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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Investigations Continue into Background of Tsarnaev Brothers; Interview with Congressman Bob Goodlatte; Charges Dropped for Ricin Suspect Paul Kevin Curtis; Apple Stock Dips in PreMarket Trading on News Customers Buying Old iPhones

Aired April 24, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is Wednesday, April 24th, in this special edition of STARTING POINT live from Boston begins right now.

Good morning, everyone. As the sun rises over Boston, it is the start of a new day. For the first time since the bombings here, Boylston Street is back open again as Bostonians work to move forward and return to sort of a normal lifestyle.

Meantime, we have important new developments unfolding right now in the bombing investigation. A delegation from the U.S. embassy in Moscow arriving in Dagestan, doing that with the cooperation of the Russian government, to interview the parents of terror suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

The condition of the surviving brother Dzhokhar has been upgraded overnight from serious to fair condition, and he may soon be moved out of Beth Israel medical center to a different facility. And as I mentioned, businesses are reopening to the public, and everyone making their way back onto Boylston Street. We're going to be talking to store owners about their expectations as the city gets back up and moving again.

We begin with new details this morning about what may have been the motivation behind the Boston marathon bombings, that as we're getting our first look at the scene of the actual explosion. You look at it right there. I was walking on it just a short while ago. Workers spent the night filling in the hole where the blast went off, literally putting a new surface on the sidewalk. Miguel Marquez is live in Boston, on the corner of Boylston Street with the latest. Good morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. We're at Boylston and Dartmouth streets, and right behind me you can see that's the finish line about a block away. This bus here on the bus, "We are one Boston." You see "Boston Strong." Those are the things everywhere.

We did shoot some video overnight of them repairing that street, as well, the bricks going in, the cement going in, one very nice thing, though, the window blown out at that first bombing site, "Boston Strong." And it does give you a nice sense of the place as we are learning more about the bombing plot from the aftermath.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: New pictures of the confrontation between the Tsarnaev brothers and police in Watertown. In one of them, taken by witness Andrew Kitzenberg, we see the brothers firing at officers. Hours later -- the final standoff between authorities and the younger brother, Dzhokhar when David Henneberry climbed up a ladder to look inside his normally shrink-wrapped boat. First he saw blood inside of it, then a body.

DAVID HENNEBERRY, FOUND SUSPECT HIDING IN BOAT: My eyes went to the other side of the engine box. The engine box is in the middle -- there's a body.

MARQUEZ: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev already bleeding before the final shoot- out and surrender. The city on high alert, and Henneberry knew he just might be the man police were looking for.

And we are learning more, if it can be believed, about what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is telling investigators, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated the plot. His claims, there was no outside encouragement, radicalization, or communication, that he and his older brother Tamerlan were fueled by online jihadist videos. And investigators say he may have consulted Al Qaeda's English magazine "Inspire" for help in building their bombs.

Investigators also taking a look at an unsolved triple murder from 2011 to determine if Tamerlan Tsarnaev had anything to do with it. One of the victims, a friend and sparring partner of Tamerlan, Brendan Ness, he was found dead along with two others, all had their throat cut.

Such horrible details, as Boston continues to recover, and the victims of the attacks are laid to rest, two private ceremonies Tuesday for 26-year-old MIT police officer Sean collier, for the youngest victim, eight-year-old Martin Richard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now this is the memorial that has been gathered from around all of Boylston Street. I want to show you this. There's a lot of shoes being hung along the route here on the sign "Boston Strong," all the hats that either runners or others who have come by here have left. I want to show you a bit more of this. You come around this way. These volunteers have been here all morning long taking care of all of the flowers, and the stuff that's being dropped off here. But they've literally brought this from all along Boylston Street where it was closed, to this area in Copley Square so that people can come by and they are coming by in the dozens so far this morning to stop and reflect. John?

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Miguel. It's so great to see all the people out here on the streets and all the cars driving on Boylston Street. Again, for the first I'm in nine days. It truly is a wonderful sight. Our thanks to Miguel.

New this morning, delegates from the United States embassy in Moscow are now in Dagestan to interview the parents of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The U.S. delegation is making the trip in full cooperation with the Russian government, which is also aiding the FBI with this investigation. CNN's Phil Black is live in Moscow with the details. Good morning, Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. The U.S. embassy sent a team from here in Moscow to Dagestan late yesterday. Now the team in Dagestan believes they are now currently interviewing the parents of the two bombing suspects in a Russian government building, specifically belonging to the FSC, the Russian security service here within the country itself.

This is important, because this is the first time Russian officials have had the chance to quiz the suspects' parents but also to ask them some pretty important questions like what did their elder son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, get up to? Who did he meet, where did he go, when he visited them here in Dagestan in the first half of 2012? Because one theory is that it was during his time here, during his exposure to people, to this particularly violent region, he may have been radicalized, and ultimately that could have contributed to his actions, to his behavior, to his thinking, and those events in Boston. John?

BERMAN: All right, Phil Black, thank you so much. And again, the key here is that the Russian government, and the U.S. government, the intelligence agencies, cooperating in this questioning.

Meanwhile, new developments this morning in the FBI's handling of the marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the attack. The feds revealing that Russian authorities repeatedly reached out about their concerns that Tsarnaev may have been radicalized. So the question is, why wasn't he followed more closely? CNN's Joe Johns is live in Washington with that part of the story. Joe, what's going on with this?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The federal government gets thousands of tips from foreign governments to check people out. But, in the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the question now being asked, is whether the feds had enough information to do more than they did in the two years before the Boston bombing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Tamerlan Tsarnaev first hit the FBI's radar in 2011 when the Russian government told the agency they should check him out.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: The Russian FSC sent a letter to the FBI and other agencies that we think this guy has become radical, you need to watch him.

JOHNS: An FBI statement said the request from Russia was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country's region to join unspecified underground groups. The FBI says it checked U.S. government databases, telephone communications, online activity, and also actually interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev and family members. But the FBI says it did not find any terrorism activity so it gave that information to Russia and asked for but did not receive specific or additional info. Case closed.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Because additional information didn't come in, then the FBI said, well, for our purposes, under our system and with all the records and investigation we're allowed to do here, it hasn't risen to the level to warrant further investigation or full-time surveillance.

JOHNS: A federal law enforcement official agrees and said Tamerlan was not on a terror watch list or any no-fly list because the U.S. never deemed him a threat. So there were no alarm bells when Tsarnaev came back to the U.S. six months later.

JANET NAPOLITANO, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: By the time he returned, all investigation had been -- the matter had been closed.

JOHNS: But even so, it's not clear if the Department of Homeland Security, which is charged with monitoring travel, even knew that Tsarnaev was on the FBI's radar. Feds failing to talk to each other was supposed to be a lesson learned from 9/11.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS, (R) VICE CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're trying to make sure that all of that information that was available was shared. If it wasn't, then there may be somebody who dropped the ball.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: And that's the take away. Much of the concern right now in Washington is about the shadow of 9/11, and if the national security system has to relearn those lessons. John?

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns in Washington for us on the investigation. Thanks so much, Joe.

I should say the uncle for the Tsarnaev brothers has his own theory about how this all started. He says he believes that Tamerlan's self- radicalization didn't start during his time in Dagestan, but he says it began here in the U.S. right across the river in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He says that a friend from 2009, in his words, "brainwashed" Tamerlan. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSLAN TSARNI, TSARNAEV BROTHERS' UNCLE: There's a person from some new convert into Islam from Armenian descent. Armenians have no intention to say anything about Armenians, it's a neighboring region with north Caucasus. I said this person just took his brain, just brainwashed him completely. Tamerlan is off now. There's no any obedience and respect to his own father.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I want to turn now to Congressman Bob Goodlatte. He is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from Virginia. He attended yesterday's FBI briefing on the Boston bombings. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Let me first ask you about two pieces of information that we just heard. First, about this Armenian figure known as Misha that the uncle to the Tsarnaev brothers saying influenced Tamerlan somehow over the years. Is that something some information that was included in your intelligence briefings that have you heard anything about this mysterious figure?

REP. BOB GOODLATTE, (R) CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: This is -- this is new information, and it's important that we have the appropriate authorities check that out. Obviously if there are people fomenting this type of activity in the United States we want to know who they are and hold them accountable where it's possible to do so.

BERMAN: Now I'll ask you about another thing we're hearing from Senator Richard Burr. "The Boston Globe" is quoting him as saying Russia contacted the FBI, not just once, but repeatedly, perhaps, about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and their concerns about him. So there wasn't just that one point of contact but they came back and asked about him again. Are you hearing that?

GOODLATTE: We are hearing that. And we're also hearing that the Department of Homeland Security had different information than the FBI. They were not apparently sharing that information. So the FBI, according to what we now understand, did not know that he was in Russia for six months and did not follow up on his return.

So all of these things lead to more questions about what needs to be done to make sure that these types of things don't happen in the future, and, most importantly, what kind of information sharing and follow-through all of our law enforcement agencies are exercising.

But let's also say at the same time that the FBI and local law enforcement did a great job in tracking these guys down and bringing them to justice after the event occurred. That's very important. But it's even more important, in my opinion, to whenever possible prevent these things. They've had some successes in the past with the Christmas bomber, for example, in intercepting them and preventing them from occurring in advance. But this one got through, and we need to know more about it.

Our committee and other committees here in the house will definitely be following through to find out what happened, and what can be done to improve on communications between homeland security, the FBI, and other enforcement agencies.

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman, help me understand this, if the Russians did reach out to the FBI more than once, is that something that's routine or is that out of the ordinary?

GOODLATTE: Well, I don't know. Certainly, it is an improvement in our relations with the Russians that they are reaching out and sharing information like this with us. We need to follow through with them. We hear that the FBI asked for more information, did not get more information with specifics about why they were concerned about this individual. So that obviously needs to be ascertained, as well.

It's important what's going on in Russia today, in terms of finding out what we can. But it's also important that we continue to encourage other countries to share this type of information with us and then follow through on it completely and make sure it's shared amongst everyone who has some information about the individual. That apparently was not done in this case, so that's a serious concern for us here in the congress.

BERMAN: So many questions right now. Congressman Bob Goodlatte, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate it, sir.

GOODLATTE: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Let's turn now to our national security analyst, Fran Townsend, former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush. Thanks so much for being with us this morning, Fran. Let me start with this news that was just confirmed by Chairman Goodlatte about the repeated contact, not just one, but the Russian government reaching out to the FBI more than once about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011. That sounds unusual.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's unusual, John, but I think we need to put it in context. Look, the Russian government's not the only government sending these sorts of leads to the FBI. And the FBI triages them. It takes all those referrals seriously. But you look at a group, it's a Chechen related referral. Chechnya was not -- those rebels were not known to target the United States. They target the Russian government, and Russian authorities, and not the U.S. It wouldn't be perceived, at least, as a direct threat here to anything inside the United States.

And so even if they -- even if that was unusual, the level of priority it might have been given, you have to know the detail of the information with each contact that the Russians made in reaching out. Was there something specific that the FBI could do to follow up?

And then you have to understand that inside the U.S. system there are guidelines in terms of that the FBI works under, their domestic investigation guidelines about what investigative steps they can take and the basis for each step along the way. And so, all those things play a role here.

What I find more disturbing is the information sharing issue. You know, in Joe Johns' piece he talked about learning the lessons of 9/11. But there's frankly the more recent lesson during the Obama administration of Adbulmutallab, the underwear bomber. Remember there was lead information there inside the system at the State Department and at the CIA and that didn't get shared.

So, even in the current administration we've seen, you know, an instance where this sort of counter -- important counterterrorism information is not adequately shared or followed up.

BERMAN: Important context there.

Fran Townsend, thanks so much.

Let me ask you to give context to one other thing we are hearing in these reports. We heard sound from the uncle to the Tsarnaev brothers, one of the uncles who brings up the possiblility of a character, a man named Misha, who may have influenced Tamerlan, may have been a mentor to him somehow dealing with Muslim issues right now.

Put this in context. Is this something that authorities will follow up on? Are you hearing that this is something they're concerned about, or is this something that may or may not be that reliable?

TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question that federal authorities will follow up. They will try to individual Misha. They will try to interview him. They will want to vied sort of his network. If there's a particular mosque he's associated with, the people who have heard him preach.

But we have to remember they'll take that very seriously, they'll try to see what influence he had, but, here in the United States, everyone's got a first amendment, a constitutional freedom of speech. And so what he may say, what he may advocate is abhorrent but the FBI will have to work within the rule of law, within the guidelines and respecting the constitution, in understanding and putting into context this, you know, this unknown Misha's role in terms of brainwashing and inspiring Tamerlan.

BERMAN: All right Fran Townsend, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Appreciate the context.

This is what's happening today elsewhere in Boston and the latest on these investigations. At noon, Vice President Biden and his wife will attend a service for Sean Collier. He is the MIT officer killed during the manhunt for the suspects. And later this afternoon the House intelligence committee will receive a full briefing on the terror attack.

And still ahead, a call to move the surviving suspect: bombing victims upset that he's in the same hospital they are. We're going to talk to our Sanjay Gupta just ahead.

Plus former U.S. attorney general Alberto Gonzales joins us to talk about how the feds will tackle this case. He's got unique insight into that.

Then a surprising development, the man accused of sending poison laced letters to President Obama, he's been released. Who police are looking at next.

You're watching Starting Point.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to Starting Point. I'm Christine Romans with some of today's other news. We're following new developments in the case of those ricin tainted letters sent to President Obama and two other officials. Charges against one-time suspect Paul Kevin Curtis, those charges have now been dropped. U.S. attorney handling this case now says new information has come to light.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is live for us this morning in Tupelo, Mississippi.

So this man has been exonerated, vindicated?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true. We're waiting for more information from the U.S. attorney, Felicia Adams, about what this new information is. She has not elaborated. Of course we've asked the FBI about their investigation up to this point into the letters sent to the president, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Sadie Holland, a judge here in Tupelo. They're not saying much about that or their investigation into Curtis.

But Curtis himself, Paul Kevin Curtis, is speaking. And he's saying that he had no involvement. He loves his country. He had nothing to say specifically about the letters. He says that he loves his country. He respects the president. He would never try to hurt an elected official.

He also said, he and his attorney, that he believes that he maybe was framed by someone who's holding a grudge. I want you to listen to what he said about the time he spent in jail after those allegations were made.

(BEGIN VDIEO CLIP)

PAUL KEVIN CURTIS, FORMER RICIN SUSPECT: The last seven days, staring at four gray walls like gray like green, green grass of home, not really knowing what's happening, not having a clue why I'm there, just being in a state of overwhelm is the best way I can describe it.

When you've been charged with something, and you just -- you've never heard of ricin or whatever. I thought they said rice so I said, I don't even eat rice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: The day started for Curtis by bonding out on $25,000 to get out of jail and then the charges were dropped.

So now, he's out, and cleared. The question is, who sent the letters? Well, the FBI, again, isn't saying much. But we know that there are media reports that a second home is being searched in connection with this case. And we're, of course, working to get more information about that, Christine.

ROMANS: So a mystery still. Victor Blackwell, thanks, in Tupelo.

It was the tweet heard round the world, or at least heard around Wall Street. We're going to tell you how a hacked Twitter account sent markets into a dive and what traders did when they found out it was fake. You're watching Starting Point.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: 25 minutes after the hour. New this morning, rescue workers digging frantically to rescue people caught in the collapse of an eight story commercial building near the capital of Bangladesh. At least 70 people have been killed, more than 700 injured near there. No word yet on the cause.

New allegations secretary of state Hillary Clinton personally signed off on cuts in security at the Benghazi consulate prior to last year's deadly terror attack there. House Republican leader citing that information in a report released yesterday. U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in that September 11th attack on the consulate. Clinton says that in the past security threats related to Benghazi were handled by others.

More trouble for disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong this morning, millions more. The Justice Department now suing him trying to collect some of the $17 million the U.S. Postal Service paid him during their endorsement. Now the suit claims Armstrong violated his contract when he admitted using performance enhancing drugs while winning seven Tour de France titles.

"Minding Your Business" this morning, stock futures pointing higher following yesterday's big gains. Yesterday's rally came despite a wild 145-point drop in the middle of the day, that's when hackers sent a tweet from the Associated Press that there had been an explosion. There wasn't. Markets recovered. But it shows you just how vulnerable the market is to fake social media.

Keep an eye on Apple today by the way. The stock has turned lower in pre-market trading. Profits slipped last quarter. Customers were buying older model iPhones and the iPad mini, which makes less money for Apple. But Apple also raising its dividends so Apple shareholders will get a little bit of a payback if they hold the stock.

John, back to you in Boston.

BERMAN: All right, thanks so much, Christine.

Next, we just have an incredible story to tell you about. The hero who found the surviving Boston bombing suspect. He will tell you how it all went down. And reports that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is doing better this morning and there are demands that he be moved. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us as does former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He will break down the next legal moves. he has crucial insight into this. You're watching a special edition of Starting Point live from Boston.

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