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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Gets New Lawyer; Report: Female DNA Found On Bomb Parts; Tamerlan Tsarnaev Linked To Plotnikov?; Michael Jackson Wrongful Death Trial; U.S. Military Exercises With South Korea End; 7- Year-Old Battling Cancer Meets Obama; King Willem Alexander Of The Netherlands; No Bail For Man Accused Of Possessing Ricin; Top Secret America

Aired April 30, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: She has some high profile clients in the past, including Susan Smith, who was convicted of drowning her two children. This Judith Clarke also represented unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Tucson shooter Jared Loughner. All these high profile clients avoided the death penalty getting life sentences, instead.

We're now joined by Richard Barrett. He's the former director of Counterterrorism Operations for MI-6 and director of the Suppan Group. Richard, let me start by asking you about this DNA evidence. Investigators saying they're finding evidence of female DNA on one of the explosive devices. They're looking at the wife of the suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev. How many different ways can DNA get on a device like this?

RICHARD BARRETT, FORMER DIRECTOR, MI6 COUNTER TERRORIST OPERATIONS: Well, it could be put there by somebody in the shop from which he bought it, I guess. It could be put by somebody who is handling it in some other way or even, I guess, it could be put there by a victim of the bomb itself, in that the fragment may have connected with somebody, and left their DNA on it. So there are various possibilities as to how it got on there.

BERMAN: Of course, one of the things they're trying to look into is if this woman, Katherine Russell, the wife, what she may have known in the days leading up to or after the attacks. One of the things she says is that she doesn't speak Russian well so she wasn't aware of whatever conversations Tamerlan Tsarnaev may or may not have been having. But how realistic is it to suggest that she knew nothing about what was going on there?

BARRETT: Well, it's not surprising that he was married and had a small child, because that actually is a feature of several people who've committed this sort of atrocity. And often in those cases, the wife has not known anything about it at all. If you go back to the London bombings of 2005, for example, two of those four people there who committed those attacks were married.

And both of them had children. And in both cases, there was no charge brought against the wife. So I wouldn't at all exclude that she knew nothing about it. On the other hand, of course, there are instances where those relatives did know about the plans. But, from what I've seen so far, I'm sure that the investigators are doing a very thorough job of looking into this. But I'm sure they're not jumping to a conclusion that she actually had some involvement.

BERMAN: That's right. Very possible perhaps that she did know it all. I want to shift focus now to Russia and what went on there during those six months that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was over in Dagestan in the Russian caucasus because we're learning overnight that he had possible contact with a Canadian, a man who Russians say was a Jihadist, a man killed there right during that time that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in the region. Is that just too much of a coincidence?

BARRETT: Well, it certainly is a coincidence. I mean, the fact of the matter is that most plots don't have necessarily a foreign connection. But almost all plots do have some sort of group, some sort of local group that are involved in some way in radicalizing the individuals concerned, or in discussing with them perhaps their plans even not getting directly involved.

One can't rule out that Tamerlan met people in Dagestan, or even went to Dagestan to meet people who in some way increased his radicalization. I think at the moment what we know, just by William Plotnikov is too vague to say that he had some sort of direct involvement, and certainly we haven't heard that from the Russian authorities.

You can imagine that the Russian authorities would be taking a very close look at this themselves. So, it's a very interesting development, but again, unfortunately, I think it's too early to jump to any conclusion about his significance.

BERMAN: All right, it is a very interesting development and we want to speak more of that. Richard Barrett, the Soufan group, former official for MI6. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

Let's stick though on the possible Russian connection because there is this potential new development overnight that federal investigators want to explore. Did the Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev ever know this man named William Plotnikov.

Our Nic Robertson is live this morning in Dagestan. Nic, what do we know about this man? When he was in the region and where might that contact with Tamerlan Tsarnaev have occurred?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was certainly in the region at the same time as Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He was here about 2010, according to his family, and he died in a shoot-out with six other rebels here with security forces in July last year. And that was his death came just two days after Tsarnaev left this area, went back to the United States.

So there is, you know, the possibility you can hear, possible sort of cause and effect there. Now both men shared the fact that their families had moved them to North America. Tamerlan to the United States, Plotnikov had moved to Canada with his parents. Both of them were boxers. Both of them are now following this sort of radical branch of Islam. The question is, did they share anything else more than that on the ground here? And that's something -- that is what the investigators are focusing on. There is another connection here, a potential connection with a possible recruiter, according to some local news articles here.

A half Palestinian Mahmoud Nidal, known according to these newspaper articles through Russian security services as a recruiter. Possibly, possibly Tsarnaev met with him. That's another point that investigators will be looking at -- John.

BERMAN: Still in the blank of that six-month period that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was overseas in the region. It is fascinating to learn the details as they come out almost every day. Nic Robertson for us live this morning in Dagestan. Thanks so much, Nic, to you.

Let's go back to New York now with Christine Romans with the rest of the day's top stories. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again, John. Police in Michigan this morning combing through dozens of leads in the search for a missing gas station attendant. Investigators believe 25-year- old Jessica Heringo was abducted from her job at an Exxon Mobil gas station as she prepared to close up shop Friday night. Police are searching for a silver minivan that was seen at the station just a few minutes before she disappeared.

Witness testimony about to get under way in the Michael Jackson wrongful death civil trial. A suit filed by Jackson's mother claims concert promoter AEG Live is liable to the tune of $40 billion for the pop star's death. Both sides in opening their statements were playing the blame game. CNN's Kyung Lah has more from Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You could barely see Jackson family members amid the crush of cameras. They arrived at the wrongful death civil trial, the familiar circus that follows Michael Jackson, even beyond the grave. Part of the performer's rehearsal for his ill-fated "This Is It" tour was the first video clip played by his family's lawyer during opening statements.

Jackson's mother, Katherine, and her three grandchildren, Paris, Prince Michael and Blanket, say concert promoter AEG Live was a greedy commercial enterprise that put profits ahead of Jackson's health by hiring and controlling Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for injecting the insomniac pop star with a lethal dose of the anesthetic Propofol.

Seated in the court's first row, 82-year-old Katherine Jackson listened as her lawyer told the jury, AEG ignored the obvious red flags and they hired Dr. Murray. They were ruthless and they wanted to be number one at all costs. The Jacksons say AEG Live should pay. On the witness list, Jackson's defense attorney in his child molestation trial. THOMAS MESEREAU, JACKSON'S CRIMINAL ATTORNEY: The question is what was Michael Jackson's life worth? He died at 50 years of age. He was the son of a wonderful woman, Katherine Jackson, the father of three beautiful children. What was his life worth? It was worth quite a bit. He was the best-known celebrity on the planet.

LAH: But AEG Live Defense Attorney Marvin Putnam told jurors the blame in Jackson's death lies with Jackson. Promising the case will get ugly. Putnam said Jackson ex-wife Debbie Rowe helped administer Propofol ten years ago and his decades-long use of the drug was Jackson's deepest, darkest secret.

They didn't see this coming. They had no idea, said Putnam. They were a concert promoter. How could they know?

(on camera): The next step, testimony begins in what promises to be a star-studded line-up from Sharon Osborne to Spike Lee and Jackson ex- wife Lisa Marie Presley. This trial could last well into the summer. Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Next hour, we'll hear from Tom Mesereau who represented Jackson in the 2005 child molestation trial.

Joint military drills between the United States and South Korea officially ended this morning, but South Korea's Defense Ministry says that nation remains on guard due to threatening statements North Korea has made over the last few weeks.

Take a look at the mother of all potholes an Interstate 81 in Virginia. A 20-foot wide sinkhole opened up on the shoulder of a highway near Lexington, Virginia. Officials say this cave-in damaged underground drainage pipes and could take a few days to repair.

His name is Jack Hoffman. He's the 7-year-old cancer patient who became a national sensation when he scored a 69-yard touchdown at a Nebraska football game earlier this year. Now he gets to cross another major achievement off his list, meeting the president. Look at this touching photo. Hoffman, who is battling brain cancer, traveled to the White House, recently spend some time in the Oval Office with President Obama.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, something rarely seen, just a few hours ago a queen abdicating her throne in favor of her son. Why? We're live in Amsterdam with the ceremony and the details.

Then intelligence agencies have been accused of dropping the ball by not intercepting one of the Boston bombing suspects. Ahead, a new "Frontline" investigation at what federal agencies are doing to keep us safe from terror attacks. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Happening now, a new monarch in the Netherlands, King Willem Alexander, he ascended to the throne this morning after his mother Queen Beatrix abdicated. Max Foster, royal correspondent for CNN international is in Amsterdam this morning. Good morning, Max. How is the country reacting to the news?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they've gone wild. Well at least at the scene behind me it took ages to get up here because the crowds were enormous, all wearing orange. I sort of joined in to a limited extent and yes, it was amazing.

I was outside the palace where we saw King Willem-Alexander for the very first time on the balcony and the crowds went absolutely crazy. A very, very popular monarch, the queen was, and also he's popular, as well, so people generally very happy with this transition.

But as we speak, special guests gathering in the new church, ready for the investiture. They don't crown their monarchs here. Instead the monarch reads out an oath. And we've got crown princes and princesses from all over the world gathering here to witness it. And it's a special, joint session of parliament to give it the formality it needs to become a state event so a very exciting day here -- Christine.

ROMANS: New Dutch king. Thanks so much, Max Foster, for following that for us.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, how safe are we? A new frontline investigation looks at why intelligence agencies were unable to prevent key terror attacks on the U.S. from 9/11 to the Boston marathon bombings. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. No bail this morning for the man accused of sending letters laced with the poison ricin to President Obama and two other people. Federal judge in Mississippi has scheduled a preliminary hearing Thursday for 41-year-old James Everett Dutschke. He's charged with possessing and using ricin, a toxic substance. Dutschke allegedly mailed the letters to the president, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, and a local Mississippi judge.

New video shows just how far drug smugglers will go to get their product into the United States. The nearly 1200-foot long tunnel was supposed to connect a warehouse in Tijuana, Mexico, with another one in San Diego. It featured an elevator and its own rail system to transport drug shipments. The operation was shut down by the Mexican army before the drug dealers could finish the job. But they got close, tunneling within yards of the U.S. border.

Let's get to John Berman in Boston. He is following new developments unfolding this hour in the Boston marathon bombing investigation. Good morning, John.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Christine. So you know, in the wake of the Boston bombings, there have been a lot of serious questions about what more the U.S. intelligence agencies could have done to prevent the attack. The front line special tonight, which looks at what federal agencies are doing to keep America safe from terror attacks, this is called "Top Secret America, 9/11 to the Boston bombings," and in an inclusive reporting by Dana Priest, the Pulitzer Prize winning "Washington Post" reporter. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we want to do is turn all of the local and state law enforcement personnel into the tipsters for the FBI into the front line foot soldiers looking for possible terrorists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Dana Priest joins us this morning. Dana, I'm so glad you are here because you have studied the intelligence systems in the United States over the last 10 years about as much as anyone. So when you heard that the Russian intelligence service called the FBI and said, FBI, you should look into Tamerlan Tsavraev, that the FBI had contact and investigated Tsarnaev two years before the bombings. What does that say to you?

DANA PRIEST, REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, it said that they had a file on him that was supposed to go, stay active, even if they found nothing. Because these days if someone like the Russians or other foreign governments bring information to the FBI's attention it is supposed to go into a repository that basically never gets closed.

And the whole idea is maybe you don't know right now if any of the information amounts to much, but you leave it there so when you get more information, pretty soon one-and-one equals two and maybe you are more suspicious.

The other thing that we know in this case is that it wasn't just the FBI that got information from the Russians. It was also the CIA and they did two very different things with it. You know, to answer the question, was the ball dropped? You have to figure out where the ball went.

Did it end up where it really needs to end up? With a specialist analysis person at the National Counterterrorism Center, something that was built after 9/11, who is a specialist in Chechnya, they have them for various terrorist groups and various parts of the Middle East. Do they have an analyst that looks at every clue from Chechnya?

People who travel two and from the country we known this case at least not all the agencies were sharing with one another. We know that the border patrol, for instance, was tipped off that he had come back into the country after his visit. They told the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is another organization that was built after 9/11.

There is actually something like 120 of these terrorism task forces throughout the country. They are supposed to look into that, and communicate and find out whether the National Counterterrorism Center, yet another agency that was built after 9/11, you know, is concerned and then they are supposed to pulse the community and hopefully they have some sources in the Boston community of maybe Muslims, Chechens to see if anyone knows anything and really we haven't seen any information that that was done.

So we can't really tell whether they completely dropped the ball, but it's still looks like this huge, massive complex that was built after 9/11 is still not really communicating in the best way with the other branches of it.

BERMAN: Well, I was going to ask you because the "Frontline" special does cover this. You brought up the issue of sharing. Have the intelligence agencies learned the lesson of 9/11? Are they sharing like we were told they were supposed to now more than 10 years ago?

PRIEST: You know, I think they share when they have a particular mission. So if you look at the Bin Laden raid, the lesson there is you put people on a very narrow and deep subject. Bin Laden, or Chechnyans or Hezbollah, and they become specialists in it and understand and learn who throughout the government is a specialist in that area.

There are places in the government where that happens, and those are the places where things work well. When it doesn't work well is when you still have people who are not specialists in an area, combing the waterfront, this idea that the police there are the ones that found the younger brother, again, an alert American who did that.

Not this multi-layered bureaucracy that was created after 9/11. In fact, it became so big, you have to say, still is it crushing under its own weight? Does it need to be streamlined even more and really built upon experts in particular fields?

BERMAN: These are the questions. These may be the lessons of the Boston bombings, so long after we dealt with the lessons of 9/11. Dana Priest, thank you so much to you. The documentary is, "Top Secret America, 9/11 to the Boston Bombings" that's on "Frontline." Appreciate you being here, Dana.

PRIEST: Thanks.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, ahead on STARTING POINT, he never set out to be the first active, openly, gay player in a pro sports team. But now that NBA veteran, Jason Collins, has done it. The question is what is next for him, what's next for the league? We're going to get reaction to this historic revelation from Collins' high school coach.

And testimony expected to begin in just a few hours in the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial. We're going to talk with Jackson's former Criminal Attorney Tom Mesereau, who is also a potential witness in this civil case. So many twists and turns to this. We'll tell you all about it. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman live in Boston this morning. Our STARTING POINT right now, a big development in the Boston bombing investigation. A DNA belonging to a woman found on part of a pressure cooker bomb and now investigators are looking more closely at the dead suspect's wife.

Then an American athlete makes history coming out as gay while still active in one of the major American sports league. Has NBA player Jason Collins knocked down the barrier for closeted professional athletes? We're going to speak with Rick Welts. He is the president and COO of the Golden State Warriors. We're also going to speak to Jason Collins' high school coach, Greg Hilliard.

Plus, the civil trial into Michael Jackson's death is under way and the defense promises it is going to get ugly. We will speak with a possible witness, Attorney Tom Mesereau. He represented Jackson in his 2005 child molestation trial.