated under the U.S. federal criminal law. I guess it becomes challenging if the suspect has left the country. Then we're dealing with two things.

First we have to apprehend him or her and depending on what country that is, we'll have to follow the different extradition treaties and the procedures in that country in order to apprehend and get that person over here.

Likewise if there is evidence that can be found overseas there is going to be certain challenges there in terms of collecting the evidence in accordance with the rules of evidence and criminal procedure so that we can then get it into a courtroom and use it in front of a jury here in the U.S.

TAPPER: You're saying that this person definitively would be tried in a federal court, but is it not possible that the Obama administration unlikely, but possible that they would choose to designate him an enemy combatant prosecute him in military court?

KELLEY: I think to get into that discussion now is to get way ahead of the situation and a lot of speculation and conjecture. I think cases like this have been made countless times before. If you look at the World Trade Center case, many other cases have been done successfully here through our criminal justice system and my guess is that is the way it is going on this one as well.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. David Kelley, I appreciate it. We're just learning that President Obama will give a statement on the failed gun control amendment that will be in the Rose Garden at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Boston with our continuing coverage of the investigation into the terrorist attacks in the Boston marathon. We're expecting a press conference from law enforcement any minute now to give the latest on the investigation.

But now is the time that I want to bring in "THE SITUATION ROOM's" Wolf Blitzer, crazy day today.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": It certainly has been. You know what? That's what happens in these investigations. You get conflicting information. You go with what you have presuming it's accurate then if it's not you fix it and you move on.

TAPPER: There's obviously some break in the case that we know of today. Some surveillance video of somebody who law enforcement wants to speak with, somebody who was there, has not been designated as a suspect or person of interest, but law enforcement wants to talk to this individual. But that's all we know as of now.

BLITZER: We're anxious to hear what the FBI, what the governor, what the mayor, what they have to say. I know they've delayed this news conference, supposed to be at the top of the hour. We'll see what time it happens and get the latest information from them.

TAPPER: All right, looking forward to "THE SITUATION ROOM." I leave it in your able hands.