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Boston Terror Investigation; Charged with Obstructing Justice; What Doomed Gun Bill?

Aired May 2, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: His visa was still valid, but it should not have been.

I'm Jake Tapper and this is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's pal arrested yesterday should have been barred from entering the U.S. earlier this year, but red tape apparently let him slip through the cracks. Wasn't this kind of problem supposed to have been fixed after 9/11?

The national lead. If the complaint against them is accurate Tsarnaev's friends already have said enough to ensure much of their 20s will be spent behind bars. What could the defense strategy possibly be?

And the politics lead. His bipartisan bill to expand background checks failed despite overwhelming support from the public. But now a Republican senator seems to accuse his own party of defeating it just to keep victory from the president's grasp.

Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead, in what could be a major break, the FBI has recovered Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lap top according to two federal law enforcement sources. Friends of his from UMass Dartmouth are accused of taking that laptop from his room during the manhunt two weeks ago today. They say they did not know at the time that he was wanted for the terrorist attacks.

That's their story, apparently, according to their defense attorneys, just some bros taking another bro's laptop and throwing away his backpack full of empty fireworks because that is -- that is what bros do. When I was in college, I couldn't get my friends to help me move a couch.

But our Deborah Feyerick is in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, where these suspects live.

Deborah, thanks for joining us.

So, investigators have spent a lot of time at the nearby landfill reportedly looking for this laptop, but that's not where they found it?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No it's not where they found it. And according to the two sources that have spoken to CNN producer Carol Cratty, they have not -- they did not find the laptop in the landfill. What they did find was a black backpack filled with empty fireworks. The powder had been removed. But the laptop, still a question as to where they actually discovered it.

The last person who had it was a man named Dias Kadyrbayev. That was one of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's very close friends. As a matter of fact, the two texted after Dzhokhar's picture was splashed all across the country and the world. That picture was splashed up and they began texting with the friend saying, hey, the suspect looks a lot like you.

But right now investigators are going to be going through the computer to see what other information they can get, Jake.

TAPPER: That's right. The laptop could theoretically be a treasure trove of evidence answering all sorts of questions about whether or not anybody else was involved, whether or not the older brother was trained abroad. What is the FBI hoping to find on it?

FEYERICK: One of the things that they would hope to find, they are going to look at the whole history of the computer. They're going to look at all I.P. addresses. They're going to look at whatever social media pages that he had.

And they have already begun to do that clearly with all the information that we have received. But they're going to be making sure -- they want to know who he was in communication with, who he stopped being in communication with, you know, up or around the bombing because that would tell them a lot.

If somebody who he had been talking to all of a sudden seemed to disappear, that would be certainly a sure clue that FBI investigators need to go talk to them. They are also going to be looking at the information that is kept in the cloud, the contacts, contacts, associations, timelines, anything that they can really piece together.

That is -- and the forensic team has a big job ahead of it. Also, we Jake, we have to keep in mind that there is a possibility that there may have been more than one computer and there are also cell phones and all that yields other information as well. But right now we're being told that they have what they believe is that laptop computer, so they are going to be taking a close look at it, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Deb Feyerick, thank you so much.

More on the investigation in the world lead. One of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's three friends, Azamat Tazhayakov of Kazakstan, should not have been allowed into the country when he tried to enter earlier this year. But once again in this case, it seems the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing.


TAPPER (voice-over): More than a decade after the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history, it seems that the U.S. immigration system that allowed the September 11 hijackers to enter the country legally is still very flawed.

Some lawmakers question whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev should have been so easily admitted back into the U.S. after his trip to Russia, Chechnya, and Dagestan last year. After all, in 2011, the Russian government warned both the FBI and the CIA that they were worried that Tamerlan had become an extremist and would be traveling to meet with underground groups.

The FBI investigated and found nothing, but should immigration officials have been told more? And now there is another concern. Three friends of alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have now been arrested for their alleged involvement after the Boston Marathon attacks; 19-year-olds Dias Kadyrbayev, Azamat Tazhayakov, and Robel Phillipos all went to school with Tsarnaev at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

Two are accused of removing evidence from Tsarnaev's dorm room after the attacks, including a backpack containing fireworks and a laptop. Tazhayakov and Kadyrbayev, both from Kazakstan, were staying in the U.S. on student visas. The only issue? Tazhayakov is no longer a student.

Tazhayakov returned to Kazakstan in December 2012, according to a U.S. government official. His status as a student at UMass Dartmouth was terminated the next month on January 4, and at this point his student visa should have been invalidated. UMass Dartmouth took the proper steps and provided information into the appropriate system for foreign students that he was no longer registered there, officials say, but Customs and Border Protection never got the message.

When Tazhayakov returned back to the United States on January 20, he was granted entry. The Department of Homeland Security says that it's reforming the student visa system to ensure that Customs and Border Protection is provided with real-time updates on all relevant student visa information.

As of January 2012, more than 850,000 foreign students were in the United States enrolled at over 10,000 U.S. schools. Tazhayakov, the DHS says, was not a threat at the time.


TAPPER: It seems like we're looking at more holes in information sharing between U.S. agencies. Do we need to take another look on how we handle student visas?

Joining me is Julie Myers Wood. She was head of immigration and customs enforcement for ICE in 2006 to 2008. She is now the president of Guidepost Solutions, an investigative and compliance consulting firm.

Julie, thanks for being here.

The fact that Tazhayakov did not have a valid student I.D. -- his standing as a student was no longer relevant, no longer valid, and yet he was allowed in the country, is this a sign of changes that need to be made to the system or is this just like a fluke?

JULIE MYERS WOOD, PRESIDENT, GUIDEPOST SOLUTIONS: I think, unfortunately, it was business as usual.

Under the current system at SEVIS, when someone goes out of status...

TAPPER: Explain what SEVIS is.

MYERS WOOD: Oh, sure.

SEVIS is the part within ICE that manages the student visa process. And so there is a whole team of people that work with the schools, with universities, and also manages -- manage the students as they come through the program. When a student is reported to be out of status, as this student was -- he apparently failed out of school -- then they send that information to the ICE agents who actually look and determine, is this a lead we should follow up on, or do we just need to report in the system that he is no longer in status?

TAPPER: And, so, yet, somehow...

MYERS WOOD: Well, in this instance, I think it was just routinely not enough time had passed that all this wasn't done.

You know, the I.T. systems don't share this information automatically and I think it is very significant that both of these I.T. systems, CVT, the tech system is going through a huge modernization, which has taken well over a decade I think to get to this point. And the SEVIS system is also very broken. And SEVIS II, the new SEVIS system, has been something that actually went out for rebid because it was so ineffective.

So, what we really need, the individuals, the agents who are working, I think they try to do a good job. But our government systems don't talk to each other. And there are too many pieces of information that our government has, and we don't know what the right hand and the left hand are doing.

TAPPER: It is just astounding that more than a decade after 9/11, that this is still a problem. The information sharing is still a problem, that there isn't real-time sharing of information. Why not?

Is the problem -- we hear members of Congress talk tough about this all the time, but then whenever -- when the cameras are away, do they just not provide immigration and the government with the proper funding?

MYERS WOOD: Oh, I think resources are a big issue, that the government is not technologically advanced enough to have the right kind of systems.

If I go online and I'm looking at an American Airlines flight to somewhere, and then I go on The Drudge Report, right away, they're hitting me with ads advertising American Airlines flights.

The government has information in their systems, but they don't talk to each other. And Congress has not funded them sufficient to do that, so I think that is a big issue. But I think there's second and really important issue, too. And I think that, overall, we haven't funded the law enforcement officials who focus on the interior enforcement.

When you think that 40 percent of individuals who are in this country illegally are overstays, they're not people who crossed over the border illegally, but they came here on a student visa, on some other kind of visa legally, they overstayed, but we're not funding that system sufficiently.

I think you saw that 850,000 students passed through the student visa program last year. You know how many investigations ICE opened up into visa overstays, all of visa overstays, not just students? And, of course, most students apply. About 3,000, and only made 123 criminal arrests.

And so we have a system where the men and women are doing this work try to do the very best they can, but there is not enough people. And the emphasis far too often is on let's just build another fence. Let's not look at interior enforcement, which I think is harder and more difficult in a lot of situations.

TAPPER: Amazing. Thank you so much, Julie Myers Wood, former director of ICE. Thanks for being here.

Still ahead, they tried to cover for their buddy. Now they could be facing hard time. We will take a look at the legal ramifications that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's friends could face for trying to destroy evidence in the Boston bombing case.

And, later, what made the bombers do it? Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta will take a look at the brain chemistry behind acts of violence.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

They were a clique on campus, a tight-knit group of Russian-speaking buddies at UMass Dartmouth. And while their friend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was allegedly in the middle of a rampage in Boston two weeks ago today, they were texting him, asking him if it was his face they were seeing in the FBI photos splashing across their television screens.

Tsarnaev's chilling response? "LOL" and "You better not text me." He then told his friends to go to his dorm room and take whatever they wanted. All of this took place just hours before Tsarnaev and his older brother allegedly hijacked a car, killed a cop, and got in a wild shoot-out with the police.

Tsarnaev's friends are now accused of going into his dorm room and taking a laptop, a backpack full of empty fireworks, and some Vaseline that may have been used in making the deadly explosives that killed three people and injured the more than 200 victims of the Boston bombings.

Here to talk about the case are two lawyers who are no strangers to high-profile cases, University of North Carolina law professor Tamar Birckhead, who defended the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, and David Kelly, who prosecuted America Taliban fighter represented John Walker Lindh.

Thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate your being here.

David, I want to start with you. The criminal complaint that leaves a lot of questions unanswered, such as whether they disposed of the evidence at Dzhokhar's request -- the Kazakh students are not charged with that, but the criminal complaint alludes to him saying to them by text, "Go to my apartment and take whatever you want," and then they go there and take a bunch of incriminating evidence.

Is this a likely a "to be filled in later" section of the criminal complaints?


Be clear -- to be clear, a criminal complaint really is nothing more than to kind of establish probable cause to believe that the people committed the offense. It's not an opportunity for the government to lay out its whole case, just what's sufficient to levy the charges.

So you can rest assured that there's a lot in there -- in this case that is not displayed in that criminal complaint.

TAPPER: Tamar, what is their possible argument? We heard from the defense attorneys yesterday. They seem to be saying, hey, they didn't know what was going on, but the criminal complaint -- at least what they've told the police based on the criminal complaint or the FBI -- seems to undermine that claim.

TAMAR BIRCKHEAD, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: Right. Well, the defense to obstruction of justice is typically going to be that they didn't know for sure, for certain that Dzhokhar was the one who was the suspect and that they didn't have a specific intent to destroy the backpack or get rid of the lap top for the specific purpose of impeding the government's investigation.

TAPPER: You worked with Miriam Conrad, Tamar, who heads the public defender office in Boston and she is going to be a part of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's legal defense team. What's it like? And you also obviously have done defense work yourself. What is it like to work, to represent somebody who is so despised and so hated?

I understand that everyone is entitled to an attorney and I'm not impugning the American legal system which is a great and wonderful system.

But what is it like to defend somebody who is so hated?

BIRCKHEAD: Well, I mean, it can certainly be overwhelming, stressful, very intense, but this is what we do. It's the bread and butter of what we do.

And the only difference in terms of the lawyering here is contending with the press attention and the public scrutiny, but -- which all can be very overwhelming particularly for a small office like the federal defender office in Boston where they don't have press liaisons or communications experts. I know when I represented Richard Reid years ago I wrote my own press releases.

So they've got a whole lot on their plates right now in addition to, you know, the basic tasks of putting on a defense for him.

TAPPER: David, what is the prosecution going to do to bring the death penalty to Dzhokhar or do you think that will ultimately be taken off the table?

KELLEY: I don't know it will be taken off the table but a couple things to consider. First of all, on its face, it would look like a case that certainly the government would seriously consider and maybe ultimately recommend the death penalty.

But there are two factors that are probably going to come into play here. One is the extent to which he is cooperating if at all. And, secondly, the extent to which he was really drawn into this plot through the influence of his brother who seems to be the key, main actor here, the bad actor.

And those two factors I think will play into each other because how much that influence is still weighing on him may depend on how much he is willing to cooperate. And it may also be that he's -- his ability to cooperate is limited because this plot was just amongst the two of them. We don't know that. But I think those are probably the two key factors that are really going to play into a consideration of whether or not the government were to seek the death penalty in the bombing case.

TAPPER: All right. David Kelley and Tamar Birckhead, thank you so much.

BIRCKHEAD: Thank you.

TAPPER: Still ahead, politics killed the bill. That's according to Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who seemed to suggest that his legislation expanding background checks for gun purchases did not pass because his Republican colleagues did not want to give the president a win. We'll talk about that with our panel.

And later, did biology drive the Boston bombers?

Stay with us.


TAPPER: "The Politics Lead": If at first you don't succeed, then try, try again, apparently.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is reworking his failed push for expanded background checks for gun purchases but his Republican counterpart on that bill, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, he says the effort might be doomed.

Here's what he actually had to say the other day.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: In the end we didn't because our politics have become so polarized, and there are people on my side who didn't want to be perceived to be helping something that the president wants to accomplish simply because it's the president who wants to accomplish it.


TAPPER: Really?

So, did Senator Toomey's admission mean any gun bill will be done on arrival because Republicans don't want to give President Obama any sort of victory?

Here to talk about it, associated editor for "The Hill" newspaper, A.B. Stoddard; former national security spokesman for the White House, President Obama's White House, Tommy Vietor; and former adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, Kevin Madden.

Kevin, not surprising, I'm going to start with you.

Really? So, even though 80 percent, 90 percent of the country supports this legislation and it was up for a vote, Toomey is suggesting -- although I understand he has backtracked a little since that statement -- suggesting it really just came down to Republicans didn't want to give Obama a victory.

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, look, I mean, you know, decrying politics in Washington, D.C. is kind of absurd. I mean, as sure as dogs will bark in a kennel, politicians in Washington, D.C. are going to play politics. But this did still come down to policy in the minds of many opposed to the bill.

Some folks said that we're proponents of it believed it was good policy and those who are opposed to it believed it was bad policy. At the heart of a lot of opposition on an issue that is so important like the Second Amendment to many people is the belief we don't need another set, another level of federal gun laws. That was the opposition, that was at the heart of the opposition and those folks have voted against it. They are going out and explaining that to their constituents and that's the way that these things work.

And I think if there was a greater degree of political capital invested by those who had a -- were proponents of it and had done this for a much longer time, including the president and others, they might have had greater success. But this is a really difficult issue that is not going to be solved, that's not going to have big changes or even small changes in the space of six months. It's going to take a much longer time. TAPPER: A.B.?

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: I agree. I think if you look back at those days, Manchin and Toomey literally got the deal together and they only had a few days before it went to the vote. They had no time to twist arms and sit down.

You saw, you know, Senator Toomey going out everywhere saying, I don't see this as gun control. I am a gun rights advocate. I have a good rating with the NRA. I am a conservative Republican. I don't see this as gun control.

Many of those conversations can take place quietly and slowly over time and I do believe that they can make some head way.

But I think with Vice President Biden saying we can do this this year, with all of the polling showing people who voted to support expanded background checks are doing well and those against doing poorly and the fact that Senator Manchin wants to rework it I think will push the coalition to try to bring something up too soon and I don't think they're going to make it the second time.

This is a very long marathon and they need to model the efforts of the NRA, they need to separate the NRA -- leadership from its membership. They can be as aggressively organized as the gun rights advocates are on the ground. And until they do that, they're just not going to have a victory.

They need a resounding victory. They can't eke it out. There's no room on the House side of they get through 62 votes on the Senate side.

TAPPER: Tommy, as much as I'd like to let you have this layup I'm moving on to another topic because we are running out of time. And that is President Obama announced his intention to nominate for secretary of commerce, Penny Pritzker, an ex-national financial chair for his campaign. If confirmed, she will be the richest cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

The president has skipped over her for that position before. As you might recall, 2008, the job of commerce secretary in the Obama administration is a little like the drummer and spinal tap. It's position that keep -- it's not a chair you necessarily want to be sitting on.

But here's what "The New York Times" had to say about Pritzker in 2008. "Her family is renowned for finding ways to avoid paying taxes on its wealth. The Pritzkers were pioneers in using tax loopholes to shelter their holdings from the Internal Revenue Service and many of their dealings have never been made public."

That sounds a lot like the kind of thing you were accusing his boss of doing last year.

TOMMY VIETOR, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: OK. So, let's start on the narrow issue of the trusts. These were trusts set up when she was a little girl by her grandfather. She hasn't gotten a dime from them. I don't think that's really relevant.

What we need in the commerce secretary is someone who can create jobs and she has created and managed six businesses. She's one of the most successful business people in Chicago. She has been in the industry for 25 years.

So, I think those are the qualifications we should focus on not something her grandfather did when she was a little girl.

TAPPER: But, just yesterday, the president also named another campaign bundler, Pritzker was a campaign bundler -- John Wheeler, to head up the Federal Communications Commission. He spent two decades as a lobbyist representing industry groups that -- including every single cable company and every single cell phone provider. Now, of course, he's going to be regulating them.

Change you can believe in?

VIETOR: I mean, look, this guy was a lobbyist a decade ago, right? So, it's been a long time. I mean, probably like using AOL dialup back then. He is someone who is supported by industry groups. He's supported by consumer groups, well known in the industry as one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject out there.

And so, I think what this goes back to, Jake, is, you know, you remember the executive order the day we got into office, putting tough new anti-lobbying rules into place. This is a story actually about how hard it is to actually change things in Washington. The president took these important steps and you got kind of one day of stories about how this was sort of a good idea and good move. And then if you do anything where you mention lobbyists afterwards he is getting dinged for it.

I think Wheeler being a lobbyist a decade ago is not going to stop him.

TAPPER: I'll let you have the last word. Are these two nominations problematic for the president at all?

STODDARD: I think Pritzker is. I think President Obama in the second term is feeling liberated enough to give really good jobs to fundraisers for him. But Pritzker is really -- even if -- especially if, I'm sorry, President Obama is looking at a larger budget deal that contains tax reform, he is really going to hear it about class warfare and loopholes for your fancy fat cat friends from Republicans in her nomination.

TAPPER: All right.

VIETOR: He's not going to take him away --

TAPPER: A.B. Stoddard, Tommy Vietor, Kevin Madden, thank you so much.

And now, back to some more national news. Some families are worried that with a simple shift in the wind, they'll lose everything. A fast moving wild fire is closing in on neighborhoods in southern California prompting mandatory evacuations. More than 500 firefighters are on the ground trying to control the blaze that started near Camarillo Springs, that's just outside Los Angeles.

But heavy winds and dry conditions are making it tough for firefighters to get the upper hand. We just learned that a stretch of the Pacific Coast highway near the fire had to be shut down in both directions. Our own Paul Vercammen in Newbury Park, California -- Paul.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right here in Newbury Park, this is one of the leading edges of the fire, one of the main hot spots they've been trying to drop water via helicopter on this area.

But as you can see, it's so smoky it's almost impossible to get a good look at where the fire is burning. I can tell you right now, it's burning all up there along that ridge, threatening all of these houses in this neighborhood. But the smoke is just absolutely horrific and the heat -- the heat is tremendous right now. The firefighters really up against it. You can see just where it's burning. It's encircling this entire neighborhood and these people are right now trying to evacuate.

Reporting from Newbury Park -- I'm Paul Vercammen, back to you.

TAPPER: Still ahead, we're all searching for answers after the Boston bombings. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta will take a look at how the criminal brain may be built for violence.

Stay with us.