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. Saboth

    What now, Boston-Gate? "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" These are the same GOP politicians that embroiled us in an Iraqi War that killed thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands Iraqis, wasted trillions of dollars, and afterwards just said "mistakes were made, we just need to move on."

    April 22, 2013 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  2. Ron

    You have to love our prosecution system. As Graham points out, on one side you have our criminal system that states innocent until proven guilty before a court of law with lawyers and peers and then you have on the other side a system where you are guilty until... well you never get a chance to prove otherwise because there are no courts or lawyers or any evidence you can use – all classified. What is the most scary about this is who can choose and by what criteria someone can be placed in either of these systems. ANYONE can be placed in the second system and there is nothing you can do.

    Please don't take my comments in any supporting the actions or handling of this suspect. I am simply stating that this country will go to any extreme to create laws to bypass laws to do things in secret and subvert the very basis upon which the US was founded. Go Graham in supporting a position of justice where no lawyers get in the way of what the porch-chair politicians believe should be done.

    April 22, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  3. Odd Man Out

    Graham is a mess. I guess you could call him crackers.

    April 22, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  4. Mancy Grace

    When will CNN finally realize that Graham has no credibility outside of his own state? That's assuming he has any credibility at all; I'm being generous today! If you see him tell him not to worry; we're all still in fear of everything that moves.

    April 22, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  5. SLimbo

    "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!!"

    Benghazi WAS a terrorist attack. Not a "protest regarding a never seen movie".

    April 22, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  6. Drake

    Graham is a terrorist himself...against the American people.

    April 22, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  7. USwatcher

    Graham puts foot A in mouth B.Then gets questions answered...come on S.Carolina must do better next election.

    April 22, 2013 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  8. KuttaCNN

    I don't understand how 3 killed by 2 bombs is more important than 26 killed by 1 gun.

    April 22, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. Skip Glanz

    If Graham and his cronies did their job half as well as most of the Law Enforcement agencies this country would be fully iemployed with health care. The biggest problems here are the people writing the laws and the courts interpreting them Mr Graham, please try to do your job and let those that put their life on the line do theirs. They are much .more dedicated to our welfare than you.

    April 22, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  10. penguin

    Orwell was only off 30 years. Video and phone and internet monitoring is almost ubiquitous. And Republicans want more. "1984" is here now

    April 22, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  11. Sniffit

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

    But then he couldn't say it in the first place. The purpose here is to poison the national discourse, not contribute to it. That is why they follow the paradigm of saying it first and walking it back after. The MSM will busy itself broadcasting the statement AND the walkback, and the radicalized Teatroll base will busy itself pretending the walkback only happened because the "liberal media" forced him to, such that they can continue to believe the incorrect original statement. It's an exercise in "you can't put the shyte back in the dog."

    April 22, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  12. blue19

    Hey Graham, if you want to talk about dropped balls, then look at your own record on womens rights, gun control, compensation for 9/11 first responders, verterans support, abortion, immigration reform, health care reform, support for tax breaks for the wealthy, and the list goes on.

    April 22, 2013 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  13. francis

    Graham is, and always has been, a disgrace to South Carolina and the GOP.

    April 22, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  14. Ernie

    I'm glad the Patriot Act was so effective in this case (read with sarcasm).

    April 22, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  15. ART

    There he goes again Graham, opening his mouth before the facts are in. I guess thats what happens when youre a hic

    April 22, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  16. lolo

    This is nothing new. The GOP always shoot off at the mouth first and then ask questions later. These idiots want a war so bad they can taste it.

    April 22, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  17. Chuk

    Looks like these GOP lawmakers, who are supposed to know better, actually shot from the hip. They let out their bias before finding out the facts and now are rolling them back. Graham said, "I don't want a police state, but I want a nation where the police can protect us". Really? So tell me where exactly to draw the line. As soon as laws are proposed that can actually save lives (firearm laws ring a bell?), many GOP lawmakers scream about the US becoming a police state. Then when there's incidents, they wonder why "someone" isn't doing anything to protect. In other words, they want to have it both ways.
    Seating on some moral high ground and lobbing criticism is the easy part. Making things work in practice is a lot harder.

    April 22, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  18. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Do you know what drove these men to carry out their attacks? No, its not religion! Do you know why Iran and North Korea are so defiant when it comes to relinquishing their nuclear weapons program? Well, all you have to do is look no further than at the divisiveness in Washington and across the country and at the disruptive bahivor of the tea party and their base and the way they have behaved in the past four years. When you have a dysfunctional American government where our leaders are saying in public that they want our President and country to fail, and then does everything within their means to divide and disrupt our society and slow progress, you're sending the wrong message to the enemy.

    When you go around talking about secession and civil war and assassination and attacking minorities and Gays and Lesbians and Muslims and women and the poor and the elderly and you start talking about concentration camps and electric fence and handouts and welfare states and you start burning people's Qurans and disrupting and dividing the country, you're sending the wrong message to the enemy. And when the enemy sees us as as dysfunctional, they also perceive us as being weak.

    And when a criminal can gun down a member of our House of Representatives and others and be spared the death penalty for life in prison just for pleading guilty to the crime the whole world saw him commit in broad day light, you're sending the wrong message to the enemy. When a murderer can kill Americans and then go to prison and get married and start a family and have five square meals, access to cable tv, internet, library and 24/7 medical treatmment, you're sending the wrong message to the enemy. When a criminal can murder 20 kids and 6 educators at an elementary school and our government can slam the grieving by refusing to make it more difficult for the mentally ill and criminals to have easy access to WMDs, then you're sending the wrong message to the enemy.

    And whenever our judicial and legislative branches of government are failing to represent and serve the American people, there's something seroiously wrong with our systen of Checks and Balances. Let's face it, the fabric of our democracy is weakening and our public officials are to be blamed.

    April 22, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  19. JLD

    Are you kidding me??? I really want to believe that the FBI has a better excuse than the misspelling of a name, if that is what they are claiming, then we need to be questioning out FBI!!!

    I am not in any way saying that these individuals are not responsible, but I bet some things could have possibly been prevented if our intelligence teams fully executed their job. Maybe this did not have to even happen or be as big as it was!

    Of course like many other things we will never really know the entire truth because the government spends much of its time covering stuff up so they can look like heroes.

    The real heroes here are all the citizens and emergency crews who had to put their life in danger for all of this. That is the one thing that we as americans can say we do right. The way we can all come together in times of tragedy and help our fellow citizens. That is how America can never be beat by terror. The caused pain, death and changed hundreds of peoples lives forever but They also caused this great nation to come together AGAIN to make it right!!!

    April 22, 2013 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  20. Fair is Fair

    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?
    I suppose the only way to "legally" label someone as a terrorist would be to have them tried and convicted of the crime. In that case, they would be a convicted felon and would not be allowed to obtain or own firearms of any sort. Does that answer your question?

    April 22, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  21. cdub

    Damn good thing we don't live in Europe or we would be reforming our national security about every other week...seriously, it would be impossible to stop EVERY person who wants to harm us just as it would be impossible to ban/stop guns from being used (and yes, I do support background checks). We can't get them all but we can try, and looking at past statistics I think the NSA and Homeland Security has done a fine job. They've prevented what they could, and they get the people that slip through the cracks or successfully do attack us. Leave the budget as is, let us not forget this attack, and try to move forward while keeping those affected in our prayers or thoughts.

    April 22, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  22. spthatcher

    Dear Senator Graham, As a measure of truthfulness, please change your name to Summer's Eve.

    April 22, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  23. sinsai

    when is it a terrorist act? compare Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting vs Boston Marathon Bombing. the end result, people died. to me, both events were terrorist acts against americans. the goal was to hurt as many people as possible. why does the govt/media treat both events differently?

    April 22, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  24. Hyew

    It does not excuse anyone on misspelling the name. We have perfect database upon entering the country. Why do we have to rely on airline data unless we are trying to arrest someone right away? No excuse at all!

    April 22, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  25. BigJohn2

    If two flys were going up a wall, Lindsey Graham would complain about something.

    April 22, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
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