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. Dave

    This is so obvious, Republicans. However you can find a way to try and blame the president for the bombings, you go to it! Everyone expected it from day one.

    April 22, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  2. ShawnDH

    Miss Lindsey never misses an opportunity to exploit a national tragedy to play childish, desperate politics. Gross.

    April 22, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  3. jordan

    He just keeps making himself more unlikeable every day, and I thought he had already hit the 100% unlikeable point.

    April 22, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  4. ksiner

    "The Republican senator from South Carolina said he talked to the assistant director of the FBI after he made his assertions Sunday" I'm Shocked... Senator Graham making comments before he gets the facts or speaks to anyone with knowledge of a situation. FAHK EWE SENATOR

    April 22, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  5. Mr Bean

    In other words Senator Graham was told "Shut up or else!"

    April 22, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  6. Tom

    Sen. Graham is an embarrassment to the USA. He keeps hoping to find something to attack the democrats with or justify starting another war with someone.

    April 22, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  7. Dave R.

    Once again, Graham used the "ready-fire-aim" approach. All of us would be much better served if he would explain why the Iraq war happened when there were no WMD's.

    April 22, 2013 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  8. Jack

    Typical. Make an outrageous claim on a Sunday talk show and quietly walk it back on Monday hoping nobody will notice.

    April 22, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  9. Snarky MacFee

    I would say "shame on this senator" but as we all can surmise by now...there is NO shame left in our "government". Just because you have the right to freedom of speech does not mean you should ALWAYS exercise it even before you have facts. I no longer question why they hate our country (the Congress, I mean, not the terrorists). They are there to collect pensions and prestige..not to "serve". Oh wait, they DO serve, the American people up on toast!

    April 22, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  10. DocHollywood

    Can't let a democrat administration get a pass on national defense, even if he has to make up stuff, can he? Hopefully Graham will get primaried by a garbage can. Then the people of South Carolina will at least get a little intelligence in there.

    April 22, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  11. Cyp

    I still am not sure why he is still relevant in the American political landscape. Each time he speaks it is garbage that he spews out.

    April 22, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  12. jack

    What? Maybe it would be a good idea for Graham to actually have a fact or two at hand before he makes himself out to be such an idiot. That would be nice change

    April 22, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  13. DW

    Speaking of enemy combatants, did they read Graham his rights?

    April 22, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  14. Jerome Horowitz

    Speling is importent

    April 22, 2013 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  15. ThinkAgain

    Lindsay went from saying the FBI may have dropped the ball in its investigation to saying the FBI "responsibly handled" the situation.

    Wow, bet that was one helluva cramp – even for Ms. Graham!

    April 22, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  16. craig

    Ah, the wonderful "never ever been wrong" comments from the Monday Morning quarterbacks. Did it ever occur to them that someone holding a legally-issued green card is allowed to return to their home country and the FBI has no authority to trail them while they're there? At that point in time, what he did was none of our business, just as what I write privately to someone else should remain private in the absence of a warrant.

    It is almost always easy to find little details and then try to make something of them. He went to a store and bought a pressure cooker. He went to a hobby shop and bought a battery typically used for a radio-toy. He went to Home Depot and bought a couple packages of nails. WHY DIDN'T YOU KNOW HE WAS BUILDING A BOMB? Yeah, that's real easy for folks like Graham...AFTER THE FACT. Obviously if they were in charge we'd know everything about everybody...but, of course, that would require complete suspension of all civil rights. How do these idiots keep getting elected?

    April 22, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  17. Anon

    Graham is a fascist and a police state is exactly what he wants. If we deny due process to this guy it is a slippery slope to a fascist, nazi state!

    April 22, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  18. dzerres

    Yes, other Senators both Dems and GOP had question but Lindsey here is the only one to blab, accuse, misinform and otherwise go on national TV before he was even briefed. Pathetic.

    April 22, 2013 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  19. scott

    this is getting out of hand....first we have news agencies, cnn and the a/p, jumping the gun to befirst to report a news story and they got it wrong!!!! then we have politicians, critizining federal agencies without knowing any facts...when, in fact, these same politicians, if they properly funded the government, we wouldn't have these problems...

    April 22, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  20. Rick

    There is nothing more pitiful or completely worthless... than a member of CONGRESS... talk about DROPPING the ball. They don't even LOOK for it.

    April 22, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  21. mylife55

    If Lindsey Graham's brain was as big as his mouth, he would be a genius. ..but it's not.

    April 22, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  22. Rodney McNeely

    By the way, when is Lindsay Graham coming out?

    April 22, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  23. Ron

    Politicians can't stop being politicians. They run their mouth off about any and everything before they know the facts. They think they know more than anyone else. And they constantly try to score political points regardless of the facts. I'm talking about politicians from both parties.

    April 22, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  24. JV

    He should try doing his own job before he whines about others.

    April 22, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  25. TruthPolice

    Morons abound. All you liberals posting here give even liberals a bad name. We need people to question the government – ALWAYS. Things that you find 'a circus' have helped uncover (right and left) bad things our leaders have done or not done.

    April 22, 2013 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
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