Graham backs off FBI criticism over bombing suspect
April 22nd, 2013
10:53 AM ET
12 months 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. Pink

    Graham go back to your hole and stay with all the other Obama's administration haters. When Bush was declaring an illegal war and standing on a warship speaking incorrectly everything was ok. You owe America an apology.

    April 22, 2013 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  2. reasonablebe

    raise more questions for me: did tsa drop the ball? how did he get through security with a mispelled name- your name on the ticket and identity proof (government issued passport, license, whatever else) supposedly MUST match EXACTLY or you don't get through. so it's not an fbi error, but a security failure... and I thought by last year not only your name had to match, but your date of birth and a few other tidbits of info.

    this is tsa problem. the fbi cannot stop travellers at the airport unless they are alerted by the tsa at the airport.... the fbi job is to investigate and arrest after a crime is committed and to investigate, discover and stop lots to commit crimes. it is not to be security for airport travel check in.

    April 22, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  3. eewrites

    I don't recall hearing any criticism of intelligence failures when there were no weapons of mass destruction. The GOP is only interested when a Democrat is in office. The hypocrisy is both obvious and pathetic.

    April 22, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  4. ghostriter

    Nothing new here. Republicans are constantly running off at the mouth. Why these nutcases are allowed to speak is beyond me. Maybe one day, we'll get some guys in that are not trying to score political points everyday.

    April 22, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  5. Howard

    There's a phrase that describes this kind of behavior. "READY! FIRE! AIM!"

    Unfortunately, we see way too much of it from these camera hogs in Congress.

    April 22, 2013 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  6. reasonablebe

    looks like a tsa problem, mr. graham. fbi is not the tsa and not in control or supervision of the fbi.

    April 22, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  7. gphx

    Funny how FBI profiling and interviewing of terrorists can't stop terrorism but background checks of law abiding citizens are supposed to stop criminals from using guns.

    April 22, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  8. Debbie

    Lindsey Graham doesn't know much. Period. He should be quiet and not look so foolish. But as a politician, he "has" to criticize the federal government at every turn and try to score points.

    April 22, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  9. Cynical Idealist

    "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."

    Maybe Graham should have checked with the FBI before going on national television and shooting off his big yap.

    April 22, 2013 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  10. FloridaRes

    So Graham and his cohorts are concerned about FBI and NOT concerned about how these brothers gathered the guns and made the bombs. NO background checks enable 40% of weapons sales (including semi-automatics) to be done to ANYONE! This means that any potential terrorist (witness Tsarnaev) can get all these weapons with no controls. Thank you Lindsey Graham and the other GOP Senators and 4-5 Dem Senators for keeping this big threat to our country alive. Apparently this is of no concern to these brainless, witless tools of the NRA.

    April 22, 2013 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  11. John Waters

    - whoever wrote the FBIs crappy computer system might want to think hard about this...for one, a Google can find a misspelled word with no problems, why cant the FBIs advanced computer systems that are supposed to keep us safe? And for two, why not track by SSN, passport #, alien ID and any number of other things that are tracked...seriously, it is down to foreign airlines spelling accuracy to catch terrorists? Didn't the person have to come back into the country and go through immigration, surely if he was on a watch list that would have gotten him even if his ticket name was misspelled? I thought we had come a little further than that!

    April 22, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    is that there is never, ever any discussion of the underlying causes of terrorist acts against America.
    -------------------------------------------------
    Excellent observation v_mag.
    Brings to mind that line from "A Few Good Men": [We] can't handle the truth.

    April 22, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  13. Republicans are Bought & Paid for by the NRA

    Can't help but think Lindsey Graham would be so less disgusted with himself, projecting it on others, if he'd just come out of the closet.

    April 22, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  14. Judie

    It's called "Look before you leap"....Gee, wonder why the Senator didn't call the FBI before he trashed them on TV???? Guess it was easier to trash and then talk? Seems there's a lot of that going around these days. SHAME SHAME SHAME!

    April 22, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  15. Bill

    As usual, republicans will use their mouths before their brains or before they have the facts – all in the interest of scoring political points and trying to . Same crap, different day with these losers. And they wonder why they keep losing elections.

    April 22, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  16. Lenny Pincus

    What a load of compost. Please, Lindsey, leave the real work to the adults.

    April 22, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  17. jk

    Sure shoot your mouth off and then check the facts. If we had Romney the winner of the past election ie. a Republican in the White House would he have shot his mouth off like this. This is why 2014 needs a catalyst for change, who though?.

    April 22, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  18. Dave

    Senator Graham-YOU voted against Background Checks/Gun control legislation this past week in the Senate. Please explain to us how these perpetrators acquired firearms for their misdeeds in Boston, and how that could have been prevented. Deflecting responsibility for your vote by chastising the FBI just ain't cuttin' it, Bubba...

    April 22, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  19. Jon from MASS.

    Graham and his colleagues tend to open mouth before engaging brain. Again and again and again.

    April 22, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  20. Gary

    Now FBI looking for someone to blame for what they failed to do. Aeroflot misspelled the name, russian authorities never responded back.
    WTF FBI is that, a day care center?

    April 22, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  21. Fame

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

    Ok, let's revisit your vote on background checks for gun buyers on U.S. soil.

    Of cause the word is NO.

    April 22, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  22. HR Coller

    I think it is sad that these men are trying to turn our country into a police state where any yahoo politician in the "party" can suspend your rights. These guys are idiots that do not understand the meaning of the Constitution and how the rights and freedoms put forth in it are more important than any perceived sense of security or safety that may be gained by "suspension" of said liberties.

    April 22, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  23. Ramrod

    Misspelling? Lame excuse. This guy had to re-enter the USA with a green card with the correct name.
    The FBI hss also "missed" the 9-11 Saudi student pilots training in Arizona.
    Maybe they are too busy watching you and me.

    April 22, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  24. Tiz

    Graham going on national television and criticizing the FBI reminds me of when Susan Rice went on TV to tell us all that a video was the factual reason our ambassador was murdered in Bengazi.....

    April 22, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  25. Jorge Sedano

    Funny the leftys on here sound like they support terrorists,,,whatever Graham said or didn't say is what scares you..are you afraid to defend your country...

    April 22, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
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