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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Russian Security Forces Investigate Dagestan; Car Bomb in Syria Targets PM; Jets Release QB Tim Tebow; Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx Nominated for Transportation Secretary; Will Manchin-Toomey Be Brought Back?; Court Hearing for Mississippi Man; Have You Checked your Credit Report?; On the Wings of Man

Aired April 29, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to Boston. John Berman here.

We begin with new developments in the Bostton bombing case. The mother of the suspected bombers just telling CNN's Nick Paton Walsh moments ago that she plans to travel to the United States, no matter what the risk, as long as she's able to see her surviving son. Now, Nick just spoke to the father, as well. His health, Nick says, is taking a bad turn.

Overnight, Russian special forces raided a militant group with possible links to Tamerlan Tsarnaev taking out this man, purportedly a key member of that militant group. Now this comes as the FBI and Russian security officials try to piece together Tamerlan Tsarnaev's movements during his six months' visit to Russia. They want to know if others in the United States or Russia may have influenced or helped the Tsarnaev brothers -- that includes their mother as well as Tamerlan's wife, Katherine Russell, who converted to Islam when she married Tamerlan in 2010.

As for whether the Boston Marathon bombers had help, the Texas Congressman who heads the House Homeland Security Committee appears convinced they did have help. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), CHAIRMAN, HOMELAND SECURITY CMTE: I think given the level of sophistication of the device, the fact that the pressure cooker is a signature device that goes back to Pakistan, Afghanistan, leads me to believe in the way they handled these devices, and the tradecraft, leads me to believe that there was a trainer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Did they have help in Dagestan? CNN's Nic Robertson is following developments live from Dagestan this morning. Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, this is certainly a place where you could get bomb training and weapons training. There's a vicious fight going on between security forces and rebels hiding out in the mountains here, and roadside bombs, suicide bombs, are typical of what the rebels are using against government forces.

So when Tsarnaev was here, did he have the opportunity to meet with bombmakers? Potentially absolutely yes. Is there a proven link? No. He attended a mosque here that has a very radical reputation, a mosque that Russian security services monitor, a mosque where people who have sympathies towards the rebels do attend. But were some of those people actual rebels, were they the rebel leaders that he later posted on one of his social networking sites, a video of one of them? Were they those people? It's just not clear.

And did he actually talk to them? That's what Russian security services here will be asking themselves as they continue in this daily battle -- two fighters killed last night, three killed the day before in this daily battle Russian security forces have with the rebels here, John.

BERMAN: These battles clearly intensifying there as this investigation there continues. Nic Robertson in Dagestan for us this morning. Thanks so much, Nic.

We're standing about a block away from the finish line of the Boston Marathon and ten runners who could not complete the race because of the bombings, well, they got a second chance to compete in a marathon and cross that finish line -- in Oklahoma, of all places. Our affiliate KOCO says that these runenrs accepted an invitation to enter the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, which is an event that honors the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Security was stepped up for the race and no backpacks were allowed.

As we said, we're standing at the memorial here. This has become a Mecca for runners here in Boston. So many people going out for their morning jog stop by here and pay their respects at this memorial site.

Let's go back to Christine Romans in New York for the rest of the day's top stories. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi John. Thanks. A car bomb exploded this morning in the Syrian capital Damascus and it looks like the intended target was Syria's prime minister. He was not hurt, but one person was killed. The blast taking place near President Bashar al Assad's palace.

Senator John McCain has repeatedly called on President Obama to take a leading role in ending Syria's two year old civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Our actions should not be dictated on -- by whether Bashar al-Assad used the chemical weapons or not. First of all, sooner or later, he most likely would in order to maintain his hold on power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The president has said Syria's use of chemical weapons would cross a red line, but on Friday, Mr. Obama insisted the intelligence assessment about chemical weapons is preliminary at this point.

A rescue operation is slowly turning this to a recovery effort in Bangladesh. Crews are now using heavy machinery to remove wreckage at the site of that collapsed nine-story factory building indicating the search for survivors may be drawing to a close. The death toll is approaching 400 this morning. Three factory owners and two government engineers have been arrested. The building's owner was arrested as he tried to flee the country. And, again ,that factory housed companies that made garments intended for the U.S. -- U.S. consumers and European consumers.

President Obama will nominate Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx to become the next Transportation Secretary today. Foxx's city hosted the Democratic National Convention, you'll recall, 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, the experiment is over. Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has been released. "The New York Post" reports the decision comes just three days after the Jets drafted Geno Smith in the second round to compete for the starting QB slot. Tebow is now a free agent. It's not clear if another team will attempt to pick him up.

The FAA saying employee furloughs are over and air traffic facilities should be back to their normal staffing now That should fix the problems from last week when flyers saw big delays at major airports. The FAA furloughed 13,000 controllers because of forced spending cuts. Congress passed a bill Friday to deal with the problem.

Today marks six months since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast, causing massive damage and heartache in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. Tens of thousands of people remain homeless today. Sandy brought death and devastation to Staten Island.

Congressman Michael Grimm was here earlier this morning with Pat Dresch. Pat lost her husband and her 13-year-old daughter in that storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: It's been extremely difficult. I mean, don't get me wrong -- a lot has been done, but there is still so much more to do. In many ways, we're really just starting major aspects of the recovery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: New Jersey residents and business owners have until Wednesday, May 1, to apply for disaster assistance from FEMA or for a loan from the Small Business Administration.

A lesbian teacher fired from a Catholic school in Ohio is fighting to get her job back. Carla Hale mentioned her same-sex partner when she wrote her mother's obituary. The school found out and let her go after 19 years. Listen to former students reacting to the students.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel sad it had to happen this way. I feel sorry that it was so publicized and that she doesn't have a job anymore. But I also don't think the school or the diocese had a choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It goes against everything the Catholic Church preaches on homosexuality. Yes, they don't believe in marriage or homosexual partnerships, but they also preach love and compassion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The diocese says staff who publicly mention relationships that contradict church teachings cannot work for the church. Hale met over the weekend students, parents, and alumni who want her reinstated. An online petition supporting her has nearly 95,000 signatures.

Now it's time to take today's Political News to the "Macks". Husband and wife team and former U.S. Republican representatives Connie and Mary Bono Mack, nice to see both of you.

CONNIE MACK (R), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Nice to see you too.

MARY BONO MACK (R), FORMER CALIFORNIA CONGRESSWOMAN: Great to see you.

ROMANS: I want to talk about gun control, because we haven't talked about that this week.

CONNIE MACK: Of course you do.

ROMANS: And Joe Manchin said something - let's listen to what Joe Manchin said and I want to get your response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX HOST: Pat Toomey, co-sponsor of Manchin-Toomey, says he's done.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I don't think he's done. I really don't. I was with Pat last night and Pat' totally committed to this bill.

WALLACE: But I want to make it clear -- you are going to bring this bill back to the Senate floor and you think it's going be different this time?

MANCHIN: I truly believe that if we have time to sell the bill and people will read the bill, and I'm willing to go anywhere in this country, I'm willing to debate anybody on this issue, read the bill and you tell me what you don't like. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So he says it was misunderstood, there were misrepresentations about what's in the bill and he's going to bring it back, that it's not gone. Do you think there is a chance that could happen?

MARY BONO MACK: Well, no bill passes immediately. I think if it does, you should be afraid of it anyway. But clearly there are people in Congress who have championed this issue for a long time who are going to continue to raise the profile of it this year. And of course Carolyn McCarthy is second to none as far as leading the way here.

But that bill might have been rushed. I think that there was definitely an emotional time in the country to put it out there. But in this case, I think a little bit of kicking it around probably isn't a bad idea.

ROMANS: The longer you wait, though, doesn't the -- I don't know, the public fury about Newtown start to fade? Is that a risk?

CONNIE MACK: It's a risk, but it's not coming back to the -- I mean, I think this is the sponsor wants to try to get it back to the floor, wants to keep the issue alive. The Senate voted; they voted against it. It was a bipartisan vote that killed the bill. You're not going to see that bill again. They might try; they might try to push it in all different ways, but he's saying it's misunderstood. The president said that people opposed to it were lying about it. But at the end of the day, I think the senators are very clear where they stand on this issue.

ROMANS: Can we talk about the bipartisanship we saw at the correspondents' dinner? Did see some of these zingers from the correspondents' dinner? There was a really good one I want to play about -- from Conan O'Brien about Governor Christie. Let's listen to that one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O'BRIEN, COMEDIAN: Also, I'd like to acknowledge that earlier this evening there was some confusion with the seating chart. For a moment, someone accidentally sat Governor Chris Christie with the Republicans. That was awkward and I apologize. Very awkward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: It's always funnier when there's a little bit of truth in there.

MARY BONO MACK: That's always a great night. And I've been there before where the humor gets over the top and it gets so personal. But if Conan or whoever can tread that fine line, look, the president was great, President Bush was great, President Clinton was great. It's really a great night for them to shine and I think it's important for the town to come together despite what the critics say and actually like each other and be kind to each other. ROMANS: Do you think that there are too many celebrities, too? Do you think the celebrity thing is getting out of hand?

CONNIE MACK: Who cares? Not who cares that they're there, but so a lot of celebrities went. I mean, celebrities, politicians -

ROMANS: It's not like they're writing bills or anything.

(CROSSTALK)

MARY BONO MACK: You mean the politicians aren't the celebrities? Because don't tell them that, because that might freak them out a little bit.

CONNIE MACK: I think it's great. I know there are a lot of people out there who are saying enough of this and they're partying when the rest of the country is hurting.

ROMANS: Well, even Tom Brokaw said it's getting a little -- he said when Lindsay Lohan goes, you know, she's the big celebrity at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, you've gone too far.

CONNIE MACK: It sounds like sour grapes to me. I'm sorry. Maybe he's got other -- I don't know. Like people who are complaining about it, it sounds like they have another agenda. I think it's a great thing. Why not get humor in politics? Why not have an opportunity where people can have some fun? I mean, my god, it was a dinner party.

ROMANS: Let me ask you quick about so the FAA, so now all the FAA people are going to be on duty again, those furloughs are over. Do you think we're going to see every single special interest group now, or lobbyist, pushing for their particular thing to be unsequestered? I mean has this turned into -- is this the beginning?

MARY BONO MACK: If they're as clever as Ray LaHood. Apparently LaHood knew how to play this and how to play it to his benefit. The funny thing yesterday when we flew, Connie and I flew from California to here, they're still using sequestration as a reason why the airlines are slow and telling people hurry up and board quickly because sequestration is looming.

CONNIE MACK: Let me just say this real quick. So over the last week I traveled a lot; I traveled out of New York, I traveled all around the country, and I didn't have one delay. You know? So what's going to happen now that all the money has been put back in place, they say, if I'm delayed, whose fault is it?

ROMANS: I just want to know what your itinerary is so I can (INAUDIBLE). Tim Tebow quickly. You were crying in the greenroom.

CONNIE MACK: You know what? He's such a great athlete and such great person. A team would be lucky to have him. I think that he'll get picked up and have another shot. And, look --

MARY BONO MACK: You consider him a god. CONNIE MACK: I just think he's such a role model for kids. He's everything you want --

ROMANS: A role model doesn't win games.

CONNIE MACK: He wins games. Look, when he was in Denver, he won games. He's a winner. You put him in the game, he will win. If you put him in and you kind of hamstring him and don't let him play, he's not going to win.

ROMANS: You need to be his agent.

MARY BONO MACK: Stuck in this Gator moment right now.

CONNIE MACK: It's Gator Nation.

ROMANS: Nice to see you. Monday morning with the Macks, I love it. Thanks, guys.

All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, the new suspect accused of sending poison laced letters to the president and to other officials, he appears in court today. The latest twist in this bizarre case may be linked to an old fashioned feud. That's next.

Then a jaw dropping stunt. Hear from the man attempting to fly through a hole surrounded by boulders wearing only a wing suit. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back. A Mississippi man is expected in court today accused of sending letters to President Obama and two others, letters tainted with the deadly poison ricin. 41-year-old James Everett Dutschke, a martial arts instructor, a former political candidate, he's charged with possession and use of a biological agent.

Alina Machado is live for us this morning in Oxford, Mississippi. Good morning.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Christine. Dutschke is expected to go before a federal court judge here in Oxford, Mississippi at some point today. Meanwhile the man who says he was framed by Dutschke tells us he is just happy an arrest was made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MACHADO (voice over): Kevin Curtis is relieved after learning of James Everett Dutschke's arrest.

PAUL KEVIN CURTIS, FORMER RICIN SUSPECT: I was just like -- I took a deep breath and I walk in there and I told my ex-wife, I said now I feel like a weight is so much lifted off of my shoulders.

MACHADO: Investigators initially honed in on Curtis after someone sent ricin-laced letters to President Obama, Mississippi Senator Wicker and a county court judge. Charges filed against Curtis were dropped last week. After Curtis's released the FBI shifted its focus to Dutschke, a martial arts instructor and a former political candidate.

ANDRE NABORS, NEIGHBOR: They all just surrounded the house and knocked on the door. And he came on out -- he came out willingly. So I mean, there wasn't any struggling going on or anything.

MACHADO: Federal prosecutors have charged Dutschke with quote, "Knowingly developing, producing, stockpiling and possessing a biological agent for use as a weapon." Curtis' ex-wife Laura worked with Dutschke at an insurance company owned by Curtis's brother. She says Dutschke bragged about being a member of Mensa, a high IQ society.

LAURA CURTIS, FORMER WIFE OF KEVIN CURTIS: He had a Mensa card and it was just one of his things he was proud of.

MACHADO: And showed you the card.

Kevin Curtis says Dutschke has been harassing him online since 2004.

(On camera): Why do you think he was interested in you?

K. CURTIS: I don't know. I'm still trying to find that out. I really don't know, I'm so curious. I've been curious for years.

MACHADO: Dutschke denied Curtis's accusations and any involvement with the ricin letters in this statement posted on YouTube.

JAMES EVERETT DUTSCHKE, CHARGED WITH SENDING RICIN-TAINTED LETTERS: I don't have anything at all to do with this. I don't hardly know the guy. In fact we've only met on two occasions.

MACHADO: For now Curtis says he's focused on spending time with his four children and closing this chapter of his life.

Alina Machado, CNN, Booneville, Mississippi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MACHADO: Now, Dutschke's court appearance here is expected to be very brief. We will bring you updates as we learn them -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Alina Machado for us thank you so much Alina.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, he flies through the air with the greatest of ease. But he has to be a little crazy, right? Jeanne Moos has his story. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans with "Smart is the New Rich". Stocks kicking off the week with a modest rally -- Dow futures are up about 50 points. Partially due to a data showing personal spending unexpectedly rose two-tenths of a percent last month. Wall Street had expected a drop. Investors also encouraged that Italy has formed a new government, a sign of stability in a country that's dealing with two trillion euros in debt and a nearly 12 percent unemployment rate.

Have you checked your credit history? A new study says most people -- many people don't. According Find Law 22 percent of people have never looked at their credit report. Remember it's free from annualcreditreport.com. It's basically your financial report card, the thing every lender even potential employers look at this. So you should, too, especially if you're going to borrow money within the next -- next six to 12 months.

All right, he's a wing suit pioneer, but there is something else to be said for a bird man trying to fly through a -- a tiny rock formation at 155 miles an hour. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's one thing for James Bond to pull incredible stunts flying a plane. But a real flesh and blood guy whose goal is to fly through a hole on a Spanish mountain wearing a wing suit? That's winging it.

27-year-old Alexander Polli jumped out of a helicopter and flew at a top speed of around 115 miles per hour toward the mountain moving his body to control his direction.

ALEXANDER POLLI, WINGSUIT PILOT: I am pulling your shoulders up and pulling them forwards.

MOOS: He was aiming for a 20 by 20 hole he calls the bat cave.

POLLI: That is magic, one of the biggest laws of my life, you know flying your body.

MOOS: For practice he tried busting through 2013 targets. And before that, he tested his control by knocking off foam poles. But rock isn't foam.

(on camera): You're heading for the hole. Are you thinking I could easily smash into the rocks?

POLLI: No absolutely not. None of that.

MOOS (voice over): Alexander's approach is Zen.

POLLI: I did a full month of yoga and meditation.

MOOS: He made the attempt only once and it was a hole in one. Flight lasted a minute and a half. He opened his parachute and floated to the ground. The bat cave was almost the same size as the gap between buildings that two of his wing suit pilot friends flew through.

Last month in Brazil Alexander has flown behind water falls. He's even buzzed his mom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There he is, my baby. Oh my God listen --

MOOS (on camera): Alexander doesn't lack nerve. But he does lack a sponsor. He's even tried to sponsor himself by starting his own clothing company.

(voice over): His first t-shirt will feature a flightless penguin dreaming of flying like an eagle.

(on camera): And if you're tempted to fly, you can buy a decent wing suit for $1,200 or $1,300.

(voice over): Of course you'll still need a parachute and tons of skydiving experience and lessons in wing suit flying. Just the other day Alexander scraped his arm skydiving when his main parachute didn't deploy properly.

POLLI: It wrapped around my arm and I had to cut it away and open the reserve.

MOOS (voice over): Compared to skydiving wing suit flying is like a cross between a flying squirrel and the flying nun -- though even Alexander hasn't done this yet.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Wow. STARTING POINT is back in a moment.

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