CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript - Syria's Use of Sarin Gas

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: April 25, 2013
Location: Unknown

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COOPER: We're joined on the phone by Senator Lindsey Graham -- actually by remote. Senator Graham, thanks for joining us. First of all, your comments on the -- where Chuck Hagel has said that the Syrian regime has used sarin gas.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, I was one of the senators on the letter where Senator McCain AI'd. I think 11 --several of us. Well, it's a red line that has been crossed. It's clearly an indication and admission by the administration that sarin gas was used by the Assad regime and the president said that would be a red line. So, the question is what's next?

COOPER: What do you think should happen next?

GRAHAM: I think the international community should rally around helping the rebels by having a no-fly zone some place they can operate safely. Arm the appropriate groups within the rebel forces and there are some radical jihadists unfortunately, every day this goes it gets worse. But, it really put pressure on the Russians to get Assad out. And, the day after he leaves, the number one goal for me is to secure the chemical weapons. There are enough chemical weapons in Syria to kill thousands if not millions of people. So, I hope the Syrian opposition council to agree -- to work with us, the international community, to secure those chemical weapons sites and destroy them.

COOPER: In your mind does that include or preclude the idea of U.S. Boots on the ground to secure those chemical weapons sites? Because all the experts I've heard from say it's not just something you can do from the air.

GRAHAM: Right. OK. No boots on the ground to provide support for the rebels. It's my belief if you could neutralize the Syrian Air Force and their tanks that this would be over pretty quickly. You ground the planes and you start shooting a few of the tanks, I think this thing ends pretty quickly.

In terms of securing the chemical weapons, this should be a regional effort, international community effort. I don't care if the Russians were involved. But, to secure these sites, the Syrian opposition doesn't have the ability to do it. I wouldn't mind if there's a U.S. component, but it's got to be internationally led.

COOPER: I want to talk about the Boston bombing investigation. You've made headlines today by laying blame for the terror attack on the Obama administration. Will you explain that?

GRAHAM: Yes. I think it's system failure. They asked me, you know, if the system fails who do you blame, well, you blame people in charge of the system. President Obama deserved great credit for the Bin Laden raid. That was a gutsy call, a flawless operation. Bush did some things right. He did some things wrong.

Here's what we know about Boston. The Federal -- excuse me -- The Russian intelligence services contacted the FBI and the CIA saying you've got a radical Islamist in your midst. We put him in some kind of system. When he leaves to go to Russia and Dagestan, the department of homeland security picks up his leaving and returning, but they don't share it with the FBI and the CIA. That's a system failure.

And, after he comes back in 2012, he goes on youtube and the internet declaring his hatred for our country threatening to kill us all and the rest is history. So, yes, I think the system did fail.

COOPER: What do you say -- I mean do you feel you know all there is to know at this point about --

GRAHAM: No.

COOPER: -- About any failure?

GRAHAM: No, I don't. I know this. I know that when he goes to Russia and that the department of homeland security picks up him leaving and the FBI and CIA are not informed 11 years after 9/11, that's a mistake. That's a big mistake. And, when he comes back from Dagestan and he goes on the internet, youtube and other public outlets and starts talking in a radical fashion and we can't pick that up in light of all the warnings we've had, I know that's failure.

And, I think there's just -- Bin Laden may be dead, Anderson, and I'm glad he is, but radical Islam is not. And in our own backyard the threat is growing. And, I think quite frankly the administration is oversold with the demise of Bin Laden and knockoff jihadist is probably not the right term to use. I think it's quite frankly minimizing the threat we face. So, between Benghazi and Boston to me, we're going backwards, not forward in terms of national security.

COOPER: Your comments, for the first time a public official has laid this at the foot of the Obama administration. No doubt your critics are going to saying you are politicising this, to them you say what?

GRAHAM: Well, when Bush screwed up, I said, "I think you're screwing up about Iraq, Mr. President." And, when your interrogation policy has led to abrogate, I said, "Mr. President, this is not who we are. I am now saying to my fellow citizens 11 years after 9/11, clearly our system is not working. I don't mind giving credit and support to this administration or any republican administration. I sure don't mind appropriate criticism.

The FBI and CIA are very brave people, great organizations. But, how can you say given the facts, 11 years after 9/11 the system is working the way it should and at the end of the day the administration in charge deserves the credit when it works and the blame when it fails. And, the goal is not to blame them exclusively, but to fix it. And, I hope we will. This will be a wakeup call when we fix it.

COOPER: What do you see the best way to fix it? Do you see a role for our congress and the senate to have hearings? --

GRAHAM: Yes.

COOPER: -- Investigations on what went wrong?

GRAHAM: Yes. And, you can put some blame on us. Sequestration putting our agencies under pressure by budget cuts not being able to, you know, solve any big problem in congress. Yes, I'd like to do a joint investigation unlike Benghazi. You've got the FBI needs to be looked at, the CIA and the Department of Homeland Security and maybe more.

But, combine our resources and do a post mortem on this. The actual investigation itself hats off to the Boston police to the FBI. But, here's another question. After the bomb went off, what one question you would ask is there anybody in the Boston area we've interviewed that would be a -- would fit the signature of doing something like this? And, one way to have that is photo for the whole world to see, how did that not ping the system? How did we not match the photo with the prior contacts we had with this individual?

It's hard to be on a watch list if you don't -- if you're not capturing a photo. Surely the guy -- we had a photo of the guy, and I don't know why that didn't register. So, there's a lot to learn from this.

COOPER: No doubt about that a lot to learn. Senator Lindsey Graham, appreciate your time today. Thank you.

GRAHAM: Indeed.

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