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. Don't Miss the Boat

    TSA or FBI, both need to fix that talkie talkie thing that Homeland Security promised us – are we really relying on Aeroflop to base our security of who is travelling from this country??

    April 22, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  2. raphias

    Lindsay may not be an illegal alien, but he damn sure is an alien!!

    April 22, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  3. Ferathka

    This guy and most of the GOP just have no clue. The FBI and all other authorities involved got these guys in less then a week. Seriuosly were where these guys after Iraq and all those weapons of mass destruction?!?!

    April 22, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  4. Pam from Iowa

    Personally, I was amazed at the speed the FBI put this thing together and knew who the suspects were.
    Graham – you are a typical Republican – always putting your foot in your mouth!!

    April 22, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  5. Betty Richardson

    Oh, to be as smart as Mr. Lindsey.

    April 22, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  6. Jim in California

    This is what happens when you speak without having all the facts.

    April 22, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    It's so hard being a reactionary, eh Miss Lindsey? Poor thing. Go put on your favorite pink feety-pajamas and Amurika will make you some hot cocoa.

    April 22, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  8. Peace

    Those who maintain their respect, always try very hard not to have a loose mouth. What was Lindsey Graham thinking at the first place?

    April 22, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  9. olepi

    Cheap shot makes you look cheap, right Ms. Graham?

    April 22, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  10. vic

    Well..Lindsey really fits in with the South Carolina nut crowd. I bet the educated South Carolina voters are so proud of him..what an embarassment to his state. Come into the next century GOP. We won't take your guns away..just want to protect our citizens from gun carrying nuts.

    April 22, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  11. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Please, give me a break. As though you GOPT/D gun lobbyists in Washington care whether the FBI had taken away their guns and bombs! Please give me a freaking break Senator!

    April 22, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  12. GinnyG

    Gee! Imagine that! He blatantly critized the FBI before getting all the facts. So where is the very public apology to the FBI? Maybe he should spend less time getting his 15-minutes of free press and do some actual work.

    April 22, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  13. Kenneth Kleefeld

    Google does a great job ferreting out misspellings in web searches. Surely governments can do the same in checking names of airline passengers.

    April 22, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  14. Mitch Geller

    When are we going to let South Carolina secede from the Union?

    April 22, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  15. KC Yankee

    Senator Graham is interested in one thing: self-aggrandizement to raise his political profile.

    April 22, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  16. Ex-TeaPartyr

    Lindsay Graham needs to sit down and shut up!!

    April 22, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  17. Daisy

    When Graham does HIS job, then he can complain about others. He's a loud mouth politician who is trying to use this for political gain. Disgusting!

    April 22, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  18. Akorage

    GOP Graham: Shoot and ask questions later. Was quick to gap on protocol but not smart enough to verify before going on camera. What a dumb move. Sound smart but..............

    April 22, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  19. BS

    I am not a fan of Senator Graham but was correct on his statement Sunday about the FBI. I feel they are staffed with a bunch of old people that have aged out of technology and world change. The FBI is part of the good ole boys club. This world has changed so much in the past 15years and they are missing the mark. We need young quick minds in the FBI. I remember 911 and the FBI!! The CIA warned about 911. If they don't pay attention we will continue to have problems like this. Thank God the Boston police department took control. The FBI would have put these guys on the " to do list" when I back from vacation.

    April 22, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  20. FRR

    It would seem to me that the press CNN, NBC, CBS and FOX (unlikly) should challenge the senator as to why he didn't check the facts before spouting off and also ask him if background checks might have prevented the Boston bombers from acquirinfg guns. He ought to be ashamed

    April 22, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  21. Jim

    Congress and the White House should stick to what they do best, i.e. blowing smoke up the voter's rears. And, they should leave law enforcement to those who actually work for a living.

    April 22, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  22. ProudDem

    Hmm...maybe it would have been a good idea to talk to the FBI BEFORE running his mouth on TV to get some publicity

    April 22, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  23. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    While the families of those lost in Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek Sandy Hook and elsewhere are still grieving, Wayne LaPierre and the GOPT/D gun lobbyists in Washington were proclaiming they won! But all of a sudden, they seem to care about what happened in Boston? Yea, right!

    April 22, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  24. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Personally I am proud of how well this was handled and how quickly it was resolved.
    I am proud at how the people of Boston came forward with whatever information thye had, and how they complied with "requests" from law enforcement.
    Some say that they went overboard shutting down towns. I say that it was a necessary show of might and unity if not for the perpetrators of this particular instance then for future ones. And yes there will be such future attacks. Yet they now know that we will stop at nothing, and will move heaven and earth to locate and find them, and killing them is NOT out of the question if we're further provoked while in pursuit.
    I'm good with ALL of that.
    Great job FBI. Super job to the citizens of Boston.

    April 22, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  25. PaulCat

    Please North Carolina or South Carolina, whichever Carolina his guy is from, plesse give him a STATE job in his own backyard.

    April 22, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
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