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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Boston Takes Back Boylston Street; U.S. Delegation Arrives in Dagestan; Interview with Senator James Risch of Idaho; MIT Officer Laid to Rest

Aired April 24, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. Our STARTING POINT, new information this morning about why the accused Boston bombing suspect attacked this city and whether or not they had any outside help, all this, as U.S. delegates look for answers in Russia this morning.

A public farewell today for the MIT officer believed killed by the Tsarnaev brothers. We're talking to his police chief about how they now think that he died.

And another developing story. The man accused of sending ricin laced letters to the president has been freed. So, was he framed?

It is Wednesday, April 24th, and a special edition of STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

BERMAN: Good morning again.

For the first time since the Boston marathon bombings, Boylston Street, right behind me, is open today. You can see the cars there. You can see the people. The city is returning to normal. Stores along the marathon route reopening over the next couple of hours, as Bostonians really move forward and return to some sense of normalcy.

Meantime, new developments unfolding right now in the bombing investigation and CNN has it all covered for you. A delegation for the U.S. embassy in Moscow is in Dagestan right now for an interview with the parents of terror suspect Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They're doing that with the cooperation of the Russian government, which is significant.

The condition of the surviving brother, Dzhokhar, has upgraded from serious to fair overnight and he may soon be transferred out of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to another facility.

And as we told you earlier, police reopening Boylston Street to the public this morning. It's been happening over the last couple of hours. We were able to walk down the street before. We did see some store front still boarded up from the glass shattered from that blast.

Meantime, new details this morning about what may have been the motivation behind the Boston marathon bombings. And this morning, we are getting our first look at the site of the actual explosion. Workers, they were there all night, resurfacing the street where the first bomb went off, so that this morning, it is back completely almost I should say to normal.

Miguel Marquez is live on Boylston Street with the latest.

Good morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

The sense of relief here in Boylston Street is palpable. I want to show you. The old number nine. The city bus on its "Boston strong". You see that everywhere across the city these days.

And the video we shot earlier this morning, overnight, as they were repairing the streets, businesses, 671 Boylston, 775 Boylston, where those bombs went off. One of them, the most lovely signs was just a big sign of "Boston strong". All of this as we're learning more about the plot, and the aftermath.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): New pictures of the confrontation between the Tsarnaev brothers and police in Watertown. In one of them, taken by witness Andrew Kitzenberg, you 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, BOAT OWNER: My eyes went to the other side of the engine box. The engine box is in the middle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a body.

MARQUEZ: Tsarnaev already bleeding before the final shootout and surrender. The city on high alert, Henneberry knew it might just be the man police were looking for.

And we're learning more, if it can believe, 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 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 are 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, Brandon Mess. He was found dead, along with two others, all with their throats 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 and for the youngest victim, 8-year-old Martin Richard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, the memorial here in Boston has been set up here in Copley square. Everything along Boylston has been brought to this location.

A lot of shoes, it's like the runners giving shoes off their own feet. I want to show how big this thing is. We come around this way. You can see, a lot of flowers, the shirts off people's backs. A lot of hats here as well.

It's a very touching scene, John.

BERMAN: It is a terrific memorial, Miguel, and equally terrific scene. Everyone out walking on the streets today, and even traffic. Even traffic on Boylston Street is nice to see today. You don't often say that in a major city.

MARQUEZ: Lovely.

BERMAN: Who knew? Miguel Marquez, thank you so much. I really appreciate.

New this morning, right now, delegates from the U.S. embassy in Moscow are in Dagestan to interview the parents of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The U.S. delegation is making this trip in full cooperation with the Russian government, which is also assisting in the FBI investigation.

CNN's Phil Black has the latest now from Moscow.

Good morning, Phil.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. embassy sent a team from Moscow to Dagestan on Tuesday. It is now believed they are there on the ground, interviewing the parents of the two bombing suspects. It's significant because it's the first time U.S. officials had the chance to quiz the suspects' parents and in particular ask them about their eldest son, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

And specifically, just what he got up, where did he go, who did he see when he visited them in Dagestan in early 2012?

We know that he was within Russia for some six months, and one theory is, it was during that time, it was his exposure to people, events, in this very violent corner of Russia, that in some way contributed to his radicalization and ultimately those events that took place in Boston. It is also the first chance the suspect's parents had to speak to U.S. officials and tell them just what they think of the accusations that are being made against their sons.

For some days now, they have been maintaining their son's innocence. That they were not capable of what they are accused of and believed they have been set up by U.S. officials.

Phil Black, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: And our thanks to Phil for that.

We have 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 of Tsarnaev may have been radicalized.

So, the question is: why wasn't he followed more closely?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Because additional information didn't come in, then the FBI says 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, since Tsarnaev was never deemed a threat no, red flags went up when he returned to the U.S. from abroad. Questions still remain about whether or not the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI share such vital information. Lessons many say should have been learned from September 11th a long time ago.

Senator James Risch is a Republican from Idaho. He is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who attended a briefing yesterday.

Senator, thank you for being us with.

Let me start off by ask you the question about the contact between the Russian intelligence service and the FBI. Up until now, we've been told that they reached out once, but now we learn they reached out repeatedly to the FBI with concern that perhaps Tsarnaev could be a threat.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Well, the meeting yesterday was more than a briefing. We have actually started the inquiry into how the FBI and how intelligence agencies handled this. And, obviously, we're going to be very interested in what is found out on the ground, in Dagestan. We know that the individual was there for six months.

The Russians had contacted our intelligence agencies, we have on the terrorist matters, we have cooperation and many times good cooperation with the Russians, because they -- they feel the same way we do about terrorism so we do exchange information. Unfortunately, the information that they gave was much conclusory as far as details were concerned. There has been criticism of the FBI.

The FBI did an investigation based upon the conclusory matters that the Russian had given to the United States in that they said he had become radicalized, and they did -- they actually interviewed him. They interviewed neighbors. They interviewed relatives. And there were no red flags raised.

And I have been around investigations all my life. I started as a prosecuting attorney, and I know shoddy work when I see it.

This was not shoddy work. They were doing the best they could do with the information they had. But they uncovered absolutely no fact here that raised the matter to a level that this man should get 24-hour surveillance or any of the other things that are available to the FBI to watch them.

BERMAN: Interesting.

So, what you seem to be saying is that the quality of intelligence that we received from the Russian officials was not so great to begin with.

Let me ask you this -- other information that we've been receiving in our reporting is that the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has been indicating that he was radicalized online by watching videos, not with the help or contact with any outside terrorist organizations.

Based on the briefings that you are hearing, do you believe that still to be the case?

RISCH: Well, we're certainly not going to take his word for that. We're going to dig a lot deeper into that.

Having said that, what you saw here was very typical of what we see, from what we call these lone wolf operations. Although there were two of them, still following the category of the lone wolf operation. They are not part of an intricate group of people who were plotting or what-have-you.

So far, again, there's no factual basis to indicate that that was the case. Instead, they were online, listening to these radical people talking about what should be done to America and they became self- radicalized, at least from everything we have seen so far.

BERMAN: The uncle to these brothers tells CNN, he think there may have been a friend that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, someone who helped to radicalize him, who teach him some of the more radical notions, his name being Misha. He may have been an Armenian immigrant to the United States.

Has this name or this figure come up at your intelligence briefings?

RISCH: Well, we've heard the same reports obviously. And, it's not out of the question. In fact, common sense would tell you that if he got it off the Internet, he probably ran in some circles where he would associate with people who thought the same way he did. So, that report wouldn't necessarily be totally off the wall. It would certainly fall in with this -- with this self-radicalization thing that happens, two individuals who immersed themselves in those kinds of things.

BERMAN: All right. Senator James Risch, thank you so much for being with us this morning, sir. We really appreciate it.

RISCH: Thank you.

BERMAN: There's a touching moment to tell you about at one of the hospitals in Boston. Soldiers who lost limbs fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are offering hope to those who lost legs in the marathon terror attack. Celeste Corcoran lost both legs when the bomb exploded. Veteran Marine Sergeant Gabe Ramirez is also a double amputee. He paid her and her 18-year-old daughter Sydney a visit at the Boston Medical Center.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. GABE RAMIREZ, VETERAN MARINE: This is basically the start. This is a new beginning for the both of you.

CELESTE CORCORAN, SURVIVOR: I can't get to anything right now.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Celeste is keeping her spirits high. He's even talking about running the Boston marathon here next year.

If you would like to help the survivors of the Boston attacks, you can go to our Web site, CNN.com/impact. We have direct links in all kinds of ways you can help, including, we have the personal fund pages of several of the victims.

Happening later today, a memorial here in Boston for one of the victims. At noon, Vice President Joe Biden will attend a service for Sean Collier. He's the MIT officer killed during the manhunt for the suspects, meanwhile, later on this afternoon, the House Intelligence Committee will receive a full briefing on the terror attacks. We'll try to find out what information they learn.

And coming up, we're talking about that MIT Officer Sean Collier. MIT police chief, John DiFava and Cambridge Police Chief Robert Haas are joining us with what happened to Officer Collier and how they want people to remember this remarkable young man.

You are watching STARTING POINT live from Boston.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Today, one of Cambridge's finest, MIT police officer, Sean Collier, will be remembered in a public memorial. In Cambridge, that's happening. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to attend as is his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. Collier was laid to rest yesterday in a private funeral. The 26-year-old officer was shot to death last week as he sat in a vehicle, allegedly, by the Tsavraev Brothers.

Joining us now to talk about this is M.I.T. police chief, John Difava, and Cambridge police chief, Robert Haas. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. And I said today, chief, you were just telling me, there are only 58 officers on the MIT police force. So, you must all know each other very, very well.

JOHN DIFAVA, MIT POLICE CHIEF: That's correct. It's a small department. They are very, very tight as one would expect working together 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

BERMAN: And by all accounts, Sean Collier was just a terrific guy. Born to be a police officer, born to be part of that community.

DIFAVA: Yes. His brother told us yesterday at the funeral mass that he had wanted to be a police officer since he was seven years old. You know, there are numerous reasons why people come on the police department. But I think in his case, he's one of those that he wanted it like it was a vocation or a calling. And from -- the way he performed on the department, it definitely was the case.

BERMAN: At this point, are there any more details about how he died? There are reports that the brothers allegedly, you know, ambushed him. They are trying to get his gun, but they couldn't get it.

DIFAVA: That's the subject of an ongoing investigation, and I'd rather not comment.

BERMAN: But he was alone at the time?

DIFAVA: He was alone. We patrol one -- single person who -- he was by himself.

BERMAN: And you are the police chief in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We are dealing so much with this investigation right now. Not just what happened in the last week, but what happened before that, one of the things we learned is that the FBI questions Tamerlan Tsavraev as far back as 2011. Did you ever get any contact from the federal government or any indication that there was concern about this individual?

ROBERT HAAS, CAMBRIDGE POLICE CHIEF: No, we hadn't had any contact. And you know, I think, John, we would rather focus on Officer Collier's funeral today and turn to that conversation at some other time.

BERMAN: No, I know. And I was saying before, you know, it is such a small community. One of the things I was learning, he said he was born to be a police officer, a vocation, from the time he was seven years old, but he really integrated himself into that community. I understand he joined his glee (ph) club at MIT. DIFAVA: He was remarkable. I mean, his goal was to really create a bond and a trust with the students, and he did that. And he didn't do it just on the eight-hour shift that he work, but he would come in on his own time. He was a member of the outing club. He was a member of the ski club. He attended all their events. He entered they world.

And they accepted him for that. And from the e-mails we've been getting from the student body, they really loved this kid.

BERMAN: What has been the impact over the last several days at MIT and the greater Cambridge community?

DIFAVA: So, from our standpoint, we've been full out for the last two weeks and more so now in this last week or every officer in the department has been engaged around the clock in a variety of different initiatives. We're playing a key role in terms of planning the event for today. It continues to grow.

I mean, the size of this is tremendous. There is fully engaged. A lot of the officers want to be at the memorial, can't be there because they really need to be behind the scenes. Still security issues.

HAAS: Work to be done.

DIFAVA: A lot of work to be done, yes.

BERMAN: How is the campus doing today?

HAAS: Well, I tell you, it's gearing up (INAUDIBLE) the commissioner said for this event today, but the outpouring of support from the campus has been unbelievable. It's been humbling. You know, if there was any doubt of where we fit on that campus community, those are out the window because the outpouring of just concern and support has been phenomenal.

BERMAN: There was this mosque in Cambridge which is part of the community there. Tell me, you had a chance to speak to leaders there over the last couple of weeks?

DIFAVA: No.

BERMAN: No chance --

DIFAVA: No.

BERMAN: All right. Police chief, Robert Haas, Johm Difava, thank you so much for being with us right now. Our thoughts are with you today, and that, this memorial service for Sean Collier, who by all accounts, just an outstanding, extraordinary young man.

DIFAVA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Appreciate it.

HAAS: Thank you very much. BERMAN: Next on STARTING POINT, a man suspected of sending letters laced with ricin to the president, that man is now free. The charges against him may have been dropped, and he tells CNN that he thinks he was framed. We'll tell you about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans with a look at some of today's top stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Right now, rescue workers frantically digging through rubble of the collapsed building near Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Local reports today at least 70 people were killed when the eight-story commercial building came down. Seven hundred, more than 700 people are injured.

The mystery surrounding who sent ricin-tainted letters to President Obama and two other officials deepens after charges are dropped against one-time suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis. On last night's "Piers Morgan Live," Curtis described the moment he realized the situation he found himself in was very serious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OF KEVIN CURTIS, EX-RICIN SUSPECT: I kept thinking this is serious. It took 24 hours for me to even be educated and informed on the actual charge. I heard the word ricin for the first time in my life by a federal agent homeland security while being interrogated for four hours at the federal building in Oxford, and I thought he said rice for about an hour.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The U.S. attorney handling the case says charges were dropped, because new information came to light. Curtis says he thinks he was framed and he told Piers he believes he knows who did it.

Former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, criticized in a GOP report about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya last September. That report released by House Republicans claims Clinton personally signed off on security cuts at the mission. It says a request for beefed-up security was made, but denied. U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in that attack.

Rutgers University has a new head basketball coach, and it comes with some pretty serious NBA credentials. L.A. Lakers assistant coach, Eddie Jordan, has been named to replace Mike Rice, who was fired last month after video surfaced showing him shoving and verbally abusing his players during practice. Jordan played college ball at Rutgers and has previously served as head coach for the Washington Wizards, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Sacramento Kings. > New video this morning of actress, Reese Witherspoon, after she was arrested Friday for disorderly conduct. It happened after her husband, James Toth, was charged with DUI. The 37-year-old actress allegedly shouted at the officer, "do you know who I am?" Witherspoon says she is, quote, "deeply embarrassed" and has nothing but respect for the police.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (on-camera): Just ahead, how did Tamerlan Tsavraev become a self-made radical? Well, people who knew him are saying this morning.

We'll also talk to Congressman Peter King about that. He's on the House Homeland Security and Intelligence Committee. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone, live from Boston this morning. An American delegation for the U.S. embassy in Moscow has arrived in Dagestan to interview the parents of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsavraev. And they're getting the full cooperation of the Russian government while they do this. That's significant.

Also, a major milestone here in Boston this morning. Boylston Street, just behind me, the site of the marathon finish line, officially reopening to the public. We saw work crews working overnight, scrubbing the sidewalks, literally, resurfacing the area where the bombs went off. The sidewalks, again, resurfaced, re-cemented. There are no signs of the bomb blast so that people are back walking the streets this morning.

And we have new developments for the surviving suspect in this case. Dzhokhar Tsavraev's condition upgraded from serious to fair condition overnight. He could soon be moved out of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to another facility. And CNN has new information shedding light on how the Tsavraev Brothers allegedly built their bomb, perhaps.

A New Hampshire fireworks shop confirms that Tamerlan Tsavraev bought products containing three pounds of black gun powder two months ago after asking the clerk for, quote, "the biggest and loudest kit in the store."