Graham: ‘Ball was dropped’ in probe of Tamerlan Tsarnaev
April 21st, 2013
12:51 PM ET
12 months ago

Graham: ‘Ball was dropped’ in probe of Tamerlan Tsarnaev

(CNN) - The federal government messed up following the FBI’s investigation of Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday.

The agency was looking into Tsarnaev’s extremist ties two years ago.

“The ball was dropped in one of two ways,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In 2011, the FBI interviewed Tsarnaev after Russian authorities alerted the U.S. government, according to a senior U.S. official.

Tsarnaev, 26, died early Friday after a shootout with police. His younger brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – also suspected in the bombings and other crimes in Boston last week – is hospitalized under federal custody and could be arraigned at his bedside Sunday.

The senator from South Carolina said the FBI either “missed a lot of things” in its investigation, or federal laws did not allow the FBI to “follow up in a sound, solid way.”

Tsarnaev, who’s ethnically Chechen, traveled to Russia for six months in 2012. Some, including House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, have argued that Tsarnaev was already being radicalized and received further training during that trip.

Graham said the elder Tsarnaev should have been flagged after the FBI interview and tracked during his visit overseas.

“It's people like this that you don't want to let out of your sight, and this was a mistake. I don't know if our laws were inefficient or if the FBI failed, but we're at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game,” the senator said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, agreed there needs to be an examination of why Tsarnaev’s activity was not closely monitored in such a way to prevent last week’s terror attack that left three people dead and more than 170 wounded. Authorities also believe the brothers were involved in the shooting death of an MIT police officer Thursday.

“While the FBI has done a very good job over the last 10 years, I think there are questions that have to be answered,” Schumer said.

“Why wasn't he interviewed when he came back?”

Another Republican, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, said Sunday the FBI did their "due diligence" when it checked into concerns about his "possible radicalization." But Rogers said the case came to a halt when the Russians, who had tipped off the U.S. about Tsarnaev, stopped "cooperating."

"(The FBI) did a very thorough job about trying to run that to the ground," Rogers said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "(They) then asked (for) some more help from that intelligence service to try to get further clarification and, unfortunately, that intelligence service stopped cooperating. So what happens is that case gets closed down."

He added that Tsarnaev may have had traveled on an alias when he left the U.S., making it difficult to be tracked.

Responding to a report that Tsarnaev took other trips in addition to his travels in 2012, McCaul told CNN that last year's trip is the only one "that's been made public at this point in time."

"Obviously my biggest concern are other trips," he said. "I could speculate that he was probably going over there more often. We don't have - I don't have the evidence of that just yet. But that's obviously an area of focus. I know the intelligence community is scrubbing through all their records and that travel is very important."

– CNN's Lindy Royce-Bartlet contributed to this report.

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

soundoff (400 Responses)
  1. nadinesh

    Also, the FBI checked out the lead thoroughly, found NOTHING, and went back to the Russians for more information. The Russians never responded. They get thousands and thousands of leads like this. They have stopped a number of home-grown plots because of it. Lindsay Graham should be ashamed of himself! Is this just an attempt to divert our attention from his bizarre un-constitutional call to treat an American citizen as an "enemy combatant" yesterday? Loser.

    April 21, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  2. Mary

    Thank you Mr. Graham for giving us the usual excuses... Yawn ...

    April 21, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  3. Richard Carpenter

    It did not take long for a senator to question whether the government has enough legal authority to follow a suspect. The Patriot Act is not enough for these 'protectors of freedom'. What he wants takes more government resources and of course they cannot get out of each others way to proclaim the need to reduce the resources and size of government. That means reduced resources for the FBI and CIA. They have the laws, they need the manpower. A comment on the gun laws here. It is required for most jobs that the applicant has a background check,,,,, just to get a job. To buy a lethal weapon of mass destruction, no background check needed. There are insufficient resources available to make adequate background checks in the first place. Another thing, Texas votes against government assistance for Hurricane Sandy. They fall over themselves asking for federal aid after the West Texas fertilizer explosion disaster. To quote Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in the movie 'Tombstone', "It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds".

    April 21, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  4. ug

    Keep politicians out of this...all they do is toot their horns...libs or GOP...

    April 21, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  5. Steve R

    Sen Graham is always happiest when he can impeach someone or something. Just don't ask him to promote anything positive for the common good.

    April 21, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  6. Tom

    Tough words from a Senator. Hard to criticize the actions of the senate, since there haven't been any.

    April 21, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  7. Uncle Bob

    Easy to Monday morning quarterback. It was investigated.

    April 21, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  8. Robert

    What a nerve. The Republicans in the Senate has been dropping the ball on governing this nation for the last 15 years and especially since Obama was elected. How dare Lindsay Graham point fingers at anyone.

    April 21, 2013 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Great article captain hindsight!

    April 21, 2013 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  10. Whataboutit

    Graham worries about the laws being inefficient to go after a US citizen but he votes against background checks for guns! Quit talking out of both sides of your mouth! If there was a mistake made, that is tragic, but I absolutely believe that his comments as well as those by Republicans McCaul and King are politically motivated. I am sure that every day the FBI stops terrorists plots, but they don't advertise it. That would be irresponsible.

    April 21, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  11. bam

    no sir, u dropped the ball... come join us in the 20th century sometime

    April 21, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  12. charles

    Since when does congress have any room to speak on doing your job. How long has it been since they did theirs?

    April 21, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  13. Michael

    Senator Lindsey Graham (who is up for re-election in S. Carolina in 2014) said the FBI dropped the ball because of an isolated bombing attack on US soil? Two years ago when the FBI talked with Tamerlan Tsarnaev he obviously wasn't a threat. You can't read someone's mind Sen Graham. And, you are doing this country and every citizen a disservice by condemning the FBI for the incredible work they did to find out who committed the bombings. At the time, Tamerlan was on his way toward becoming a US citizen, wanted to compete in the Olympics, and was married to a 'white' woman – sure sounds like a threat doesn't he? According to you the FBI should have read his mind because he follows Islam? Even if his mind wasn't made up at that time.
    Let me give you a lesson in US government investigative procedures. Someone needs to have committed a crime, or be actively carrying out plans for a crime in order "to do something" about them planning such an attack. I know that your voting record doesn't exactly support equal rights of non-white, non-male US citizens, but that does not mean the FBI feels the same way. They were following the law, sir.
    Senator Lindsey Graham should not be in charge of U.S. public policy if he does not understand how it works. Maybe he should try living in one of the EU countries where they endure terrorist attacks every year – some every few months. Instead, Sen Graham is living safe and sound in the US where our FBI and CIA keep us save from regular events like that. There will always be individuals whose planning goes undetected. But, what about all of the horrible events the FBI has saved us from (your family included) that we never hear about because THEY DID NOT HAPPEN? Shame on you Sen. Lindsey Graham.

    April 21, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  14. Laughing Skeptic

    I'm usually one of the first to poke fun at the FBI, but lets be realistic, resources are scarce. The best way to free up resources for counter terrorism is to stop spending them on the 'war on drugs'. This sort of hind-sight 20/20 arm chair quarterbacking is silly coming from a senator who has more influence (via budgets and laws) over the FBI's priorities than the FBI itself does.

    April 21, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  15. Fed Up

    Perhaps they should turn to our congress as a model of how they should work Mr. Senator.

    April 21, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  16. Rufus

    This Graham guy is doing nothing but politicizing this event.

    April 21, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  17. MarkS101

    Graham has been hanging around Schumer too much and now the second most dangerous place to be is between Sen. Graham and a TV camera

    April 21, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  18. Badger

    It is sad that instead of supporting our law enforcement, this Republican senator just wants to point fingers and blame. Go back under the rock

    April 21, 2013 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  19. vidal808

    Of course the Republican Senator knows everything. Like most of the Republicans, blame somebody else and find wrongdoing by the Feds. If it would be for the Repubs we would have no FBI, no Government at all, just a bunch of gun tooting morons on the streets looking for law and order.

    April 21, 2013 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  20. EdwardTr

    Graham is blustering form 20/20 hindsight. It is too early to tell if FBI drop the ball or not. We do not even know if FBI had a ball to drop.

    April 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  21. El Tejano

    Mark my words, this is only the beginning of the right wing attempt of blaming the Obama administrating for this tragic event they will play politics out of this tragedy

    April 21, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  22. LOL

    How any Senator can come forward and say someone else "dropped the ball" is the biggest hypocrasy EVER!

    April 21, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  23. janina

    if there was no evidence against him at the time how did they drop the ball?

    April 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  24. James

    HSI should take over national security branch end of story.

    April 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  25. 4sanity

    Some perspective:
    Deaths and injuries from Boston bombings: 3 deaths, >100 injured.
    Sandyhook deaths: 26 (including 20 children)
    Gun deaths since Sandyhook (as of 4/17/2013): 3,530 i.e. more than all US combat deaths from the 10 year Afghanistan war.

    So Senator Graham, if you claim the FBI dropped the ball in following up on interviews with Tsarnaev, then what are we to make of your (lack of) action as a US Senator regarding gun control legislation. You quite literally have blood on your hands.

    April 21, 2013 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
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