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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Arizona Mom Freed from Mexican Jail; Ricin Investigation; Severe Weather Threat; New Footage of Tsarnaev Brothers; Masterpieces On The Auction Block

Aired May 31, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPON DENT (voice-over): Shortly after her release, Yanira Maldonado addressed the media, recounting the moment she learned she was going home.

YANIRA MALDONADO, FREED FROM JAIL: I signed the paper and he said I had been released.

REPORTER: What was your reaction?

MALDONADO: I screamed? I just like -- yes.

ROMO: Maldonado, a U.S. citizen born in Mexico was in her native country 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 claimed they found marijuana under her seat and eventually arrested Maldonado.

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

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMO: It has been a very difficult two weeks for Yanira Maldonado. First, her aunt died in Mexico, and she had to attend her funeral, then she had to spend her first wedding anniversary last Saturday behind bars. But this morning, she's back on American soil and very glad to be with her family -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Rafael, so bizarre she was arrested, and taken in in the first place. The question, what set her free? Was it the surveillance video from the bus that ultimately cleared her?

ROMO: It was definitely that video. And when I spoke to her defense attorney a couple days ago, he said we have more than enough evidence to prove that Yanira Maldonado is completely innocent.

And this video was very important it showed both Yanira Maldonado and her husband Gary boarding the bus. They only had two small blankets, two bottles of water, and her purse. There was no way that they were going to get on a bus, unnoticed with more than 12 pounds of marijuana and that's ultimately what might have swayed the judge to make -- to issue this ruling in her favor, John.

BERMAN: It just wasn't there. It just wasn't possible looking at those pictures, as you described. Then, the question is, what are the consequences going to be for the people who detained her?

ROMO: Well, it is unknown at this point. But what I can tell you is that the three soldier who arrested the couple last Wednesday did not testify this past Wednesday, and they just simply didn't show up for court and that's the moment when the prosecution's case started crumbling. Not knowing whether they are still assigned to the same checkpoint. But there will be many questions asked about what exactly happened in this case, John.

BERMAN: All right. Rafael Romo reporting for us in Nogales, Arizona, thanks so much for that report.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, FBI investigators are swarming a house in New Boston, Texas. They're questioning a person of interest in connection with threatening letters believed to contain poison that were sent to President Obama, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg's gun control lobbying office in Washington.

The feds were reportedly contacted by the man's wife.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is following the new developments for us live this morning in New Boston, Texas.

What's going on there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a small town, population about 4,500 people, Tucked away in the northeast corner of Texas. And FBI investigators have spent the better part, well into yesterday as well at this house you see behind me. Neighbors saw teams of FBI agents going in and out of house, bringing out electronic equipment.

We've seen FBI agents staked out here at the house throughout the night. So, they have not -- FBI officials have not released anything officially publicly about what exactly is going on, but it seems like the focus of the ricin investigation is turned on to this neighborhood here in the town of New Boston, Texas. This is all stemming from the ricin letters sent to three places, including Mayor Mike Bloomberg's office in New York City as well as President Obama's office.

Now, it's important to point out, these letters were detected in an offsite facility, and they never got to Mayor Bloomberg or President Obama. But included in that note were ominous messages sent and included in those letters that talked about gun right and that sort of thing.

And so, a lot of people asking here this morning, Christine and John, whether this ricin letter incident has anything to do with the gun control debate -- Christine, John. ROMANS: Wow, such an interesting story, and still developing. Thanks so much for being there for us, Ed.

Also developing this morning, the persistent and dangerous threat of tornadoes moving slowly to the East. Oklahoma up to the Great Lakes, bracing for severe storms today. One tornado tore through Oden, Arkansas, yesterday, ripping off roofs.

Meteorologist Indra Petersons is following the severe weather for us.

And in your map, it just shows how much of this country this covers.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I mean, it's unbelievable, especially even at this hour. This is usually when we get a break.

You can see behind me, all the instability that we still have even at this hour. Look at all the lightning, strong showers pushing through St. Louis. But today, here is the severe outlook again. The slight risk now moving a littler bit farther east, all the way from the Great Lakes, down again through the panhandle of Texas.

But notice where the bull's-eye is, one more time. We're talking Norman, Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, even through Joplin, today, that threat for isolated tornadoes, not to mention, of course, the large hail, pounding winds out there and heavy rain.

The other story continues to be the huge heat wave over the Northeast. Look at these, 22 degrees above normal in Boston today. We're still talking about 13 degrees above normal even in D.C. But there is some good news. This is what I want to show you, it's too hot out there. And notice as we go through the air. Some cool air.

So, 60s will be on the way, but it will take a couple days to get there. We'll get there, guys.

ROMANS: It's going to be hot in Boston this weekend, Berman.

BERMAN: Yes, I know.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Indra.

BERMAN: All right. First on CNN, a new development in the Boston marathon bombings. CNN has obtained video of the Tsarnaev brothers working out together, only days before the attack.

First on CNN here: Security cameras at the Y Pro Mixed Martial Arts Center in Boston show the Tsarnaevs arriving with a friend, just before 2:45 p.m. on Friday, April 12t, the bombing was on Monday.

The manager says Tamerlan, who was seen wearing that hat there, he looked different. He apparently shaved off his beard that he before. Now, before they even get started with their workout, Tamerlan is seen getting into a fight, an argument with the manager about taking his shoes off, which is apparently a policy at the gym.

And then the brothers begin their workout. Tamerlan's years of training as a golden glove boxer is apparent in the video very nimble with the jump rope there, certainly much more so than his brother who seems to have some problems with it.

ROMANS: And it's really the first time we've seen them together, except for the still photos of them walking down Boylston Street, the moments just before -- just before the bombings.

CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem is with us this morning from Boston.

What do you take from this new footage? Seventy-two hours before the bombing, they're working out?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the brothers are pretty very calm, which is consistent with what we know about them now. They seemed a little bit too casual about the terrorist attacks. I think that there's some statement by members of the gym, that Tamerlan, the older brother had shave, which is also consistent with at least some sense that he was going to do a terrorist attack, if not actually die in that incident or later on.

But it's just -- it's odd. I mean, as we all know, their behavior leading up to the attack. They didn't try to hide. They weren't staying away from people and then, of course, afterward with the four days we had in Boston with their -- you know, the fact that they had no exit strategy.

But you just see Tamerlan. He's -- you know, we know now from his biography, he was a bully. Very belligerent. The martial arts is consistent with that. And the fight that he has leading into the gym seems to be part of the narrative.

ROMANS: Yes, so interesting when you talk about the manager of the gym saying, you know, he didn't want to ask him about the beard being gone, because he didn't want to get into a long, drawn out conversation that could be contentious with him. And they had this argument about taking his shoes off.

I mean, it almost seems as though this is a guy walking around with a big chip on his shoulder.

KAYYEM: Yes. That's exactly right. Consistent with what we're finding out about Tamerlan. He was the more aggressive brother obviously, he was the ring leader and everyone who encountered him found him -- from his wife to associates to people at the gym, you know, he was a violent guy.

And whether there is any clues in the fact that he shaved or his behavior beforehand, that's being investigated right now. But, you know, when we look at the sort of individual terrorist attacks, brothers who sort of, you know, planned this attack, they seem to be very, very casual about it. And that I think is the most sort of scary thing about the investigation going on right now.

ROMANS: Just watching these pictures, so sort of creepy, because he's so nonchalant. The bomb has made, the plan has been set, the date chosen, and he's just relaxed and loose.

You know, the manager also told CNN, the employees of this center gave FBI agents the name of Ibragim Todashev. That's a friend of Tsarnaevs who was killed during FBI questioning last week.

Knowing what we know now, that the Tsarnaev are in multiple federal watch list, do you think federal authorities should have been watching them more closely maybe?

KAYYEM: It's hard to tell at this stage, what is coming out. I mean, obviously, Todashev had not been at the gym a couple of years. That information only came out after the bombings.

But, you know, what we also know -- at least from the younger brother's interviews, what's leaked so far, they chose the Boston marathon. Remember, we learned this about a month ago, a few days before the Boston marathon. They had their sights on July 4th. So, not only are they casual in these pictures, they have just sort of decided almost at this simultaneous moment that they would do this attack on Monday. They thought that they were going to do the July 4th events, but bombs were made quicker.

So, I think all of those pieces are being linked and obviously, whatever information we can get out of the younger brother will be important to sort of set up what we could have known at the time. But it's clear that the gym manager certainly knew that the older brother as we have been saying, was a guy you did not want to approach or mess with for a variety of reasons.

ROMANS: All right, Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst -- nice so to see you this morning, thanks.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

BERMAN: Ahead here on STARTING POINT, we had more incredible video to show and just the past two hours, two planes have crashed directly into homes. Just look at that. The amazing thing here? Everyone survived. So, what's going on here?

ROMANS: And first, Justin Bieber accused of speeding through his neighborhood. Then his car is pulled over for missing a front license plate. And now, hey, the Biebs is refusing to speak with police. Why won't he talk? And what's he doing?

You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

Some incredible pictures to show you this morning, not one but two small planes crashing into homes overnight. Even more incredible perhaps, no one killed.

This morning, two terrifying sites, planes lodged into homes on two separate coasts. In Herndon, Virginia, this morning, a small two- passenger plane traveling from Philadelphia to Manassas, Virginia, nose dived straight into the top floor of this three-story apartment building. CNN affiliate WJLA reporting three people were hospitalized with just minor injuries, the two on board and one person who was in the apartment at the time of the crash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

And less than five hours earlier, another terrifying incident, a plane lodged directly into the front door of this Washington State home. The plane totaled after an impact so loud it terrified neighbors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got up and ran to the door and heard the impact.

ROMANS: The home's front busted in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like somebody has shot a cannon.

ROMANS: The pilot and passenger incredibly safe, walking away with no injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We run across here and jumped the fence, and the guys who just flown into the house were getting out of the plane.

ROMANS: It happened last night as the Cessna 172 was approaching landing at a nearby airfield when something went wrong. The NTSB is now on the scene, trying to determine just what caused that crash.

Recent incident, but we've seen this before, in the land Florida last year, a small plane plunged right through the roof of a Publix Grocery Store, injuring three shoppers and two people on board. Credibly, though, no fatalities. Frantic eyewitnesses inundated 911 with calls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God! What's going on at the Publix?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God! An airplane just went into the Publix.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: And in August of 2012, another small single engine plane crashed into a residential street in Long Island, New York, less than a mile after takeoff. Police scanner audio captured the frenzied moments just after the impact.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: headquarters, we've got a downed plane, hit a dumpster. There's a man inside burning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: One passenger survived, but the pilot and a second passenger were killed in that crash. Back in Washington, on lookers are still wondering just how anyone could have walked away from this wreckage. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The plane is obviously pretty badly damaged. It's hard to survive, you know, a crash in a small plane like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (on-camera): Everyone incredibly lucky in today's event, and you know, most of the time when these happen, when these events happen, just shortly after takeoff or just before landing, at the beginning or the ending of a flight. Sometimes happens very near to airports because of that factor, but very, very glad to say that today, injuries, no fatalities.

BERMAN: Yes. When you look at the pictures, that's still so amazing that everyone survived.

Seventeen minutes after the hour. Here's a look at what is trending this morning. Another shakeup at "American Idol." Brace yourselves. Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj both confirm neither around for a second season. Just tragic news. Veteran judge, Randy Jackson, also exited this year, leaving just Keith Urban.

Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, of course, they were on and off the set all season, but their feud apparently did not translate into higher ratings. "Idol" recorded record-low audience for its season finale in May. No word yet on replacements.

ROMANS: The French kiss may be France's most popular export, but there's never been an official French word for it until now. Do not start laughing, Berman or I will not get through this. The one word verb galoche that translates to kiss with tongues is among the new entries in a just release 2014 edition of the Petit Robert French dictionary.

In case, you're wondering, the English term for French kiss is thought to have originated when soldiers returning home from Europe after the First World War. Apparently learn something new.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Every picture we showed there which is not the first thing that comes to mind when you say French kiss.

ROMANS: Berman, I'm not going to (ph) talking about French kissing with you.

BERMAN: Let's keep here with me.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: There's a lot of conversation about French kissing this morning. BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, the Department of Transportation weighing on lifting its -- something about self-driving cars, lifting a ban on self-driving cars? They say they appear to be safe, but it could be a while before you get a chance to ride one.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. "Minding Your Business." Dow futures taking a hit this morning, down about 70 points because unemployment in Europe coming in at a record high. It's now 12.2 percent in the Euro Zone. In the U.S., unemployment 7.5 percent.

So, obviously some concerns, things keep worsening in Europe. That's not good overall. S&P 500 that was still set to end higher for the seventh straight month. That has been a very good rally.

The government has taken a close look at self-driving cars and putting out a list of proposed rules and regulations. The National Traffic Safety Administration plans to research the technology. It also recommends state require a separate driver's license for self-driving cars.

BERMAN: Who gets the license?

ROMANS: Google has an early prototype of what GM, Toyota, and Audi are developing now. Look, the technology there, the companies have been working for a long time on driverless vehicles. I mean, in agriculture, they're already doing some really amazing things. Would you, you know, have a driverless car in the road?

So, government thinks that might happen and they want to make sure to have rules and regulations, but who do you license? That's the question.

BERMAN: I just like the idea of a car having its own license.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Thank you, Michael.

The Motor City is out of money. In fact, Detroit is so broke that the governor of Michigan had to appoint an emergency manager to oversee the city's finances. And with the debt there approaching $16 billion, just about everything could be on the auction block. Poppy Harlow reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM (voice-over): Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Diego Rivera's iconic Detroit industry. Treasures at the Detroit Institute of Art.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, this is a Monet. HARLOW: A Monet that could be sold to pay down Detroit's debt. More than $15 billion in debt, Detroit's emergency manager, Kevin Orr, asked the museum for an inventory to appraise its 60,000 pieces.

GRAHAM BEAL, DIRECTOR, THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS: They basically let us know that the collection was not off the table.

HARLOW (on-camera): What makes Detroit unique is that the city actually owns all of the art here, making it vulnerable for sale. In most cities, a non-profit owns the art.

(voice-over) In a statement, Orr insists there is no plan on the table to sell any asset of the city but says it is possible that the city's creditors could demand the city use its assets to settle its debts. That's if Detroit files for bankruptcy.

LAURA BARTELL, LAW PROFESSOR, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY: He has got to look at what assets Detroit has, what they are worth, and whether they should be sold?

HARLOW: Would it be irresponsible for him not to do this?

BARTELL: Absolutely.

HARLOW: But the possibility of selling off beloved masterpieces is sparking heated debate.

What would the sale of this mean?

BEAL: It would be a tragic irony. The first U.S. museum to acquire a Van Gogh in 1922, and then, 90 years later, we sell it.

CHARLES PUGH, DETROIT CIRTY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: How in the hell are you going to sell a Renoir or a Van Gogh or a Jacob Lawrence painting to pay our bills? Selling your artwork should not be one way to fix it. It's like selling your kids.

HARLOW: What power do you have?

BEAL: We the power of the courts. We will defend. We'll do everything we can to defend the integrity of this collection.

HARLOW: Poppy Harlow, CNN, Detroit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: So, that collection is estimated to be worth billions of dollars. The American Alliance Museum calls it one of the best in the country and says you cannot overestimate the strength of that collection. People in three Michigan counties actually voted last year to increase their own taxes to support the museum when the city no longer could. But, if Detroit goes bankrupt, nothing may be able to save these masterpieces from the auction block.

ROMANS: It just shows you the depth of the problem, the depth of the financial problem there. And when you look at Greece, Greece talking about selling islands. You know, you sell your natural resources. You sell your art. It just shows you how dangerous those budget problems have become.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, Justin Bieber won't talk to police after he was accused of driving recklessly. Is his recent behavior a threat to others and himself?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

Up first, we have breaking news. The Arizona mother accused of drug smuggling, she is finally free this morning from a Mexican jail. A judge in Nogaes released Yanira Maldonado overnight. She was arrested last week after authorities claimed they had discovered 12 pounds of marijuana under her bus seat.

Rafael Romo who has been covering the inside story here is live from Nogales, Arizona this morning. Rafael, what is the latest?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it has been a very emotional and at the same time joyful morning for Yanira Maldonado. And it's also been a couple of very difficult weeks for her. Try to imagine this, she attended the funeral of her aunt in Mexico a couple of weeks ago. On her way back, she gets arrested and accused of smuggling drugs, specifically, marijuana.