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. RINO Bill

    So this is how Lindsey Graham does things? Shoots off his mouth first and then learns about what he is talking? Typical Republican strategy. I hope that this is this not how all South Carolinians are and that Graham is just a disappointing aberration.

    April 22, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  2. rsdofny

    I think that the FBI need to monitor the social network like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook for extremists' postings, and cross-checks with its database of persons of interests. Mainly keyword search would not invade individual privacy much.

    April 22, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  3. Michael

    Associating any congress person's name with "Intelligence" is a supreme oxymoron. Perhaps Graham should have kept his trap shut until he knew what to ask. But some people just love hearing themselves talk.

    April 22, 2013 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  4. Sharkmann

    The FBI will ask for more powers and probably get them. The truth of the matter is, what power could have prevented the typo?

    April 22, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  5. Joe The Plumber

    Graham is an enemy combant.

    April 22, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  6. DumbasRocks [R]s

    Name me one public stand or comment that this infamous senator has not had to eventually back away from......... This guy is a loose cannon....luckily the cannon is empty.

    April 22, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |

    Graham's plan backfired – 'cause you KNOW he would have somehow twisted the FBI's issues around to be Obama's fault! That was probably his plan all along!

    April 22, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |

    Typical Mitt the twit like Guns Over People tea potty move. Shoot first,aim later.

    April 22, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  9. Brad

    The repubs must have gave the orders for Graham to "attack", he has become their attack dog, but he has lost all his bite, now go "sit" and "roll over" don't "speak"

    April 22, 2013 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    This guy is a major TURD!!! He should shoot himself in the face with a wad of his own feces!

    April 22, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  11. facts

    Just another comgressman looking for headlines before doing any research...they are becoming irrelevant in today's society. If I want crap info I can watch TMZ...

    April 22, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  12. sjlucas

    Senator Graham has established quite a record here of late of shooting off his mouth when he doesn't know what he's talking about it. The backseat drivers in the GOP need to realize that they are members of the most unpopular Congress in history (barely preferred over diarrhea). They are not the president.

    April 22, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  13. Judith

    Little whining Lindsey should well back off. It amazes me when people have the gall to say that the President has exploited the brave Newtown parents, who were very eager to show their support for gun control, yet the GOP pounces on every incident for exploitation of their failed political brand. The right-wing is ruining everything that is good about America. I can only hope that the changing demographics will get rid of these Know-Nothings of the 21st Century of which Graham and his ilk are the loudest voices.

    April 22, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  14. Dan

    Graham is a moron.

    April 22, 2013 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  15. Binga Linga

    Graham, the loose canon has a penchant for shooting off his mouth. After hearing the FBI explanations it sounds even worse than before.

    April 22, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  16. Rabbi

    Sure would be nice if the politicians got their facts straight before they stirred the pot. It's no wonder why they are held in such low regard!!

    April 22, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  17. GI Joe

    But he got that ignorant face all over the newspapers, didn't he? that's is goal. Graham is nutty.

    April 22, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  18. Nero

    Graham is irrelevant... and he's an idiot.

    April 22, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  19. neastsider

    This in the closet senator is running for his political life. He wants to show SC that he's a 'bagger's bagger. The FBI's investigation of the older brother's trip to Russia 2 years ago will fit in with his many conspiracy theories he loves to come up with. On this latest one, Graham will claim that the FBI knew that this bombing would happen 2 years before it actually did and that the Obama admin knew all about it 3 years ago and covered it all up.

    April 22, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  20. Brad

    so that's all it takes to fly under the FBI radar, change the spelling of your name? Somehow I am not getting the warm fuzzies over our safety here..

    April 22, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  21. wishing us well

    I am so happy that Graham has discovered that he didn't know what he was talking about(as usual) and I certainly hope that he will now sit down and shut up. He and McClain seem to believe that they should be running the country and that the President and every other agency head should pass any decision by them for their blessing before it gets made. They both are full of it and are much more impressed with themselves than am I. If I could buy them for what they are worth and sell them for what they think they are worth then I would truly become a wealthy man.

    April 22, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  22. Jeff Cohee

    I expect Graham and other members of Congress to know better that to shoot their mouths off before they know the facts or to try to politicize a national tragedy. What's wrong with these people we've elected to Congress? No wonder they can't get anything of substance accomplished, they're spending too much time dumbing down the offices they hold and diminishing what little respect is left for the House and Senate.

    April 22, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  23. Person of Interest

    Normally I'd defend the FBI but a "'misspelling' keeping his name from getting flagged" is in fact dropping the ball.

    April 22, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  24. Sam Adams

    It is interesting to note that the senator is a FORMER whatever.
    Some could take that as meaning he failed in a previous career, failing of sufficient advancement to keep him in that career, or he was just incompetent in that career field.
    Note also that a large number of senators are former lawyers, perhaps still admitted to the bar, but that they chose legislative service perhaps because they could not make it as lawyers.
    All due respect to these legislators and their so obvious higher calling to serve the country instead of making a success of their former careers, perhaps they should have stayed there.

    April 22, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  25. Mark

    All too typical of Senator Graham who is always racing to be on the Sunday talk shows where he can say something dramatic, controversial and completely wrong and usually dumb. Coupled with the misplaced take down of the FBI for not putting a round the clock tail on someone to protect the Russians at the Russians request; was the Senator's incomprehensible statement that the Boston bombing, committed by 2 American citizens shows us why his immigration reform bill is so important. The Senator has a swelled head, but sadly there's nothing in it.

    April 22, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
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