Graham backs off FBI criticism over bombing suspect
April 22nd, 2013
10:53 AM ET
5 years ago

Graham backs off FBI criticism over bombing suspect

(CNN) – Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said Sunday the FBI may have dropped the ball in its investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, began easing off that claim Monday, saying instead the agency "responsibly handled" the situation.

The Republican senator from South Carolina said he talked to the assistant director of the FBI after he made his assertions Sunday and had some of his questions answered, including why the case was cleared and how Tsarnaev may have been able to travel to Russia in 2012, a 'misspelling' keeping his name from getting flagged.

Tsarnaev and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, are the two prime suspects in last week's Boston Marathon bombing. Tsnaraev died following a shootout with police Thursday night, while his younger brother, 19, is hospitalized and in federal custody.

Graham was one of many lawmakers- including Republicans and Democrats-who demanded answers from the FBI on what happened following their investigation of Tsarnaev in 2011. Russian authorities tipped off the FBI that Tsarnaev, who's ethnically Chechan but came to the U.S. from Kyrgyzstan, may be becoming radicalized.

Tsarnaev traveled to Russia for six months in 2012. Some have argued that he was already being radicalized and received further training during that trip.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Graham told Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley 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."

But on Monday, Graham apparently had some of his questions answered. In an interview with CNN's Jim Acosta, the Republican senator confirmed he talked to the assistant director of the FBI after he made his assertions Sunday. The FBI interviewed Tsarnaev, his parents, and the people he went to school with, Graham said Monday.

"They put his name through the system and they sent back this information to the Russians and said, 'Do you have anything else?' And they never got a reply back," he said.

Graham was also fuming Sunday that a red flag wasn't placed on Tsarnaev when he left the country the following a year. But on Monday, he said that was apparently because of a misspelling reported by the Russian airline, Aeroflot.

"It didn't get into the system because of a misspelling," he told CNN. "Now whether or not he intentionally changed his name or Aeroflot just got the spelling wrong, I don't know. That's to be determined."

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told CNN she's calling for a hearing with the FBI to find out when Russia called to ask about Tsarnaev, as well a host of other questions.

"What did he do when he went back for six months? Did he sit in his aunt and uncle's home for six months, or was he doing something else? And when he came back to this country, why didn't it ring a bell with the FBI intelligence unit that he should be checked out and vetted again?"

"The (Department of Homeland Security) clearly denied him to be naturalized as a citizen for some reason so I think, not to criticize because I am a big fan of the FBI's, but to go back and see that we plug loopholes is really critical," she added.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney repeated a statement from the FBI during the daily press briefing Monday, saying the agency "thoroughly investigated" the information it received from Russia in 2011.

In addition to interviews with Tsarnaev and his family members, the FBI says it checked databases, phone conversations, travel history and plans, and associations with persons of interest.

At the time, Carney said, they "did not find any terrorism activity, domestic or foreign."

As for apparent warning signs that occurred within the last year, such as YouTube postings of radical Islamists, Graham said the FBI told him "they have limitations on what they can do."

"So maybe it's the system failed, didn't provide the FBI with the tools, or maybe they didn't use it properly," he added. "That's why maybe we need to find out what happened."

His comments sounded similar to those made by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who defended the FBI on Sunday, saying on NBC the agency "did their due diligence" but Russian authorities "stopped cooperating" when the U.S. sought further clarification. Rogers also said they believed Tsarnaev may have traveled overseas on an alias.

Graham said Monday that the country needs to revisit its laws for how it investigates extremism on U.S. soil.

"I don't want a police state, but I want a nation where the police can protect us," he said on "Fox and Friends."

The senator reiterated his stance that he wants the younger Tsarnaev to be held as an "enemy combatant," so authorities can question him without a lawyer present for intelligence purposes. That information, he insisted, could not be used against him in court.

"When we're trying to defend ourselves against enemy attacks, you don't give people lawyers," he argued. "Lawyers are for criminal process. We're talking about national security information being gathered here. And you don't have a right to a lawyer there."

But Carney announced Monday he "will not be treated as an enemy combatant."

The hospitalized suspect has "made an initial appearance in the hospital room in front of a federal magistrate judge," Gary Wente, circuit executive for 1st Circuit federal courts, told CNN on Monday.

The federal complaint against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is under seal, Wente said.

- CNN National Political Correspondent Jim Acosta contributed to this report.

soundoff (295 Responses)
  1. Malory Archer

    You said it. You meant it. The Fed is aware of your contempt for them, and there's no taking it back.

    April 22, 2013 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  2. Warren

    He just needs to crawl back into his hollow and shut his month.

    April 22, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  3. B.

    Graham will say or do anything to stay in front of a camera, a lot like McCain.

    Pathetic examples of so-called public servants.

    April 22, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  4. Woman In California

    Graham was also fuming Sunday that a red flag wasn't placed on Tsarnaev when he left the country the following a year.

    Really? Americans are still fuming that 9/11 happened and that so many were killed and continue to be killed as a direct result of ignorance (Bush) but Graham could care less about that, because a republican was in the White House. He makes me sick.

    April 22, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  5. W.G.

    Put a little salt on the CROW Sen. Graham it´ll taste better !!!!!

    April 22, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  6. Al-NY,NY

    well gee whiz....thanks Lindsey. I guess we can all breath a sigh of relief. Go away please

    April 22, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  7. v_mag

    You know, what bugs me about all this (besides the non-stop CNN coverage that has said the same thing over and over, ad nauseum, for a week), is that there is never, ever any discussion of the underlying causes of terrorist acts against America.

    Oh, sure, talking heads ask what the motives of terrorist bombers might be. They speculate on what the bombers were trying to accomplish. But they never ask a question like, "What can America do to address the underlying causes of terrorism?"

    It's a very big elephant in a very small room. America has troops in the Middle East, near Islamic holy sites. America invaded Iraq for the personal satisfaction of George Warcriminal Bush. America continues to occupy Afghanistan. America threatens Iran and other Islamic countries. And the biggest of all: America shows unwavering favoritism and support for a country that should never have existed, i.e., Israel.

    As long as we continue to neglect those issues, we will continue to have terrorist threats and acts.

    April 22, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  8. Lynda/Minnesota

    I am sick to death of dragging politics into every facet of American life. It is politicians and their constant bickering and backstabbing that has brought America to it's collective knee and it's poliitcans who are making sure we grovel to them for everything.

    And, yes, the media is just as complicant with their constant airing of political back and forth. They ALL make me sick.

    April 22, 2013 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  9. Thomas

    Lindsey Graham and John McCain are like old guys that are irrelevant trying to stay hip .

    They both need to retire .

    April 22, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  10. Woman In California

    Here's an idea Graham: why don't you go back to doing what you do best (NOTHING). Meanwhile, the FBI can continue to do what they do well (investigate).

    April 22, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  11. Debbie from Arizona

    Things in our country would be so much better, if people like Senator Graham would refrain from speaking until they actually know what's going on. Shooting off your mouth, without knowing the facts, just makes you look twice as stupid. But, they have been referred to as the stupid party, and by one of their own.

    April 22, 2013 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  12. Wake up People!

    Must not have been any way to tie him to President Obama......

    April 22, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  13. Dennis Freeman

    The Senator's comments, as so many in the Tea Party/GOP, use the approach ready, fire, aim then find it necessary to walk things back.

    April 22, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  14. Fair is Fair

    Big Sis has been verrrrrrrrrryyy quiet throughout this... wonder why?

    April 22, 2013 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  15. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    They are enemy combatants, however they should be tried in federal court.

    April 22, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  16. Sniffit

    The victims deserve better. Boston deserves better. Massachusetts and the country deserves better. I know. You know it. The majority of Americans know it. In the immediate aftermath we should be focused on all that was done RIGHT by the law enforcement communities of Boston and the surrounding suburbs, our lcoal and state governments and yes, the federal government. The deserve our thanks, our admiration and our support because they did everything they could and suffered major losses themselves to accomlpish bringing these kids down in merely FOUR DAYS after it happened. Alot was done right here. Alot of what was done was absolutely amazing. Anyone who wants to distract from that in order to manufacture criticisms that serve their own narrow political goals of degrading Obama's presidency deserves nothing but our scorn.

    April 22, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  17. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    So, does Graham want more police and other law enforcement people to follow everyone that is suspicious? That would have half the country being followed.

    April 22, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  18. PaulCat

    Lindsey Graham think he's the only person with the right answers. 99.9% of the time he's wrong, "like this time." What make republicans think they have all the answers when their favorite word is "NO" – at least until the next GOP president.

    April 22, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  19. MaryM

    Graham, open your mouth to change feet. Just shut up Graham.

    April 22, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  20. HenryB

    Does this man realize that, besides being able to obstruct, he is increasingly becoming irrelevant?

    April 22, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  21. Cephus

    Job well done after the worst crime on human kind ? Naboth-Leano or what her name is should resign immediately she let down the entire Nation. Total failure is what this gynarchy will be remembered about

    April 22, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  22. Rick McDaniel

    Actually, I think there are serious questions about the older brother's investigation, especially after Russia sent us a specific and pointed warning..........which should have been enough to keep a watchful eye, on this person's activities for a significant period of time.

    I don't know that I would give the FBI a pass on this issue, at all.

    April 22, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  23. Graham IS a TROLL

    Oops! In MORE hindsight, he determined that the reaction to his bs was much stronger than he anticipated. He thought at least all the wingers would go with him. WRONG. And he doesn't want a police state, just one that ignores your citizenship and rights when he feels they should be. Tsarenev was a citizen. He has to be treated according to our laws. Put it back in your pants Lindsey.

    April 22, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  24. PushingBack

    Wow, a GOP politician saying someone else is not doing their job! How ironic!!

    April 22, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  25. If only the Federal Legislators moved as quickly...

    Perhaps our nation's great leaders should go to the source of their contempt to confirm the facts, rather than public bashing of our federal agencies. In my opinion, the authorities was able to quickly identify and luckily, contain/apprehend the suspects. My goodness, Americans seem live in a world where we expect "express window service" in every aspect of our lives. If Americans don't get what information we think we should have within minutes, we are placing blame on the agency in charge.

    April 22, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
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