Federal investigators were able to identify and arrest a man accused of mailing crude pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of the Trump administration through a latent fingerprint found on one of the envelopes addressed to California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, FBI Director Chris Wray said at a Department of Justice news conference Friday.
Florida resident Cesar Sayoc, 56, has been charged with five federal crimes, including mailing explosives and threatening former U.S. presidents, and faces up to 48 years in prison if convicted. Authorities said it’s too soon to speculate on a motive or whether he was emboldened by the current divided political culture and President Donald Trump’s political rhetoric. Sayoc is a registered Republican and an apparently ardent Trump supporter.
“This is utterly unacceptable,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at the Friday press conference. “Political violence—or the threat of violence—is antithetical to our vigorous system of self-government.”
The bombs, which Wray described as IEDs, or improvised exlosive devices, “are not hoax devices,” he said. The FBI is still investigating whether the devices were functional.
Wray said investigators may also be able to connect Sayoc to pieces of two of the pipe bombs with DNA samples previously taken when he was arrested in Florida. Sayoc has had a troubled past in Florida, including an arrest in 2002 for threatening to blow up a power utility. At the time, he said “it would be worse than Sept. 11,” according to court documents.
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Wray also warned that additional packages may still be making their way through the mail system.
“Today’s arrest doesn’t mean we’re all out of the woods,” Wray said. He asked the public to be cautious and urged anyone with information to contact the FBI tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI. No piece of information is too small, Wray said.
The FBI said Friday that so far, 13 explosive devices were sent to various individuals across the country. Suspicious packages were also mailed to former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Democratic donor George Soros; former CIA Director John Brennan; former Attorney General Eric Holder; Waters; and actor Robert De Niro, a vocal Trump critic. The package to Brennan was mailed to CNN.
The common thread among the bomb targets was obvious: their critical words for Trump and his frequent, harsher criticism in return.
Sayoc’s arrest came as three additional suspicious devices — one addressed to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, another to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and a third to California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris — were found on Friday, according to officials and news reports.
The package addressed to Booker was recovered in Florida, the FBI confirmed. The second package addressed to Clapper at CNN’s office in New York City was intercepted at a post office, the New York Police Department said. The department could not confirm who the package was addressed to but The New York Times reported that the package was addressed to Clapper, who served as Obama’s director of national intelligence. A third package intercepted in Sacramento was addressed to Harris, the Times reported, citing federal law enforcement officials.
Clapper, a frequent Trump critic, told CNN that he was not surprised he was targeted and that he considered the actions “definitely domestic terrorism.”
Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, said in a note to staff that all mail to CNN domestic offices was being screened at off-site facilities. He said there was no imminent danger to the Time Warner Center, where CNN’s New York office is located.
The pipe bombs were made with six inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, battery, some wiring and “energetic matter,” which Wray described as a material that gives off heat and energy through a reaction to heat, shock and friction.
None of the intercepted devices detonated or injured anyone, but Wray said that they could be dangerous to the public if subject to the right combination of heat or shock or friction.
Another package to billionaire Tom Steyer, who is bankrolling an effort to impeach President Trump, was intercepted at a U.S. Postal Service facility in Burlingame, California, according to the FBI and news reports. Authorities have not confirmed if the package is related to the other 13.
Sayoc was arrested at an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida. News footage from the scene showed what appeared to be a van covered in blue tarp. The van was covered with pro-Trump bumper stickers, according to news reports.
Court records from Broward County, Florida, show that Sayoc was born in Brooklyn, New York. A law enforcement source not authorized to speak publicly told Patch Sayoc was charged in Dade County Court in 2002 with making a bomb threat. It was a deferred prosecution case and Sayoc was given one year probation after which the case was dismissed. Court records also show Sayoc filed for bankruptcy in June 2012 and exited bankruptcy three months ago.
Speaking from the White House at the 2018 Young Black Leadership Summit, President Trump said law enforcement did an “incredible job” in apprehending the suspect.
“We must never allow political violence to take root in America,” Trump said, adding that he was committed to doing everything in his power to stop it. He said Americans must unify and “show the world we are united together.”
Earlier in the day, Trump had complained on Twitter that “this ‘Bomb’ stuff” was diverting attention from the midterm elections, where Republicans hope to hold on to their majorities in the House and Senate. He called out CNN and other news organizations for “blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing.”
All of the packages discovered in the plot have been listed with a return address for Florida Congresswoman and former Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The return packages misspelled Schultz’s last name as “Shultz.” One of the packages — intended for former Attorney General Eric Holder — was returned to Schultz’s office.
The IEDs were packaged in manila envelopes and carried U.S. postage stamps.
The first bomb discovered was delivered Monday to the suburban New York compound of Soros, a major contributor to Democratic causes. Soros has called Trump’s presidency “dangerous.”
Patch’s Brendan Krisel, Colin Miner, Emily Holland and Paul Scicchitano contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.
Photo: This frame grab from video provided by WPLG-TV shows a van parked in Plantation, Fla., on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, that federal agents and police officers have been examining in connection with package bombs that were sent to high-profile critics of President Donald Trump. The van has several stickers on the windows, including American flags, decals with logos and text. (WPLG-TV via AP)