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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

More Suspects Arrested in Boston Bombing Case; Interview With Congressman Peter King; Interview with Congressman Peter King of New York; Interview with Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff

Aired May 1, 2013 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news: three new suspects in the Boston terror investigation appearing in court moments ago.

I'm Jake Tapper, and this is THE LEAD.

College buddies of the accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are now under arrest, accused of helping him get rid of key evidence as the feds hunted him down. They're probably regretting that "Terrorista" license plate right about now.

What do we know about what they knew? And should bells have gone off when one of the suspects tried to get back in the country earlier this year? We will get the latest intel from Congressman Peter King.

Four lives lost, so many permanently affected. Did the government miss a chance to stop the carnage when the FBI questioned Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011? Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will weigh in.

Welcome back to The Lead.

The national lead. We're following major new developments in the Boston terror investigation. Three more suspects just appeared in court in connection with this case. The Justice Department says two of them, Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, are nationals of Kazakstan. They're charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The third, a U.S. citizen identified as Robel Phillipos, is charged with making false statements. All three are friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and fellow students at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, but officials caution so far no evidence show these three knew about the attacks beforehand.

Today's charges are about their actions after. The two Kazakh students are seen with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in this picture in Times Square from some time last year. Now, here are the facts as asserted by the criminal complaints against these three released just minutes ago.

On Thursday, April 18, three days after the bombing, after the photographs of the suspects were released by the FBI, Kadyrbayev was driving home when Phillipos called him. Phillipos told him to turn on the TV when he got home because one of the suspects in the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks looked familiar. He did so and agreed one of the bombers looked like Tsarnaev.

Kadyrbayev texted Tazhayakov, his friend and roommate. "Have you seen the news?" He told him the TV news was showing photographs of Tsarnaev and identifying their friend Dzhokhar as one of the terrorists. At their apartment, the two looked Kazakhs looked at photographs of Tsarnaev broadcast by CNN. Kadyrbayev then texted the third friend, Phillipos, and told him to go to Dzhokhar's dorm room, where the other two met him.

Now, between 8:43 p.m. and 8:48 p.m. Thursday night, Kadyrbayev texted the bomber, the alleged bomber, Tsarnaev, and told him he looked like the suspect on television. Tsarnaev's return text contained "LOL" and other things that he interpreted as jokes, such as "You better not text me," and "Come to my room and take whatever you want."

The three did go to his room and at Tsarnaev's apartment, the three noticed a backpack containing fireworks, fireworks that had been opened and emptied of powder. Kadyrbayev said he -- quote -- "knew" when he saw the empty fireworks that Dzhokhar, his friend, was involved in the marathon bombing.

Now, he also found a jar of Vaseline in the room and he told Tazhayakov that he believed Tsarnaev had used the Vaseline to make a bomb. About one month before the bombing, Tsarnaev had told the two Kazakh students that he knew how to make a bomb. Kadyrbayev decided to remove the backpack from the room, he says in order to help his friend avoid trouble.

He decided to take Tsarnaev's laptop as well, and his explanation for this is he did not want Tsarnaev's roommate to think he was stealing or behaving suspiciously by just taking the backpack. Kadyrbayev, Tazhayakov and Phillipos returned to the apartment of the two Kazakhs with the materials. Phillipos later recalled that all three of them -- quote -- "started to freak out because it became clear from a CNN report that we were watching that Dzhokhar was one of the Boston Marathon bombers."

Kadyrbayev says they -- quote -- "collectively decided to throw the backpack and fireworks into the trash" because they didn't want Tsarnaev to get into trouble -- unquote. Phillipos said he didn't understand what the other two were talking about because they were speaking in Russian.

Kadyrbayev asked, "Should we get rid of the stuff?" or words to that effect, as Phillipos recalled. Phillipos said, "Do what you have to do." They put it all along with some trash in a big black trash bag. Kadyrbayev threw the trash bag into a dumpster and on Friday, April 19, at about 6:00 a.m., the three saw news reports identifying the Tsarnaev brothers as the terrorists and reporting that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother, was dead.

On April 26, Phillipos confessed and law enforcement recovered Tsarnaev's backpack from the landfill in New Bedford.

Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin to go through all these details, because there's a lot of information and there are some unanswered questions.

So, Jeffrey, thanks for joining us.

Shortly before 9:00 p.m., Tsarnaev, according to one of the suspects arrested today, jokes that they should come to his room and take whatever they want. Minutes later, the three go to the apartment and collect incriminating evidence.

Are we supposed to really believe that these are unrelated? There remains no admission in this text from the criminal complaint that that was an instruction to take the incriminating evidence, but it seems to speak for itself. What do you make of that, Jeffrey?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, if down the line this winds up going to trial, that would be a jury question. Do you think that they just decided on the spur of the moment for whatever reason to take these backpacks, or were they trying to help their friend dispose of evidence?

I think it's a -- very difficult to believe that a jury would ever think that it was anything other than helping in a cover-up, but those are the kinds of issues that ultimately go before a jury, if this case ever winds up there.

TAPPER: Am I allowed to ask you what you think as if you were a juror right now?

TOOBIN: Oh, sure. I read this complaint, and I think to myself, no one can be that stupid. But you know what? We discover all the time people can be this stupid.

This looks like a fifth-rate cover up trying to help out their college buddy, and in a way that they would be trying to help him cover up some underage drinking or something extremely minor. Instead, you have a crime where at least four people are dead, and they are still engaging in this incredibly amateurish cover-up, and they are going to be in a world of trouble as a result.

TAPPER: The other thing that struck me -- there are three things that struck me. The second one is that one of the suspects says he was in Tsarnaev's apartment, sees Vaseline and thinks, oh, that must have been used to make a bomb.

Who sees Vaseline and thinks, oh, that must have been used to make a bomb?

TOOBIN: Well, that is the most suggestive comment in there that there had been some previous discussion of bombing, because I think most people would not assume Vaseline is involved in making a bomb.

I don't know how to make a bomb. It was certainly a surprise to me that Vaseline might be involved. But it does suggest that there had been some previous discussion. I should say that the most important thing, perhaps, that's not in either of these complaints is any suggestion that these three knuckleheads were involved in the bombing itself. And I think that's very important, because, as bad as this is, and it is certainly very bad, it would be much worse if there was a suggestion of a broader conspiracy here and there is absolutely nothing in these complaints that suggests these guys were part of a broader conspiracy.

TAPPER: Not yet. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.

We're waiting now for a news conference with the defense attorneys. We will bring it to you live.

CNN's Pamela Brown was inside the Boston courtroom where the hearing happened. She joins us now live.

Pam, give us a play-by-play of what went down.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the hearing for Robel Phillipos just ended moments ago, and it was very similar to the first hearing for the two New Bedford students that had been held for immigration issues for the past nearly two weeks, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, both hearings very similar.

It's interesting, though. In this last hearing, the judge told Robel Phillipos, who has been charged with making false statements, federal charges here, that he better pay attention and not look down. This is the same judge, Marianne Bowler, who administered the Miranda rights to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the hospital last Monday, so interesting to note there.

During both of these hearings, the three suspects who are all three 19 years old looked very downtrodden. They walked in with chains around their feet. They were handcuffed. They didn't make eye contact with anyone and looked down a lot, hence the statement from Judge Bowler talking to Phillipos.

During the hearing, the judge made them aware of the federal charges they face for the two students, the -- Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov. They're facing conspiracy to obstruct justice. She told them what charges they face, asked if they understood. And they said yes. They were very soft-spoken when they responded to the judge.

And the same thing happened with Phillipos. Now, when it came time to talk about the questions for bail, all the attorneys decided to waive this, to waive the detention hearing and, instead, have more time. And I spoke to the attorneys for two of the suspects, and they said they wanted more time to put together a bail package.

So what this means is that they opted -- all three opted for voluntary detention. We know that for Phillipos, he will appear in court this coming Monday at 2:00 p.m. For the other two, their probable cause hearing is on May 14 at 11:00.

Now, important to note here probable cause hearing, defendants have a right to waive that hearing. Because there is so much evidence presented, it will be interested to see what happens there. But, Jake, this was certainly a packed courtroom. The three suspects will remain in voluntary detention under custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

TAPPER: Pamela, you said that their demeanor was -- they seemed downtrodden. Was -- is there any other description you could give us about their demeanor? And, also, was there anybody in the courtroom there for them, any family members or friends?

BROWN: Well, Jake, just to put this all in context here, you have to remember this morning, for the two students, the two, Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov, they were in court this morning for removal proceedings on immigration charges for violating their visa status, allegedly.

So, that happened this morning. And then early this afternoon, we are told by the U.S. attorney's office, they were arrested on the federal charges. So, you can imagine how shocking, overwhelming that must be for these two suspects, but, again, as you read in this criminal complaint, these are pretty serious allegations here that they were involved with obstructing justice, with allegedly disposing of a backpack with fireworks and a laptop that belonged to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the attack.

So, these are very serious charges. For these -- for those two students, the charges carry a fine of $250,000 and five years. For the other student, Robel Phillipos, for lying to investigators, that carries a penalty of up to eight years.

But, again, just going back to their demeanor, like I said, they walked in with chains around their feet, handcuffed. They just looked down. They didn't make eye contact with anyone. And they only would look at their attorney, talking to them in court. And, like I said, when the judge asked them if they understood the charges, they were very soft-spoken, speaking to the judge.

Two of them were wearing jeans and T-shirts. The other was wearing Navy khakis and a sweater. But I didn't see any family members. I'm not sure if there were any family members here. There might have been. I know that one of these suspects that was arrested, Robel Phillipos, is a U.S. citizen.

I don't know exactly where he is from. But perhaps his family was inside the courthouse. The other two suspects are from Kazakstan. I'm not sure if their family was inside.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Just a reminder, we are waiting for the defense attorneys to speak and we will bring that to you live when they come out of the courthouse and to talk to the press.

Coming up, gunpowder, sure, but Vaseline? We will find out how a common household item in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's dorm room just might -- might have been turned into a critical component in the bombs that went off in Boston. Plus, she continues to meet with the FBI, as well as her lawyers. What exactly does Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow know? And is her information providing new leads for investigators? Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

You're looking at pictures of the federal courthouse courtesy of the WHDH in Boston, where we are waiting for attorneys for the three new suspects to come out and speak. We'll bring it to you live when it happens. All of today's developments just raised more questions.

And what authorities know about the Tsarnaev brothers in the time leading up to the attack and whether the Tsarnaev brothers had any help.

Let's get the latest from Congressman Peter King. He's a Republican member of the House Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees.

Congressman King, thanks for joining us.

How sure are authorities that these three, the three arrested today, had no knowledge before the attack, of the attack?

REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Jake, I don't think they're sure at all. The reason I say that is I heard Jeffrey Toobin refer to them as knuckleheads and was saying, they're 19-year-old kids. I'm not so sure of that.

The reason I say that is they were in contact with the younger brother, they texted him. He went back to them with "LOL", and then advised or urged them it appears to go to his room, to take the evidence out.

Now, would he have done that if he didn't trust them, if somehow they didn't know something was going on? And then they go to the room, they take it out, and then they decide to help a friend. It's not like getting rid of a six-pack when someone is charged with underage drinking. You're talking about the worst mess in recent American history and the largest manhunt and your friend is involved and they're treating it almost in a casual way.

And, again, I just think that what the FBI and others are going to be looking for now is did they have any knowledge beforehand?

Of course, they do -- I think on page 11 of the affidavit, it talks about how the younger brother had told them he knew how to make a bomb. He learned how to make a bomb. You put all this together, I'm just putting myself in the position if my best friend in college, suddenly I realize he is the defendant in the worst massacre in recent history and I just go to his place and they say they took the fireworks and then to make him look good, they also took the computer, I don't know how that makes it look like much of a crime if you're taking a guy's computer out. TAPPER: No, I agree with you that there are a lot of unanswered questions. I assume the FBI left them in the criminal complaint because they plan on filling them in later.

KING: Right.

TAPPER: What do you hear from investigators when it comes to whether or not they're working off the premise that the Tsarnaev brothers acted alone in the planning and execution of the attack? Are they still convinced or are they still open minded, or do they think now based on today's arrests that it's likely that there are others involved?

KING: The people I spoke to in the investigation, most of them are operating on the presumption others are involved. I'm not saying there's evidence others were involved. But when they look at the totality of the circumstances, it's hard to believe that these two defendants, these two terrorists could have done all of this on their own.

So, whether there is a prior component, where there's others here in the U.S. who facilitated what they were doing or are actually part of the conspiracy, you know, the investigators don't know for sure. But my understanding from talking to them is they're operating under the presumption others are involved -- and if it turns out they aren't, fine. But right now, there is a presumption I believe that these two could not have done all of this on their own. There had to be at least unwilling facilitators or others who knew something was going on and didn't ask exactly what but knew there was some plot here.

TAPPER: Based on your briefings, do you think these three individuals arrested today will be able to provide any more intelligence on the Tsarnaev brothers, significant intelligence?

KING: You know, to be (ph) clear, I have not received any official briefings. My sources are people in law enforcement --

TAPPER: OK.

KING: -- who I've known over the years.

And, basically, yes, they do believe that these three could provide much more information as to what they knew before the attack on May 15th --

TAPPER: All right.

KING: -- on April 15th.

TAPPER: Congressman Peter King, thanks so much. We'll talk to you soon I'm sure.

Again, a court hearing for the new suspects in the Boston investigation just wrapped up minutes ago. We are now waiting for a news conference with the defense attorneys and we will bring it to you live.

And, later, call it big brother or call it better security, but a majority of Americans are willing to put up with more surveillance cameras on city streets if it means it could help stop the next terror attack.

We'll be right back with some very surprising poll information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: You're looking at live pictures from the federal courthouse. We're waiting for defense attorneys representing the three men charged today in connection with the Boston bombing investigation. We will bring that to you live when they come out and begin answering reporters' questions.

The ultimate goal of the terror attack is to terrorize. It looks as though the Boston bombings have struck a little more fear in the hearts of Americans. Polls conducted in the wake of the marathon bombings by CNN and "TIME" magazine show that four in 10 Americans are worried that someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism. That's the highest that number has been since President Obama took office.

Although worries about terrorism are up slightly only 40 percent of Americans say they're willing to give up some personal freedom to fight terrorism.

And while there's a lot of support for more cameras in public places, people want the government to layoff their cell phones and get out of their e-mails. Only 38 percent favor expanding government monitoring of those forms of communication. That number was at 54 percent after 9/11.

Joining me now is former homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff. He's now chairman and cofounder of the Chertoff Group, a consulting firm that focuses on national security issues.

Thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

If you were still heading the Department of Homeland Security, which is obviously intimately involved in this investigation, what questions would you be asking the FBI and investigators right now about these three individuals arrested today?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The first thing you want to know is, is there another threat out there. You want to ascertain are these three people actually involved in any way in the preparation and carrying out of the bombing attack?

You want to look to see were there other connections that the Tsarnaevs have to people in the U.S. who might have been facilitators.

You want to see what the connections were overseas. Were they trained in Russia? Were they inspired in Russia or in Chechnya? And you need to do this in order to make sure that you're preventing another plot from being carried out. That's priority number one.

TAPPER: Having been at the Department of Homeland Security during, was it 2005 to 2009?

CHERTOFF: Right.

TAPPER: When some of these plots were foiled and other operations took place, what is your suspicion? I don't obviously --

CHERTOFF: Right.

TAPPER: -- we don't want to go into irresponsible speculation, but when it comes to the likelihood that two individuals were able to do this entirely on their own, it seems like even if the bombs were relatively crude, it's more sophisticated a bomb than I could make and seems like a rather sophisticated operation.

CHERTOFF: It also seems like it was planned out. It appears based on reporting that there were other devices. They had guns. So, it wasn't something that was spur of the moment. It required a certain amount of planning.

The question in my mind is what happened over there in Russia. You would normally expect and we saw during the time I was in office many of these plots involved a component of somebody going overseas, training in a camp or training with somebody and then bringing that back home.

And that's why if I were looking at this as an investigator, I'd put a lot of focus on what happened in the Caucasus during the six months or so that the older brother was back there.

TAPPER: Do you think that there was -- looking at what we know about the pre-attack intelligence, that there was a warning by the Russians to the FBI about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, to the CIA, about six months later in 2011, he went to Russia, to Chechnya, Dagestan, came back. There was no ping, no flag was raised. Was there a failure of information sharing at the very least, or what we all talk about after 9/11, using our imaginations at the very most?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, the structures are there to share information. The law is there to share information. Obviously, there was a failure in that somebody missed this.

Now, it may be an excusable failure or understandable failure, but it's not a success when people die. The question here is, should you have tracked this person when they came back and re-interviewed them? Obviously when a foreign service takes the trouble twice to send a message to agencies, you have to take it seriously.

TAPPER: How often do the Russians do that?

CHERTOFF: Well, it's not unknown but it's not common. And any time a foreign service makes a specific request with a particular name, it suggests that they have some knowledge based on some overseas activity.

TAPPER: Now, the FBI complained, we went back to them for more information and they did not cooperate. And you heard President Obama yesterday talking about how cooperative the Russians have been since the attacks -- the implications being not so much before the attacks.

Does this Cold War mentality that President Obama talked about, does this still hamper relations between the U.S. and Russia?

CHERTOFF: It appears to have been a problem in this case but it really shouldn't. You know, we've had relations with countries around the world which have been pretty rocky and yet, on the counterterrorism level, it's been very, very good cooperation. Even when I was in office at times that some other countries were not necessarily seeing eye to eye on Iraq or other issues, at the law enforcement level, there was always a lot of exchange of information because it's mutually important. This is important to the Russians as it is to us.

So, I would put some emphasis on making sure that our relationships with the Russians or anybody else at this level are being maintained properly and so there is a good flow of cooperation.

TAPPER: I've heard talk that one of the reasons why it might not have gone as swimmingly as it should have is because Russia is always trying to convince the U.S. that the Chechens, with whom they're involved in this ugly, bloody war for years and years, they're always trying to convince the U.S., the Chechens are our enemy and the U.S. is very wary of ever getting dragged into that conflict.

Do you think that that -- I mean, is that accurate that that is a tension?

CHERTOFF: Right. I mean, it certainly causes you to be careful. But I want to go back to (INAUDIBLE) -- you go back to the early '90s, Europeans went to Chechnya to fight. They came back to Europe and they became terrorists in Europe. We saw that in France and other parts of Western Europe.

So there is a history of people going to the region and coming back radicalized. Again, you wouldn't necessarily take it at face value, but you can't really ignore it either. You got to drill into it. And that's frankly what the job of the security folks every single day, is to really kick the tires and make sure they're extracting every bit of information they can.

TAPPER: All right. Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff -- thanks for joining us.