Graham backs off FBI criticism over bombing suspect
April 22nd, 2013
10:53 AM ET
2 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. Bob

    Graham is perfectly okay denying a U.S. citizen who committed crime on U.S. soil all his rights because of a "public safety" exception yet he won't demand that very same citizen be required to have a background check when buying a gun. What happened to "public safety"? Remember, 25% of the victims of these bombers were actually killed by a legally obtained firearm. Still think EVERYONE should be able to buy ANY gun without ANY restrictions?

    April 22, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  2. sassafras

    I agree, Bob. And in this case, background checks would likely have curtailed the older brother given his experience with the FBI. Whatever the case, I think Graham is just a shill for his own political welfare. He lobs these verbal bombs out there and finds himself walking back a few days later. Whatever gets him on the Sunday talk shows right?

    April 22, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. Nancy

    Just like everyone else, Lindsey Graham and other senators should keep his mouth shut until they know the facts.

    April 22, 2013 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  4. Brian

    Is Graham the best South Carolina can send to the US Senate? A shame he wasn't quite so vociferous in his attacks on the executive branch on 9/11. Hypocrite.

    April 22, 2013 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  5. NebraskaFilly

    Bob, Bob, Bob – get your info straight – neither brother had a legal weapon. And if the FBI cannot even figure out they maybe should, uh, check out his Facebook page? REALLY!!!

    April 22, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  6. skarphace

    This accusation by Graham was just the first step in trying to pin the blame for this attack on the Obama administration. If he could show that the FBI "dropped the ball", then he could show that the administration's lack of leadership caused this attack, just like the one in Benghazi (or so they claim).

    The problem? This is not Libya. This time it was our law enforcement and FBI that, in merely a few days, figured out the perps and tracked them down. Now one is dead and the other is in custody. This time the accusations backfired on the Teapublicans (and yes, I know Graham is not Tea Party, but he is Tea Party wannabe).

    And what should the FBI have done anyways? Arrested American citizens before they committed the act and before the perps even were in the planning stages? We should have our FBI arrest citizens at Russia's behest? Really? Sen. Graham would have us throw our rights out the window in order to avoid attacks like this? How the heck can you call yourself "small government" if you want our FBI to have the right to track any US citizen at any time?

    This brings to mind the one word whenever I think of the Tea Party: hypocrites. In that respect, Graham fits right in.

    April 22, 2013 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  7. Seattle Sue

    Graham is a jerk, always has been, always will be a jerk.

    April 22, 2013 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  8. Joe

    Graham needs to get a real job with real deliverables. It's too easy to stand by and take shots at the performance of people doing real work.

    April 22, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  9. jack johnson

    Don't these (so called) people even have an idea what National Security is? They want the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. to tell the yerriost how we track or don't track threats, they are watching t.v., and takeing notes so Congress people keep crying for all the information to be released!

    April 22, 2013 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  10. Loathstheright

    So the American taliban Graham is complaining about anything that happens in the Democrat Administration...wow, who could have none.

    April 22, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  11. Bing

    If Ms. Lindsey's standards for his own perfection were half as high as those whose reputations he carelessly tramples for his own short-term political gain, he wou be only twice the self-righteous, mud-slinging, political-hack as the next troll who posesses such unfortunate and convenient, available and consistent access to a bully pulpit.

    Ms. Graham should be extended the exact same consideration, professional courtesy, forethought and tolerance which he affords everyone else. Zero. Impeach Lindsey Graham. It's what he would demand for anyone but himself.

    April 22, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  12. Jack

    You had better Mr. "Holier than Thou" Graham! I hope they boot you off the committee and you lose your re-election!

    April 22, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  13. Maniacmudd

    the FBI said to Graham... Well. let me see...this file here with your name on it sure will make a mess if it got somehow released to the media......

    April 22, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  14. Judith

    Like most red state politicians, Graham is completely in the pocket of the NRA and the gun industry–these men are a shame to the country and they spat in the faces of the Newton parents. They are a truly vomit-inducing bunch. Also, for a man with a legal background, Graham apparently doesn't understand U.S. law.

    April 22, 2013 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  15. Rememberwhatbushdid

    What is the matter with Senator Graham lately. He's a cranky old man who complains about everything and hasn't said anything good, or done anyone any good in forever. He needs a girlfriend.

    April 22, 2013 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  16. yogi

    That same old tune for Republicans is getting very old: First you do the damage and then you apologize. He saw an opportunity to score political points. Graham is a disgusting man.

    April 22, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  17. JDL

    This how Rep Graham voted on the Comprehensive Terrorism Prevention Act
    April 18, 1996 S 735 Conference Report Adopted – House (293 – 133) Nay

    Voted against Terrorism Prevention and then gripes about the FBI being negligent .

    April 22, 2013 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  18. Sizzle

    Another career politician with foot in mouth syndrome.

    April 22, 2013 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  19. Larry L

    Good comment Bob.

    Graham sniffs the political winds and then panders to his bigoted, intolerant, xenophobic right-wing base. He exemplifies all that's broken with the American political process.

    April 22, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  20. sally-ann

    The FBI did an awesome job. Republican congers could take a lesson in public service and dedication.

    April 23, 2013 01:32 am at 1:32 am |
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