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Severe Weather Ahead; James Comey to Replace Robert Mueller; Ricin Letter Sent to Bloomberg; Disney Employee Arrested for Toontown Bombing; Jailed Mother Speaks Out; Google Rolls Out New Gmail Feature

Aired May 30, 2013 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In our STARTING POINT this morning, outbreak, twisters, giant hail, flash floods, all wreaking havoc from Texas to New England. Look at this. Water busting through the doors of this college building. Unbelievable. We have more severe weather on tap for today. If you are in this red section on this map, it is going to be a scorcher.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Death (ph) strip (ph) plea (ph). The American mother jailed in Mexico on what she calls made up drug charges. She speaks out to CNN from behind bars.


YANIRA MALDONADO, DETAINED IN MEXICO: I need to be with my family. I need to be out of here. I need to go home.


ROMANS: Hear her emotional side of the story for the very first time.

BERMAN: Tough to hear.

Also, CNN exclusive. In this video the smoking gun in the trial over Michael Jackson's death, could it be? the Jackson family thinks so. It could bring them millions of dollars. You can see it only here.

ROMANS: And love, hate, and Adam Levine. The Voice superstar sparks a fire storm when he's caught on a hot mike saying he hates America. This morning, his explanation. Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thursday, may 30th. Welcome to STARTING POINT. We begin to what is turning into one wild spring across the entire country. If you weren't dodging hail and thunderstorms last night, you may be today. If you're in the northeast, it's going to be really, really, really hot. Meteorologist Indra Petersons is here with a look at that.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Unbelievable. Storms have hit the country hard this weekend. It looks like there's going to be much more still on the way.


PETERSONS: Storms raged from Texas all the way to New England, and had nearly half of the country in the danger zone. And in Texas, dangerous hail and fierce winds causing many to worry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this hail. We're going to have broken windows.

PETERSONS: This video was shot in Corinth, Texas. Look at the hail bouncing off of the ground. The Diamondbacks and Rangers game postponed Wednesday night when the heavy rain and lightning moved in very quickly. The ground crew struggled to gain control as heavy winds ripped the tarp right out of their hands. In Amarillo, Texas, heavy wind gusts were blamed for blowing down this iconic billboard, ripping its post from the ground. Owners of the business watched as the 30-year-old sign fell to the ground.

SHANNOPN MARTIN, VP OF TEXAS BLUE LAKE POOLS: My sales associate actually went to open up the overhead door to get ready for him because the winds were strong. We heard him holler. We all came running. That's when we saw the billboard falling down.

PETERSONS: These residents in Schenectady, New York had a close call trying to get a glimpse of the storm from their back porch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was trying to film, and all of a sudden a tree cracked down right above us, and I told her we've got to run inside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was crazy. I mean, all around us was just trees and glass and everything. It's nuts.

PETERSONS: Just as crazy, flood waters caught on this surveillance video from Tuesday. Torrential rain caused flooding that burst down the doors at an Illinois college.


PETERSONS: Oh, yes, it's definitely been a wild weather weekend. Unfortunately, the threat will continue today for severe weather.

First let's talk about the northeast. Look at this warm-up. A heat wave expected. Temperatures, 15 to 16 degrees warmer than average. Definitely a boo right there. A lot of 90's for three days here. The severe weather threat does remain. That is the big story. What is it? It's the warm humid air that we're feeling banking up as that cool dry air and unfortunately that threat remains and now it's shifting a little bit to the east.

Certainly looking at a threat in Iowa all the way down through Texas today. That's about 15 million of us. We're really watching the dry line here just west of Oklahoma City. Unfortunately we could see that bump up to a moderate risk. We're going to monitor that as we got throughout the day with a lot of instability.

Take a look at this. All this lightning out there, that is what we're worried about especially as we go through the afternoon today. Yes, everyone still needs to remain vigilant. Oklahoma City, debris on the ground. Very tough day.

BERMAN: That map telling an ominous story. All right, Indra Petersons, thanks so much.

ROMANS: CNN learned the president is set to appoint a new top man at the FBI. James Comey would replace Robert Mueller as FBI director. Mueller is stepping down in September. Comey was at the center of some heated debates over counterterrorism in the Bush years. CNN's Brianna Keilar is live at the White House with more. Good morning, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. This was a night in March 2004 like a scene out of a movie. John Ashcroft, the attorney general then, was very ill and in the hospital. So ill that his deputy Comey was the acting A.G. This was the night before a warrantless wiretap program was set to expire.

The then White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez and Chief of Staff Andy Card went to Ashcroft's bedside to get him to endorse this program that he and Comey felt was illegal and Comey actually caught wind of it and ordered his driver to the hospital. Sirens blaring, so he could head them off. In the end, Ashcroft didn't sign on to this but it made for one of the most remarkably dramatic scenes of the entire Bush administration, Christine.

ROMANS: He was praised, widely praised for seeing past politics in that event when he came to the aid of the very ill Attorney General John Ashcroft. What about that legacy?

KIELAR: Yes, that is certainly part of his legacy. I think that's something that you see a lot of Democrats and Republicans pointing to when they say that they expect that he's going to be confirmed rather easily or they think that this is someone that a lot of Democrats and Republicans can get behind.

One of the hitches for Comey, I'll tell you this, has to do with his hedge fund experience. General counsel at a hedge fund. We've already heard from the top Republican on the Senate judiciary committee, Chuck Grassley, raising concerns about this, saying if he is confirmed as FBI director he would have to build a case perhaps against some of his former colleagues. So he'll get some tough questions before the Senate for sure.

ROMANS: We certainly know those confirmation proceedings, all of those ties are very closely scrutinized, especially when you're talking about the business ties with the hedge fund industry, private equity and the like. Okay, Brianna Keilar. Thank you, Brianna.

BERMAN: On this day when the president is preparing to nominate a new director of FBI, two apparent cases of domestic terrorism or at least violence in this country are capturing the bureau's attention. Letters containing threats against New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg testing positive for the deadly poison ricin.

And this, a Disneyland employee in custody for allegedly setting off a dry ice bomb in Toontown. I'm going to start with Pamela Brown tacking the latest developments in the ricin case. Good morning, Pamela. PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Christine. The FBI now working to determine who sent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg two letters laced with trace amounts of the deadly toxin, ricin. New York City Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Brown said that a suspicious pink, orange, oily substance was found in both letters who were sent this past weekend from the same postmark in Shreveport, Louisiana, according to the American Postal Workers Union and contained threats on the mayor and mentioned the debate of gun law in which Bloomberg is an outspoken critic. Mayor Bloomberg had this to say last night. Let's take a listen.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: There was a letter who threatened us. Let me tell you, we are -- number one, I have enormous confidence in the NYPD and the FBI and their procedures.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you feel threatened?



BROWN: One of the letters was received at New York City's government mail facility and some of the emergency service workers who handled the letter showed minor symptoms of ricin exposure but those symptoms have now subsided. The second letter was opened by Mark Glaze, directors of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization founded by Bloomberg. Commissioner Brown seemed to indicated that Glaze showed no symptoms of exposure to ricin in is the third case of ricin-laced letters being found. Of course, a couple months ago there was letters sent to President Obama, a U.S. senator, there was an arrest made in that case. And, of course, FBI is trying to determine who could have sent this letter.

BERMAN: A lot of these cases all at once. Interesting. All right. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

ROMANS: A Disneyland employee is being held this morning on $1 million bail in connection to that explosion this week in Toontown. Police arrested 22-year-old Christian Barnes. They say he is responsible for the dry ice bomb that rocked the theme park. CNN's Sara Sidner following developments live from Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Good morning, Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Investigators are still looking at evidence in this case. That suspect who actually worked inside of the park has not yet been charged but police and Disneyland saying they are taking this case very seriously. And you can imagine, Toontown is a place where very young children hang out with their parents. It's where Mickey Mouse's house is so people were pretty scared when they had to be evacuated.


SIDNER: Disneyland's Toontown turned into a ghost town after an improvised explosive device went off in a trash can on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was loud. It startled us. Ducked and looked up and I looked higher than the ground to see what was going on.

SIDNER: Crowds evacuated as the bomb squad responded. Not the kind of scene visitors ever expected to encounter. Police say no one was hurt but they did discover evidence of a small explosion.

SGT. ROBERT DUNN, ANAHEIM POLICE DEPT.: When our officers arrived they found the remnants of a water bottle which is indicative of a dry ice type explosion.

SIDNER: 22-year-old Christian Barnes, a vending cast member at Disneyland, is being held on a million dollar bail on suspicion of possessing and detonating an explosive device.

DUNN: There's potential, any time this occurs, for there to be injury. There's potential for someone to get injured to the point where they lose their life. That's why the charges are so serious.

SIDNER: Disneyland official says Barnes had the dry ice in his vending cart where he sells items that need to be kept cold. Police say that Barnes is cooperating. That's right. This stuff, dry ice, often used for special effects. It turns out exploding dry ice bombs is a popular form of fun in some circles. If you don't believe me, just check out all the videos on Youtube.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to show you how to make a dry ice bomb.

SIDNER: The results when they do. What the videos don't tell you is that creating and detonating an ice bomb is a crime. You could be charged with a felony if you're caught.

Across the country in Disneyworld's Animal Kingdom a grandmother found a loaded gun on the seat of a dinosaur ride as she boarded with her grandson. The gun owner said he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon but told authorities he didn't realize that guns are not allowed in the park. Happiest places on Earth turning scary for some visitors until both situations were under control.


SIDNER: And you know any time something happens in the happiest place on Earth, people are going to start talking about it. We should also mention that the Disney parks here are the largest employer in the area, so people are concerned about what happened. But so far things have gone very smoothly after that. It was a couple of hours that people were out of that section of the park. People have been coming back and forth ever since.

ROMANS: All right Sara Sidner for us in California. Thanks, Sara.

BERMAN: We're joined now by CNN counterterrorism analyst Fran Townsend. Fran, you hear about a bomb or an explosion going off in Disneyworld. If you're a parent like us that sounds frightening. But what's going on here? Is this serious or a dumb prank? FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You know John, look. It's funny because from my time in the White House, Disney happens to be a company I know the security arrangements probably better than any other company in the country.

They take this stuff incredibly seriously in terms of their training of employees, their screening of people. And I talked to two people inside Disney. This really was a prank that turned bad. The employee saw something on the internet. Thought it would be cool to see what it did. Didn't intend to hurt anybody. Has been fully cooperative. Nobody was hurt.

It's naturally frightening to patrons. I think what people need to understand is just how seriously Disney takes these sorts of incidents, looking at it, understanding how and why it happened, making sure that those who visit the park are really very safe.

ROMANS: Something that doesn't look like a prank, the ricin letters now to Mayor Bloomberg. That's sort of an interesting and frightening trend. You see these things kind of come up in twos and threes it feels like. What do you make of these letters to Bloomberg and to also the person who runs as mayor against illegal guns and what kind of a serious threat that may be?

TOWNSEND: The problem here is that the ricin recipe is basically the components of very easily obtained. It comes from caster -- ground up castor beans. It's not that hard to make, one. Two, the recipe like most of them these days is available on the internet. The counter terrorism community had first seen it, the recipe in al Qaeda training manuals. That's the context in which people have heard of this.

Here's the thing. To weaponize ricin is -- takes a little more sophistication to aerosolize it. We think of anthrax being aerosolized, that wasn't this. This was very crudely made. The description in reports now is of the sticky orange material. It would have been very hard. The only way you could have been poisoned by that is ingesting it. It's not a contact poison. They're taking it seriously. We're seeing more of this because the information is available. But it's clear, at least so far, that no one in this particular incident was seriously hurt by it.

BERMAN: Finally, James Comey, a man who has worked in Republican administrations but may be popular with some Democrats. What do you make of that pick for FBI director?

TOWNSEND: I think it's a terrific pick. We should be very clear, Jim Comey also worked in Democratic administrations throughout his career. Second, he was a career prosecutor. He's been U.S. attorney. He and I were colleagues when we were young lawyers in the U.S. attorney's office here in New York. This is also the man who picked Pat Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to investigate a Republican in the Bush administration for the Valerie Plame leak. So, this is a guy who's very dedicated, a career prosecutor, and very experienced. I think he will be well respected in the FBI.

BERMAN: Yeah, competent and dedicated are two words I've heard a lot overnight. Fran Townsend, appreciate you being here.

ROMANS: The Chinese baby rescued from a sewer pipe in dramatic video seen around the world. That baby is home this morning with his maternal grandparents. The newborn, known only as patient 59 is drinking formula and is being nursed back to health. Left the hospital now with his maternal grandparents. Rescuers had to carefully cut the pipes surrounding him in sections in order to get that baby free. So far, police believe the 22-year-old mother's story -- they believe her story that this was just a terrible accident. She is not facing any charges. So interesting the world has watched this baby for the past several days. This is not really a widely told story within China.

BERMAN: It is so hard to believe that it could be an accident.

Thirteen minutes after the hour. Ahead on STARTING POINT, the American mother, grandmother jailed in Mexico speaks out from behind bars making a desperate plea. Hear her tearful defense, next.

ROMANS: And CNN exclusive, could this be the smoking gun in the Michael Jackson case? The testimony that the Jackson family believes could win them a lot of money in court. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: A new development this morning. The Arizona mother of seven accused of trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana is now speaking out from inside a Mexican jail. The soldiers who arrested Yanira Maldonado were supposed to appear in court on Wednesday at her hearing but defense attorneys say they never showed up. Hearings in the case will resume tomorrow.

CNN's Rafael Romo is the first reporter to interview Maldonado in jail. He's reporting to us from Nogales, Arizona along the U.S. border with Mexico. Rafael tell me, she was just so emotional. As soon as she saw you, she was emotional, wasn't she?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She was very emotional, Christine, because we were essentially the first outsiders to visit Yanira Maldonado other than her family in a week at this state prison in Nogales, Mexico where she is being held. She says she's been surviving by reading scriptures and praying constantly.


ROMO: Yanira Maldonado was emotional from the moment she saw us escorted into the prison administrator's office to be interviewed.

MALDONADO: I'm not a criminal. I'm just here by mistake, because people are not doing their work. It's not right. I need to be back with my family. I need to be out of here. I need to go home.

ROMO: Maldonado and her husband were returning by bus from the funeral of her aunt when Mexican soldiers stopped the vehicle at this checkpoint. Passengers were taken off and the bus searched. The soldier said they found several packages of marijuana under her seat -- 5.7 kilos, more than 12 pounds, and she says, asked her to pay $5,000.

MALDONADO: It's a lie what they're saying. They say they found something under my seat. But I never saw anything. They didn't show me anything. It was just amazing, all -- what they did.

ROMO: Maldonado said authorities did not make it clear at first that she was a suspect, but she knew she was in trouble when federal agents started questioning her husband and her.

MALDONADO: I was in shock when they said that it was me they want because first they said that it was -- that it was -- it was my husband.

ROMO: Taken into Mexican federal custody she was transferred to this state prison last Friday where she's being held in a temporary cell away from other inmates. Family members have been allowed brief visits.

Now, your husband Gary and your children are going to be listening to this and watching you. What do you want to tell them?

MALDONADO: That I love them very much, that I'm going -- that I'm innocent.

ROMO: That belief is also held by a Mexican state official with extensive knowledge of the case who told CNN it would have been almost impossible for her to carry that much marijuana onto the bus without someone noticing.

MALDONADO: They have cameras in the -- on the terminal in the bus and they haven't checked that. Why they don't check for fingerprints. I don't have -- my fingerprints are not on the package or whatever they're saying that they found.

ROMO: Maldonado says she has not been mistreated but she's rethinking the advice she used to give friends about traveling to Mexico on vacation.

MALDONADO: I used to tell them, come to Mexico, it's not true what they're saying. I go every year to visit my family, and look what's happening to me now.

ROMO: All this devout Mormon can do now she says is pray.


ROMO: Yanira Maldonado told me last Saturday was her first wedding anniversary. She and her husband Gary had plans for a big celebration. Instead she spent the day behind bars. John and Christine?

ROMANS: Rafael Romo, thanks so much for that. This has been going on day after day after day. This is an international incident. I'm surprised even with an official in Mexico saying, yes, it looks like she was framed that she's still sitting there.

BERMAN: Heartbreaking to hear her. She seems to frustrated and powerless almost in that jail. All right.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, a CNN exclusive. Why this testimony could be the bombshell that Michael Jackson's family has been waiting for in his wrongful death trial. The video you can see only here.

ROMANS: Then, the voice judge Adam Levine forced to prove his patriotism this morning. His explanation for why he said he hates America, coming up.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Minding your business this morning. All those record highs. Twenty-two of them for the Dow this year, making investors maybe a little nervous. The Dow fell more than 100 points yesterday. Futures are flat so far this morning. You can blame the federal reserve for that, or you can at least blame what everyone's speculating about the federal reserve about that. Policymakers are talking about ending the fed's stimulus program, which is helping to prop up the economy right now, but there's a lot of wonder if the economy's really ready to take the training wheels off, and we're going to maybe get some more answers on that today. When the latest report on gross domestic product comes out, I'm going to bring that for you live next hour.

Are you overwhelmed by your inbox? Google is making organizing Gmail users' inboxes automatic. It's a new customizable version that groups mail into categories that appear as tabs. Primary, social, promotions, and updates. It's supposed to let users quickly see what's new and decide which e-mails to read when. Which ones to automatically delete. It rolls out in the next few weeks. If you don't like it, Gmail will let you go back to the classic inbox. Do you feel overwhelmed by your e-mail?

BERMAN: I'm confused by that already.

ROMANS: I'm overwhelmed by my e-mail in general. I feel like everything should have an out of office response, do I need to read this, do I need to be on this and if not I'm going to delete it.


ROMANS: I get like 300 e-mails a day.

BERMAN: You should send it back, I'm ignoring you.

ROMANS: You have never replied to one of my e-mails so maybe you are ignoring me or are you filtering me out?

BERMAN: Take the hint. Twenty-six minutes after the hour. Ahead on STARTING POINT, it could be the smoking gun in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial. CNN got the exclusive testimony that his family has been waiting for. That's coming up next.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. The midsection of the U.S. bracing for extreme weather again. We are following the unrelenting threat of severe storms in parts of the country already torn up by tornadoes. We want to quickly check back in with meteorologist Indra Petersons, who's following all this for us. Hey, Indra.

PETERSONS: Yeah, definitely. We're still looking at the severe weather threat today. Unfortunately just west of Oklahoma City will be watching that as it builds for the afternoon. Currently, look at the northeast, the heat wave, 15, 20 degrees above normal today. It's all that heat that's expected to stay with us over the next several days that's banking up that cold -- against that cold dry air.