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Lawmakers Weigh In On Boston Bombing Case


Members of Congress are already weighing in on how they think the Boston suspect should be questioned and tried. And some are also questioning whether the FBI is sufficiently vigilant against terrorists in the wake of last week.

Joining us as she does most Mondays is Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.


GREENE: Well, there was quite a difference of opinion on the Sunday talk shows yesterday about whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be tried in a military court or a civilian one.

ROBERTS: Right, you heard Pete King from New York say in Tovia's report that he should be an enemy combatant in his trial. He has signed on with a bunch of Republican senators saying that. But there were Democrats who challenged that, primarily California's Diane Feinstein, who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who says not only would that not pass constitutional muster but it's not necessary. She says that civilian cases have convicted 435 terrorists under federal law and only a half dozen under military councils. So it is a big argument going on.

Ironically, David, you know, the marathon is run to celebrate Boston Patriots Day, and one of those Boston patriots, the second president, John Adams, even before we were a country, thought it was important to give even the most heinous criminals a fair trial, and he defended the British accused of perpetrating the Boston Massacre, so this goes way back in our history.

GREENE: Wow, and here we are, I guess not pass constitutional muster in the eyes of some. We would essentially, or lawyers would essentially be claiming that an American citizen was in essence a foreign terrorist.

ROBERTS: That's right. And so that is a big argument. I think it will be put to rest pretty quickly when the questioning finally begins.

GREENE: So Cokie, the other issue here, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee, and a committee member, sent a letter to the nation's intelligence agencies questioning the FBI's handling of the case here. Because the FBI was actually asked to look into this by - to look into this, one of the suspects, the brother who was killed, but a foreign government, a long time ago.

ROBERTS: Yeah, the Russians asked them to look into it, and Congressman Michael McCall of Texas, the chairman of the committee, is calling this an intelligence failure. He said they had him on the radar and then he got off. They want to know what happened during those six and a half months that he was in Russia. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, says the FBI dropped the ball. So you're going to hear a lot of that kind of conversation as well. The public, however, David, seems to not think much the government can do about any of these things. This morning the Washington Post is out with a post-bombing poll where 2/3 of the respondents say terrorists will find a way to commit their heinous crimes no matter what the government does.

GREENE: Hmm. A lot of Americans think it's just - it's just going to happen, it's inevitable. Well, Cokie, one of the other issues now that seems to be shaped by the events in Boston in some sense is immigration. There's some talk in Congress that because the Tsarnaev brothers were immigrants, that that should be used in the whole immigration debate, and we have a bill, you know, coming to the floor soon. I mean this could be a big deal.

ROBERTS: Right, and some Republicans, led by Iowa's Chuck Grassley, are saying now is no time to do a big immigration bill. But one of the chief sponsors of that bill, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, says that these Republicans would be opposing immigration anyway, that they're using the Boston bombing news. Here's Schumer on CNN yesterday.


ROBERTS: Now, Senator Schumer and the rest of his Gang of 8 are determined to push forward with the immigration bill in the Senate, and now there's an immigration bill moving in the House as well. So that looks like it actually is going to get some traction this session of Congress.

GREENE: Alright, Cokie, always good talk to you. Have a good week.

ROBERTS: Thank you, David.

GREENE: You hear here on Mondays here on MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.