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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Attorney: Suspect Didn't Know Items Were Evidence; Interview With Former Senator Joe Lieberman; Three More Arrests In Boston Case; Suspect's Widow Spends Hours With FBI; Three Newly Charged Suspects Appear In Court

Aired May 1, 2013 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're going to go live now to a press conference at Boston, the defense attorneys for the three gentlemen arrested today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Litigating that in court. Thank you very much.

TAPPER: That wasn't much of a press conference. I guess he just gave some comments and then left.

So let me share some polls right now. Those polls we showed you earlier were conducted in the wake of the marathon bombings by CNN and "TIME" magazine, the latest issue on news stands tomorrow.

Coming up next, she's the widow of the accused mastermind of the Boston bombings. Now the feds are pressing Katherine Russell for answers. We'll get a live report from her home.

And he told his friends to go into his dorm room and take whatever they wanted, and one of the things they took was Vaseline. We'll tell you why investigators are honing in on that fact.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: You're watching live coverage of defense attorneys for the three gentlemen arrested today. Let's take a listen. It's at the federal courthouse outside Boston.

(BEGIN LIVE PRESSER COVERAGE - JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ROBERT STAL, ATTORNEY FOR DIAS KADYRBAYEV: He is just as shocked and horrified the violence in Boston that took place as the rest of the community is. He did not know that this individual was involved in the bombing. His first inkling came much later. The government allegations as far as he saw a photo and recognized them immediately we dispute, and we'll be looking forward to proving our case in court.

Mr. Kadyrbayev and his family are very sorry for what happened here in Boston. And he did not have anything to do with it.

(CROSSTALK - INAUDIBLE) STAL: We are not saying that. Mr. Kadyrbayev told the FBI about that. He did not know that those items were involved in a bombing or of any interest in a bombing or of any evidential value. So, that's all we have to say on that.

But we are the ones, Mr. Diaz Kadyrbayev, who cooperated with all law enforcement when they came to him, without the benefit of counsel, to assist them in their investigation of this horrible tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But did he notice Tsarnaev knew how to make bombs? Did he also know that the gun powder or the powder that was in the fireworks and the Vaseline could also be used for bomb making (INAUDIBLE)?

STAL: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the FBI didn't come to your client, would they have at any time go to the authorities to tell what they knew?

STAL: I can only stick with what's happened. I won't speculate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the text from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, according to the complaint saying go into my room and take whatever you want. Was that some kind of signal to your client?

STAL: It was no signal. I think it means the plain English meaning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned these guys won't get a fair trial considering all that's going on in the country?

STAL: No. I believe that the citizens of Boston can fairly and accurately listen to the rules of law and give someone a fair trial. At least at this moment in time. So, that's all I have to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did your client reenter the country when he was no longer a student (INAUDIBLE).

STAL: Our contention -- he was a student. He's a sophomore, engineering major at the University of Massachusetts. He did not attend classes regularly as the allegation later in this semester. So, he has been in this country illegally. The technical violation of a student visa for not regularly attending classes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) The government said they were expecting justice. Can you explain that to me?

STAL: No. No.

HARLAN PROTASS, ATTORNY FOR : Yes. I have a very brief statement for you. My name is Harlan Protass. P-R-O-T-A-S-S. My client, Azamat Tazhayakov, feels horrible and was shocked to hear someone he knew at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth was involved with the Boston Marathon bombing, just like many other individuals who were interviewed on campus. He has cooperated fully with the authorities and looks forward to the truth coming out in this case. I'd like to say, also, that he considers it an honor to be able to study in the United States and that he feels for the people of Boston who have suffered as a result of the marathon bombing. Thank you. Thank you.

STAL: Thank you, guys.

(END LIVE PRESSER COVERAGE)

TAPPER: That was Robert Staal and Harlan Protass, the attorneys, the defense attorneys for the two Kazakhs students who were arrested today. They had already been held by immigration for not being here under the proper supervision and with proper forms. But Harlan Protass and Robert Staal representing Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov.

I want to bring in senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin again to discuss. Jeffrey, it sounded like these attorneys are going to say their clients knew nothing about this and they were shocked and horrified.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right. It sounds like they are trying to set up -- of course it is very early -- but trying to set up an intent defense. Yes, they did remove the backpacks but, no, they did not intend to obstruct justice. They were not thinking that they were dealing with evidence of the Boston bombing case. Obviously, we will await the development of the evidence on that subject if there is not some sort of plea or other kind of resolution of the case before a trial.

TAPPER: Now, I had heard earlier today before the criminal complaint was released, it was sealed. but before it was unsealed, I had heard earlier in the day that the defendants in this case were suggesting that they removed these objects but they had no idea that their friend Dzhokhar was a suspect. Of course, that's not what the criminal complaint says. The criminal complaint says the three knew at the time and that they admitted after repeated questioning and repeated investigations at least in one suspect's case what -- that they did know. So, I guess, is there often a big gap between what they tell the FBI and what they say in court?

TOOBIN: Well, that's why we have trials. And in fact, particularly in federal court, many cases in federal court often wind up with the actual facts of what happened fairly undisputed. I mean, here even the attorney was saying, yes, they did, or yes his client did remove the backpack. But the question is, what was he thinking when he removed the backpack? That's an intent issue, and that is what gets played out at trial and ultimately that is what a jury decides if a case like this gets that far.

And just remember, we are at an incredibly early stage. There's only been a complaint. There hasn't been an indictment. There haven't been any motions filed, there hasn't been any defense evidence presented. So, we are at a very early stage but I think you can see the broad outlines of at least the issues in the case if not how they'll be resolved. TAPPER: But the idea that they just went to their friend Dzhokhar's room and picked up a backpack and then threw it out -- while it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, it's much more innocent than the criminal complaint describes, which is they went to his room and according to them were not there for any reason. They went to his room, and they saw things that looked damning and they thought he was the terrorist, the Boston bomber based on the Vaseline and the empty fireworks. And so they decided to take that stuff. They took the laptop because it would -- that doesn't even make sense. But they took the lap top because they thought it would make it look less likely to the roommate of Dzhokhar that they were stealing. But they took the laptop, took the information, the material, threw it out. I mean, it doesn't make any sense. Go ahead, Jeffrey. I'm sorry.

TOOBIN: You have just summarized why they've been arrested. It is a pretty damning set of circumstances. Now, at least at the beginning from one of the lawyers we heard that he is saying, no, they didn't know. Again, there's a lot to learn about this case. All we know is 17 pages produced by the government and they are not obliged to give both sides of the story. This is an accusing document. That's why it exists. But, certainly, the accusation looks pretty damning.

And I think one interesting point that we haven't talked about is the main purpose for an arraignment usually is the issue of bail. And both attorneys basically said, we're not going to deal with that now. We agree to have them detained for the time being. Since they are not American citizens, since they are not, at least according to the government legally, in the country, given the gravity of this investigation, I don't think there's going to be any bail in this case. But at least the possibility there will be an application for bail somewhere down the line.

TAPPER: And Jeffrey, also, the third man, Robel Phillipos, who is a U.S. citizen. His attorney spoke separately from the other two. And Robel, you can see him laying out his case already in the criminal complaint, saying that when the two Kazakhs were talking, they were speaking in Russian and he didn't understand. He took a nap, and when he woke up the material was gone. He is going to claim, it is likely, that he didn't know anything going on because the other two were even speaking in a different language.

TOOBIN: Well, it certainly is a plausible defense if it's true. And, again, that's why we have trials. He would certainly have a better chance of getting out on bail at least on the surface because people who are illegally in the country are almost automatically are detained, whereas American citizens at least have a chance of getting out on bail because there is the presumption or at least the possibility that they're going to return to court voluntarily.

TAPPER: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much. We'll come back to you, I'm sure.

Going to spend the next few weeks, even months, combing through every detail of the Boston case looking for all possible missed signals that could have prevented this tragedy. Former senator Joe Lieberman knows the process well. While he was chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2011, he and ranking member Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, put together a report on the Fort Hood shooting. And Lieberman has been asked to testify at next week's House Homeland Security hearing on the Boston attack. He joins me now from Connecticut.

Senator, good to see you. Last time I saw you was in Newtown, and this isn't a happier circumstance. But it's good to have you on the show. I want to --

JOE LIEBERMAN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thanks, Jake. Good to be here.

TAPPER: I want to read part of your report on Fort Hood and the lessons learned. This was released in February 2011. Graphic -- please put up the graphic right now. "The FBI's transformation to become an efficient and effective intelligence-driven organization focusing on preventing domestic terrorist attacks is unfinished."

Now your report came out two years ago, after the events in Boston (sic). Do you think the FBI's work is still unfinished? That was two years ago you said that. Have we made any progress?

LIEBERMAN: Yes. We've made progress, and I'd say over all since 911, there's been a tremendous progress made within the FBI to become a first-rate domestic counterintelligence, counterterrorism agency. But mistakes were made in the Fort Hood Nidal Hasan case and obviously were made here, too, as well.

In that case, they had real evidence that Hasan was communicating by e-mail with the radical cleric in Yemen, Awlaki. And it somehow got lost in the system and never got to the Army so that the Army might have taken action against Hasan before he was able to kill 13 people at Fort Hood.

In this case, I think, the FBI's questioning of Tamerlan Tsarnaev has to be looked back at and seen whether there was more they could have done. Did they convey information about him to the joint terrorism task force, on which Massachusetts state and local police would have been present? And of course, most of all, what happened when he left for Dagestan and came back and the Department of Homeland Security knew that -- or at least the system showed it pinged as Secretary Napolitano said? Why didn't they go back, why didn't they know it then? And why didn't they go back and investigate?

So, look, the FBI is a great agency, but mistakes were made here. And it's in everybody's interest, most of all the FBI, to go back and fix what went wrong in this case.

TAPPE: In fact, attorney general Michael Mukasey recently wrote there have been five individuals questioned by the FBI who after they were questioned went on to commit terrorist attacks, and Nidal Hasan is one of them. Obviously, Tamerlan Tsarnaev is another.

When you testified before this hearing, what is the main message you hope to convey? LIEBERMAN: Well, I've just been asked to testify, Jake, so I want to know what the committee and House wants me to hear (ph). I am honored to be called to testify.

Look, the main message is we're a lot safer than we were on 9/11 because of all that we've done since then. The kind of attack that occurred in -- at the Boston Marathon is the kind a lot of us had nightmares about. We stopped a lot of terrorist attacks with tremendous help from the FBI, from the Department of Homeland Security, from the CIA. This one got through. And we just have to go back and in a very undefensive way figure out what went wrong, what could have been done to prevent this and make sure that this kind of attack never happens again.

But I think the important thing is say particularly on a day when these three additional suspects have been arrested that this continues to be not a cold investigation but very hot investigation. And anybody who made a conclusion early on that these were two lone wolves or they were acting in a primitive way, wrong. The more we go on, the investigation goes on, the more we learn. And I think everybody ought to just hold their conclusions until this process is over.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Joe Lieberman, thanks so much for joining us.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Jake.

Coming up, they were college buddies of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. And the rest of their lives depend on what they now tell authorities. I'll ask a former member of the FBI what happens when you lie to federal agents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Breaking news at this hour, three college friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have been charged with covering for him by disposing of evidence during the manhunt for him.

Moments ago attorneys for the three suspects spoke to reporters outside the federal courthouse where the suspects appeared within the last hour or so. Brian todd is outside that courthouse. Brian, what have you seen?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the attorney for one of these suspects, the attorney for Dias Kadyrbayev was the one who did the most talking, that attorney's name, Robert Staal. He essentially said his client absolutely denies the accusation of obstruction of justice and making false statements.

He said his client did not know that, quote, "This individual" meaning Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, "was involved allegedly in the Boston marathon bombings." And, more specifically, to the charges that these three people tried to get rid of a backpack, he said that he did not know those items were involved in the search for evidence. Here is a quick clip of what Mr. Staal said just moments ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did not know the items were involved in a bombing or of any interest in a bombing or of any evidentiary value so that's all we have to say on that. But we are the ones, Mr. Dias Kadyrbayev, who cooperated with all law enforcement when they came to him without benefit of counsel to assist in their investigation of this horrible tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, again, regarding the specific items involved that Mr. Staal is talking about, the crux of the complaint is the three of these college age men who knew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at UMass Dartmouth went in on April 18th, the night before he was arrested and went into his room and knowingly removed a backpack, threw it into a trash bag and into a dumpster.

The backpack later discovered in a landfill contained fireworks, jar of Vaseline, and papers. Again, investigators saying that they wilfully did this. They did this in order to get rid of evidence. These attorneys denying that was the case, denying this was they knew that this was any part of evidence saying that their clients absolutely did not conspire to obstruct justice -- Jake.

TAPPER: But what they're saying, Brian, is that the criminal complaint is not accurate. They're saying that the criminal complaint, which is based on at least according to the FBI based on interviews with the three suspects, which describes minute by minute how they hear that somebody who looks like Dzhokhar is on CNN after the FBI released photographs.

How one of them texts with Dzhokhar, has exchanges, they go to Dzhokhar's house, go to his apartment, they see empty fireworks with the powder gone. They see Vaseline and they think that those devices -- those materials were used to make bombs. They then discussed what to do.

They take the material. They take a laptop, go back home to their apartment. They see on CNN even more information earlier in the morning. They dispose of it. You are saying these attorneys are saying this FBI criminal complaint is full of lies.

TODD: They are essentially saying that, Jake. This is a very detailed complaint as you know. I know you've been going over it for the last several hours as we have. It's got very minute details about what these people allegedly did. These attorneys are saying this is essentially incorrect, that these charges are false.

You mentioned the text. It's very interesting. I put that question to Robert Staal during this kind of impromptu news conference that he had. The text in question on the 18th on that night when one of them, Kadyrbayev, according to this complaint, texted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev saying that he looked familiar, that he looked like someone identified as the bomber. That Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's return text said something like lol, you better not text me and more importantly, quote, "Come to my room and take whatever you want." I asked this attorney, Robert Staal, you know, this is in the complaint. Is that some kind of a signal from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to your client to do something?

He said it was no signal. This was not a signal. They didn't knowingly remove evidence.

TAPPER: All right, Brian Todd, thanks so much.

She was married to the man the whole country now knows as suspect number one. Now the feds are honing in on Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow and we will get a live report right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Breaking news as we've been reporting, three new arrests today in the Boston bombing investigation, but Tamerlan Tsarnaev's widow is not among them. What, if anything, has the FBI been able to learn from Katherine Russell?

I want to go out to our Erin McPike who is in Russell's hometown in Rhode Island. Erin, what are you learning?

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, there are still no conclusive answers yet from the FBI about Katherine Russell. They want to get as much as they can from her because, of course, she lived in that tiny apartment in Cambridge with the Tsarnaev brothers. But so far her attorneys put out a statement yesterday basically saying she doesn't want to deal with Tamerlan's remains. That will be the duty of Tamerlan Tsarnaev's uncles -- Jake.

TAPPER: And she put out a statement, her representatives put out a statement a day or two ago. I don't want to be parsing too much, but she expresses regret of the tragedy in Boston, but nowhere in her statement is there any sort of acknowledgment that she believes her husband was involved. Are they denying that her now dead husband Tamerlan Tsarnaev played a role in this investigation like other family members, other Tsarnaevs are saying?

MCPIKE: Well, Jake, as you know, Katherine Russell has not breathed a single word in public since the bombings. Her attorneys for their part have been extremely tight lipped every time we've tried to talk to them. One of her attorneys has basically said we're not talking to anybody and she certainly is not doing any interviews right now -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Erin McPike in Rhode Island, thanks so much. Here's a good rule. Don't lie to the feds. Phil Mudd is the senior research fellow for the New America Foundation. He also has worked for both the FBI and the CIA. He joins me now. Phil, thanks so much. What kind of trouble are these young men in, the three who are arrested today? PHIL MUDD, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: I'd say pretty serious trouble. Lying to a federal officer is not only a mistake it's a federal crime and so one of them is charge with that. The others, they are not only obstructing justice, but they destroyed evidence in a case where four people died. All three of them, they have different charges, but all three are facing I guess a lot of heat right now.

TAPPER: How much do you think today's criminal complaint is a way to try to squeeze them to get new information as opposed to actually laying out what they think happened?

MUDD: I've seen that characterization. I think it's misleading because first of all they did as I said earlier commit a crime. Regardless of whether you want to squeeze them we're going to prosecute them here in the U.S. government or the people I used to work with.

The second is when they come in for prosecution obviously somebody is going to say, look, son, if you don't talk to us you'll go down for the full count. So we want to know everything you saw and heard and when you saw it and heard it. So I do see the stories about them being pulled in to be squeezed but regardless, they're going to be prosecuted.

TAPPER: At what point would they go theoretically from being suspects in obstruction of justice to being charged as accomplices? What would need to happen?

MUDD: I think you'd have to look through a volume of evidence. Remember in the 21st Century you're not just looking at physical evidence but the text we've heard about today. E-mail contacts over time, to see not just going back a week, but maybe even months or years whether there is any inkling in their conversations or contacts with the conspirators about their knowledge of the case before hand. Right now, it doesn't look like there is but there is going to be some work to figure out whether that is true.

TAPPER: Phil, you say no amount of surveillance by the government could have stopped this attack. Obviously solving the mystery is another matter but stopping it. Why not?

MUDD: I wouldn't say no amount of surveillance could have stopped it, clearly if you were on there the night before you could have figured something out. I think most Americans see terrorism as episodic in their lives. It crops up in the newspapers or on TV once every three months, six months.

In the world I lived in, you're dealing with a huge tidal wave of information, suspects, and investigations, so when you got thousands of investigations under way and you have one series of interviews in Boston, it's hard to get above that noise level to say, these guys should have been the ones we investigated.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, senior research fellow for the New America Foundation who worked for both the FBI and the CIA, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

MUDD: Sure.

TAPPER: You are currently looking at live pictures of what we believe are the three suspects on their way back from court as their sheriff's vehicle drives on the highway in Boston. That is it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jake Tapper. Thanks for watching. I'll now leave you in the able hands of Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.