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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Gay Kicker Out For NFL Jobs; Boston Takes Back Boylston Street; Interview with Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi; Alleged Plot to Attack Passenger Train

Aired April 24, 2013 - 06:30   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Miguel Marquez, not far from where I'm standing. He is near Boylston Street.

Miguel, it looks busy this morning.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is back at it, John. It's a very, very good news here on Boylston Street. This is the memorial. You know, all this stuff came from different parts of Boylston Street that had been shut up. They moved it here to Copley Square at Dartmouth and Boylston.

And people coming up and down this way this morning it's amazing to see, especially a lot of runners, which is also nice. And here, it seems so normal, but here is Boylston. Lovely to see it back up and operating.

Just beyond that bus, you can see one set of flashing lights down that way. That's where the finish line is just beyond that is the first bombing site.

We do have some pictures from very early this morning, as they were repairing all of the damage done by those bombs, replacing the bricks, replacing the cement, and the glass at this one at the first bombing site may be the most touching of all. It just says Boston strong, walking down that way. It is a little eerie, a little awed. And you know, everybody's feeling a little sensitive about it this morning.

But it is very, very nice to be back on Boylston Street -- John.

BERMAN: It is certainly nice. Miguel, I saw windows boarded up as high as the fourth floor there. But I also saw flowers laying on the ground there near where they were resurfacing the sidewalk.

What were you learning this morning, Miguel, about a possible motive in these attacks?

MARQUEZ: We are understanding more from a federal source saying that, you know, Mr. Tsarnaev is still talking to investigators, is saying that it was the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that motivated his brother and he to carry out this bomb plot.

They're also saying that there was no communication, there was no radicalization, there was no -- there was no anything with any outside group, that they watched videos online like those from Anwar al- Awlaki, the radical cleric that the U.S. killed in a drone strike in Yemen about a year and a half ago. And that they may have used "Inspire" magazine, also, an al Qaeda offshoot magazine in English, to learn how to make the bomb.

So, it sounds like everything is leading investigators to the conclusion that these were sort of self-radicalized individuals. But obviously all of that needs to be confirmed, which they are clearly trying to do around the world right now -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Miguel Marquez joining us from an open for business Boylston Street this morning. Great to see you out there, Miguel. Thanks so much.

And in a new development this morning, we are learning that Tamerlan Tsarnaev bought fireworks from a New Hampshire dealer back in February. But clerk on duty said nothing, nothing about him seemed suspicious, and she remembered him for only one reason.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGAN KEARNS, ASST. MANAGER, PHANTOM FIREWORKS: Pretty much the only thing that was remarkable about him was that he had a Russian accent, which we don't get too many people in here who have Russian accents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Tsarnaev bought two lock and loads, those are large reloadable mortar kits that contain a firing tube and about 24 fireworks shells. A store official says if he was trying to break down the product to get the black powder, he would not have been able to get very much. After the marathon bombing, the company alerted the FBI that Tsarnaev had been in the store.

Let's bring in Congressman Bennie Thompson. He's a Democrat from the state of Mississippi. He is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. He was briefed yesterday by the FBI on the Boston marathon bombings.

Good morning, Congressman. Thank you so much for joining us. Let me start off by asking if there's anything you can tell us about those briefings.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI: Well, I think pretty much you've been reporting what was said in the briefings. As you know, we are continuing to look at whether or not there was some international connection to the bombing. We have basically been shared information that they are still looking at this point. There does not appear to be any. However, it's a work in progress.

BERMAN: One of the things we're hearing is that it's possible, investigators are saying, is that they were inspired, literally, by this "Inspire" magazine which is an English language publication or online publication from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Are you getting any information on that?

THOMPSON: Well, I think that's pretty much the truth. The "Inspire" magazine has always been out here. It's targeted members of Congress and other things. It gives notice of how you can make bombs, all those things.

So, if someone wants to self-radicalize themself, that is one of the things we've been told they use.

BERMAN: Congressman, one of the -- some of the reports that we're getting in speaking with family members, cousins, uncles, of these two suspects, some people are suggesting that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was radicalized by someone named Misha, who's often referred to as an Armenian Muslim, that somehow he helped brainwash Tamerlan.

Are you getting any information on this figure?

THOMPSON: Well, at this point we have not been told by any official source about that. We read things in the media. But as of our briefing yesterday, and what I've been available to, I've not seen any of that.

BERMAN: What's your opinion of how the FBI has handled the Tsarnaevs, particularly Tamerlan Tsarnaev, since back in 2011? Of course we now know that at the request of the Russian intelligence agency the FBI did interview Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Are you satisfied with the answers they're giving you about why they essentially walked away from him after 2011?

THOMPSON: Well, first of all, I think those individuals who are critical of the FBI, they were wrong. I would compliment them on a job well done. They've done a thorough investigation. They've worked with state and local under tremendous pressure.

What we are going to do as members of Congress, from an oversight standpoint, we'll see whether or not they have some tweaking we can do with the system so that the mistakes, misspelled words, (INAUDIBLE), visas, the passports, those kind of things, that we can tighten that system up.

But it's going to require resources to get it done. So, if this Congress is committed to providing resources, whatever misstep occurred, I'm certain we can fix it.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate your time, sir.

Zoraida?

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, John.

Thirty-six minutes past the hour.

In Canada, new developments this morning in the alleged terrorist plot to attack a passenger train running between New York and Toronto. Canadian authorities claim al Qaeda is behind it. Two suspects are being held without bail, one is due in court in just a few hours from now. His alleged accomplice had a hearing yesterday. CNN's Ted Rowlands is following this story for us. He is live in Toronto.

What can you tell us about the suspect appearing today?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chiheb Esseghaier is a 30-year-old PhD student who was operating out of Montreal. He was brought here to Toronto yesterday. He'll make an initial court appearance here, a relatively short one. It is technically a bail hearing.

However, the judge will just move it up to a different court level, because this judge, given the charges being so serious, can't rule on potential bail in this case. As you mentioned, his alleged accomplice went through the same procedure here in Toronto yesterday, and his family was in the courtroom by his side supporting him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: You want to try to relay to people?

(voice-over): The mother and other family members of suspected terrorist Raed Jaser had no comment leaving a downtown Toronto courthouse Tuesday. Jaser remains in custody for allegedly planning an al Qaeda supported train attack with this man, 30-year-old Chiheb Esseghaier.

According to multiple government sources the suspected terrorists were planning to use explosives to derail a New York to Toronto passenger train. Jaser's lawyer John Norris says his client will plead not guilty. He also questions the timing of the arrest.

JOHN NORRIS, ATTORNEY FOR RAED JASER: They've been very clear that there was no risk to public safety, and it's surprising, to say the least, that this arrest would be made now, close on the heels of the events in Boston.

ROWLANDS: Investigators say Boston had nothing to do with these arrests, that, instead, they were a culmination of months of surveillance.

MUHAMMAD ROBERT HEFT, PARADISE FOREVER: We do have our idiots in the community.

ROWLANDS: Muhammad Robert Heft works as a liaison between authorities and the Muslim community. He thinks the government probably has a strong case. He says three years ago, Raed Jaser's father rented an apartment from him and told him he was worried that his son was taking on too rigid an interpretation of Islam.

Heft says he didn't think it was enough to report to authorities at the time, but, says he's pleased that a local imam's tip did spark this investigation.

HEFT: Are you going to let them, god forbid, do something like what happened in Boston? Are you going to be the first line of defense like we are, and calling it in to the proper authorities? (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROWLANDS: And, Zoraida, Canadian authorities are standing by their assertation that these two alleged suspects were getting guidance from al Qaeda elements base in Iran. There was a big pushback from Iran yesterday, saying that there's no way that al Qaeda could be operating within our borders. However, authorities here in Canada are standing by their story saying they have the evidence to prove it -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ted Rowlands reporting live for us. Thank you very much.

And coming up, severe flooding in the Midwest that turns deadly, claiming at least four lives. And now, the situation for them could get worse. We have a live report from St. Louis coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. Forty-three minutes past the hour.

Christine Romans joins us with a look at what is ahead on STARTING POINT.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, we're learning more about why the Boston bombing suspects allegedly pulled off those bombings and how they became radicalized. We're going to look where the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev now stands with former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzalez and former CIA director, Ambassador James Woolsey.

Then, a public memorial set today for the slain MIT officer Sean Collier. We're going to talk with the MIT and Cambridge police chiefs about the fallen officer and what they want people to remember about him.

Plus, the man accused of sending a ricin-laced letter to President Obama and other officials, there he is, he's been set free. Where the investigation into those poison letters is now leading police? But again, they've let him go. He no is no longer a suspect.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, they do have somebody that they are that they think may be behind this so we'll learn more possibly on "STARTING POINT".

Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: And happening now:

Dangerous flooding turns deadly in the nation's midsection. Swollen rivers are already to blame for four deaths in that area, and Governor Jay Nixon declaring a state of emergency in Missouri after flash flooding drenched many parts of the state.

CNN's Jim Spellman is live in St. Louis for us this morning.

Jim, paint the picture for us. It's pretty dire out there.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Take a look, this is St. Louis. We're just below or just north of the famous gateway arch. This is sort of a boat terminal here, usually not under water. Today, under about five feet of water above flood stage. You can see how high this water has come up.

Similar circumstances here on the Mississippi River, especially in these lower riverside communities. Yesterday, we were on another river, the Illinois River, where we saw several of these low-lying communities just inundated with water. Now, we think it's cresting here today in St. Louis.

And that will be a similar story in this part of the river system in the next day or two, cresting and then the slow process of the water receding. Up north, in Fargo, North Dakota, it's a different story. Warm temperatures there. It's going to cause accelerated snow melt. They're laying in sandbags and preparing for the worst up there in Fargo.

So, even as it crests down here, this spring storm and climate session that we've been in is long from over, Zoraida.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Still wreaking havoc. So, how does this flooding, the current flooding compare to other years?

SPELLMAN: Take a look, this is about 35 feet of water. Flood stage is about 30 feet. The Mississippi River here in St. Louis normally at about 15 feet. Last year, during the drought, it got as low as three feet. Incredible change from three feet to 35 feet in less than a year. Just shocking to see how fast it can change.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Jim Spellman reporting live for us. Thank you.

Forty-six minutes past the hour. Coming up next, the feds versus Lance Armstrong. The government trying to get back the $40 million that it paid the tarnished cycling legend. You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. Veterans who lost their limbs fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are offering some inspiration to the victims of the Boston marathon bombings. Celeste Corcoran (ph) lost both her legs when the bomb exploded.

Veteran marine sergeant, Gabe Ramirez, also a double amputee, paid her and her 18-year-old daughter, Sydney, a visit with a message of hope.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. GABE RAMIREZ, VETERAN MARINE: This is basically the start, you know? This is a new beginning for both of you. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't see any hope right now.

RAMIREZ: Right now, yes, but, I'm telling you, you know, with all my heart, you are going to be more independent, you know, than you ever were.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Celeste is keeping her spirits high. She's even talking about running the Boston marathon next year. That would be wonderful to see.

If you'd like to help the survivors of the Boston terror attacks, just go to CNN.com/Impact. There are all kinds of direct links for ways to help, including several victim's personal fund pages that you can make donations to -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: That's really inspiring that the wounded veterans are doing that. Really fantastic. Thank you, John.

Fifty-one minutes past the hour. Alan Gendreau was a star kicker in college. So, now, he wants a shot at the NFL. If he makes the team, he would be the first openly gay player in NFL history, and that story kicks off today's "Bleacher Report." Joe Carter live for us in Atlanta, what his chances?

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Well, Zoraida, his chances are slim. And that's because he's a free agent. So, his odds are making an NFL roster this fall, sort of a long shot. But of course, that's not stopping him from trying to become the first openly gay player in America's most popular sport.

Now, Gendreau came out when he was a teenager, years ago, and then, he became a star kicker at Middle Tennessee State, and some draft experts say he could have actually been drafted last year if not for a disappointing senior season in Middle Tennessee. Now, he's a free agent, as I said, so he's going to have to wait until after this week's NFL draft before he knows if a team actually wants to bring him in for a tryout.

In other news, the United States government is suing Lance Armstrong for the sponsorship money he was paid when he raced for the postal service team. Armstrong made over $17 million during the six years he was with the team. The government is hoping to reclaim three times that amount.

Now, the lawsuit claims he violated his contract when he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong's attorney says the six- year statute of limitations should void most of the lawsuit.

Check this video out. You are reading that number right. It was 23 degrees at Coors Field yesterday. The coldest game in Colorado Rockies history. Fans had to bundle up in snow gear. Hot chocolate was the drink of choice. It's the second time in two weeks that Denver has been pounded by an April snowstorm. They had to play a doubleheader yesterday to make up for Monday's postponement. And the kicker, the Braves actually won both of those games.

And finally, Georgia linebacker, Jarvis Jones, hasn't taken a single snap in the NFL but already has his own bust.

(LAUGHTER)

CARTER: Now, this bust is actually made of cold cuts. It's a human sandwich statue. Now, subway made this for him as part of a promotion. He unveiled this bust in New York City. He's there for the NFL draft. The life-like sandwich stands nearly three feet tall, and the hair, by the way, is made of raisins and they had to use more than 10 pounds of chicken to make that bad boy.

Now Subway, Zoraida, is making this sort of a yearly tradition. They made one for C.J. Spiller, Mark Ingram, Ndamukong Suh, and most recently, RG3. That's, of course, a weird-looking sandwich that you've got to cut into, but quite an honor for him.

SAMBOLIN: No, it certainly is. I just wonder if he ate any, Joe.

(LAUGHTER)

CARTER: Yes. They didn't show any video of anybody cutting into it yet. So, I'm kind of curious if it was left out very long. He didn't make a stripper (ph) on a few media outlets. So, I don't know how good it would be to eat.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. All right. Joe Carter, thank you.

CARTER: You bet.

SAMBOLIN: So, what would you do if you found a bag full of money, $36,000 to be exact, and no one to claim it? That is what happened to Rachel Castillo (ph). She found the bag, stuffed with cash, on a bench at a Miami Beach golf course, where she works. Also inside the bag, an I.D. card. So, what did Rachel do?

She contacted police who traced it back to an elderly man in a nursing home. The money was nearly equal to a full year's salary for Rachel. But she says she was always taught not to steal. Listen to this, folks, there was no reward for her good deed. I say we take up a collection for Rachel.

And if you're just waking up, a big milestone for the city of Boston. Just a few hours ago, take a look at this, the public now taking back the marathon finish line. We have live coverage next on "Starting Point." EARLY START back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-eight minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. So, with his city on lockdown last week and the marathon bombing suspect still at large, a Boston police officer showed what it really means to serve and protect. Look at him, look at his hands, he delivered milk to a Watertown family that desperately needed it for their 17-month-old son.

The family snapped the picture of the officer, then they posted it on Facebook. It has since gone viral, having been shared on Facebook and Twitter some 10,000 times. Kudos to him and all of those officers and first responders who just worked so hard. How sweet is that?

That's what we're going to end on today. That is EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. John Berman continues our coverage live in Boston with "Starting Point" right now.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston. And this morning, Boston is bustling. Boylston Street right behind me is open again for the first time since the marathon bombing ten days ago. It was a crime scene. Now, this morning, for the first time, open for business.

Our "Starting Point" this morning is new information about why the accused Boston bombing suspect attacked the city and whether or not they had any outside help. This morning, U.S. delegation heading to Dagestan to gather more information. And this morning, we're getting the first pictures of the actual bombing site as the city worked all night to repair the sidewalk there.

Plus, he's the hero who discovered suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, hiding in his boat. For the first time, the boat owner describes what he saw. Live team coverage of the Boston marathon from bombing -- from Boston to Russia, Washington, D.C. We're going to do it like only CNN can do it.

Also, we have another developing story. The man accused of sending ricin laced letters to the president, he's been released, and he claims he was set up.