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. Mike

    How, in God's name, does Graham get re-elected?

    April 22, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  2. Dr Matrix

    Is it possible that when investigating him nothing was found. Then no red flags and why is going home an issue. Also remember in 2012 this country was busy with elections and dealing with multiple manufactured issues with the fiscal cliff. If there were no red flags why would the FBI begin another investigation? He wasn't an Arab so he didn't warrant a second look in our anti-Arab mindset.

    April 22, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  3. skarphace

    TruthPolice: "Morons abound. All you liberals posting here give even liberals a bad name. We need people to question the government – ALWAYS."

    Well, you would have a semblence of a point if it weren't for the fact that Sen. Graham is IN THE GOVERNMENT. Therefore, by your own argument, we should be questioning him. Got it? Probably not.

    April 22, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  4. DaleW in MA

    Why does the media even listen to these jacka$$ senators? Nothing they go in front of the camera to babble about is of any substance or truth.
    Please do us a favor and refrain from pandering to these useless excuses for politicians.
    I.E. who cares other than their moms.

    April 22, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. rs

    All you liberals posting here give even liberals a bad name. We need people to question the government – ALWAYS.
    Your point is well taken. However, in this case Mr. Graham adds nothing to the conversation. His tack isn't question the government to learn more or clarify, it is throw out innuendo to grab attemtion ("points for the team!"), which points out the underlying and ultimate failure of the GOP, and that is: When you stop actually standing for anything exceptt to counter prevailing government action and opinion, you stand for nothing, absolutely NOTHING.

    April 22, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  6. keeth

    Lindsey the Liar pandered to his base first, without facts, and then backtracked when faced with the facts.

    April 22, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  7. fastrack

    Jay David, Graham won't run for president...we've already had one puppet/puppeteer combo, and there's no way McCain will accept vice presidential role after his failed campaign. Cheney can't and the only other qualified puppeteer wouldn't take the pay cut to quit runing the GOP from his position at the NRA.

    April 22, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  8. kylefromohio

    So the chose of weapon determine if the act of terrorizing is terrorizing? Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, that was a gunmen not a terrorist right?. Thanks Mr Graham, you votes last week make that very clear now! on how you want a nation where the police can protect us,"

    April 22, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  9. CLT

    Anything to get on TV and to get a vote from the radicals.

    April 22, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  10. A Borgmann

    The Upstate area of SC number one agricultural crop is marijuana. That explains the popularity of Senator Graham by the potheads. The recent revelation of the Eastern cultural style execution of some pothead, marijuana dealers who ran into the Boston Bombers is now a clear connection. Their throats were open and the bodies were covered with pot and greenbacks. S, is it any wonder that regional pot king Senator Graham jumped right in. Where is your money coming from SC Boy!

    April 22, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  11. tp

    This guy is so embarassing, I am almost ashamed to say that I am a graduate of the University of South Carolina, albeit a few years back. I hope the university crowd is becoming more active to get loons like this out of office.
    New motto of the Republican Party = Shoot first and ask questions later, and then in cases like Iraq, make up the answers to the questions to cover up the Shoot First Philosophy.

    April 22, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  12. PtBarnumBoy

    I bet Palin gave him a call and gave some tips on how not to act like a fool.

    April 22, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  13. lac

    When are they going to stop liking having egg all over their faces?

    April 22, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  14. Mona

    Guess Graham's hero gave the media a rest & sent him instead! What a bunch of yahoo's! Seriously, this guy ought to
    be thrown out of office then out of town!

    April 22, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  15. Marie MD

    What's up wioth ms,. Lindsey? He looks all beaten up. I take it that trying to fight immigration against the bombers (nothing to do with other immigrants) is way too much for him?
    BTW – any word from the twit or tag you are it about Wisconsin. He sure had plenty to say about firing first responders and teachers when he was running for president.
    I wonder what he thinks after how many of these same folks (different state but really same folks in the city, county, state and federal level) helped after the bombing and up until the last of these terrorists was caught!

    April 22, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  16. pkrbkr3

    Seems to me and apparently many others, that Lindsay Graham has overstayed his welcome to the Senate.....says something stupid more often than says anything intelligent....don't think he HAS intelligence! Shoots off his mouth, then tries to backtrack....what a joke for a senator! Go away, Lindsay.

    April 22, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  17. Sane Person

    What a joke. Graham needs to go. He is terrible even as a monday morning quarterback or armchair general with the benefit of knowledge the people he complains about didnt have years ago when they had to make thier decisions.

    April 22, 2013 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  18. I am Better

    I am more concerned about radicalized christians in the country. There are far more of them!!

    April 22, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  19. DH

    Republicans still have not figured out when America voted in November and re-elected Pres Obama we do not want republican policies. Their platform last August put in writing what America does not want. America does not want a war on women....another year waiting for immigration reform.......another election with voter suppression.....another year trying for marriage equality and guns over first graders. Now we need to add Linsey Graham.

    April 22, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  20. Siestais

    What a blow hard.

    April 22, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  21. ted

    what a total stupid idiot? Ya think this moron Lindsey Graham could ask questions first of the authorities? Just shoot from the hip Lindsey and apologize later. moron.

    April 22, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  22. Tom

    Okay, if we can't have gun control, how about laws regulating politicians who irresponsibly shoot off their mouths? Half the GOP, including Sen. Graham, would be in jail.

    April 22, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  23. Kevin H

    SNL plot for this Saturday: Lindsey Graham's Chief of Staff – hmmmm do we have the political cache to go after the FBI. Yep. OK – go bulldog on 'em Senator. (Chief looks for the reaction.) OUCH that hurt. Gotta real that back in. Too late. The fish already nabbed the bate and it's stuck. Gonna have to catch and release. Oh well all we did was lose the law an order vote.But boy, Senator you got the angler's vote for sure.

    April 22, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  24. darknesscrown

    Look, every state has it's right to choose who represents it nationally. And the people who get elected represent the views of the people that elected them. The conservative base in this country has veered very far right of center...more so than the left's fringe elements have veered left. I actually don't know where this current crop of conservative leadership has come from.

    15 years ago, people like Rand Paul or Michele Bachmann wouldn't have been elected to national office (most likely) because their views are too extreme. Now it's political suicide in the Republican party to support the government. They pander to the lowest common denominator in this country and give them a voice. Those of us who are reasonable and can actually disagree intelligently (from both right and left) are excluded from the process. There are conservatives out there who still think Barak Obama is a Muslim, socialist usurper to the Presidency; that he's hell bent on ending American life as we know it and that the only thing standing between him and tyranny is a nation of citizens armed to the teeth, and that the only way to live is to have a government that does absolutely nothing but take up space (government shouldn't have a right to legislate what you can and can't do, or use your tax dollars to distribute it to "poor people", or regulate business, or increase taxes...etc...). The only function the people who elect guys like Lindsay Graham believe is that the government should stay out of their lives...unless they need something from it. Then it's a-ok.

    This country will be much better off when it figures out how to silence this very vocal and very unreasonable MINORITY. Unfortunately, it's not going to happen. American society will only continue to devolve into ape-like slinging of verbal (or semi-automatic) feces.

    April 22, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  25. Frank T

    It would be absolutely delightful if this OLD man Graham would just shut his mouth and do something productive for the American citizens. Graham and his OLD right wingers have lost touch with what Hard Working Americans want, Gun Registration,Immigration,and a Jobs bill.Go home to S.C and retire Lindsey

    April 22, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
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