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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Investigations Continue into Background of Alleged Boston Bombing Suspects; Suspected Killer Loose in Small California Town; Wrongful Death Suit over Michael Jackson's Death to Commence; One World Trade Center Marks Construction Milestone; Interview with Gary Bernsten; Boston Bombing Investigation Continues

Aired April 29, 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: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. Our STARTING POINT, a raid overnight in Russia. Why special forces wanted this man dead and his possible connection to one of the suspected Boston bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev?

Plus, the U.S. and Russia working furiously to piece together Tamerlan's every move leading up to the marathon attacks. This as his surviving brother is questioned in a 10x10 cell. We are live in Boston and in Moscow with the developing details.

Then, a manhunt underway for the man behind the brutal murder of an eight-year-old girl. The family's desperate plea for help.

And, history. The final section of one World Trade Center goes up today. Details on the soon-to-be tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

Also, President Obama lets the jokes fly, shooting arrows at Republicans, the media, and of course, himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These days, I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I'm not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It is Monday, April 29th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

We are following new developments unfolding this hour in the Boston marathon bombing investigation. I want you to take a look at this man. He is reportedly a key part of a militant group. And today, Russian special forces killed him. That militant group has possible ties to alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Meantime the FBI is joining forces with Russian security officials to piece together Tamerlan's every move during a six-month visit to Russia.

And even though they believe the brothers were self-radicalized watching online videos, they are still looking into the possibility that other people maybe in Russia, perhaps in the U.S., may have been influences. Among the people investigators are looking at, the mother, and Tamerlan's wife Katherine Russell, who converted to Islam when she married him back in 2010. The bombing suspect's father has now postponed his trip to the United States. He told Russian state media that he's in a hospital because of what he calls a blood pressure spike.

Of course, today marks two weeks since the day of the Boston marathon. Two weeks since the terror attack. And two dozen people are still in the hospital recovering.

Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now at a medical facility for federal prisoners. He's locked up in a tiny cell west of Boston. Our Pamela Brown is live there in Devens, Massachusetts with the latest. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John. New developments this morning. We spoke to a prison hospital official who tells us that 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is speaking and interacting with medical staff here. We don't know if he's talking with anyone else, but this is an indication that his conditioned has significantly improved.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Inside these federal prison hospital walls in Devens, Massachusetts, 40 miles outside of Boston, bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is living in solitude, in a 10x10 cell equipped with a steel door, slot for food, and a small window where he's being observed 24 hours a day. The accommodations are bare, limited to a toilet, sink and bed, tucked away in a restricted area reserved only for high risk inmates. There's only room for 30 offenders in this special section and now Tsarnaev is one of them.

As investigators try to figure out how and why he allegedly carried out the attacks with his brother, later killed in a police shoot-out, the justice department's role in the investigation has come under intense scrutiny. Tsarnaev has stopped giving substantive information to authorities since being read his Miranda rights, sources have indicated. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar at the White House Correspondents dinner Saturday night, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the decision.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Will you comment on the suspect being mIrandized and whether that was appropriate?

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I mean, the decision to Mirandize him was one that the totally consistent with the laws that we have. We had a two-day period that they were able to question him under the public safety exception. So I think everything was done appropriately and we got good leads.

BROWN: Republican Congressman Peter King strongly disagrees, saying more time to interrogate Tsarnaev could have brought forth new critical information to keep America safe. REP. PETE KING, (R) NEW YORK: Absolutely disgraceful, because that interrogation could have ended up saving many American lives. We don't know what the full consequences are going to be. Who else was involved? Who was involved then? Who could be involved in the future? We may not know because of Eric Holder.

BROWN: Tsarnaev's brother Tamerlan and his brother had been listed in a U.S. counterterrorism database since Russia raised concerns about both of them in 2011 an intelligence official told CNN. It was in that same year an official with knowledge of the investigation is now saying that Russia intercepted communication between Tamerlan's mother and one of the two sons discussing jihad in a conversation described as vague. The information came from a wiretap of the mother the Russians have turned over only in recent days.

Earlier in the week, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, acknowledged the situation could have been handled better. "To my great regret," he said, "we were not able to provide our American colleagues with information that would have had operative significance."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Attorney General Eric Holder declined to comment on that wiretap. Now, in addition to the terrorism charges he's already facing, Tsarnaev may face more charges sometime in the next three weeks. John?

BERMAN: All right, Pamela brown live for us in Devens, Massachusetts. Our thanks to Pamela.

The biggest development overnight might have come from Russia. There was a special forces raid there, targeting a militant group that may be linked to suspected Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. And CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Moscow with the details on again what could be a really key development here, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, let's reel back a little bit and explain to you why the pictures you're seeing of the very early morning raid yesterday in a village in Dagestan, and the fact they killed Shakhrudin Askhabov relates to this whole bombing. Shakhrudin Askhabov, we've seen him hanging out with the people in the same group run by Abu Dujan.

Abu Dujan is a key militant killed in December by Russian special forces. He's linked to the bombing case because a video of that man was linked to by Tamerlan Tsarnaev on his YouTube page. The link is certainly there. We don't know if these people ever met. We do know Tamerlan Tsarnaev was interested in Abu Dujan and do we know Russian forces hunted down and killed one of the members of Abu Dujan's group, in fact a key one, because this man they killed today was the brother of the successor of the leadership of that particular organization.

We don't know if it's purely coincidental. Perhaps. But it's clear that Russian special forces are now hunting down members of the Abu Dujan militant group. It could be a coincidence. We don't have concrete proof Tamerlan Tsarnaev actually met Abu Dujan apart from that YouTube channel link being the key thing that connects the two. But definitely activity on the ground right now, John.

BERMAN: And we have a web of possible connections, Nick, and certainly increased special forces activity among the Russians. Meanwhile, Nick, you've spoken to the Tsarnaev's mother. What is she saying now?

WALSH: I spoke to the mother and father in the last 15 minutes, and to put it in context, the father doesn't seem to be well at all. The conversation was extremely short. He was gravely, I think, under pressure physically. He said simply, "I am sick. I am sick," wouldn't elaborate on anything else.

The mother went into more detail. She confirms they will not -- the father will not be traveling to the United States until his health improves. The travel plans appear to be constantly changing. She was clear on one thing, show, she will go to the United States, regardless of any risk or charges against her, an arrest warrant for shoplifting or anything subsequent things emerging in this investigation. She would like to travel if she can see her son Dzhokhar. She doesn't have any guarantee of that.

But we're talking about people under great strain here, physically as well. It seems as though the father's condition relates to his high blood pressure, perhaps something else, as well. He seems to be in very poor condition. I think the emphasis for them now is to put him in a comfortable place where he can get some sort of medical assistance. But they weren't at point where they had a concrete plan for their whereabouts.

BERMAN: All right, Nick Paton Walsh our thanks to you. Just off the phone with the bombing suspect's parents this morning from Russia. Thanks, Nick.

Meanwhile, the New York review says it has spoken to the man the accused bomber's family says radicalized and brainwashed Tamerlan Tsarnaev. A reporter for that group says the man known as Misha is 39 years old and lives with his parents in Rhode Island. Again, Misha told the review, the review says this man they think is Misha has not been in touch with Tamerlan for about three years and that he's been cooperating with the FBI. This man they identify as Misha is also insisting he had nothing to do with the bombings, and that investigators are about to clear him. That's going on in the investigation right now.

I'm standing at the site of the memorial in Copley Square, again, about a block away from the finish line. We've seen some amazing things. I want to show you right now a message board. There are four of these giant pieces of paper where people write messages to the victims and the people who suffered in these tragic attacks, four giant pieces of paper. Every inch of the paper is covered with notes.

Now, Boston officials told us they've had to replace these six times, at least, over the last few days, because more and more people keep coming and leaving messages, and we've seen messages from all over the world, all over the U.S., as far away as Istanbul, everywhere. So many people want to join here and commemorate this event and really these tragic events and do it together. It is a remarkable, remarkable memorial here.

Let's go back to Christine Romans in New York with more of the day's other top stories. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, John. Breaking news from Prague. An explosion in the heart of the city leaving nearly 60 people injured. There were also reports of people trapped in the rubble. Czech authorities say the blast brought down the first floor of a TV and film school. The blast shattered windows of other buildings nearby. State-run TV there is reporting that a gas explosion caused that blast.

Developing this morning, the desperate search for the person behind the brutal murder of an eight-year-old girl. Her brother discovered her Saturday inside their home in the rural community of valley springs, about 60 miles southeast of Sacramento. Leila Fowler's mother says the family's devastated, that this girl was so full of life and she's pleading with someone to turn in the killer. CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Valley Springs for us this morning. What's the latest?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, right now detectives are at it. Here it is 4:00 a.m. California time and they're still trying to solve the mystery of who killed this little girl in this quiet foothill community.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN: It's a rural community on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had the helicopters going over our house last night.

VERCAMMEN: A place where doors often go unlocked now bolted shut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sure a lot of families last night locked all their windows, locked all their doors for the first time.

VERCAMMEN: A killer is on the loose, the killer of an eight-year-old girl, Leila Fowler. Police say she and her 12-year-old brother were home alone Saturday afternoon when he says he saw an intruder leaving the house. The boy called his parents, who called 911. He then found his sister stabbed, severely wounded. She later died. Since then police have been running down leads, but have no specific suspects.

CAPT. JIM MACEDO, CALAVERAS COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: We're searching, you know, extensively into attics and storage sheds. It is a difficult area to search. It's rural, remote. The grass is tall right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of empty homes and out-buildings around here. There's like huge rock croppings where somebody can hide in. VERCAMMEN: Authorities have combed the home and the neighborhood for evidence.

MACEDO: We did collect some fingerprints during that search and we also collected what we believe to be DNA. Those prints and that DNA will hopefully be processed within the next week.

VERCAMMEN: There will be an added police presence today at schools and bus stops in the area. As one resident said, this kind of thing just does not happen here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN: And now back here live, one insider telling us this may be a very difficult case to solve. Christine?

ROMANS: It's certainly a mystery and very sad, sad morning. Again, in California, thanks so much Paul Vercammen.

New this morning in Syria, the government insisting a car bomb in Damascus was intended to kill the country's prime minister. He was not harmed but one person was killed in that blast. No one has claimed responsibility but the attack is significant because it happened near President Bashar Assad's palace.

Expected to be dramatic, emotional, and star-studded, we're talking about the Michael Jackson wrongful death suit which begins with opening statements in just a few hours. CNN's Casey Wian live outside the courthouse for us in Los Angeles. Good morning, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Just about six hours from now opening statements will begin in this courthouse behind me. We'll hear from attorneys for Michael Jackson's family and attorneys for AEG Live, who will both begin to lay out their version of who caused Michael Jackson's death.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Michael Jackson was in the last weeks of rehearsal for what was to be his grand comeback. The exhausted 50-year-old insomniac died in 2009 from an overdose of sedatives and the surgical anesthetic Propofol. Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for giving Jackson the fatal dose in an effort to help him sleep. He is in prison.

Now the company that promoted the comeback tour, AEG Live, is fighting legal claims by Jackson's mother and children that it shares responsibility for the singer's death because it hired and supervised Murray.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think, as his mother, caused his death?

KATHERINE JACKSON, JACKSON'S MOTHER: I don't know. All I know is that they used Propofol, and they shouldn't have used it, and they used it in the wrong setting. That's all I know. And that's what caused his death.

PROF. JODY ARMOUR, USC LAW SCHOOL: The gist of the plaintiff's claim against AEG is that you controlled Dr. Murray and you used your control over Dr. Murray to pressure him into taking unnecessary and excessive risk with his patient, Michael Jackson, leading to Michael Jackson's death.

WIAN: AEG Live's attorney says there was never a signed contract with Murray and that Jackson was the only one who controlled him.

MARVIN PUTNAM, AEG ATTORNEY: He was chosen by Michael Jackson. He'd be there at Michael Jackson's behest. He'd be Michael Jackson's doctor alone. But this was only being done because Michael Jackson asked for it. Michael Jackson was the only person who could get rid of him at will.

WIAN: Potential witnesses include Jackson's teenage children, Prince Michael, and Paris. Producer Quincy Jones could testify about the billions of dollars Michael Jackson would have earned if he had lived, money his heirs now want from AEG, a multibillion dollar sports entertainment and real estate conglomerate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: The trial is expected to last between two and four months, perhaps even longer. Jackson's family attorneys want to call Dr. Conrad Murray to the stand. But if they do, he says he will take the fifth. That's because the appeal of his manslaughter conviction is ongoing. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Casey Wian in Los Angeles. Thanks, Casey.

President Obama will nominate Charlotte Mayor Anthony Fox to become the next transportation secretary later today. Fox's city hosted the Democratic National Convention last year. The nomination would make him the only African-American picked for a cabinet spot in the president's second term.

New this morning, in just five hours, and after more than six years of construction, the final section will be raised to the top of One World Trade Center. These are live pictures of the Freedom Tower as it's known, which will officially become the tallest building in the western hemisphere at 1,776 feet, 1776, that's once the spire is placed on top today. Only two buildings in the world will stand taller. The Burj Khalifa at the Dubai the it's the tallest at 2,717 feet, that's followed by the Mecca Royal Clock Tower in Mecca. There you go. Saudi Arabia.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, was there a foreign connection to the Boston Marathon bombings? We will look at the latest evidence with former CIA officer Gary Berntsen. Then if you're flying this Memorial Day, relief may be on the way for your wallet. What you need to know before you book that flight coming up.

Then no one is safe from mockery at the White House correspondents' dinner. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O'BRIEN, COMEDIAN: The president is hard at work creating jobs. Since he was first elected, the number of popes has doubled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The press, Congress, and the president all skewered in good fun. That's ahead. STARTING POINT back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. We are live in Boston this morning, covering the latest developments in the bombing investigation. Let's bring in Gary Berntsen, the author of "Human Intelligence: Counterterrorism and National Leadership." He's also a former CIA officer and a former unit head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit.

Gary, thanks so much for being with us. Let's start with this latest development. Because just hours ago, CNN learned of an overnight raid in Russia. Russian special forces raiding a militant group with possible links to Tamerlan Tsarnaev. At a minimum we know that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had posted Youtube videos of this militant group in Russia. So my question to you is what do you make of this up-tick in Russian special forces activity?

GARY BERNSTEN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, clearly the FSB, the Russian internal security service, would have had source information, they would have been doing (INAUDIBLE) they would be doing a lot of things. And that special forces unit just would have been the action arm to go against them. When the Russians come knocking, they mean business. They are covering not just a small number of individuals, they're covering hundreds or thousands of leads in their area.

People wondered why, you know, when they sent us a lead, you know, how do they know? Why didn't they do more follow up? They didn't do more follow-up because they have hundreds or thousands of their own leads because they're in a serious fight there in the Caucasus.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the Russian leads, that they provided to the U.S. because over the weekend we learned that the Russians had intercepted phone calls between Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's mother and Tamerlan and also another person where they were discussing loosely jihad. The Russians had that information, did not pass it on to the United States. How useful might that have been?

BERNSTEN: Well, look, they already provided a lead early on saying that he was possibly involved in, you know, in Islamic fundamentalist or jihadist activity. That should have been enough. You know, an additional statement on that, in my opinion, wouldn't have added much. It's incumbent on the U.S. when you're given a lead to follow it. Not just to go call them, interview them, as the FBI did, but to get on them, to surveil them, to run sources at them, to do the full gamut of operations against a possible terrorist. We're not at a point where we should be blaming the Russians on this one. It's on us. He was on our turf. BERMAN: Let's talk about the bombs, because there are some key members of Congress who have been talking about the makeup of the explosive devices that were used, these pressure cooker bombs and there's a sense among members of Congress that these were complicated enough that these two brothers, who were in the U.S., could not have built them without some training. Based on your expertise here, is this the type of thing you really could build just by following directions online, or would you need to have some kind of special training here, perhaps from overseas?

BERNSTEN: I am convinced that they had training. You know, I've had training myself when I was in the agency, and special operations training. That was probably 15 to 20 hours of hands-on, one-on-one to build those devices. If you look at many of the big bombers around the world, people like (INAUDIBLE) Ramzi Yousef, (INAUDIBLE) all of them had accidents when they were doing this stuff. When you're experimenting with explosives and you make a mistake, you're going to get hurt. And this was complicated what he did, and I am certain that he had training.

BERMAN: All right. Former CIA officer Gary Berntsen, thanks so much for your expertise on this matter, we really appreciate it.

BERNSTEN: You're very welcome.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, those forced budget cuts creating a big problem for the IRS. It may actually work out for you, though. We'll tell you how. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, I'm Christine Romans minding your business this morning. The stock rally continues. Dow futures up about 40 points today. At this rate the blue chips will end the month higher for the fifth month in a row.

Fewer people will be audited this year. It's because of the forced federal spending cuts. Nearly 100,000 IRS workers will be furloughed. They'll take days off without pay. As a result, the federal government will, quote, see fewer proceeds from our enforcement activities. But that also means less money for the government at a time when it's trying to find -- trying to reduce debt. But that is the upside, I guess, of the forced spending cuts. Fewer odds of getting an audit.

Good news for travelers, plane ticket this memorial day will cost less than last year. "USA Today" says the average round-trip domestic flight from May 23rd to May 28th is $341. That's down two percent from last year. Analysts say demand has been weak so carriers have been cutting prices, but you should still book early. According to Travelocity, history shows leading up to Memorial Day, prices go up 10 to 25 dollars each week.

Ahead on STARTING POINT the surviving Boston bombing suspect says he and his brother were not helped. But new information has some lawmakers expressing doubt. And the man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to top officials due in court. Why an old-fashioned feud may be behind the whole thing.

And President Obama gets the last laugh at the White House correspondents' dinner. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A look at some of the funniest moments next. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. John Berman here live in Boston. Where behind me so many people still paying their respects here at the memorial for the Boston marathon bombing victims. We have some new developments overnight in the bombing investigation coming from Russia. The Tsarnaev's mother telling our Nick Paton Walsh that the mother plans to travel to the U.S. no matter the risk, as long as she's able to see her surviving son. That's by no means definite. The father's health, meanwhile Nick says, is taking a turn for the worse.

Overnight Russian special forces raiding a militant group with possible links to Tamerlan Tsarnaev taking out this man reportedly a key member of that group. This comes as the FBI and Russian security officials try to piece together Tamerlan Tsarnaev's movements during his six month visit to Russia. They want to know if others in the U.S. or Russia may have influenced or helped the Tsarnaevs. That includes Tsarnaev's mother, as well as Tamerlan's wife Katherine Russell, who converted to Islam when she married Tamerlan in 2010.