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Boston Bombing Investigation Continues; Letter to Obama Tests Positive for Ricin

Aired April 17, 2013 - 14:59   ET


ANDERSON COOPER CNN ANCHOR: It is interesting. And kind of a delicate dance for law enforcement at this point now. Do you go completely public with what you have, in the hopes that -- like they did with the Unabomber, finally releasing his manifesto that led to the brother of the Unabomber identifying some of the nature of the writing, do you go public with all of the information you have, in the hopes that that will stir the pot and alert somebody, or do you try to hold it close to your vest?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY ASSISTANT SECRETARY: So, it might be too soon to -- I think it's going to depend on whether there is a hot trail or a cold trail.

If there is just a picture of someone and they have no idea, just hundreds of thousands of people at the Boston Marathon, the trail may be cold, and they may want to go public, because, as I have been saying, this person was here from for some time.

We just -- we can know that just intuitively, that this is a person who knew the area. If it is hot, no. They might be close. And they're hoping he's doing something stupid right now that would let us get -- let the government get him.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Just to close the circle on this, we have reason to believe that they have someone identified, it is progressing that way. No more information at that time, but that is good news.

We do have a correspondent over at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Elizabeth, there is activity over there. What do you know?


Very quickly, it transformed from having just a little bit of police presence, having a lot of police presence. And what we have been told by two Brookline police officers is that they believe the hospital or at least a part of it is being evacuated. That's what we were told by Brookline police officers.

Brookline is a town right next to Boston. And you can see that the streets to the east, Francis Street to the east has now been blocked off. There is no traffic coming to or from. You can see the policeman in the middle there who is with the Brookline police force. There's also state police troopers here.

So again we were told by two police officers that the hospital is -- they believe the hospital is being evacuated or at least a part of it is being evacuated.

COOPER: All right.

CUOMO: Is there any reason why, Elizabeth, that it has been offered other than just these two police officers saying it?

COHEN: No. No.

We asked about that and they don't know. These are police officers who are here just doing their job and trying to help people get across the street and blocking off the traffic and they didn't have a reason why.

COOPER: Yes. We should point out, in a situation like this, after a big story like this, oftentimes there are people who call in all sorts of threats.

We have seen this, and frankly a lot of it is not even worth reporting because you don't want to do anything that encourages other people to call in threats elsewhere. There have been a number of evacuations in places, not just in Boston, but in airports, other places around the country in the last several days that have really been turned out to be nothing or just an abundance of caution.

I think all of this kind of should be taken with a grain of salt. And as Chris keeps saying, let's just step back and kind of look at the bigger picture here.

KAYYEM: I think the fact there is not a major police presence at the courthouse suggests that the 5:00 p.m. is going to be more sort of -- 5:00 p.m. presser by the public officials will be just more here's where we are and this is good and we have advanced a lot more than they did from 24 hours ago and then figuring out whether they're going to release the picture and what the picture tells us.

CUOMO: For a point of perspective, from the beginning, what has been head-scratching about this is to go so quickly from identifying somebody on a videotape, even if you think you know a name, how you would get to that point, unless they're a known quantity, is shocking.

KAYYEM: Right.

CUOMO: To then get word that they had an arrest within hours.

KAYYEM: It would have been fast.

CUOMO: Shockingly fast. And at the risk of seeming naive about it, if they turned out to have an arrest, happy to be wrong, and I should have never been startled, that's just on me, that's fine.

But it makes sense that this is going to go slowly and that they are very fortunate as an investigation, if they have anything to work on that includes a specific individual. Fair point?


And as I keep saying, the attack has already happened, right? Your goal is to prevent the attack. That's already happened. Your next goal as the government is only one, which is the effective and successful prosecution and a guilty verdict. That is the next goal. So if that takes two months and if it takes six months, that's OK, right? Because unfortunately the bad thing has already happened.

COOPER: Yes. And, right, and to use that grain of sand analogy that (INAUDIBLE) it is not just trying to find a grain of sand. It's also that you want that grain of sand to stick. You want it to be a successful prosecution, not just a prosecution.


KAYYEM: Right, because this is a big deal.

We don't have many -- once we get someone, if you get someone, there have not been high profile -- there hasn't been high-profile post-9/11 case in federal court. There just hasn't. And so this will be a big deal. And so caution is good. And time is good. And time is on the side of this investigation.

CUOMO: Now, you know, as a reporter, you always want information whenever you can get it.

As an attorney, it makes sense to me that if I were doing the investigation, I would keep everything close to my vest as possible until I was ready to move forward on the probable cause case. But on the investigative side, within themselves, forget about talking to us, how quickly can they move in a comprehensive way from getting an image of somebody and sending it to security at train stations, at the airports, to make sure that they can start looking for an image?

KAYYEM: The apparatus is there, so in terms of just the technology, that is the sort of the post-9/11 world that I worked in. You have all sorts of ways to communicate with all sorts of different pieces of federal, state and local law enforcement, including private, as the case may be with Amtrak or something like that.

So they may know that he went to, say, Amtrak or South Station or Logan Airport or an airport after. That may be disclosed over time. The capacity is there. It depends on how good the image was. We haven't seen an image of the front face, and so it depends on how good the image is and then those people are tracing back, is he actually -- you could learn a lot.

If there is no images of him at South Station, which is our train station, or Logan Airport, then he got into a car, and then you check the tolls and then you check -- so this is what has been happening and this is sort of how it unfolds in real time, that that individual now may still be out there, there is a lot of people that are getting much closer, though.

CUOMO: All right.

And we're going to take a quick break right now. As you can see, everybody has one device in their hands. We're reporting was he go, trying to figure out more information to leave right now for a break where we began.

We believe there has been substantial progress made in the investigation. That's the word from authorities. They believe that someone has been identified from videotape whom they believe is responsible for placing a bomb and then exiting. We will be back with more reporting.


CUOMO: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the attack at the Boston Marathon, Chris Cuomo with Anderson Cooper and Juliette Kayyem.

We have been going through what we understand to be substantial progress in the investigation. Federal sources say they have identified somebody on videotape who they saw acting in a suspicious way, putting down a bag and exiting right before the explosions at the marathon finish line.

Now, a federal source tells me that, yes, they do have somebody on videotape. A name is taking it too far at this time. Certainly that information isn't being leased. It is being questioned.

And that makes sense. We have been talking here throughout. We all want more than that. It would be great if they had him arrested and he admitted it and it was just one person, so it gets even more simple.

COOPER: And there have been a lot of conflicting reports about an arrest being made. What multiple law enforcement sources now are saying is that is simply not the case.


KAYYEM: The U.S. attorney has confirmed it. No arrest has been made.

CUOMO: There's no arrest. And that makes sense because again to go from finding an image to making an arrest in hours, unless you know exactly who that person is, is -- really would be shocking.

COOPER: We anticipate a press conference at 5:00 today in which it will be interesting to see what level of information law enforcement is going to be giving out publicly, whether they continue as they have been over the last 48 hours, asking for the public's help as much as possible.

And how forthcoming they will be with information about this particular individual, about the images that have attracted so much of their attention really today is an open question. But it is really today that -- earlier today that we started to get word that something significant had happened.

KAYYEM: Yes, there is always the hints.

I have served in government long enough that you sort of know how government works. The first hint was when they postponed the 1:00 to 5:00 news conference. This is a normal press conference. They have been having it every day at 1:00, so something was going on.

And I think, you know, they have been working sort of nonstop here, right? This is a significant investigation. That something would give relatively quickly, I think, just shows sort of the intensity of the investigation.

But like what Chris was saying, you know, all these -- all these rumors about sort of, you know, do we have a name and do we have an arrest sort of matter little if you're not going to get a good case in court. So that is sort of the -- we got to keep our eyes on the prize. And the prize, you know, Americans were killed at the Boston Marathon and the prize is getting to someone and convicting them.

CUOMO: Even if you have videotape of somebody, even that isn't and a home run in and of itself.

KAYYEM: No, but that will -- then that is put together with other pieces.

The fact that they actually do have a visual of a person possibly putting something down is going to get you a lot further than what we had let's say 24 hours ago.

COOPER: Also, once the public starts to see it, it may jog the memory of somebody who was there. There were theoretically -- well, we know there were hundreds if not thousands of people in that area. Somebody saw something. Somebody even knows who this individual is.


KAYYEM: Right, yes. And, you know, one of the challenges with the vacuum that is created in just this process is then people sort of think, OK, it is someone who has affiliates with a foreign country or someone who is domestic or homegrown.

And the truth is we're no more closer on motive. I tend to be less concerned about motive at this stage because I really do think that once you have the person, as I have been saying, not a suicide bomber, there is all sorts of ways to utilize a person who is not willing to die for their cause to find out that they're really about.

COOPER: In terms of where we are now, the crime scene, is it still a locked-down crime scene. It is still a crime scene they are investigating, though they do feel that -- we know they have pieces of the device itself. They believe they have pieces of a black nylon backpack that the device was actually held inside of.

KAYYEM: Yes, that's right. Securing that site was important because to think of all the runners and their shoes, you didn't want evidence sort of going away with their shoes. Clearing it out quickly was important. And there just has been activity here nonstop.

And the other thing to remember the evidence isn't -- the stuff over here is not just important because you want to find the right person, but that this has to be pristine to be utilized in the U.S. court. Right? It has to survive those chain of custody standards. Those are important standards. They protect defendants, even defendants we don't like.

But, as a prosecutor, you want to make sure the chain of custody is preserved. And so it is interesting. It is not just lawyers who think about this now. First-responders, it is the fire chiefs and the emergency managers all think about it too.

COOPER: It is also not just evidence which is at the crime scene, was at the crime scene or may still be at the crime scene. It is also evidence which is in people who have been wounded and people who are in hospitals.

Tom Fuentes, formerly with the FBI, who was -- Tom, you were the watch commander the night of the bombing down in Atlanta. I believe -- I think you were the watch commander. I know you were on duty. They were actually able to figure out the brand of carpenter nails that were removed from some of the individuals who got hit by that bomb and through that were able to track where they were purchased, isn't that correct?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I can't hear him on this phone.

COOPER: Tom obviously having problems hearing.

Mike Brooks is standing by.

Mike, you were also involved in the Olympic Park bombing. Again, the kind of nails that were used by Eric Rudolph in that bombing came from a particular batch that had a particular defect that they were able to trace, correct?


And the metallurgists at the FBI lab, they have a database that is incredible. And they will go back to the black nylon backpack. They will be able to say, OK, maybe this was made so and so. It's made up of this particular material.

Yes, they have a database on explosives, on metals, paints. You name it, they have a database. And if they don't, one of their partners, someone in the U.K., who has the biggest database on some plastic explosives, Semtex, for instance, they will ask for their assistance. So, yes, they were able to do that by getting this evidence out of the victims.

CUOMO: Just let me get in there for a second. Just not to worry people, we reported earlier that Elizabeth Cohen outside Brigham and Women's Hospital said that police officers told her there may be an evacuation. Employees are now being allowed back into the building. So whatever that threat was, and as Anderson was saying often things are called in around surrounding events like this that are either cruel jokes or just, you know, wrong calls, and so people are getting back into the hospital, no cause for threat there.

COOPER: Yes. I think it is a general policy just from a reporting standpoint. I'm not a big believer on reporting on things like evacuations because that seems to encourage other people, and it happens so often and again they're so many of them in the last couple days.


KAYYEM: They really do -- they really do happen often. It is just no one pays attention until after this.

But one of the aspects of the post-9/11 world is that there is so much noise. And I remember going into government -- back into government for the first time and you just sort of react every time there is some situation to report, and then after a while you're able to read through them and sort of get which ones are real and which ones are not real.

We're on heightened alert. That's totally natural. The Oklahoma City incident, false alarm this morning, totally natural given the week it is over there.

COOPER: Well, Jason Carroll is standing by at the courthouse.

Jason, a lot of reporters have gone to the courthouse because of these early reports from a variety of law enforcement sources saying that a suspect was on route to the courthouse, an arrest had been made. Clearly, no arrest that we know of has been made, the FBI categorically saying there has been no arrest, so obviously there is not really any activity down there, is there, Jason?

And obviously having trouble getting Jason Carroll out there from the courthouse.

Jason Carroll, can you hear me?


And what I can tell you is I had just actually just wrapped up a conversation with Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney. No sooner did I get down into the lobby when I was trying to make a phone call when a security guard came up and said that they were having to clear the building.

As you can imagine, there are hundreds and hundreds of members of the press who are all here after that word came out about possible arrest in the case. So you had hundreds and hundreds of members of the press out here, security guard coming out and saying that everyone had to clear building. At first, we thought it was just members of the press that had to clear the building.

And shortly thereafter, we were told it was everyone had to, in fact, clear the building. We have now seen some emergency vehicles pull up, a fire truck and another fire truck now pulling up. But all we're being told is that the building has to be cleared, and no reason was given for that. So at this point we're standing by

We were initially right in front of building. And then, Anderson, they told us to move a little further back. But I have noticed that hundreds of members of the press are literally, I would say, standing about 50 feet or so from the building, and so perhaps that's some indication that if it was something more serious, they would be asking the perimeter to be stretched much, much further back -- Anderson.

COOPER: Right. Yes. Again, just what we were talking about, these things happen all the time.

So let's just -- and to the folks at the headquarters in Atlanta, let's just dial back on going to anyplace where there is an evacuation because people call this stuff in all the time. This happens all the time. Let's just step back from this.


KAYYEM: I sort of lost track what time it is, but I know that there is a press conference at 5:00 and that seems like a far time away, but I'm pretty confident that at least there is going to be sort of a decision made about what picture they're going to show.

There might be multiple pictures, so what picture they're going to show, and then determining whether anyone has any information. I have been saying there is just a local feel to this investigation. It doesn't matter where this person comes from, who his affiliates are.

CUOMO: It's a big decision, though, isn't it?

If you're going to put out a picture of somebody, and say, do you know this person, how sure from a government perspective do you have to be that they have done something criminal? Because you're now releasing a photo of one of the most emotionally charged events in recent history.


KAYYEM: Right. That's what the delay is about, is that you better be sure because in a world in which bad things happen, and there is terrorism, people want to feel like they have confidence, this is not political, confidence in their government.

And if they do something really wrong, quickly, then they won't have confidence. And that's when people actually feel unsafe. Right? Competency makes people feel safe. COOPER: You also don't want to put out somebody's picture and divert resources toward looking for that person and not for the real person if you're not absolutely sure, and certainly the Richard Jewell incident...


KAYYEM: That is the memory of everyone, right? And so what they decide to disclose will be only for law enforcement purposes. They don't need to satisfy the media or the public's desire to know.

It will be only for law enforcement purposes and that may be disclosing who it is, because they have a cold trail. But -- and it may be that they have a lot more pictures that are telling them there is no way that this person is not responsible for these explosions drops because he's in both places at the right time.

COOPER: We're going to take a short break. Our coverage continues in just a moment.


COOPER: Welcome back, Chris Cuomo, Anderson Cooper, Juliette Kayyem coming to you from Boston.

A lot of developments here that we have been talking about. There is also, obviously, the investigation into the letter with ricin that was sent to a senator from Mississippi, was received yesterday, and identified yesterday.

Let's check in with our Jessica Yellin, who is in Washington.

Jessica, what's the latest on that investigation?


Well, the White House here gave a brief statement, Press Secretary Jay Carney confirming that an off-site mail facility did receive a letter that had what preliminarily tested for trace amounts of the toxin ricin.

It was addressed here to the White House, the president, and has gone on for further testing. It was one of two letters. And then they found some ricin at a third -- at a facility, and they don't -- they didn't tell us if that is actually from a third letter or whether it was just traces left over from some other possible contaminants.

So, bottom line, what this means is there is a lot of investigative work still going on, no suspect identified publicly, no motive identified publicly. Big question, is this connected to the attacks in Boston? So far, the FBI saying there is no indication at this time that there is a connection, but obviously it is too early for them to rule it out either.

So that possibility clearly remains open, but, again, they have not drawn the link either. So at this point, it is just a whole lot of open questions. The big picture for the president, he was never in danger because of all of those precautions that were taken after 9/11. Mail is cleared very far from the White House, and all people who handle mail have a lot of protective gear on, so we're told nobody themselves was injured either, Anderson.

CUOMO: All right, Jessica, it is Chris.

Do we know anything at all about where the letter may have come from, what it said inside the letter, what was written in it, if anything?


Chris, the language that they have here is this is the letter addressed to both the president and senator -- Republican Senator Wicker, is the senator up on Capitol Hill who got it, said, "To see a wrong and not expose it is to become a silent partner to its continuance." And they're signed, "I am K.C. and I approve this message."

We don't have a suspect as a result of that, but that's the peculiar content of the letter. And obviously that provides some kind of lead for investigators, though it doesn't tell you and I as laypeople a whole lot.

I can add for you that the White House has a very broad perimeter around it and no doubt I imagine that has something to do with both Boston and this letter.

COOPER: Jessica, the letter, as I recall, that was sent to Senator Wicker was mailed from Memphis or postmarked from Memphis, Tennessee. Do we know if the same letter that was sent to the White House was also postmarked from Memphis?

YELLIN: They're not explicitly saying that, but say they're very similar and they have the same -- I mean, they have the same language and contents.

So you can only conclude that, yes, they would have -- if you're a logical person, you have to conclude they come from the same source, although they're not saying explicitly that it was. They didn't draw that conclusion for us.

COOPER: All right.

Dana Bash is also standing by, our chief congressional correspondent.

Dana, obviously, mail also that is sent to representatives, to senators, that is also not opened on Capitol Hill, correct?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: ... the White House were made here, and it was because of an incident that happened here back in 2001 that those changes were made, that nothing officially comes to the Capitol complex first. The first site that it comes to is off-site, and that's where they found this letter that was addressed to Senator Wicker, which they believe tested positive for the poison ricin. Now, what we're waiting for this afternoon, Anderson, is we expect perhaps a formal positive test from a lab that is out in Maryland, although according to the Senate sergeant at arms, who is the chief law enforcement officer of the Senate, he is not waiting for that.

He fundamentally believes it is ricin and has said so in briefings with senators and in a couple of letters that he has sent out. Now, on that issue, there is definitely a heightened sense of anxiety and alert here in the Capitol, because there were a few hours this afternoon where there were hallways that were closed down, there were entire floors that were closed down, people were told to stay in their offices.

And the reason for that is because there was somebody who had gone and delivered sealed envelopes and maybe even a package both down the hall from where I am right now to Senator Shelby's office and to an office in the Hart Office Building. I'm in Russell. Hart is another building where senator have their offices.

And the Senate sergeant at arms sent out this alert just about an hour ago warning offices not to accept sealed envelopes because the whole point of the protocol to send mail off-site is so that they can be screened. And that's exactly what happened.

The other thing I can tell you is that the mail delivery has been stopped. Nothing will happen until Monday because the investigation is ongoing. They want to make sure that other pieces of mail did not also include ricin or anything else that could be dangerous, considering the fact that they saw this letter to Senator Wicker.

COOPER: Dana, I appreciate that reporting, Jessica Yellin as well.

And, again just to reiterate, we have no idea whether this has any connection or is just a coincidence that this happening around the same time as the Boston incident. We have no idea when those -- those letters were actually mailed from Memphis, Tennessee.

Again, I think it is always important in this kind of a situation to acknowledge what we don't know, as well as the information that we do know.

We are going to take a short break. Our coverage here live in Boston continues in just a moment.