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. Pete

    Graham better kiss his lucky stars that the FBI got this murder,bomber suspect before Bostons finest did or you'd be questioning a corpse wouldn't yah..An exJaAG lawyer again with foot in mouth disease like Romney before Benghazi and is this disease plaguing the republicans because a heck of a lot of them have been doing just the same thing as well haven't they!!

    April 22, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  2. Rick 7809

    Other than this guy knows how to get on TV to spout off, just why does a Senator from South Carolina have any validity discussing what to do with this suspect. Yes, he is still a suspect until it works through the judicial process.

    April 22, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  3. Mark

    Republicans like Graham believe that they are the only ones who do things the right way. Like how they handled the economy that went belly up, or how they handled the WMD's. If a democrat had made those comments while a republican was in office they would skewer him. They have no principles.

    April 22, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  4. Tears of a clown

    Please, the GOP, Hannity, O'Reilly, Limbaugh and all those nuts on the Conspiracy Channel (FoxNews) were hoping it were Arabs who did this so they could pin it on Obama & his Administration for dropping the ball like Bush, Cheney and their Administration did on 9/11.

    April 22, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  5. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Question to Senator Rant Paul: Does the FBI have the authority to override the second amendment and take away assault weapons and bombs from terrorists who want to harm Americans on American soil? Or should I pose this question to the Attorney General Sir?

    April 22, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  6. Teamski

    Better to stay silent than become the fool by spouting garbage. What a exhibitionist piece of garbage.


    April 22, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  7. Walkerhe09

    I am curious why no one is asking the question – how were these two guys able to walk up to the finish line of the world's most prestigious marathon (outside the Olympics) and set off a bomb? I understand you cannot secure the entire 26 miles but the finish line and starting line you surely can. All the money we spend on security and then two ordinary people foil it in a matter of seconds. It is a disgrace.

    April 22, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  8. Tony in Maine

    His comments achieved his objective – to appear to be anti-government and xenophobic in one paragraph. Graham is up for re-election in a state where most hound dogs have higher IQ's than their owners so he must ratchet up his own stupidity.

    April 22, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  9. papiamento

    Backed off criticism of FBI only AFTER finding the facts? Spouting on TV BEFORE talking to the FBI's #2 ?

    We DISRESPECT you politicians because this is the way you operate. Say things inflammatory and derogatory of your imagined opponents and then let the facts catch up to you. Whoops! (again)

    April 22, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  10. Steve S

    The idea that this moron is a United States Senator, boggles the mind!?

    April 22, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  11. CNN Ka Baap

    What about the owners of the Fertilizer plant in Texas ?

    Greed , and the legal ability to get around regulations doesn't apply ?

    Sen. Lindsay Graham needs to stop milking votes and let the investigation and law take it's course .

    April 22, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  12. tricky dick

    There is a difference in dropping the ball than refusing to pick it up to begin with.

    April 22, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  13. yuri

    Graham is a great gun-slinger, but NOT a great gambler. He gambled on earning fames by being a firebrand crtitic of a lot of mishaps, starting from the Libyan debacle. Unable to get satisfying and gratifying answers, he seems constantly hellbent on more tragedies to carp about. Collect the whole set of facts and then care to offer constructive criticism. His recent poignant pokings at the other political party, more than at his own, raises a lot of questions about his true tenor of his integrity.

    April 22, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  14. California Gary

    How many times is this guy going to jump out there with incindiary comments before he knows any facts and then has to walk them back on the following day, before he finally just keeps his trap shut? You would think he would have learned by now..........

    April 22, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  15. sonny chapman

    Hey Lyndsey, did you ever ask anyone in the Bush Administration how Muhammad Atta got into the US to take flying lessons, don't worry about the landing part ?

    April 22, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  16. honestmidwest

    Just another example of a Rep. politician trying to "make himself look important" when he doesn't know what he is talking about/doesn't have all the facts (or has them and ignores them). It was a very cheap shot and he should just focus on doing what he is supposed to do (and doesn't). Sad that people who do this, keep getting elected.

    April 22, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  17. Loyalright

    Senator Graham is a moderate Democrat at best which explains a lot. That is why the Libertarians and Conservatives do not support him.

    April 22, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  18. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Leading up to the Senate vote on the gun legislation, the NRA ran an ad claiming that most police officers they polled say that they are against background checks. I'm sure the law enforcement community that just turned Boston upside down, beg to differ!

    April 22, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  19. Robyn


    >> federal laws did not allow the FBI to "follow up in a sound, solid way

    Obviously, the FBI will next demand that all "Loyal" Americans must immediately have location monitoring ankle bracelets permanently attached to them, since the FBI is incompetent and incapable of doing their job without them.

    When are we going to dump this loser agency that has spent more than a century spending our money and infringing on our freedoms, while provide NOTHING in terms of actual security or law enforcement in return.

    From their cowboy shoot first, question never mentality, to their cross-dressing fascist leadership blackmailing our government to their 9/11 windfall of police state tactics; it is this agency that I fear, not the criminals for whom they are supposed to be searching.

    They are the clear and present danger that threatens America
    That is why Congress refused to create the FBI when it was requested.
    (The FBI was illegally created in 1908 by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte as his own personal Secret Police.
    Congress was not even told they existed until they had been trampling the Bill of Rights for half a year.)


    April 22, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  20. Mike

    The ghost of J Edgar Hoover might have reminded the Senator that those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

    April 22, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  21. mike

    Oh no you don't, you little weasel. Stand behind your d-baggery.

    April 22, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  22. Romney is Still NOT My Hero

    So he's accusing the FBI of not getting all the facts, before he got all the facts. ROFLMAO – typical GOP.

    April 22, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  23. Steve R

    Yet another poster boy for term limits.

    April 22, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  24. ritmocojo

    Hopefully this is not the beginning of a new Israel in the west. They go through this quite regularly there.

    April 22, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  25. skarphace

    Hmmm .. well, maybe, just maybe, you should have talked to the FBI before accusing them of "dropping the ball" on national television, huh?

    Oh, I forgot, you right-wingers like to speak first and retract later. That way you get the public reaction you wanted and still get to wash your hands of the responsibility of such.

    April 22, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
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