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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

American Citizen Released from Mexican Jail; Investigation into Mailed Ricin Packages Continue; New Footage of Tsarnaev Brothers; McDonald's CEO Loses Weight, Eats Fast Food Every Day

Aired May 31, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: We talk to her this morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Person of interest. Investigators now questioning a Texas man possibly linked to those ricin-laced letters sent to the president and the New York mayor. What led these investigators to him?

ROMANS: First on CNN, terror on tape. The two Boston bombers just three days before they set off explosives, caught on video. What the video can tell investigators.

BERMAN: Chilling. And then, under the sea, and causing a stir -- it is the documentary, fake documentary, about mermaids, yes, mermaids, that has viewers hook, line, and sinker. So why did the United States government have to respond to this? It is an amazing story.

Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, May 31st. Welcome to STARTING POINT.

BERMAN: And we do have a great deal of news this morning, but we want to get first to the breaking news. The Arizona mother, finally free after a horrifying week in a Mexican jail. A judge in Nogales released Yanira Moldonado this morning. She was arrested last week after authorities claimed they discovered 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat. This mother of seven thanking god, thanking her family, and thanking her lawyers for her newfound freedom.

Rafael Romo is live for us in Nogales, Arizona, this morning. Rafael, what's the latest?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it's been a very difficult couple of weeks for Yanira Moldonado. First, she lost her aunt, a woman who helped raise her in Mexico. Then she spent her first wedding anniversary behind bars. But this morning she's a free woman and is back on American soil.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO: It happened just before midnight, an American mother of seven jailed in Mexico for more than a week, finally released, tearfully embracing her husband and thanking her supporters. YANIRA MOLDONADO, FREED FROM MEXICAN JAIL: I want to say thanks first to god that I'm free now. He sent me good people my way. And I'm very grateful that I'm free, for my family, my children and a special thanks to my lawyer, my counsel from Nogales, the U.S., Nogales, Arizona, that they were there to help me.

ROMO: Yanira Moldonado and her family never wavered from claiming her innocence after Mexican officials accused her of trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana on to a bus. Shortly after her release, Yanira Moldonado addressed the media, recounting the moment she learned she was going home.

MOLDONADO: So I signed the paper and he said that I would be released.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your reaction?

MOLDONADO: I screamed. Like, yes!

ROMO: Moldonado, a U.S. citizen born in Mexico, was in her native country last week for a funeral with her husband, Gary, and chose to ride a bus back to the U.S. The bus was stopped at a checkpoint. That's when troops claim they found the marijuana under her seat and eventually arrested Moldonado.

But last night a judge determined the prosecution had not provided enough evidence when he was shown surveillance video of the couple boarding the bus, carrying only a purse, two blankets, and two bottles of water. But Moldonado has hope in her accusers.

MOLDONADO: To be good, to repent, I don't know. To work honest, you know, to find a job, a decent job, where they can make a living not putting innocent people through these nightmares.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO: Gary and Yanira Moldonado were planning to travel back home to Goodyear, Arizona, near Phoenix, where they will be reunited with their seven children.

BERMAN: We wish them the best as they get reunited. And just in the last hour, Yanira Moldonado and her husband, Gary, joined us by phone from Arizona. Here's what the just-freed grandmother had to say us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Yanira, let me just ask you right off the bat, how you doing?

MOLDONADO: I'm doing fine. I'm here with my husband and my in-laws.

ROMANS: When are you going to go home? You want to go home soon, I hope. You want to see your kids. When will you be leaving the country?

MOLDONADO: Yes, we are hopefully going today to see the kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So at this point in the interview, the call actually dropped out. We're going to try to get the Moldonados back live in the 8:00 hour here on STARTING POINT.

ROMANS: All right, we're joined now from Philadelphia by noted criminal defense attorney, Danny Cevallos. Danny, let's get right down to it, a Mexican court released Yanira Moldonado overnight after keeping her in jail for a week. Why do you think was she released? Was it that video evidence, or pressure coming from her family, or the fact that this was an international impairment at some point?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, first, let's start with family. Family, probably not. Foreigners get arrested every day in Mexico, Americans and otherwise. And family petitions go really unnoticed and Mexican government doesn't have to respond to them. U.S. government pressure, possibly.

But ultimately, it's this video evidence. Mexican criminal procedure is actually a little similar in that they have a probable cause or a probable responsibility hearing. So the judge has to decide if there's probable cause or probable responsibility to hold the case over for trial. In this case, that video evidence likely persuaded the judge, and that with which the sophistication with which this package was attached under the seat, pretty much established that it's highly, highly unlikely this woman was able to sneak it on board and then hook it under her seat.

ROMANS: Is she free and clear at this point? Are there any other further legal hurdles she may face?

CEVALLOS: Just like in the United States, in a probable cause hearing, at the probable responsibility hearing, if the judge has released her and not on bail, but if he's kicked the case, in other words, thrown out the case, then she should be completely free and clear. Whether her arrest record stays on the file is probably something she may not even care about, because the most important thing is the criminal charges are likely gone forever.

ROMANS: But there were drugs on this bus, or someone claiming there were drugs on this bus that weren't hers. So what about repercussions for officials in Mexico, whether this was part of a bribe or part of smuggling by the bus?

CEVALLOS: I don't think we should be too optimistic. My family lived in Mexico for 20 years. In my opinion, I don't believe there's going to be a high-level investigation. And the reality is, even here in America when criminal defendants are found not guilty, that doesn't always mean there's an investigation as to the illegality of their detention.

I don't know how far up this investigation will go. I'm hearing there was an individual who fled the scene when the bus was stopped. That may or may not be a person of interest, but I doubt that the investigation is going to go much further than the seizure of contraband, the drugs that were found on this bus. ROMANS: Danny Cevalos, thanks for your expertise on this.

BERMAN: Something so fishy going on right there. Wonder who is behind it all.

We're also following new developments this morning in the case of those threatening letters believed to have contained poison that were sent to President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his Mayors Against Guns office in Washington D.C. A break in the case has brought FBI investigators to a small town in Texas, and that's where we find Ed Lavandera this morning, live in new Boston, Texas. Ed, what's going on there this morning?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. This is a small town, population about 4,500 people, tucked away in the northeast corner of this state. And this is the last place neighbors in this neighborhood would have thought the ricin investigation would have ended up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: Law enforcement officials are questioning a man at this new Boston, Texas, home, about threatening letters believed to have contained ricin, sent to President Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and a gun control group.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It kind of hits home a little bit more when it could be someone right down the street.

LAVANDERA: The three suspicious letters were postmarked in Shreveport, la Louisiana. The ones addressed to the president and Mayor Bloomberg never reached them. White house spokesman Jay Carney has emphasized this in the past, when other threatening letters were sent to the president.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The mail sent here is screened and that these tests are undertaken at remote sites to mitigate the risk both to those recipients and to the general population.

LAVANDERA: The FBI is now testing the letters sent to President Obama. Meanwhile, the New York City police department says that preliminary testing on the Bloomberg letter came back positive for ricin, a potentially deadly poison made from caster beans.

The third letter sent to Washington D.C., office of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, was opened by its director. A police report says that that letter contained a whit whitish-orange substance. The letters contained an ominous message. "You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns," it read. "Anyone who wants to come to my house will be shot in the face. The right to bear arms is my constitutional, God-given right, and I will exercise that right until the day I die. What's in this letter is nothing compared to what I've got planned for you."

Is the battle over gun control really behind these threats? REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: Well, that's how it seems. Now, it could also be somebody on the other side, you know, trying to make their on the by, you know, blaming the people who believe in gun rights.

LAVANDERA: This latest round of threats has many wondering if ricin is becoming the weapon of choice for intimidation.

BILL BRATTON, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Ricin is probably one of the worse ways to try to kill somebody. So I don't see it as a real threat in the sense of the actual capability to kill, but rather to intimidate and attract publicity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: So the investigation remains focused here on this house you see behind me. Neighbors here tell us they saw FBI agents going in and out of the house repeatedly and at one point bringing out electronic equipment. John and Christine?

BERMAN: Ed LAVANDERA, that search taking us to New Boston, Texas, where we find you this morning.

ROMANS: And also developing this morning, the persistent, dangerous threat of tornado slowly moving to the east. Oklahoma up to the great lakes bracing for severe storms today. One tornado tore through Odin, Arkansas, yesterday, ripping the roofs away. Meteorologist Indra Petersons is following the severe weather threats for us this morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. We keep talking about this. I still feel like this broken record. That powerful storm system that has moved through the midsection of the country, it wreaked havoc yesterday, spotting tornadoes, large lightning, and lots of hail. And on the east coast, people are enduring the first heat wave of the season.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETERSONS: Turbulent tornadoes touching down in Tulsa and Cushing, Oklahoma, on Thursday night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our view of it. There's your wall cloud right there. Look at that wall cloud, dude. That's coming straight at us. Look at that meso-cyclone.

PETERSONS: Both just north of the city of Moore that was pummeled by a devastating tornado last week. And over in Arkansas, this tornado swirling into a waterspout over Lake Washita. Further north in Wichita, Kansas, rain is the issue, floodwaters rising past the headlights of cars in Kansas, leaving some stranded and others just looking for a place to keep dry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: L.A. County fire responded very quickly. You can see the number of fire trucks out there.

PETERSONS: And then there's the heat. Out west, firefighters battling a raging wildfire near Santa Clarita, California, that has scorched at least 400 acres of land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This firefight still very, very active and probably will be for some time.

PETERSONS: In the east, the first signs of summer in New York's Central Park. From the splashes to the scoops to the first slathers of sun block, the heat wave has officially arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess it wasn't the smartest idea to go get some ice cream. It's melted.

PETERSONS: Melting ice cream, a welcome sight after the late-season Memorial Day snowstorm had places like Vermont measuring snow in feet. Upstate New York weathered the late flurries and broke 40-year-old record.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was freezing like three days ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've had all seasons in one week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PETERSONS: Here we go again today. Here's the severe outbreak for today, today stretching out from the great lakes all the way towards Texas. Pay attention to the pulse aye around Oklahoma City, Moore, and also including Joplin, tough weather today. Everyone needs to pay attention to that Moore area.

BERMAN: I hate to see that red spot on the map. All week, this goes on and on and on.

PETERSONS: I wish I could get rid of it.

BERMAN: Indra Peterson, thanks so much.

Ahead here on STARTING POINT, first on CNN, the alleged Boston bombers caught on tape just days before they committed the act of terror. What this new video can tell investigator.

ROMANS: And look at this, live pictures of a plane that crashed into a Virginia home overnight. Plus, another plane crashed directly into the front door of this home. And in both cases, both cases, no one was killed. We'll tell you what happened. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: First on CNN, a new development in the Boston marathon bombings. We have obtained surveillance video that shows the Tsarnaev brothers working out at a Boston gym just three days before the bombs went off at the finish line. The bombing suspects worked out with a friend at a mixed martial arts center on Friday, April 12th. The manager says that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was so difficult that he wanted to ban him from the gym. CNN's Deborah Feyerick has been all over this video, really interesting. She joins us now with more. DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the reasons it is so interesting is also because this is the first video we actually see of the brothers together, prior to the bombing. We're seeing them separately, individually, but we're seeing them now together for the first time.

Investigators piecing together what was going on in the days leading up. At least now we know a piece of it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: Seventy-two hours before the bombs detonated, almost to the minute, suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev worked out together at a gym in Boston. Security cameras at the Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts center show the brothers arriving with a friend just before 2:45 Friday afternoon. We spoke to the manager, who asked that we only use his first name, Michael. He said Tamerlan who you see in the hat looked different. Noticeably missing, Tamerlan's full, bushy religious beard, which he'd had for abotut wo years.

The manager describes Tamerlan as extremely opinionated and outspoken about his Muslim religion and didn't ask Tamerlan why he had shaved because he didn't want to engage is what was likely to be a long, heated debate. Now he wonders whether Tamerlan's shaving the beard might have been part of an Islamic ritual purification prior to death.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Shaving the beard may be a way to blend in, not to attract scrutiny from security services in carrying out the Boston attacks.

FEYERICK: Tamerlan trained at Wai Kru several times a month for free, a professional courtesy to the nationally ranked Golden Gloves boxer. Dzhokhar rarely came, showing up two or three times in roughly two years.

CRUICKSHANK: We've seen with western militant, wannabe jihadists a real emphasis on physical training, physical fitness, wanting to be prepared for jihad.

FEYERICK: Almost immediately, the manager who is offscreen to the right, asks the men to follow posted gym rules and take off their shoes. Younger brother, Dzhokhar, complies right away, Tamerlan does not, arguing with instead. Not giving any ground.

The manager later e-mails the owner, asking him to ban Tamerlan, calling him arrogant, selfish, never helping anyone else. The argument doesn't seem to phase Tamerlan, who's the first one in the ring. His years of training are evident. Watch how skillfully he handles the jump rope. Dzhokhar has more difficulty and less stamina as he struggles to hold up the oversized shorts.

The manager says the man in the middle was introduced as a friend. We've blurred his face. He was later questioned and released by the FBI. Tamerlan remains focused, barely missing a stride. It's here that the brothers interact. They seem relaxed. Dzhokhar resting at times. Tamerlan moving, moving, working out 72 hours before two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston marathon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: FBI agents did see this tape. What they did in their rush is they took screen grabs, because this came to their attention pretty early on in the investigation. One other note, and that is the man who was killed in Florida, the friend of Tsarnaev's, Inrabragim Todashev, he was at that gym earlier - years before. John?

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Right, Deb. The thing that's so interesting to see is to see the brothers interact there.

FEYERICK: Yeah. Yeah, very different because the only time we see them after that is when they're walking up Boylston Street. So, it's - it's nice - or it's interesting to see the dynamic.

BERMAN: Deborah Feyerick, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Ahead on STSTARTING POINT, the McDonald's diet. The CEO of the fast food chain says he lost 20 pounds and did it while still eating McDonald's every day.

BERMAN: Plus, we'll take you live to the Arizona home of the mother just released from Mexico. Her family and friends now anxiously awaiting her return. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Minding your business this morning. New numbers show unemployment in Europe hitting a record high. Now 12.2 percent. Here in the U.S., the unemployment rate is 7.5 percent and declining. In Europe, it is rising. Dow futures down about 75 points this Friday morning.

President Obama will be surrounded by college students at the White House today to warn they could soon be paying a lot more for student loans, very soon. Interest rates on government-backed loans are set to double July 1st, unless Congress does something about it. That means those interest rates go up to 6.8 percent. That affects 7 million college students. The House recently passed a bill that would prevent that increase, but rates would be variable. President Obama wants a fixed rate and says he'll veto that House plan.

Is it possible to lose weight while eating McDonald's every day? The McDonald's CEO, Don Thompson, says he has done it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON THOMPSON, CEO, MCDONALD'S: I eat at McDonald's every day. Every single day. In the last year or so, I'm down about probably 20 or so pounds. I'm sharing my personal stuff now. So, how you down, Don? What did you do? You know, I didn't change eating at McDonald's every day, I got my butt up and started working out again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: No word on exactly what he's eating off the menu or what his workout is.

BERMAN: I'm willing to try that.

ROMANS: Eat McDonald's every day? You're the last person I think --

BERMAN: I love McDonald's.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, live pictures of Yanira Maldonado's home where she's expected to arrive after being freed a Mexican jail. We're going to go live to Goodyear, Arizona.

ROMANS: And planes are falling out of the sky. This is one of two planes that crashed into a home overnight and in both instances, everyone survived. The dramatic footage - two planes crashing into a home in just the last few hours. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: We have breaking news. The Arizona mother jailed in Mexico and accused of smuggling drugs is a free woman this morning. Overnight, a Mexican judge released Yanira Maldonado. Police claimed they had found 12 pounds of pot underneath her bus seat last week. Maldonado walked out of her cell less than six hours ago, thanking God, thanking her family, thanking her attorneys.

Casey Wian is live from Goodyear, Arizona, right now, where Maldonado lives. What's the latest, Casey?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that family members of Yanira Maldonado are obviously very, very excited. I spoke with her daughter, who was distraught during the week that her mother spent in that Mexican jail. She, of course, looking very much forward to the arrival later today of her mother, Yanira Maldonado. Here is what she had to say, just after she was released from prison and crossed over the border from Nogales, Mexico, to Nogales, Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALDONADO: I'm free!