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. Ralph_in_FL

    He backs off after he gets through pandering to his base.

    April 22, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  2. Barry Biden

    Yep, Lindsey can't mess with the boys who will start "finding" things he has done wrong

    April 22, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  3. LiberaLIowan

    Come on Lindsey. Just come out already.

    April 22, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  4. I AM

    What a weasel.

    April 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  5. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer


    I disagree with you that the executive branch is not enforcing existing laws. I believe when convicted felons or parolees or mentall ill or violent individuals are allowed to purchase assault weapons, the current laws are being enforced. When background checks are rejected by our legislative branch, that means our current guns laws are being enforced. According to our current gun laws, you can go on the internet like the Aurora theatre shooter and purchase 6,000 rounds of ammo without a background check. The current gun laws are being enforced and the executive branch has nothing to do with it. Its the legislative branch's doing.

    April 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  6. VCMD

    People going out of country and coming back in go through customs/immigration checks where passports are scanned and it's a sad state of affairs that for FBI list we rely on the names sent by airlines where there are good chances of errors and intentional inaccuracies and no way to enforce accountability.

    April 22, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  7. Shane

    I hate to agree with anything Graham says, but . . . I will. Why we are rushing this thing for I'll never know. We need to gather as much information as possible. I'm not a republican, but I shore as hell ain't someone who will stick by what the administration wants either – not in this instance. Everything needs to be questioned. Period.

    April 22, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  8. larkwoodgirl

    Typical Graham, accuse and deride first then get the facts later.

    April 22, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  9. Jay David

    It's clear that Graham is running for President, so anything he can do to tear our country own is valid.
    Of course, he's from South Carolina, the terrorist state which started the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history.

    April 22, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  10. Romney is Still NOT My Hero

    @APR 72 yrs young

    do people in washington d c have a manual they follow to show how dumb they are.

    Yes, they do. It only has pictures though. We don't want them getting confused with all that "reading" stuff.

    April 22, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    Poor gal has the vaypahs....someone get Miss Lindsey a cold compress and a fainting couch....

    April 22, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  12. fastrack

    Graham's in Congress and HE'S complaining about someone else not doing their job? Just rendered himself irrelevant, and shame on CNN for giving him any attention. But then, the media continue to give Sara Palin an audience...

    April 22, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    "He's a particularly useless partisan politician bent on spreading lies and rumors as fact...."

    ....and thereby surviving the primary he's no doubt going to face from the radicalized Teatroll wing of his party in 2014.

    April 22, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  14. Denverdriver

    Do the American public a favor Graham: Please keep your big mouth shut until you have all the facts, for a change.

    April 22, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  15. bearitstrong

    "The Republican senator from South Carolina said he talked to the assistant director of the FBI after he made his assertions Sunday"

    Instead of getting the story straight BEFORE he shot off his mouth.

    April 22, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  16. Cleigh

    Senator Graham needs to worry about doing his job, all he does is spend time in front of cameras.

    April 22, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  17. RM

    Moron... so he went public before he know the facts. So much maturity for a senator...

    April 22, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  18. jamaal

    this guy is an idiot

    April 22, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  19. Realist

    Lindsey Grahm is an idiot

    April 22, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  20. Junior

    This guy is such a tool. I can't believe the people of SC keep voting for this joker.

    April 22, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  21. lottie

    the repos like to complain first then get the facts. Lindsey should shut up till he knows what's going on. But I am surprised the republicans stayed quiet this long. Of course he was on Fox the station that had so many wrong facts over the bombing. Apparently they don't care about innocent peoples reputation and will report anything with the blessing of Rupert. It is all going to be the presidents fault anyway. wait and see. Wonder where the suspects got their guns???

    April 22, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  22. Michael

    The article alludes to a misspelling of the suspect's name causing confusion for the FBI and the article itself spells his name differently in the 3rd paragraph than it did in the first.

    April 22, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  23. Sharon

    Is poor Lindsey all aflutter? He is a noted Southern Belle.

    April 22, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  24. skarphace

    ThyNameIsTruth: "I wonder what the FBI had on Graham so that he would back off?"

    Use some common sense, will you? If the FBI had something on Graham, he wouldn't have said anything against them in the first place. The fact is that irony had a play here. Graham was accusing the FBI of not having enough information when his accusation was based on the lack of information.

    April 22, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  25. Benny Hill

    Lynnsie., you're such a boob. Come out already. You are making gay people look dumb.

    April 22, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
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