Graham backs off FBI criticism over bombing suspect
April 22nd, 2013
10:53 AM ET
2 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. hypatia

    Is he unconscious or did someone finally shove a sock in his trap?

    April 22, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  2. John Bracke

    It would help greatly if Graham and other politicians would get some facts before they spout off to get some national press coverage. Graham and his ilk only make a tragic situation worse and raise the national hysteria level.

    April 22, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  3. ja

    markfromdover, you are so right they dropped the ball on watered down gun legislation, the iran irag war, the list is infinite,

    April 22, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  4. ThyNameIsTruth

    I wonder what the FBI had on Graham so that he would back off?

    It seems like no one in government is supporting our Constitution – on the left or the right. As our past Criminal in Chief said – "it is just a piece of paper". Welcome to the new Amerika.

    April 22, 2013 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  5. john

    If they would have treated the marathon like they do the super bowl. This might not have happened.
    We protect million dollar football players and the so called celebs at high profile events, but not an event
    like this.. Sad..

    April 22, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  6. Big_D

    Graham must get confused when he says the government is being too invasive? Now he wants the FBI to stop people before the commit crimes without any solid evidence. I guess if they would have used a gun Graham would have spoken from the other side of his face.

    April 22, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  7. midwestmatt

    Graham acts like he knows everything about everything except when it comes to actually producing any evidence to back up his pack of lies.

    He's a particularly useless partisan politician bent on spreading lies and rumors as fact.

    April 22, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  8. yem

    Let the law take its course. I dont think the surviving criminal has all the answers. I have no proof but I think the older brother was the poison to this tragedy.

    April 22, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  9. Sametestsameresults

    Lindsey Graham once again goes on TV railing at the FBI while his buddy Glenn Beck is railing at the government that this is some big (probably Obama) conspiracy. These guys are allowed a bullhorn which is freedom of speach. It is OUR job to know that they are blowing smoke. If they would confirm sources and gather information it would help them be more believeable but the way it is now. Both of these guys and their ilk are nonsense speaking blowhards.

    April 22, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  10. Big_D

    At what point does the right wing claims of false flags, FBI Conspiracy, and Government Plots become sedition? I mean they are spinning this so hard they are creating domestic terrorists.

    April 22, 2013 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  11. LBB

    No-background-checks-Graham is b!tching about the FBI background checks not being good enough? These clowns are too much.

    April 22, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  12. Argyle

    If we had the GOP's way of shooting from the hip, we would now start a trillion dollar invasion into Chechnya. Or maybe some other random country with large oil reserves, what does it matter, government spending is irrelevant when it comes to invading countries.

    April 22, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  13. APR 72 yrs young

    do people in washington d c have a manual they follow to show how dumb they are.

    April 22, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  14. Tom in Desoto, TX

    Graham and the rest of his boys have things in such grand order, no wonder he has time to find fault with others. How about the terrorists in the Senate?

    April 22, 2013 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  15. My10Cents

    So I guess for Senator Graham will eventually sign his name to a bill turns this country into a police state. This change began with the signing of Patriot Act following the attack on 9/11. Each subsequent act of mass violence will create the conditions to move us further away from our freedoms because of the political need and personal fears about individual safety from terrorists. Personal safety is a fantasy and the moment we give up our personal freedom to the state for this fantasy the "war on terror" will be over because the terrorists will have won.

    April 22, 2013 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  16. skarphace

    Mark Bernadiner: "If democrats did not infected America and American organizations with Muslim Brotherhood representatives and supporeter, we would be safe country."

    This is a representative of the low-IQ voter that results in somebody like Graham getting elected. Our Congress is not our problem, it is the intelligence of our voters.

    April 22, 2013 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  17. Name Uche Agonsi

    Maybe you don't play poker games with the FBI ......not even when you are a senator.

    April 22, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  18. norker

    "I don't want a police state, but..." nah, just kidding, he totally wants a police state.

    April 22, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  19. Chuckme

    Graham could only get elected in South Carolina – they like people like him and Sanford, who know little, sound off, and do no good.

    April 22, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  20. srs47

    How can anyone in Congress criticize anyone for not doing their job properly????????????????

    April 22, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  21. Time for the show

    Time for the political circus act. At least there are a lot of clowns in this circus!

    April 22, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  22. Steve

    Graham...please shut up.

    April 22, 2013 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  23. notogop

    Who cares what this do nothing whiner has to say?

    April 22, 2013 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  24. Terri

    We always want government involvement AFTER something happens....before we want cuts so we can blame agencies for their failures. Nothing is ever good enough.

    April 22, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  25. SBK

    Republican have a policy of "Shoot First" then talk, started by Dick Cheney, in case you don't know. That is why they are against any gun legislation also, because then they can't shoot, you get it now?

    April 22, 2013 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
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